Cliven Bundy and the Origins of the American Abundance Revolution
Today, in the year 2064, as we look back over the last 50 years, it might seem as if the Abundance Revolution was inevitable, since so much wealth was involved. After all, it was wealth just waiting to be unleashed.
Yet paradoxically, on the eve of the Abundance Revolution, many of America’s leaders, on the right as well as the left, were preaching a strict doctrine of overall austerity.
Indeed, as we look back and study the events of 2014, we can see the results of the Green elite’s ideologically-driven effort to squelch even the relatively small amount of prosperity that Americans were then enjoying. That is, it was the Green elites who unwittingly opened the door to the Abundance Revolution and the fantastic increase in wealth that Americans have since realized over the last half-century.
We can point to three events, all occurring in April 2014.
The first triggering event, now the stuff of lore and legend, was the incident in Bunkerville, Nevada, in which Cliven Bundy, then an anonymous citizen, joined by several hundred supporters, faced down a federal army led by an ally of then-Sen. Harry Reid. The incident began on April 5, 2014, when the federal government attempted to seize Bundy’s property; that attempt, which struck many as overkill, led to a series of confrontations that ultimately inspired national news coverage.
What highlighted the incident further were the comments of Sen. Reid, who referred to Bundy and his allies as “terrorists.” That seemed such an excessive reaction that observers grew curious as to why Reid felt so strongly.
Some clues as to the government’s behavior were found in an opinion piece on Fox News by Wayne Allyn Root, the future national leader, in which Root asked, “Why is US Senator Harry Reid so concerned with a local Nevada rancher?” Presciently, Root noted that Reid allies were involved in “green energy” efforts, which required vast tracts of land for solar facilities. As Root opined:
Reid and the BLM [Bureau of Land Management, a now-defunct federal agency] needed a “cover story” to take the land away from the ranchers. So they claim it’s about protecting the “endangered” desert tortoise.
But if the protection of the desert tortoise was so important to the BLM, why did the same BLM kill hundreds of desert tortoises last fall?
If protecting the tortoises was so important, why has the BLM constantly waived rules protecting the desert tortoise for multiple solar and wind projects? If cattle are a danger to tortoises, why are solar panels and wind turbines not a danger?
Root concluded, “There’s much more to this story.” Then he added:
My educated guess is that someone in the government already has big plans lined up for the Bundy Ranch. Someone is going to make a financial killing with this forceful land grab. Someone powerful in government wants the Bundy family off their land (after 140 years).
Exactly. Root’s suspicions were vindicated, as we know, in surprising ways that made Root famous and left Reid’s career and reputation in ruins.
The second triggering incident occurred a few hundred miles away in Salt Lake City on April 17, 2014. The first of a series of assemblies of local officials and state land commissioners focused on one goal: reasserting state sovereignty over federal lands.
“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” declared state representative Becky Lockhart. At the time, of course, Lockhart was merely Speaker of the Utah House; she had yet to launch her illustrious career in national politics. The manifesto that she and the other leaders agreed to, remembered in history as the Salt Lake Statement, is regarded today as one of the most important writings of the Abundance Revolution.
In the nation as a whole, the states’ lack of sovereignty over their own territory had indeed been scandalous. In 2014, for example, the federal government owned 57 percent of Utah, 84 percent of Nevada, and 69 percent of Sarah Palin's Alaska. Indeed, Uncle Sam owned 47 percent of the land in the 11 Western states and about 28 of the total land of the US. Back in the 19th century, this federal ownership of land had begun innocently enough, for the simple reason that nobody else wanted the land; it had no economic value, unless it could be “reclaimed” by federal irrigation efforts.
Yet beginning in the 1970s, the federal government’s approach to land management changed dramatically. Whereas once Uncle Sam had supported development where possible, through dams and other kinds of infrastructure, the new federal policy was the opposite: The Greens, gaining control of federal policymaking during the 1970s, saw federal ownership of the land as an opportunity to stop any sort of development or economic growth.
And a key tool for the Greens was the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. ESA represented a radical expansion of federal power: In the past, the national parks had been set aside to protect endangered species; yet after ESA was passed, the entire country became, in effect, a national park. As a result, in any location where activists could identify an “endangered species,” they could squelch development. And so enforcement of ESA became a kind of racket, in which clever biologists and litigators could team up to block any sort of development and take effective control of any land.
Yet as a reminder of the wisdom that power begets hubris and then nemesis, it was overreaching on the ESA’s power that led to the Battle of Bunkerville; Bundy and other ranchers in Nevada were pushed off their land to protect the desert tortoise, a species that could easily have been protected—if that were really the issue—in zoos or nature preserves. But instead, the Greens got greedy, and that led to the moment when Bundy drew his famous Line in the Desert.
The repercussions in Nevada and nationwide were seismic in their long-run shock value. Most Nevadans, Westerners, and Americans came to see the folly of—and the poverty of—federal restrictiveness on resource development. As Kerry Picket, author of the classic history of that era, From Bunker Hill to Bunkerville: The Inside Story, observed later, “Everything started to change the moment that Cliven stood up for himself, his land, and his way of life.” Yes, great events came from small beginnings—in this case, a tortoise. (Indeed, the Nevada tortoise population is doing fine; sound management enables four-leggers and two-leggers not only to coexist together, but also to flourish.)
The third triggering incident came on April 18, 2014, when the Barack Obama administration announced that it was delaying, yet again, any decision on the Keystone Pipeline. This move was widely regarded as cynical pandering to a sect of Green billionaires, led by the infamous Tom Steyer of San Francisco. The Obama administration and many Democrats seemed happy enough to bow to Steyer’s wishes in return for campaign cash, but in this instance, the pandering was so flagrant that the decision blew up in the administration’s face. While the liberal media were happy with the Keystone decision, the legacy press was no longer powerful enough to sway public opinion. Instead, the struggle for public opinion was swayed by activists who took to alternative and social media to make the case in favor of Keystone—and against the Reign of Steyer.
One key activist of that era was Phil Kerpen, who launched an aggressive Twitter campaign, pounding away on the seeming corruption of the nexus of the Keystone decision and Green campaign contributions. As Wayne Allyn Root said many years later, “I couldn’t have spearheaded my investigation, let alone my presidential campaign, without Phil’s muckraking.”
The fourth triggering event was America’s belated realization, during March and April 2014, that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was not a friend. The Obama administration had been notably slow to grasp the full implications of Putin’s incursion into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but the rest of the world could see the need for an urgent campaign of energy independence from Russia. And that’s what happened: The 2016 presidential election, for example, is remembered as the Energy Election.
So in our review of the origins of the Abundance Revolution, we can cite three domestic events and one foreign event: first, the Battle of Bunkerville; second, the Salt Lake Statement; third, the Obama administration’s last failed attempt to block the Keystone Pipeline; and fourth, the Russian incursion into Ukraine and the beginning of Cold War II.
Yet we must also note a larger trend, which had been building for decades prior to the events of April 2014. And that trend was the greater scientific and technical knowledge that led to a deeper understanding of how to exploit natural resources and use them for ever-accelerating wealth creation.
We might recall that a similar effort in the West against federal control, the “Sagebrush Rebellion” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, had fired up and then fizzled. Looking back now at the Sagebrush Rebellion, we can see that the Rebels had the right idea, but the financial stakes were too low for them to succeed. That is, yes, there were timeless principles of a state’s sovereignty and freedom at issue, but most Americans of the 1970s and 1980s didn’t see that the issue of Western land was that big of a deal.
That lack of appreciation for the value of natural resources did not change, of course, until the fracking boom of the early 21st century. Once fracking started happening on a large scale, and once North Dakota grew to be one of the richest states in the union, people across the country began to realize that fracking could make them rich, too.
Still, it took a while for the political system to absorb the idea that America could be truly rich. In 2009, for example, President Obama launched a “stimulus” program for the economy that completely ignored the idea of expanding energy production—even as a study from the Congressional Research Service found that the US had the greatest energy resources of any country in the world; the study found that American possessed greater energy reserves than Saudi Arabia, China, and Canada combined.
Yet the Obama administration, focused on “climate change,” chose to ignore this data; indeed, it did everything it could to oppose greater energy production. The administration instead pursued such nostrums as printing money through the “quantitative easing” monetary process.
Meanwhile, during the Obama presidency, Americans could see that North Dakota wasn’t unique in its energy abundance; it was simply early. News reports began to notice that huge reserves of energy were to be found all through the Midwest and Northeast, in California and everywhere offshore, everywhere, period.
In 2013, the Institute for Energy Research issued a report noting that the total value of oil and natural gas under federal lands and federal waters amounted to $128 trillion. In that era, $128 trillion was more than seven times the GDP of the US, more than 10 times the national debt held by the public, and more than 40 times annual federal revenues. A few observers took note of the report, suggesting policies to make use of that wealth, and yet most figures, in both parties, seemed not to notice the bonanza beneath their feet.
Why this lack of interest? Why this blindness to future gushers of wealth? Looking back to that hinge period, we can see that both major political parties were so heavily invested in their approach to economic and fiscal issues that they didn't want to see any change at all.
The Democrats, firmly in the grip of their Malthusian wing, were simply not interested in seeing more energy production. It took several election cycles for them to realize that the wealth of Steyer and his Green allies was, in fact, a poisoned chalice.
The Republicans, meanwhile, although receptive to the idea of greater energy production, were slow to fully champion the idea, because they were locked into their priority of cutting federal spending; it seemed that the Abundance Revolution was a threat to their idea of shrinking government. And so it took time for Republicans to realize that rapidly enriching the private sector was a better way to “starve the beast,” at least on a relative basis, than the familiar frontal attack on entitlement spending. It was the prospect of tens of trillions in new wealth in the private sector that eventually motivated the GOP to embrace a truly comprehensive “all of the above” energy strategy.
In addition, both parties contained a group of well-meaning centrists who worried about “climate change.” Half a century later, the debate over whether climate change was happening back then has never been settled, but as we know, the climate-change issue was mooted by the Carbon Sequestration Revolution of the teens and twenties. And so we could freely burn not only natural gas and oil but also, in addition, coal—and coal added many trillions more to national wealth.
In other words, technology once again changed the game: Today, when we think of carbon dioxide, we think of such wondrous carbon sinks as high-rises built of carbon nanotubes, thousand-yard-high “Avatar Trees,” and the new Carbon Islands archipelago in the Pacific, which now vies with the Hawaiian Islands as a resort destination.
At about the same time, in 2014, as the US was waking up to the crisis of scarcity, as well as the enticing prospect of energy abundance, Americans also began to realize that we faced other shortfalls, too.
In particular, we needed to secure our access to Rare Earth Elements (REE). For most of human history, such exotic REE as Lanthanum, Scandium, and Ytrrium were just mineral curiosities. Yet by the late 20th century, human ingenuity had found vital uses for REE in the new information economy. We found that it simply wasn't possible to run computer chips, lasers, batteries, and other advanced technology without REE.
Yet to our national consternation, we came to realize that the Greens had been drastically restricting domestic REE production, just as they had restricted domestic energy production. In both instances, vast wealth had been locked under federal lands, and not released until big pro-growth political change came to Washington, DC. Just as we didn't want our allies to be dependent on Russia for energy production, we didn’t want ourselves to be dependent on China for REE.
Today, America is not only exponentially richer than it was 50 years ago, it is also safer and more secure. Powered by cheap energy, we make things here at home, and we use our brains to keep finding more energy, more REE, and more wealth. We enjoy all the wonders that we once thought we could not afford, from first-rate infrastructure and generous old-age pensions to organ regeneration to minimal taxes—even a budget surplus. We are protected by missile defense, even as adventurous Americans embark on deep-space travel.
Yes, it’s been a great half-century for America, and we owe much of our good fortune to the bravery of Cliven Bundy.