I am a tree hugger and a capitalist

It is not uncommon for me to be called a tree hugger when I am speaking about protecting our environment, addressing man-influenced climate change or the perils of some fossil fuel retrieval processes that can and are wreaking havoc such as fracking or mountain top coal mining. Some who use this term intend to belittle my arguments, as they espouse the belief if you label something with a moniker that has a negative connotation in some circles, it dismisses my arguments as not worth heeding.

Yes, I am a tree hugger, but I am a capitalist as well. I firmly believe we do a disservice to the need to protect our environment without fully addressing the cost/ benefit analysis of fossil fuel retrieval processes or chemical use both within and to protect crops. Often, we do not fully measure the cost impact to net against the revenue impact. If we did more of this, then we may forego some measures as not justifiable from a cost/ benefit comparison. This would go on top of other impacts that may not show up directly in costs.

Here are few examples of what I mean.

– The city of Burlington, VT is now 100% powered by renewable energy including bio-mass, hydropower, wind and solar energy. Per the Burlington Electric Department, they have not had a rate increase since 2009 and their future projections said this package of renewable energy sources was the cheapest and most sustainable model. An environmental scientist with the University of Vermont noted that Burlington is not uniquely situated. The wind does not blow any more than elsewhere and the sun certainly does not shine as often as anyone would like, but their model is based on decisions leaders started making ten years ago.

– The state of North Carolina has spent a lot of time paving the way for fracking in our state trying to make an increasingly apparent unsafe process safer. After spending all this time, there may not be any takers as there is not much natural gas to frack in NC, which they knew beforehand. After the rules were finalized, the committee noted we knew it would be a stretch. Then, with so many problems, why did you go down this path wasting everyone’s time, energy and money on a bad process with little promise?

– The President has said he is OK with the pursuit of offshore drilling off the coast of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland. The two Senators from NC support this as well as our Governor. Yet, NC has a huge tourism business that is in the billions of dollars as well as a huge fishing industry. These folks are not too keen on this exploration given the risk and damage the operations bring. Further, just off the coast of North Carolina, wind energy could power the entire eastern seaboard of the US. And, as opposed to the Horizon oil rig collapse, when a wind mill crashes into the sea, it causes only a splash.

– When we speak of doing more fossil fuel development, we consistently hear jobs are one of the reasons. Yet, this is not an either/ or as there are jobs in the renewable energy industries as well. Just in solar energy, the numbers of jobs tally 174,000 in the US at year-end and more than double the number of coal industry jobs. Plus, the growth rate in solar jobs is double-digit the last five or so years, with 2014 seeing 22% growth. Those 25,000 new permanent jobs added in 2014 almost equal in one year the estimated temporary jobs from the Keystone pipeline. Plus, the sun shines in all states, so jobs can be spread around, especially with the even more compelling cost of solar.

The parts of the cost/ benefit equation that do not get factored in enough are the costs of cleaning up the messes and repairing the road and environmental degradation which is usually left for the state, the cost of healthcare when the environment is trashed or chemicals are used inappropriately or in excess, and the opportunity cost of lost water resources, which is one of our two dearest resources and is called the new oil. These latter two factors are reasons the state of New York said no to fracking.

Being totally frank, it makes economic sense to treat our environment well. It is so important, you can even find bible passages where we are compelled to take care of the environment. So, yes I am a tree hugger. My question is why isn’t everyone?