Squeaker wheels distract from energy conversation

Jack Rafuse
Jack Rafuse

There’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 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 to push their extreme and nonsensical ideology.
In, Utah some 90 protesters crashed a U.S. Bureau of Land Management auction and started singing. The U.S. government accommodates people who want to attend, so protesters 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’s not responsible. It’s gangsterism paid for by billionaires. Neither the leaders of the movement nor their fun-seeking demonstrators seem to realize the disruptions distract rather than add to a much larger and needed conversation about energy development. Organized protests like these offer no ideas, just rhetoric from a megaphone — the very embodiment of a squeaky wheel.

These organizations ignore a simple truth: The way America consumes energy is complex. It’s not a real option for our society to stop using fossil fuels. Even the “experts” from the Wall Street Journal couldn’t unanimously agree on the benefits of renewable energy as a viable economic source. All in all, the U.S. needs engage in a healthy mix of energy sources, including the cheap and reliable source of fossil fuels. But instead of focusing on real solutions, these organizations plan protests shrouded in irony.

First, we should consider these environmentalists will drive or fly to centrally located, regional protests 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 they made the world a better place. A glowing Washington Post article examined why clean energy is now expanding even when fossil fuels are cheap. Only in paragraph 21 did it reveal “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 wouldn’t be possible without the modern advancements of fossil fuels. The irony shouldn’t 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. In Denver alone, demonstrators will protest the auction of public lands and disrupt the daily business and lives of Coloradans. The demonstrators know and don’t care they’ll hurt the economic life of Colorado provided by fossil fuels. A 2016 report by the University of Colorado called crude oil “Colorado’s single-most valuable commodity in 2015,” generating more than $5 billion in revenue. Additionally, the Progressive Policy Institute’s report “U.S. Investment Heroes of 2015,” states fossil fuel companies invested $43.6 billion, underscoring how the power of innovation can drive investment growth. The billionaire backers of these demonstrations feel they know better than ordinary Americans and that it’s their duty to “fix” the situation to their liking. 

What’s 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 don’t care about local communities. They’re 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 350.org has made a rallying cry for the fossil-free movement. Much like these protests, divestment is a symbolic tactic that could hurt local pensions. When a community divests, such public servants as teachers, police officers, firefighters and other officials who serve our community must do without high-yielding energy stocks 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 prove divestment is costly and inefficient.

Finally, after the protesters have come and gone, local communities will have to foot the bill for the harm and disturbance these activists have created. By refusing to listen to all sides of the argument and recognizing the economic benefits of fossil fuels, environmentalists take 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. 

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