Environmentalism and the Leisure Class
This week President Obama handed down what may prove to be one of the most fateful decisions of his entire administration when he rejected the plan to build the Keystone XL Pipeline carrying oil from the tar sands of Canada to the refineries of Houston. The decision did not win him one new vote but was crucial in protecting his environmental flank. The movie stars and Sierra Club contributors were getting restless and had drawn the line in the sand.
In turning down Keystone, however, the President has uncovered an ugly little secret that has always lurked beneath the surface of environmentalism. Its basic appeal is to the affluent. Despite all the professions of being “liberal” and “against big business,” environmentalism’s main appeal is that it promises to slow the progress of industrial progress. People who are already comfortable with the present state of affairs — who are established in the environment, so to speak — are happy to go along with this. It is not that they have any greater insight into the mysteries and workings of nature. They are happier with the way things are. In fact, environmentalism works to their advantage. The main danger to the affluent is not that they will be denied from improving their estate but that too many other people will achieve what they already have. As the Forest Service used to say, the person who built his mountain cabin last year is an environmentalist. The person who wants to build one this year is a developer. …
It is not that the average person is not concerned about the environment. Everyone weighs the balance of economic gain against a respect for nature. It is only the truly affluent, however, who can be concerned about the environment to the exclusion of everything else. Most people see the benefits of pipelines and power plants and admit they have to be built somewhere. Only in the highest echelons do we hear people say, “We don’t need to build any pipelines. We’ve already got enough energy. We can all sit around awaiting the day we live off wind and sunshine.”
Environmentalists have spent decades trying to disguise these aristocratic roots, even from themselves. They work desperately to form alliances with labor unions and cast themselves as purveyors of “green jobs.” But the Keystone Pipeline has brought all this into focus.
What really brings it into focus is the open rift that has now developed between the laborers’ union and the environmentalist movement.The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) left the BlueGreen Alliance on Friday, citing a disagreement with the group’s members over the Keystone XL pipeline. LIUNA, a vocal Keystone supporter, took aim at other unions for opposing the project. “We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement.
It is hard to understand how any union can explain to its members why it supports Obama’s job-destroying energy and economic policies, but it is has been a long time since many union leaders have taken their members’ interests seriously.
The comments above by John Hinderaker relate to an essay in the American Spectator by William Tucker with paragraphs included above. Tucker’s reflections recall remarks by Thorstein Veblen and were prompted by Obama’s decision to kill the Keystone pipeline. Tucker is the author of Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey.