California’s political elite consider themselves, and the state they control, to be the most environmentally enlightened in the world. They’re not. Well intentioned but misguided policies, combined with hidden agenda from special interests using environmentalism as cover, have resulted in “environmentalism” often causing more harm than good to the environment.
Some environmentalist policies that might otherwise be obviously suspect are justified in the name of combatting climate change. The prime example of this is the hundreds of billions Californians are spending to convert the electricity grid to “renewable” energy. If it weren’t for their zero emissions claim, nobody would endorse carpeting the land with thousands of square miles of wind turbines, or hundreds of square miles of photovoltaic arrays.
But even if the climate emergency narrative is accepted, does it matter if the consequences to the environment from developing “renewables” is as bad, or worse, than any realistic climate crisis that we’re likely to confront in the next several decades? What is the long-term cost to the environment of doubling or tripling the amount of electricity generated in California, in order to convert the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors of the economy to use 100 percent electrical energy? What would the environmental cost be to accomplish this only using wind and solar energy technologies, meaning California’s existing wind and solar capacity would have to increase at least ten-fold?
The environmental cost of California’s determination to expand wind and solar capacity is already felt around the world, in poorly managed mining operations all over the world where desperately poor workers toil amid appalling toxicity. And the environmental price, even at one-tenth scale, has not begun to be paid in full.
How do Californians intend to recycle and replace these renewable energy assets, the solar panels and inverters, the turbine rotors and blades, the multiple gigawatt arrays of stationary storage batteries, along with millions of decommissioned electric vehicle batteries? Will they export disposal of these spent systems to further foul the rest of the world, as they have already exported the environmental consequences of producing them?
Exporting the consequences of environmentalist edicts doesn’t end with renewables. The supposedly forbidden energy technologies also leave their mark. Californians still derive 45 percent of their total raw energy inputs from petroleum, nearly all of it for transportation. But California imports 75 percent of this petroleum, despite sitting on some of the most plentiful reserves of gas and oil in the world. But rather than permit additional extraction of oil and gas, which would only be allowed under the most state-of-the-art environmental safeguards anywhere on earth, Californians are content to foul the Orinoco watershed in Venezuela, along with estuaries in Nigeria and rainforests in Ecuador, and other places on this fragile planet where virtually no environmental safeguards exist.
Right here inside California, environmentalist policies wreak environmental havoc. The destruction of California’s forests is the prime example. Thanks to environmentalists, the timber industry in California has been nearly driven completely out of business. California’s annual timber harvest today is less than one quarter what it was as recently as the 1990s. That wouldn’t be a catastrophe, if it weren’t for the fact that at the same time, Californians have become extremely adept at preventing and extinguishing wildfires, or, at the same time, environmental regulations have made it nearly impossible to do controlled burns, mechanical thinning of undergrowth, or graze livestock in the forests.
The infernos that have driven thousands of Californians from their homes and immolated thousands of square miles of forest in recent years are not primarily a consequence of “climate change.” Drought conditions and high summer temperatures are a factor, but the truly unprecedented hazard causing these superfires is the fact that, thanks to environmentalists, California’s forests are tinderboxes, with trees that are on average at least five times as dense as they’ve been for millennia, along with overgrown underbrush that small, natural fires used to keep in check. If superfires leave California’s forests obliterated beyond anything every thrown at them in the last 20 million years, don’t blame “climate change.” Blame environmentalism ran amok. Blame the litigators and legislators that created the tinderbox.
California’s rivers are another example of environmentalist stupidity, contagious by virtue of being emotionally compelling, and empowered by many green nonprofits whose entire business model depends on conflict to rally the small grassroots donors, and litigation to reap the big settlements. As humanity faces a global food crisis, the environmentalist lawsuit machine grinds on, stopping new water projects, and forcing existing reservoirs to reserve their water for summertime releases, even in drought years when historically, these rivers ran nearly dry.
If California’s politicians weren’t relying on biased studies, with their prearranged and paid-for conclusions, they would pay honest attention to many questions that as it is, only farmers and anglers are asking. Don’t many river ecosystems in California rely on summertime runoff to decline to a trickle, so the parasites in the river that kill fish will nearly die off instead of thrive and multiply? Aren’t there nonnative fish swimming in most of these rivers today, and aren’t they the primary source of endangerment to many of the native fish? Why are we protecting striped bass populations, when these nonnative fish prey on our cherished salmon?
Questions abound. Isn’t it possible to create new weirs, forebays and filters well upstream from the aqueduct intakes in order to minimize fish that get caught in the pumps and killed? Can’t we build more fish hatcheries to replenish the native fish populations? Why don’t we invest in better wastewater treatment, so it won’t be necessary to send additional millions of acre feet through the Sacramento Delta and into the San Francisco Bay every year, just to dilute and drive out nitrogen from inadequately treated outfall?
These policies, either debatable in the case of renewables and river flow, or clearly destructive in the case of forest management, are epochal in their impact. Decimating habitat to source raw materials for extremely resource inefficient renewables, which consume thousands of square miles. Incinerating entire forests beyond recovery, because fire suppression wasn’t balanced with other means of managing overgrowth.
Another consequence of environmentalism ran amok in California is the cost of living. It’s not news that California’s environmentalist bureaucrats have all but destroyed the state’s economy. In this huge and nearly empty state, only five percent urbanized, they’ve cordoned off the cities to protect open space, creating a shortage of land to build homes. And where’s the expert study correctly implicating the heat island impact of paved over urban infill, with rationed water and reduced trees and landscaping?
Environmentalists have blocked investment in new and upgraded energy, water, or transportation infrastructure, which further restricts the supply of new housing and makes all of those necessities more expensive. They’re squeezing out the energy industry despite California sitting on billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. They’ve nearly destroyed California’s once robust timber industry. All of this comes at tremendous economic cost, all of which is regressive.
It isn’t unreasonable to wonder why we can’t have spacious suburbs, which even if ten million new residents moved in, wouldn’t consume more than a fraction of the land currently earmarked for wind farms and solar farms. Exurban and low density suburban environments have ecosystems as well, as anyone observing the hawks and foxes, the vultures and coyotes, the racoons, rabbits, Canadian geese, seagulls, crows and possums, who own the night, own the skies, and own the vacant fields and riparian corridors in every neighborhood with undeveloped parcels. Let them be. We can expand out as well as up and in.
For decades, environmentalists have defined California’s policies affecting urban growth, housing, transportation, housing, forest management, water infrastructure and management, and energy development. But they’re not always right. All too often, they are the destroyers, instead of the protectors.
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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