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It’s an old saying, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." Environmental activists and groups are taking this idiom to new heights, planning extreme events across the country and the world this month to act out in civil disobedience in protest of the fossil fuel industry.
From Pennsylvania to Washington, organized protests sniffingly titled “Break Free from Fossil Fuels,” are led by billionaire "purists" in a group called 350.org. Their paid recruits and followers will disrupt normal activity in towns and cities to push their extreme and nonsensical ideology. Neither the leaders of the movement nor their fun-seeking demonstrators seem to realize that the disruptions will distract rather than add to a much larger – and needed – conversation about energy development. Even in Utah some 90 protestors crashed a Bureau of Land Management auction and started singing. The U.S. government is accommodating people who want to attend so they prevent anyone from speaking and consider it a success if it results in a shutdown of the event. This is not freedom of speech; it is not responsible, it is gangsterism paid for by billionaires.
Organized protests like these, offer no ideas, just rhetoric from a megaphone – the very embodiment of a squeaky wheel.
These organizations are ignoring a simple truth: The way America consumes energy is complex; it is not a real option for our society to stop using fossil fuels. Even “The Experts” from The Wall Street Journal could not unanimously agree on the benefits of renewable energy as a viable economic source. All in all, the U.S. needs to be engaging in a healthy mix of energy sources including the cheap reliable source of fossil fuels. But instead of focusing on real solutions, these organizations are planning protests that are shrouded in irony.
First, we should consider that these environmentalists will drive or fly to centrally located, regional protests all with the help of fossil fuels. These organizers will spend their day protesting and acting out in civil disobedience. And then the lucky few who avoid arrest will hop back in their cars, drive home, and turn on their lights, encouraged that they made the world a better place. A glowing Washington Post article headlined that "Why clean energy is now expanding even when fossil fuels are cheap." Only in paragraph 21 did it reveal that "wind and solar provide about 5 percent of U.S. electricity right now, for instance. Here, as across much of the world, electricity generation is still dominated by fossil fuels." The same is true, of course, of transportation fuels. The fossil fuel protests would not be possible without the modern advancements of fossil fuels –the irony should not be missed.
Consistently and equally ironic, these protests will interfere with daily economic activity of local communities where the fossil fuel industry provides numerous major economic benefits. Across the Midwest, protests are being held near Chicago and previously in Philadelphia, disrupting the daily business and lives of Midwesterners. The demonstrators know and do not care that they will be hurting the economic life of Midwesterners provided by fossil fuels. In Ohio alone, the Utica shale region is becoming one of the leading natural gas production areas, allowing fossil fuels to play a larger role in the state’s industry portfolio. In fact, shale energy and petrochemicals employ 89,875 workers each year. Additionally, the Progressive Policy Institute’s report “U.S. Investment Heroes of 2015,” states that fossil fuel companies invested $43.6 billion, underscoring how the power of innovation can drive investment growth. The billionaire backers of these demonstrations feel that they know better than ordinary Americans and that it is their duty to "fix" the situation to their liking.
Lastly, what is so striking about these protests is the depth of financial backing behind these environmental groups. Many of them are actually funded by multi-million dollar organizations with deep-pockets like the Rockefeller family or billionaire, Tom Steyer. Another billionaire, George Soros, founded and funds many such movements, as well. For these purposes, all pretend to be local groups the reality is quite clear: they do not care about local communities; they are focused on the ideological goals of their out of state and out of touch, wealthy financiers.
Take for example, the issue of fossil fuel divestment –an issue that 350.org has made a rallying cry for the fossil free movement. Much like these protests, divestment is a symbolic tactic that could have negative effects for local pensions. When a community divests, public servants, such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other officials who serve our community, must do without the high-yielding energy stocks, which are typically considered one of the safest investments. Additionally, divestment is not a viable action to reduce carbon emissions – two reports from Caltech and the University of Chicago Law School have proven that divestment is costly and inefficient.
Finally, after the protestors have come and gone, the local communities will have to foot the bill for the harm and disturbance these activists have created in communities. By refusing to listen to all sides of the argument and recognizing the economic benefits of fossil fuels, environmentalists are taking the wrong approach to address how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s time for ideological noise to end and a balanced conversation to take center stage. At least it's something we should all hope for.
Dr. Jack Rafuse, former White House energy adviser and current principal of the Rafuse Organization, advises government agencies, policy centers, businesses and associations on energy, trade, sanctions, national security issues and their interrelationships.