For the indefinite future, a specter is haunting progressivism, the specter of abundance. Because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people and because progressives believe that only government’s energy should flow unimpeded, they crave energy scarcities as an excuse for rationing — by them — that produces ever-more-minute government supervision of Americans’ behavior.
I don't think Will is exaggerating about the plans of some environmentalists. I once met a "save the Chesapeake Bay" operative who suggested creating a list of everyone living within the Bay's watershed, organized by families; only when someone in your family died or left the watershed, she said, would you be allowed to have a child. Migration into the watershed would be banned.
Almost everything you do affects the environment some way or another, so an environmental tyranny would be a very thoroughgoing one. It is always necessary, therefore, to balance environmental goals against freedom, and against the annoyance of having a holier-than-thou environmental priesthood lecturing the rest of us about our sins. Repeated claims that the earth is on the verge of environmental or population apocalypse have not come to pass, and I think this is one reason why most people don't take predictions of climate doomsday seriously. To rebuild their influence, environmentalists must shed their image as whining, nagging, bossy prophets who secretly long for a catastrophe because it would prove them right.
The way out of the human freedom vs. the environment trap is through new technology. If we can develop sustainable ways to generate all the electricity we want and to power the biggest cars we can fit on the road, we can have it both ways. Obama's people understand this, which is why they have pushed so hard to invest government money in solar power, electric cars, and other clean tech. Will and his allies hate this with an irrational passion, which is why they fulminate about Solyndra and crow that the Chevy Volt is selling badly. They don't want the problem to be solved and the conflict rendered moot; they want to force environmentalists to admit they were wrong in the first place.
But if environmentalists are wrong when they preach catastrophe, they are right that everything we do affects the planet. If we want the earth to remain a place we love and find beautiful, and that is healthy for our children, we should think about what our impacts are and limit them where we can.
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