Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Environmental Retardation

Tim DeChristopher succeeded in monkey-wrenching a controversial Utah oil and gas auction late last week, when he bid on $1.7 million in drilling leases with no intention of paying. He thus pioneered a new form of protest that's bound to breed copy-cats, and became an overnight folk hero to wackos the world over – ensuring that he’ll have a well paid position as a professional activist waiting for him after graduation, with Environmental Anxiety, Inc.

Whether he'll face criminal charges has yet to be determined. But he "tainted the entire auction," according to one official with the Bureau of Land Management. "We were hosed," added a bona fide bidder who lost out to DeChristopher. “It's very frustrating. I hope the guy is prosecuted."

I, too, would like to see him prosecuted. But that will only prolong his time in the limelight and make him a martyr, which is just what he wants. The coverage has been glowing: He couldn’t have scripted it better, had he written it himself. Check out the excerpt below, written by an obviously fan with The Salt Lake Tribune:

"Tim DeChristopher stood alone Friday when he placed bogus bids on drilling parcels near two Utah national parks, single-handedly sabotaging an oil- and gas-lease sale that caught the attention of Congress and the incoming Obama administration. Now, the 27-year-old University of Utah economics student stands with powerful new friends, including Pat Shea, former head of the Bureau of Land Management; Utah's most prominent defense attorney, Ron Yengich; and hundreds of supporters promising to contribute to his legal-defense fund.

Others led him to this point, inspiring DeChristopher to oppose a government he fears is leading the world to climate disaster. His mother, Christine, helped start the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and took him as a small child to anti-coal rallies. Terry Root, a Stanford University scientist who worked with Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, put her hand on DeChristopher's shoulder and apologized for being too late to avert the worst effects of global warming. And Gore called on young people to commit acts of civil disobedience to stop greenhouse-gas belching coal-fired power plants."

Some who wrote responses to the story -- no kidding -- likened DeChristopher to the Rev. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. At least one mild rebuke could be found, on the editorial pages of The Grand Junction Sentinel:

"DeChristopher evidently considers himself a populist hero for his efforts Friday. But what he did wasn’t heroic. It was simply arrogant and thoughtless. Disagreement over a government decision is not a legitimate reason for dishonesty.

Here’s hoping the BLM goes after DeChristopher enthusiastically and forces him to pay with whatever assets he has, to show others such behavior won’t be accepted."

But the episode raises another question.

If Robert Redford and other drilling opponents place such high value on the lands in question, why don’t they put their money where their mouths are, become actual bidders and pay the fair market price for the minerals they want to deny the rest of us? It’s not as if the organizations who reflexively oppose drilling are lacking in resources – environmentalism is today an “industry” as big and powerful as those it uses as foils -- or lack supporters with deep pockets (like Redford). If Americans place a higher value on protecting "pristine" landscapes than they do on making productive uses of what’s underneath, the market is one way of determining that.

But greens can obstruct on the cheap simply by protesting, litigating and monkey-wrenching a process that’s supposed to serve the general welfare, by balancing economic and ecological ends, but which is too frequently hijacked by radicals. At present, all the costs of their knee-jerk obstructionism are borne by the rest of us, in a false scarcity of energy supplies, which leads to higher prices; in our growing dependence on foreign energy imports; in the limited utility of public lands that belong to energy consumers as much as they do to nature worshipers.

Having to pay for the oil and gas leases they want to idle would make them a little more discriminating -- at present, they simply oppose everything, everywhere, all the time, so they're blithely unaware of the need to make trade-offs, or of the economic hardships they are causing the rest of us.

Yes, I know these are environmentalists -- making them ignorant of, if not hostile to, economic concepts like markets, trade-offs and opportunity costs. Such utilitarian concepts don't compute in their simplistic world, where you're either a "saver" or a "destroyer" of the planet, and where the end ("saving the planet") justifies any means. They're suffering from a syndrome that might be called Environmental Retardation (or Enviro-mental Retardation). But if we could inject a little realism into their world, and a little economic awareness, the chances that reason might prevail over emotion in the energy debate might be improved, at least just a bit.

No comments: