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Environmentalists Are Forced To Walk A Fine Line

environmental groups

The environmental movement has always enjoyed the “good guy” label. As the myth goes, these are the people concerned about the long term, more concerned about others than themselves, and free of the evils generally associated with capitalism and greed. They are the crusaders who are willing to stand up and fight against business interests and the all-powerful.

Of course, the environmental movement also has morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry. Some of its leaders, Al Gore, for instance, have made hundreds of millions of dollars talking the talk without walking the walk. Unsurprisingly, even business tycoons and fat-cat politicians have tapped into the various benefits that the environmental movement can offer.

Heroic underdogs sometimes become huge industries themselves. Environmentalism has become one of the most powerful lobbying interest groups in the country, chalking up major victory after victory the past two decades.

The labor movement had a similar evolution, but its evolution took much longer than the environmental movement’s. Labor’s power became so great that they could steamroll opponents, but went too far in the process. Salaries, benefits and pensions are hamstringing many states and municipalities today, and public polls and union membership rolls indicate that big labor’s support is on the wane.

The environmental movement is headed in the same direction, as a sluggish economy and growing restrictions and costs frustrate the population’s patience. Expensive light bulbs that don’t provide much light, billions of tax dollars squandered or wasted in alternative technologies, $4 gas at the pump, etc., are trying the patience of Americans.

Just as organized labor’s footprint has shrunk, and support among the population has fallen, a backlash is beginning against the encroaching hand of environmentalism. Just as the general consumer still supports laborers, the support isn’t as strong for the labor movement. To a lesser degree, we’re starting to see a similar sentiment expressed toward the environmental movement.

Obviously, people want clean water, air and soil, but they want freedom from the nanny state as well.

Yes, the environmental movement’s credibility is weakening.  Hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction, also known as fracking, is a prime example. It offers cheap, clean energy, has a stellar safety record, offers economic opportunity, and provides the U.S. energy self-reliance. But environmental groups have labeled the technology as evil. It’s been an unexpected and tricky roadblock toward their goal of ending the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. Nonetheless, fracking technology has led to a boom in domestic oil and gas production.

A Closer Look: Scratching My Head Over “Frack-Free” Beef

States like California have been using the technology for years, with no evidence of the environmental degradation that’s been predicted. And, with record unemployment and what continues to be the most prolonged dismal economic performance of modern times, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue for policies that will reduce jobs or lower standards of living.

But to sustain itself, the big business that environmentalism has become must continue to generate billions of dollars. To do that, it must manufacture a steady stream of crises. The old standby tactics of simply hammering independent businesses and economic growth aren’t as effective anymore.

Thus, they must find a way to repackage their message and temper the effects of their agenda on consumers. If they continue to be seen as detrimental to the economy or, worse yet, advocating for certain industries over others to line their own pockets, the people’s perception of them will continue to decline.  

Obviously a more balanced approach when it comes to public policy makes sense. But just like the political parties, it’s the base that generates the billions of dollars in inflows. The trick lies in finding the balance between the mainstream public, which they need to clamor for (or stay out of the way of) their policies, and keeping the activists happy.

Another Viewpoint: Perhaps The Industry Needs New Allies

From an industry standpoint, not even the powerful oil and gas industries have been able to hold their own against the power of the environmental lobby. Industries like the cattle industry, of course, have been literally run over, with no recourse. Whether it’s endangered species, the Environmental Protection Agency or public land use, the environmental movement seemingly racks up victory after victory.

Agriculture must come together to provide a united front. This presents a whole lot of issues for cattlemen’s groups, which historically have never fought for issues not directly relevant to their cause.

But we have to accept that it’s not specific issues, but the extreme views of the movement that must be countered. Just like private property rights, they must be defended, whether they involve a rancher or not. 

It will mean some unlikely alliances and strange bedfellows from time to time, but one has to recognize the amazing power of the environmental movement and how it was magnified with global cooling, then global warming, and now climate change. They will continue to dictate the direction of public discourse until an opposing force can equal their impact and create balance.

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