When you think of modern conservation groups, you probably think of fundraising campaigns designed to scare people into giving money. They latch onto the latest doomsday cause, whether it has a science basis or not.
What you don't often think of are conservation groups being part of a broader solution for responsible energy management - stepping outside the stereotype of vilifying the industries it turns out America would like to have more of, and being a friendly guide for energy companies that are, after all, living in the same space we all are and who are not actually composed of cardboard cut-outs that are easily lumped into personality categories.
But a few groups in Pennsylvania are considering that more nuanced and positive approach, due to the popularity of fracking in the state and the resurgent economy it has brought. The problem with their efforts is, you guessed it, the actual membership of environmental groups, who are very George Bush-ian in their 'you are with us or against us' approach to environmental problem solving, even though none of them voted for George Bush. They want energy to remain the enemy of their America.
Industry groups want to fund research about fracking and they want to help conservation groups that aren't just cynically raising money raving about evil business in fundraising brochures created in expensive 'non-profit' corporate offices. In August, the Audubon Society, the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Marcellus Shale Coalition held a series of informational meetings for birdwatchers, hikers and sportsmen/women so people could ask questions about drilling. No big deal. But then the industry said it might donate $30 million to fund research on drilling impacts.
Yes, they wanted to fund science studies to find out if there was a problem. That's better than taxpayers funding government inefficiency to do the same thing, right? No, the implication from environmental group members was that if an environmental group took money from an industry group, they were for sale.
This is a silly assertion and it typifies why environmentalists are so anti-science. They believe the only ethical scientists are the ones who say exactly what environmentalists agree with in advance - when it comes to food, medicine or vaccines, scientists cannot be trusted but regarding climate issues, scientists are somehow okay - as long as they are preaching about the apocalypse.
They create a confusing, contradictory world in doing so. Are government employees more ethical than other people? That's the exact opposite of left-wing beliefs of even a generation ago, when the freedom-loving left hated government interference in choice. If funding source determines ethics, what about the government scientists who did research under 8 years of George Bush and Republicans? Are they unethical because a Republican boss determined what research got funded? Do environmentalists think government-controlled research has no agenda? It's all wonderfully naïve but not realistic. And what if a researcher goes from government-funded academia to the private sector? Do they lose their ethical street cred?
Sierra Club - always called Club Sierra by those of us who actually care about the environment yet are not anti-science hippies - took $26 million from the drilling industry. Did that make them unethical, was all of their work from 2007-2010 invalidated? Taking donations from industry to be critical of industry is not even among the top five ways Sierra Club is unethical but when they were outed by a blogger and then the New York Times, they launched a campaign critical of the gas industry, right after they had launched a campaign embracing natural gas to replace coal. They did not, however, return that $26 million. How can environmentalists think Sierra Club is ethical but the energy industry is not?
The reality is, hard-line protesters only get a token place at the table. When President Obama took office in 2009, he made war cool for the left and war protests stopped - they knew that they had no place at the table in the future if they kept protesting when their candidate was in office and so they went home even though Guantanamo Bay and American 'imperialism' did not change at all - and now they get to brag about killing Osama Bin Laden. So it goes with environmentalism. Sure, a storm may have helped re-elect him but President Obama didn't discuss climate change before it and he isn't discussing it now. Even Europe has given up on climate change efforts because mitigation is too expensive, non-nuclear alternatives are not ready yet and have accomplished little. So environmental elites know they have to be part of a solution and not just complain about the problem if they are to benefit from scarce funding in a bad economy - it's their members, who have been given a steady diet of cartoon-caricature images of science and industry and business, that are now the bottleneck.
Environmental groups will always have a hard time lobbying for increased regulations when the science shows there has been no harm. But if they work with industry in a positive way to help guide standards so the chances of any harm ever occurring are lessened, it will show they actually care about the environment and not just about what cause will grace the cover of their latest fundraising brochure. Does that mean they should embrace just any old group that writes a check? No, the Environmental Working Group being funded by the American Trial Lawyers Association to create research for asbestos litigation certainly made them look bad but, just like all industry employees are not evil, environment-hating leeches, not every environmental group that works with industry to create realistic standards has sold out.
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