Barone: $4 gas hits the Nuke the Caribou button

Michael Barone says that the American people have begun to turn against the environmentalists after having a dash of cold water — or expensive gasoline — splashed in their faces.  They have awakened to the overblown catastrophe fantasies and have started demanding common sense policy from Washington.  And those politicians who stand it the way may find themselves looking for a new job (via Let Freedom Ring):

Sometimes public opinion doesn’t flow smoothly; it shifts sharply when a tipping point is reached. Case in point: gas prices. $3 a gallon gas didn’t change anybody’s mind about energy issues. $4 a gallon gas did. Evidently, the experience of paying more than $50 for a tankful gets people thinking we should stop worrying so much about global warming and the environmental dangers of oil wells on the outer continental shelf and in Alaska. Drill now! Nuke the caribou!

Our system of divided government and litigation-friendly regulation makes it hard for our society to do things and easy for adroit lobbyists and lawyers to stop them. Nations with more centralized power and less democratic accountability find it easier: France and Japan generate most of their electricity by nuclear power and Chicago, where authority is more centralized and accountability less robust than in most of the country, depends more on nuclear power than almost all the rest of the nation.

In contrast, lobbyists and litigators for environmental restriction groups have produced energy policies that I suspect future generations will regard as lunatic. We haven’t built a new nuclear plant for some 30 years, since a Jane Fonda movie exaggerated their dangers. We have allowed states to ban oil drilling on the outer continental shelf, prompted by the failure of 40- or 50-year-old technology in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969, though current technology is much better, as shown by the lack of oil spills in the waters off Louisiana and Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina.

Why the sudden awakening? Barone hints around at it, but never quite explains it fully. It’s simple: it costs too much to be self-indulgent on environmentalism. Barack Obama hinted at the phenomenon here:

Liberals wanted the change to be so gradual that it wouldn’t alert Americans to the folly and cost of radical environmentalism. The cause suited their purposes perfectly, not for environmental reasons, but to gain control of energy production from the private sector. They wanted to produce so much regulation on the industry that it would all but grind to a halt, providing a rationalization for major government intervention — which Maxine Waters and Maurice Hinchey both explicitly demanded. And if gas prices hadn’t shot up so rapidly, they would probably have succeeded.Now that the cost has come home to a wide swath of Americans, environmentalism doesn’t sound as uplifting as it once did.  When the kangaroo rat kept one man from using his private property as he saw fit, only a few people objected to it.  When Congress and then Bill Clinton blocked exploration of ANWR, Americans shrugged.  Who needed American oil, which would have produced American jobs, when we could buy oil cheaply on the world market, providing price supports for countries like Iran and Sudan, and dictators like Saddam Hussein?  It was much better to have that feeling of self-congratulation for keeping this area pristine!

Suddenly, though, it’s not just a few farmers in California or Washington being victimized by runaway environmentalism.  It’s all of us — and now everyone understands the vapidity of radical Earth worship.  We’re not ready to “nuke the caribou”, but we’re finally finished with obsessing over each and every potential piece of damage that might occur on our own land while demanding that every other nation assume those risks on our behalf.  It’s long past time for that level of maturity, which is usually what develops when the bills suddenly come due.

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