Last week’s announcement that China and Russia had signed a 30-year, $400 billion gas deal posed a striking contrast to the Obama administration’s dithering on the Keystone XL pipeline. If two rival, backward powers are able to agree to share fossil fuel resources, power economic growth, and undertake the largest and most complicated construction project in the world, why can the U.S. not reach a deal to transport Canadian oil?
The answer is that environmentalists, funded by late converts to the cause like billionaire Tom Steyer, have successfully stalled Keystone XL, and perhaps killed it altogether. That is no mean political feat: they have had to overcome the unions, which generally support the pipeline and were Obama’s most reliable activists in his elections and subsequent policy campaigns. They don’t want the pipeline, and they don’t want oil or gas, period.
The result is that the U.S. is rapidly losing its strategic leadership in political and economic affairs. And a world led by China and Russia will be considerably less free, less prosperous, and less stable than one led by the U.S. Such a world will also be less indulgent towards the concerns of the environmental movement, which does not function outside the safe bubble of liberal democracy that is ultimately secured by guns and run on fossil fuels.
It is true that China and Russia have severe environmental problems, and both are the weaker for it. China in particular has developed with scant regard for the effects of pollution, which harm public health and threaten its economic future. But the environmental movement has lost the ability to distinguish between these very real environmental problems on the one hand, and abstract challenges such as climate change on the other.
Even if one assumes that climate change is as bad as the environmental movement makes it out to be, the costs of mitigating sea level and temperature changes are far lower than the cost of holding back economic growth for generations. At bottom, what makes the issue of climate change attractive to the environmental movement is not the actual threat posed but the utopian temptation of global management of human economic activity.
In much the same way, environmentalists are abusing the Endangered Species Act to starve farmers of water and ranchers of land–not, primarily, to protect threatened species, but to return ecosystems to as close to a mythical pristine state as possible.
In that, they have more in common with the communism that Russia and even China have abandoned. Theirs is an ideological obsession that could, in the end, bring down a superpower.
The reality is that fossil fuels will remain a strategic resource even if the green energy industry does succeed in developing renewable alternatives. The idea that the U.S. could withdraw from the Middle East, or other parts of the world, if only it were able to distance itself from the politics of fossil fuels has always been an illusion.
Energy independence is desirable in and of itself, but oil and gas will remain strategic spaces on the chessboard of foreign affairs.
China and Russia have long cooperated at the UN to shut down western efforts to undo tyranny in the Middle East. They have worked to undermine U.S. sanctions against Iran and to prop up the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar Assad, among others. Now they will be working together even more directly–and doing so as the U.S. isolates itself from energy markets. The environmental movement could be a great asset–but not on its present, radical path.