The world that we invented, from an environmental perspective, is now getting in the way of moving these projects forward.
– California Governor Gavin Newsom, August 11, 2022
This moment of candor, coming from a man who seems determined to be the most environmentally correct politician in the world, was with reference to water projects. But Newsom, and anyone else paying attention to California politics, knows that for every major project, of whatever type, environmental regulations and litigation are getting in the way of moving them forward.
That’s life in California, and when even Governor Newsom starts to complain, you can bet the problem is real. Environmentalism run amok isn’t just stopping infrastructure projects and destroying economic opportunities for millions, it’s even harming the environment.
That isn’t hard to miss, if you look around. Notice the dead or dying trees in front of homes, businesses, or in the traffic medians on the boulevards of major cities? Thank environmentalists, who for decades have successfully blocked any projects that might have drought proofed our water supply and eliminated the need to triage urban water use.
Are you sweltering in neighborhoods adjacent to fields turned into heat islands, where toxic plastic rugs have replaced natural turf, supposedly to save water and hence save the planet? Are your kids coming home with torn ligaments and synthetic particles embedded in their skin and clothes, because they competed on these fake lawns? Thank an environmentalist.
Have you been forced to burn LED lights, all of them equipped with cheap transformers, and noticed the unhealthy impact of spending half your life exposed to their oscillating flicker? Wouldn’t you prefer to have access to the newest warm, safe energy-efficient incandescent bulbs instead of having them banned? Thank an environmentalist.
Are you using battery powered blowers, mowers, pruners and weed whackers that are clearly not ready for prime time? Do you enjoy having to obsessively charge and discharge them and store them according to demanding specifications so they don’t burn out after six months? How’s that working out for you? Thank an environmentalist.
Have you been stranded in your EV, waiting for an hour or more to get to a charger and get recharged? What do you do when it rains so hard it’s hazardous to charge an EV, or when you can’t find a charging station, or you don’t have hours to wait to add range to your car? Someday, EVs may be practical, safe and affordable. But why are they being forced upon the public today? Thank an environmentalist.
None of this stuff helps the planet. There ought to be plenty of water and energy to allow Californians to live with comfort and dignity, but instead of building enabling water and energy infrastructure, sue-happy environmentalists stop every project in its tracks, while their cronies profit from sales of marginal products that use far more resources and ultimately leave a bigger environmental footprint.
Does anyone really think astroturf, or LED lights, or lithium batteries, can be “sustainably” manufactured and recycled? What about thousands of square miles being smothered with photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, and battery farms? What about electric vehicles? In most cases, the manufacture, impact, and maintenance and replacement requirements of “renewables” consume orders of magnitude more resources than conventional energy.
In California, the entire economy is critically damaged thanks to extreme environmentalism, starting with housing. In the old days, homes were built with lumber that was logged and milled in California. Water heaters, cooktops and space heaters used natural gas extracted from California wells, and electricity came from an in-state mixture of hydroelectric, natural gas and nuclear sources. Water came from a system of reservoir storage and interbasin transfers via aqueducts and pumping stations that remains a marvel of the world. The new roads and freeways were constructed out of a combination of government operating budgets and bonds. The land homes were built on was rezoned without litigation or onerous delays and fees.
On this foundation of government funded enabling infrastructure and less regulations, homes were affordable. Back then, California worked for ordinary people. It became a magnet for people from all over America and the world. Those days are gone. Thank an environmentalist.
There’s a reason homes cost almost twice as much in California as they do in the rest of the nation. Getting land approved for development takes years if not decades, during which at any point the permit can be denied by any number of agencies or deterred by endless environmentalist litigation. On top of land scarcity is water scarcity, also politically contrived, which prevents many housing developments from even being proposed.
Then there is the cost of lumber and concrete, products that used to come from local sources that competed for customers. But with California’s lumber harvest down to a quarter of what it was only 30 years ago, and the virtual impossibility of opening new quarries, home builders have to import their materials from other states and nations, driving costs way up.
Adding to the cost of homes as well are the environmentally-correct appliances now required, that are energy and water efficient to a fault. Equipped with sensors, software that requires updates, and connected to the internet, these hyper-efficient machines cost twice as much as they otherwise would, don’t last very long, and do a poor job. And what about those “low flow” faucets and shower heads that barely release water, and turn off automatically before you’re done with them?
There’s nothing wrong with designing greater efficiency into appliances. But these appliances go well beyond the point of diminishing returns, and the only beneficiaries are crony manufacturers and tech companies. Thank an environmentalist.
The counterproductive impact of environmentalism defies reason. It’s not just the colossal, destructive footprint of supposedly renewable products or sources of energy. It’s land management. Thanks to environmentalists, in California’s forests and woodlands , in order to log, graze livestock, do controlled burns or mechanical thinning, property owners confront an obstacle course of regulations and permit requirements coming from several agencies at once. Many of the regulations are in conflict with others; it is an expensive and protracted process that very few can navigate. And so the overcrowded forests burn.
This is perhaps the most egregious example of counter-productive environmentalism. Bigger than their war on nuclear power and natural gas. Maybe even bigger than their success in making California unaffordable and inconvenient for all but the super rich. For the last 30 years, as CalFire snuffed out every small fire they possibly could, every practical means of thinning the forests to compensate for fire suppression was made nearly impossible. Thank an environmentalist.
California’s forests are approximately seven times as dense as they have historically been for millennia prior to these atrocious circumstances. In previous centuries, because they weren’t overcrowded, the forests survived droughts more prolonged than the ones we experience in this century. But today, the rain we get can’t even percolate into the ground. The crowded trees desperately absorb every drop, and it still isn’t enough, because where one tree used to grow, seven trees are competing for the same nutrients and moisture. This is why the trees are dying. This is why we have superfires.
When California’s forests have burnt down to the dirt, and ash laden silt is eroding into every stream and river in the state, thank an environmentalist.
It should go without saying that environmentalism is an important value to incorporate into public policy. We may thank environmentalists for getting the lead out of gasoline, and saving the majestic Condor, to name two noteworthy achievements that happened right here in California. But environmentalism becomes a negative value when its primary benefit is only to line the pockets of environmentalist litigants or pad government bureaucracies or enrich crony businessmen.
Today there is no balance. Environmentalism in California is out of control because it empowers a powerful coalition of special interests. The interests of the planet, as well as the interests of California’s striving humans, have become secondary. Newsom’s criticisms are helpful. Now they need to be followed up with action.
This article originally appeared in The Epoch Times.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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