What Fossil Fuel Consumption Teaches Us About Conservatives
We notice the similarity between the terms conservative and conservationist
(now called environmentalist.) We notice that those labeled as conservatives
and those labeled as conservationists tend to be at odds with each other.
But surprisingly, as the root word implies, the two views are actually derived
from the same underlying awareness. The conservative thought focuses on
the dimensional of money. The conservationist though applies the same line
of reasoning to natural dimensions within the environment. Below, we will
look at how the underlying mathematical thinking is actually the same.
Draft: November 2012
- Huge deficits
- Misspent inheritance
Part 1: Huge Deficits
Conservatives talk a lot about their fear of the deficit. They are outraged
by the belief that special benefits given to specific groups may be the
primary cause of the deficit. They believe that people should pay their
own bills and not pass the costs of their choices on to others.
These are the same primary concerns expressed by conservationists. Conservationists
have correctly noted that environmental consequences carry very real long-term
costs. One generation profits while the next generation pays the costs.
It's much more difficult to estimate the costs of environmental impacts
on the next generation, but those costs are still very real and very large.
Best estimates show that the environmental deficits we leave to the next
generation will prove to be far more costly than the federal deficit that
we leave to the next generation.
Let's look at real costs (deficits) left to future generations by the
fossil fuel industry. Many of these impacts will be costly to future generations
for hundreds of years.
- Greenhouse gases lead to climate change, altered plant growth, increased
droughts and floods, and water acidification;
- water acidification leads to leaching mercury and heavy metals into
the fresh water supply and interferes with the growth and reproduction
of various marine species
- Oil leads to spills in the oceans, lakes, and sensitive ecosystems
- Drilling oil wells extracts salt from the ground which reduces soil
quality reduces farm yields
- Coal emits mercury, radioactives, and heavy metals into the atmosphere
and water supply
- Coal mines leach toxins into water supplies. All ready some regions
are so severely contaminated that locals have to import drinking water
- the water cannot even be safely used to grow food
- Coal mines subsidence destroys surface real estate
- Fracking contaminates ground water and can lead to subsidence
All these consequences have real costs to future generations - impacting
land, food production, and health. Thus they constitute real deficits
left by this generation to future generations.
Part 2: Privatized Profit from Socialized Costs
Conservatives express great concern over socialism. They identify a few
problems that make socialism troublesome. Socialism allows one group of
people to gain at the expense of others. Subsidies reward unproductive
behaviors - failure. When people become entitled to gain at the expense
of others they learn to fail instead of more productive means personal
gain. They pass the costs of their choices on to others. As a result optimal
solutions are prevented.
Each of these concerns is identical to the concerns expressed by conservationists.
Let us consider a few major examples of socialist subsidies received by
the fossil fuel industries.
- Low cost access to federal land
- Arbitrarily assigned mineral rights - they may extract from under
others peoples land
- Externalities - pollution effecting other's land, air quality, water
quality, and health
- Special tax breaks - including loopholes exempting them from the cost
of their damages
- Military protection of imports (think of the military costs of securing
Iraqi oil wells)
In each of these examples, fossil fuel companies are rewarded for failing
to improve their methods and reduce their impact on others. Their failure
is protected and even rewarded. They get to pass the costs of their actions
Part 3: Miss-spent Inheritance
A final concern of conservatism is the careless actions of irresponsible
youth. A young person receiving a large inheritance might waste all the
money left to him by his parents or grandparents, and be no wiser, skilled,
nor more productive for his reckless choices. For a short time he lives
'high on the hog' only to have no productive skills to support himself
or contribute to his community. He never earned his own keep and never
learns to be productive.
Again, this applies quite well to the fossil fuel industry. The fuel companies,
like the heir, do not produce the fuel, the merely extract it. Fossil
fuels are finite. What we extract and burn today will not be available
to use tomorrow. Once we've spent the fuel its gone and there is no going
back. In fact, we've already consumed all the "low hanging fruit"
and with each passing year the fuel that is left is costlier and more
dangerous to extract. As with the environmental deficit in part one, one
generation gains, and the next generation is left without to fend for
themselves. The choices are selfish and short-sighted.
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