May 31 2013

Cape Wind and the Real Face of Environmentalism

Published by under Student blog entries

Cape Wind, a 1500 GW h wind farm located in Nantucket Sound, is slated to be the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States of America.  It’s been approved and construction will begin this year.  A victory for the environmental movement?  Yes and no.  Although Cape Wind is going forward, how that process occurred exposes the dark underbelly of the environmental movement.

It’s always been exceedingly convenient that the policies which most benefit wealthy Americans have been the policies supported by environmental groups.  The urban dwelling elites of the Acela Corridor rarely need to worry about making ends meet, so it’s pretty easy for them to support legislation that would raise the price of energy, transportation, and real estate.  What does a billionaire care if the cost per kilowatt hour is twenty cents higher?  It’s a drop in the proverbial ocean.  The pieties about clean air and clean energy often obscure the savage regulatory capture that has created a whole new class of “green” entrepreneurs whose existence has been willed into being by the fiat of executive departments.  This has always been the suspicion of conservatives, but Cape Wind is the masterclass example.

Most would assume that wind energy at an optimal site (windy, not too deep, no manatees, etc.) in the state of Massachusetts, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1, would be an optimal choice.  And many did, when the site first submitted its proposal in 2003.  But there was only one slight hitch: Ted Kennedy (Mary Jo Kopechne couldn’t be reached for comment,) John Kerry, and numerous other Democratic luminaries vacationed at Cape Cod.  And their viewsheds and yachts would be affected.  Almost overnight, a highly funded and wealthy pressure group sprang up to defeat Cape Wind.  The liberals were fine with clean energy.  Just not in their backyards.

The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the pressure group in question, threw every conceivable argument at the wall in hopes of convincing someone, anyone, that wind energy in Cape Cod was a terrible idea for reasons other than the fact that it impeded their spiffing twice-yearly regattas.  Wind turbines didn’t work.  The businessman behind Cape Wind would—gasp—make a profit.  There were local tribes on the island of Hyannis who needed a clear view for their religious practices.  Wind turbines killed birds.  (No one mentioned house cats.)  Commercial fishermen complained that the backers of Cape Wind were taking public goods for private profit.  And so on.

The project was finally approved in 2013, but not before the environmental movement took a body blow.  It’s going to be very difficult to convince working-class Americans that future environmental initiative aren’t really just an opportunity for the rich to enshrine their class privileges behind a facade of platitudes.  It’s actually a shame.  Environmentalism is an accoutrement a wealthy nation like ours can afford.  The United States’ standard of living is already so high, that retarding its forward progress in the name of protecting potentially irrevocable natural resources is a pretty reasonable policy choice.

There’s really no reason why Western Fuels Association should be able to profit by polluting the air, or Montsanto should be able to cover entire states in pesticides.  But if Cape Wind is the true face of the environmental movement, then I’ll be happy to fly the crop duster myself.


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