Environmentalists' One-Dimensional Strategy of 'No'

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: May 6, 2014 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

If environmental groups have learned anything over the last 100 years, it's that they're more effective stopping things than making things happen.

They either have to stop something from being built or shut it down. That's what they do. That's all they do.

And they do it by manufacturing bad guys like GM manufactures Chevys. Anything that quacks like a conglomerate dripping in profit gets a "Big" name -- Big Timber, Big Ag, Big Sugar, Big Tobacco and, of course, Big Oil. The "Big" is code for "Bad."

Nobody but nobody marshals indignation, attracts litigators and incites fear as masterfully as well-financed, committed conservationists. Those folks can pound the "Big" label like jungle drums in a rain forest.

I believe President Obama knows this. I believe as president, he doesn't want to be seen as anybody but a positive, ahead-of-his-time, thinking man's environmentalist. A winner, but not a ruthless tyrant. So, he says, let's fight climate change by having cars that don't use gasoline; let's improve the energy efficiency of buildings, which would greatly reduce the use of oil and gas for heating.

But that's the patient, reasonable approach. Sissy stuff in Conservation World. And it's not working out for President Obama, a man with less than three years to make his mark.

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

So, what does he do but let leaders of the climate movement like Bill McKibben, environmentalist and author who has written extensively on global warming, speak for him. McKibben, remember, found success by making the villain Big Oil and confronting Big Oil over the Keystone XL Pipeline. There's a social media blitz that won't quit behind him. Billionaire Tom Steyer and his checkbook didn't come along until later.

If the president could have built a climate movement on urging people to walk or ride bicycles or switch to mass transit, that would be positive. It would be making the right things happen. But he knows it wouldn't work -- at least not fast enough. No bad guys to take on.

What I'm telling you is, today's lawyered-up environmentalists aren't a bunch of harmless hippies harking back to their Shaker looms and Whole Earth catalogs. They're smart, sophisticated and especially good at afflicting the conscience of Middle Class America. 

They have us so intimidated, so guilty-as-charged, we're banging our heads against the wall for driving a 20-miles-per-gallon Explorer -- yet we never question why they're filling up their Land Rovers and Lexises at the same stations.

Environmental groups, howling loudly at the power and profit of Big Oil in America, have themselves created a lucrative cottage industry of law firms and consultants who cause decades of delays and cost government at every level millions, eventually billions of dollars. But, for environmentalists, the end justifies the means. They're fighting evil. They are the good guys.

But solutions? They're hopeless. Solutions usually involve compromise, and compromise is not a word in the environmentalist's dictionary.

The bitter irony in the political rhetoric and wrangling surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline is that there is a far worse alternative. Keystone has a rival, Enbridge Inc. Enbridge, as Grist reported, has been quietly moving ahead with a slightly smaller project that could be piping 660,000 barrels of crude per day to the Gulf Coast by 2015. (Keystone's plan is for 700,000 barrels a day.)

For environmentalists hoping that blocking the KXL would choke the carbon-intensive development of the Canadian tar sands, the Enbridge Eastern Gulf pipeline would be a disaster.

The 774-mile pipeline would run from Patoka, Ill., to St. James, La., alleviating a pipeline bottleneck in the Midwest, where the shale oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation meets the flow from Alberta’s oil sands -- overwhelming the capacity of the current pipelines.

Without the public outcry that has bogged down Keystone, the project has flown along smoothly under the radar.

There's reason to be concerned: Enbridge was behind the largest overland pipeline spill in U.S. history. In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline unleashed more than 1.1 million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River and its surrounding wetlands. The spill is still being cleaned up, with the bill rising to over $1 billion. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there may be as much as 100,000 gallons of oil still lingering on the bed of the river.

The bottom line here is, stopping a particular pipeline is like playing whack-a-mole. By finding a way to hold up a project as vetted and re-vetted as the Keystone XL has been -- and ignoring one of dubious merit that walks into the country on a free pass -- environmentalists' one-dimensional strategy could be subjecting the nation to exactly the kind of nightmare they fear most.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

Comments (12)

Robert Heiney
8:49AM MAY 7TH 2014
Yes, we all live in glass houses, and we all throw rocks. If environmentalists want to truly make changes, they should get out of bed with either side of the political isle. And politics has no business in dictating environmental policy. Unfortunately, "BIG" business doesn't care about the air we breath, or the water we drink, or how much oil we pump out of good old mother earth. Some day, it will end. And those of us, that still drive a fossil fuel car, will be begging the guy with the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle for a ride.

We need to stop fighting against each other, and start working with each other for a better future and a better earth. Too bad no one gets rich over that!
Steven Norton
7:38PM MAY 6TH 2014
The pipeline is important to reduce the US dependance on foreign oil imports. And when looking at methods of transporting coal or oil, we have to look at the alternatives, rail and barge. I would think both of these offer a greater chance of environmental disaster than pipelines, trassporting oil or gas. It's wonderful to thing about solar power, and natural gas replacing our dependance on coal and oil, and trucks and busses are making inroads to switch away from oil. But this transitition will take many years to switch automobiles. In the meantime, the pipeline is necessary to reduce our dependance on foreign oil.
Barbara Susco
3:22PM MAY 6TH 2014
I heard the news this morning-that the Prez wants deal with"global warming " more quickly..."stroke of the pen, kinda cool"scenario. AS a victim of a Palm Bch Cty land grab property rights are my main mission! We have to fight junk science with the truth like the book by John L Casey...COLDSUN and the work of CFACT
8:20PM MAY 6TH 2014
Yes, yes, you clearly know more than ALL scientists that don't agree with you (i.e. the >97% overwhelming majority) . . . . your multiple Ph.Ds in relevant field like the geosciences, climatology and oceanography demonstrate that . . . . . oh, that's right . . . . you don't have one, not one . . . . yet you brazenly still claim to KNOW what is junk science and what isn't . . . . . SIGH, clearly just more screaming I-know-everything-despite-having-no-qualifications right wing politics of the "Big Lie" . . . . and proving, once again, your sad partisanship . . . and being plainly . . . . . . .

Pathetic . . . .

And if you're still not changing your stripes (and continue to deny everything that scientists like I say about actual, peer-reviewed climate science), listen to these words today from Lee Thomas - Ronald Reagan's EPA Director from 1985-1989 and past CEO of Rayonier Corp:

"Climate change is one of the greatest risks facing our society, and Florida is already feeling its effects. It's time to follow the facts and take a sensible approach to address this urgent problem" . . .
11:30AM MAY 7TH 2014
One group of scientist who are conspicuously NOT with the consensus or even have a majority who support human cause of climate change are meteorologist. The "right wing radical rag" NPR had not one but two new stories about this yesterday and mentioned how ironic that meteorologist did not support climate models. They knew the unreliability of the weather models that they use and how models going out multiple years and decades were unreliable.
6:13PM MAY 7TH 2014
Yes, yes, you must be right . . . . . guess that's why in 2012 the American Meteorological Society (you know, the main organization representing Meteorologists) stated the following:

2012 - American Meteorological Society: "It is clear from extensive scientific evidence that the dominant cause of the rapid change in climate of the past half century is human-induced increases in the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), chlorofluorocarbons, methane, and nitrous oxide." . . .

Sorry your "legal" partisan spin is so easily disproven when it comes to actual science (and there's more statements from AMS available, as well as a long list from other major scientific organizations . . . and not a ONE supporting that climate change isn't real and doesn't have a man-made influence) . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
Gary Whittenberger
11:59AM MAY 6TH 2014
While I agree with the author that we environmentalists need to have more than a "no" strategy and certainly more than "no to Keystone" strategy, I think the author is mistaken in some ways. Two quotes, followed by my comments:

"But solutions? They're [the environmentalists are] hopeless. Solutions usually involve compromise, and compromise is not a word in the environmentalist's dictionary.

GW: Environmentalists have lots of good solutions! They are not hopeless. Solutions sometimes involve compromise, but not always. And "compromise" is a word in the environmentalist's dictionary. I think the author is wrong on all of these points. The development and implementation of green energy generation is a huge "good solution."

"For environmentalists hoping that blocking the KXL would choke the carbon-intensive development of the Canadian tar sands, the Enbridge Eastern Gulf pipeline would be a disaster."

GW: It's good that the author has brought the Enbridge pipeline to our attention. (I'd not heard of it.) Nevertheless, she first puts down environmentalists for saying "no" so much and then she turns around and urges us to say "no" to Enbridge. This is a major flaw in her essay and strategy.
10:37AM MAY 6TH 2014
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) mission to prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions has expanded into an “unusual” coordinated campaign involving state attorneys general, according to documents obtained by The Guardian and released Friday.

ALEC, an influential right-wing lobbying group funded in part by petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, has been working to undermine anti-pollution and pro-clean energy policies for years. But in 2014, the group adopted a new tactic — seeking out friendly state attorneys and encouraging them to sue the EPA
So, the "Consumer Energy Alliance" outfit is funded by ALEC, and billionaires can lobby and pay off our elected officials, but the common people get accused of "attracting litigators"? The irony would be amusing if not so illogical. and so destructive, and based on lies.
9:51AM MAY 6TH 2014
Please stop referring to tar sands as "crude" oil. There is resistance to Enbridge pipeline as well. There is currently so much wholesale destruction of our fresh water, soil, and air, that for many people who actually care beyond bank account, the Keystone XL pipeline became the proverbial line in the sand. How ironic that Ms Smith condemns environmentalists for organizing and employing the only defense the government understands, the legalities of court. Could it be that the "big money" funded CEA has made a tidy "donation" to Sunshine State News? The jobs created by ramming a leaking toxic pipeline down the body of our country, will be temporary. The thick tar sands will be processed in our already sickened Gulf region, (due to another corporate fiasco-BP) and then the refined tar sands will be shipped to Asia. Who profits? The Koch brothers and crowd. Who suffers? all species of life. You can't eat money. Some people must learn the hard way. Why isn't the "Sunshine State" putting people to work in solar?
big utilities, big oil, shareholders, and banks, and oh yes, corporate media.
9:45AM MAY 6TH 2014
Be still my heart! Nice article Nancy. Still don't support tar sand transport, but you've identified something else to monitor and watch.

And you are right... "Big" doesn't do justice to the reach and control these companies enjoy. We need a new meme. I'll get my team of lawyers and slick consultants right on that.
9:33AM MAY 6TH 2014
As Wm. Shakespeare said way back when, "Let's kill all the lawyers".
7:19AM MAY 6TH 2014
Ms. Smith,
I agree environmentalists can be hypocrites- (though that's probably true of everyone when it comes to one thing or another). I also happen to think criticism is a good thing- (even at times it's not warranted). As far as the Keystone pipeline and climate change, it may be warranted. But I take exception to this statement you made about environmentalists: "They either have to stop something from being built or shut it down. That's what they do. That's all they do."

That's painting with a pretty broad brush and is simply not true. Sure, there are times when it can be true, but it's not all they do. As far as having to be lawyered up, look no further than your own back yard for one example and you'd see environmental groups were getting nowhere substantial on water quality until they sued the EPA and forced them to step in. As far as forcing something to shut down. If your grandchildren had to stay indoors on "bad air days" because they were living downwind of an old polluting coal plant and the time they got to be grandfathered from the Clean Air Act was up, if they hadn't yet met the standards, just how many more years do you think they should have to comply so they wouldn't be forced to shut down?

On another note, you gotta know President Obama is pandering to his base. That's what Presidents do. President GW Bush pandered to his base by having the EPA lower the value of human life, re-instating the Global Gag Rule etc.

Otherwise, keep in mind. Sometimes it takes environmental extremism to counter profit extremism. Profit is not a bad thing- as long as it doesn't cost someone else their health or the health of their children and grandchildren. Or ruin another person's property values, or cost them their profits or raise their taxes. Take a look at China and you'd see what we'd look like if it weren't for environmentalists.

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