Earlier this year, left-wing climate activists at 350 Spokane signed a proclamation demanding the U.S. stop using not only fossil fuels, but also hydro, nuclear and even waste-to-energy generation – like the kind generated at Spokane’s plant on Geiger Boulevard. This would eliminate about 94% of electrical generation in Washington state.
Ironically, despite demanding that others pay the price for these extremist policies, the folks at 350 Spokane think they shouldn’t have to pay that price themselves.
How do I know this? They told me.
350 Spokane, along with elected officials like state Rep. Marcus Riccelli and Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart and City Council members Kate Burke, Lori Kinnear and Breean Beggs, signed a newspaper ad attacking the Washington Policy Center’s environmental protection policy recommendations. They didn’t cite any particular policy. It was the standard, vague political insult.
Politicians like to talk, but the environment doesn’t care about political rhetoric. What truly helps our environment are policies that deliver results. It starts with individuals who conserve gasoline or save electricity. It is easy to say you are an environmental hero. The real question is, “What do you do?”
I invest in greenhouse-gas-reduction projects. The Bonneville Environmental Foundation offers individuals the opportunity to fund projects, like methane capture at landfills, that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The projects are certified by Green-e, ensuring tangible environmental benefit. Each year, I buy 11 metric tons of CO2 reduction – the average emitted by a Washington state resident. There is risk from CO2, and I put my money where my mouth is.
I asked if 350 Spokane, the elected officials and others who criticized us if they would match my personal commitment.
None of the elected officials responded. They are quick to make loud, self-congratulatory proclamations about fighting climate change. Asked what steps they take personally, however, they suddenly went silent.
350 Spokane sent me a petulant answer: “You’re not my mother.” Activists who encourage politicians to control every aspect of our life – the energy we use, how we live, the food we eat – bristle when asked to live up to their own purported standards. Sacrificing for the climate is for other people, apparently.
One business owner who signed the ad pointed to solar panels on her roof as evidence she was helping the planet. She waved off my efforts as “petty carbon purchases.” This says a great deal about what passes for environmentalism today.
First, rather than being pleased to find I take personal environmental action, the owner attacked me for it. Rather than celebrate a new friend, she saw me as a competitor for the attention she wanted as a climate crusader. She added her name to the ad because she wanted the limelight, not because she wanted to help the environment.
Second, rather than sacrificing for the environment, people with solar panels profit from them. Taxpayer and utility subsidies for solar panels are so large, many people end up making money. Further, research shows that solar panels are overwhelmingly owned by the wealthy, so working taxpayers are subsidizing the rich.
Perhaps worst of all, although solar panels reduce only a small fraction of a business’s environmental impact, they generate the self-righteous feeling that prevents them from taking real, meaningful action to reduce their entire impact. Someone who took steps to reduce 10% of her CO2 emissions feels smug enough to attack someone who cut his impact by 100%. Using solar panels as an excuse not to take meaningful, personal action is perhaps the most harmful aspect of solar panels.
We need to have a serious discussion about climate and energy policy. Currently, however, climate change is simply a political buzzword used to make vague attacks on political opponents and generate a green aura around politicians and activists. Those who want to be taken seriously need to show they are willing to live the actions they want to impose on everyone else. In Spokane, some environmental activists and politicians failed that test.
Todd Myers is the author of the book “Eco-Fads” and is the environmental director at the Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Tri-Cities, Olympia and Seattle. Online at washingtonpolicy.org.
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