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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For the first time since it was conceived, Earth Day will be, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, observed virtually. That’s a big change for a 50-year-old cultural event celebrating the wonders of creation and the beauty of the big blue marble on which we all reside.

A lot has changed since the 1970s, when Earth Day was invented by politicians and activists and Madison Avenue types to bring attention to conservation efforts and the need to balance mankind’s productivity against the toll it took on the environment. The cause of clean air, clean water, responsible disposal of waste products and restoration of wastelands was and is something we can all support.


The number of people observing Earth Day has dwindled as it has become a global forum for the expression of fears of the future envisioned by extremists. That’s a shame. We all have a stake in the planet’s future, making constructive conversations and the search for common ground an undertaking essential to the survival of future generations.

This year the group 350.org is hosting a webinar that, rather than focusing on objectives we can all embrace, is devoted to the condemnation of those financing projects deemed incompatible with Earth Day extremism. United under a “Divest” banner and led by the “Stop the Money Pipeline” campaign, nearly 15,000 people have already agreed to join an online conversation devoted to tactics for blocking the development of new infrastructure projects since the on-site protests previously planned have become a health hazard thanks to the Wuhan flu.

Activists are being asked to stage a “mass call-in” to shut down the phones and interrupt the daily operations of the businesses and financiers whose activities and investments they oppose. This is a tactic straight out of Saul Alinsky’s playbook that, rather than making a point clearly, makes enemies out of everyone not expressly aligned with their cause.

If the objective is to produce policies allowing mankind and the planet to flourish simultaneously, the activist climate-minded groups are going about things in the wrong way. The debate is not, contrary to the claims of former Vice President Al Gore and other luminaries on the left, settled. There’s still plenty of things we don’t understand — including the extent to which mankind’s productive activities add to a situation that may be naturally occurring.

Fringe groups like those using Earth Day as an excuse to inundate empty offices with phone calls are not interested in coming together in any away other than ones they dictate. Their war on natural gas — which started just as soon as they all but buried the American coal industry — illustrates this plainly. Fossil fuels still supply a healthy portion of the nation’s base power load which, among other things, allows us to shelter in place and work from home during the current pandemic.

It matters that American natural gas is now a leading source of affordable energy that contributes significantly to emissions reductions. According to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas amounted to 31 percent of total U.S. primary energy consumption in 2018. Of that, 35 percent went to electricity generation, 33 percent was for industrial applications and 17 percent provided power to our homes.

Natural gas is a reliable, affordable bridge fuel that’s helping renewable resources remain in the energy mix while they become more efficient, more affordable, and generate more electricity. Yet many of the fringe types still characterize natural gas companies as bad actors. They are unwilling to even consider the extensive contributions the comapnies have made to higher living standards and a cleaner planet.

As we observe Earth Day 2020 from inside, whether we have on the air conditioning or we’re still running the furnace, it is important to remember the need for a balanced approach to the important issues surrounding the planet’s future. The fringe groups who consistently predict there’s only a decade left before a tipping point is reached or until an environmental catastrophe permanently alters the way we live are driving a debate over which the science remains unsettled and the future, if they get their way, is bleak.

Our future is better imagined as one where problems like those that occur in the environment are handled through better, more efficient technology. A 2020 EIA forecast predicts U.S. energy use and consumption will grow while simultaneously becoming less carbon intensive. These are the kinds of developments we should be pushing for rather than believing that government can mandate private industry do the impossible as it does with the current renewable fuel standards.

Earth Day is a time for a shared discussion of the solutions required to preserve the beauty and wonder of the planet while allowing for mankind to continue to progress. Environmental advocates must acknowledge the delicate balance needed and swear off extremist tactics that get them, and us, nowhere.


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