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Feature 07.06.2021 8 minutes

Power Trip

power failure Concept

The Biden Administration enables destructive ideologues even as it demonizes opposition.

“We always live in the eye of the more radical brother, who compels us to draw the practical conclusion and pursue it to the end.”—Carl Schmitt

Legal Domestic Terrorism

For the last 20 years, I’ve watched the United States government stoke fears of terrorism. Often, terrorists appeared on our screens and in print as context-free boogeymen. Once the security state had snatched up more funding and assaulted our liberties, we’d find out that the terrorists were blowback from some reckless foreign policy decision or were simply creatures of the FBI. Since my middle school days, the threat of terror has served as justification rather than motivation, while masquerading as the latter. So I felt, of all things, a bit nostalgic while watching the announcement of Biden’s domestic terror initiative.

I decided to look up the definition of “domestic terrorism” spelled out in the Patriot Act. It defines domestic terrorism as “activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. or of any state; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.” I couldn’t help but think of Thrasymachus, the beast of Plato’s Republic. Thrasymachus puts forth the controversial argument that justice is nothing but “the advantage of the stronger.” In other words, justice is whatever those in charge say it is. The law, then, serves merely as a reflection of their own self-interest.

Taking a look at part (A) of the domestic terrorism definition, I wondered, what happens when we cut the stipulation that terrorist acts “violate criminal laws”? Could there be such a thing as legal domestic terrorism? And if so, what would it look like? And who might it benefit?

I was led to wonder about this by a few recent events which flew under the radar of the big news cycles. I have in mind specifically some victories secured by the environmental movement. I’m not talking about the weirdos at the Earth Liberation Front. I’m talking about the big nine-digit budget groups who pay lobbyists, consultants, and boots-on-the-ground activists, the groups who succeed in shaping the way energy policy is discussed and thought of. Groups like the Sierra Club, The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Greenpeace, etc. They’re who I think of when I think of legal domestic terrorism.

The above paragraph is what will circulate around Twitter with screencaps from avowed leftists, environmentalists, and liberal bluechecks with captions like “imagine believing this,” “found a new type of guy,” “normal brain,” and so on. They will assiduously ignore my actual argument, which is this: The modern environmental movement is a legal domestic terrorist movement. It is responsible for committing acts dangerous to human life that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce the American people, to influence government policy via intimidation or coercion, and to affect the conduct of our government by destroying its most vital piece of infrastructure: the electricity grid.

Harm

The first criterion my argument has to meet is that these groups work to achieve results that harm human life. This seems difficult at first. I would need a shared standard of harm, a potentially ambiguous term. I’ll defer to the Respiratory Health Association (RHA), which argues that climate change driven by fossil fuel power plants hurts people’s health and increases the death rate. Anything that helps fossil fuel, then, harms human life. The RHA is in an alliance with the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC), which snapped into action when the Byron and Dresden nuclear plants were in danger of closure because of market rules that favored cheap natural gas and heavily subsidized renewables over their constant, reliable zero emissions power. They were made more vulnerable, because when it became clear that their owner, Exelon, needed subsidies to keep them running, a bribery scandal poisoned the well.

When Exelon showed up, hat in hand, at the state house, the environmentalists pushed for a climate bill, the Clean Energy Jobs Act, that called for the nuclear plants to not receive license extensions because they assumed that all of Illinois’s nuclear plants would switch off by 2050 anyway. It offered none of the subsidies the plants needed to survive. They dressed their plan up as a response to the “corrupt handouts” the plants were asking for. The unions had their own bill that would have defended their jobs in the plants and kept Illinois’s greatest sources of clean energy running. But that hasn’t panned out. In the gyre of the Illinois state house, a coal plant weaseled its way into the climate agreement. The environmental groups stated that if coal got any subsidies, they’d walk. Walk they did. The bill died, leaving Byron and Dresden in the cold. There may still be hope for the plants, but Exelon has moved on with its closure plans.

Moreover, some of the plant operators have already left, leaving Exelon with even greater expenses as they scramble to rehire. In the likelihood that Byron and Dresden go dark, it will be a gift to their greatest competition: the coal plant the environmentalists were so worried about. Nuclear is coal’s greatest competitor. With the nuclear plants out of the way, we can expect more coal to come on the grid, resulting in increased emissions. Where the environmentalists may win out over nuclear, they’ll lose to the dirtiest energy source on the grid.

It’d be easy to call that naïveté or incompetence if environmentalists weren’t so consistent in making carbon emissions rise. But we only need to look back a few months to understand that this is not a fluke: it’s what they want. The IEC is in an alliance with NRDC, EDF, and the Sierra Club. These groups were all complicit in the closure of Indian Point.

Indian Point was New York state’s sole profitable nuclear plant. For years, these groups stoked irrational fears of Indian Point’s danger to the city of New York. They argued that renewables could replace Indian Point with ease. In 2021, Governor Cuomo sided with them and forced the plant to close. Once Indian Point closed, a report from the research organization Environmental Progress shows that New York’s power became 46% dirtier. Renewables couldn’t pick up the slack, so three natural gas plants did. The plant’s host town of Buchanan lost thousands of high-paying union jobs and half of its tax base. And the nuclear plant’s approximately $800 million per year in revenue will now flow to natural gas companies.

Another natural gas plant meant to replace Indian Point will be located in the working class town of Newburgh, who will experience first-hand the environmental benefits of shuttering the nuclear plant. But air quality is a problem for regular people, not wealthy people like actors Mark Ruffalo and Alec Baldwin, who helped close Indian Point.

If we look back farther we can see the same trend. These groups have forced nuclear plants like San Onofre in California and Zion in Illinois to close. They currently have their sights on Diablo Canyon in California and Palisades in Michigan. As night follows day, fossil fuel, not renewables, will replace these plants. There is no state or country where this has not been the case. These groups work to help rather hinder fossil fuel plants, harming human life per their own definition.

Destruction

Major environmental organizations and their boosters believe that it is both possible and necessary for us to run our society on weather-dependent technology. This is junk science, but people with tenure say it, so easily snowed J-school moralists in the media repeat their claims. Indifferent to the material consequences of their actions, the environmental groups persist.

This weakens our most complex and vital piece of infrastructure: our electricity grid. Wind and solar energy rely on the weather. If the sun doesn’t shine—and it doesn’t for half the day—then solar doesn’t provide. If the wind doesn’t blow, then turbine blades stand still. So, when these groups succeed in getting a great deal of wind and solar onto our electricity grid, it makes our grid, which needs a steady provision of energy to stay online, vulnerable to weather patterns. Too much wind or sun, and problems arise. The same is true of too little.

The grid lives and dies by its ability to harmonize supply and demand: extremes endanger it. Renewables force electrical grids to accommodate greater extremes at the worst times. If it gets too hot or too cold, they fall to zero. The results are frightening. Texas and California provide great examples. They have similarly structured grids, and both are three-quarters of the way through $100 billion in renewables investments that will last until 2025.

In February, renewables advocates defended their technology when, despite comprising one-third of the Texas grid, it barely performed in a cold snap that led to fatal blackouts. Instead, they shifted the blame to fossil fuels, which had their own problems during the crisis. But now it’s the summer and the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has been reaching crisis levels regularly.

Hot weather in Texas isn’t a freak accident. ERCOT should be able to handle it. But just like California, the Lone Star state has run into what Meredith Angwin calls “the fatal trifecta” in her book Shorting the Grid (2020). The fatal trifecta is when a grid becomes over-reliant on renewables, natural gas, and imported electricity. The Wall Street Journal noticed the same trend in a recent op-ed by their editorial board.

No wonder ERCOT is using its smart thermostats to force people to live in unbearable heat during a heat wave—their grid is now vulnerable to expected weather. And no wonder California is panicking as a drought saps their hydro-power, thus putting a greater burden on underperforming solar and wind. They’re rightfully worried that we’ll see a repeat of last summer, when they faced problems similar to ERCOT’s.

It’s gotten so bad that keeping up with renewables is leading to component fatigue in other power generators, which strain to ramp up and down with their erratic rhythms. The very fabric of the grid is coming apart under the strain of environmentalists’ ambitions.

Thus, it could be said that these environmental groups aspire to “affect governmental policy by mass destruction.” They scaremonger about “extreme weather events.” But then make our electricity grid unsustainably reliant on weather. This makes what would otherwise be manageable shifts in weather feel more extreme because we’re now more vulnerable to them. Then the environmental groups point to the problems they’ve helped create and say, “See, we told you climate change would make this worse. That’s why we need to become one with nature using renewable energy.” In fact, the Sierra Club, NRDC, and EDF all claimed that Texas blackouts were an argument for weather-dependent renewables.

Interest

None of this has any teeth without asking the oldest and most important political question: cui bono? Who benefits? The answer is clear: the wind industry, the solar industry, the natural gas industry, investment firms like Blackrock and Berkshire Hathaway, and oligarchs like Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, and Tim Cook. Obviously, if environmentalists are pushing for wind and solar and we’re getting wind and solar, it’s a boon for those industries and for the groups that take their money.

The gas connection is less clear to outsiders, which is how the environmentalists want it. I mentioned above that wind and solar need back-ups. Natural gas power plants can be mobilized at the drop of a hat, which makes them a perfect partner for wind and solar, because they can pick up the slack when renewables drop off. No one who runs an electrical grid thinks renewables are reliable enough to run a grid on as long as there’s always more natural gas than wind or solar.

If you’ve been puzzling over those BP and Shell ads that depict wind turbines in pastoral settings lately, now you know why they’re there. The natural gas industry doesn’t care if renewables get built out because they know that as long as wind and solar get built, there will always be room for them at the trough—there has to be! Just ask the American Petroleum Institute—they believe natural gas is going to “thrive in the age of renewables.”

Major environmental groups know this. They’re quite literally banking on it. No one has done more work on this than Michael Shellenberger, who has revealed that these environmental groups are deeply invested in the fossil fuel economy. For example, the NRDC owns stock in Valero, Phillips 66, Haliburton, and more. These groups take money from billionaires like Tom Steyer who’ve made their bones off fossil fuel investments. Hell, Greenpeace even sells natural gas.

So, the major environmental organization push for renewables buildouts—which they must know by now don’t decarbonize because they’re invested in them not decarbonizing—and those buildouts then make our society more vulnerable to weather, which then justifies their apocalyptic environmental claims, which then scares people into accepting their solutions, and then those solutions worsen the problem and so on and so on. All the while they get richer and richer and grow more powerful.

Ideology

There’s more to this than naked self-interest. In fact, the level of cynicism and mental gymnastics required for these groups to maintain their position speaks to cognitive dissonance at depth. This dissonance has its own context. The environmental movement was born out of fear: fear of ecological degradation, and fear of man’s promethean might. No technology more symbolizes the latter than nuclear energy and the electricity grid.

Environmentalists see industrial wonders as horrors which stand for everything they believe to be wrong with society: economic growth, industrial power, more human beings, and so on. That’s why they’re committed to renewables at the expense of nuclear energy, even if it means more natural gas: they believe if they don’t do it, the world will end.

But this is a kind of apocalypticism born out of the post-WWII, post-energy crisis malaise that emerged with what Christopher Lasch called the culture of narcissism. Narcissism justifies a waning sense of historical time. This in turn shunts true consideration for posterity off the mainstage of life and society. Instead, we have a kind of therapeutic millenarianism, a perpetual crisis of the self that seeks comfort and consolation only for the present.

The extent to which climate discourse remains in the idiom of fear and trauma is the extent to which material reality and politics have been replaced with the narcissistic culture of therapy. If the world doesn’t end, then the environmentalists don’t get to be special. And elites love nothing more than to think of themselves as special.

The costs of their entitlement will be forced on to those of us who live below them. It’s everyday Americans who suffer when electricity bills go up, or the blackouts roll in, or the air gets worse. When it comes to consequences, being elite is cheap. You can afford to ruin the society that’s given you your wealth. You can afford to terrorize the public into meeting your demands without much fear of retaliation. You can even call it “climate justice” while you do it.

So, will the Biden administration do anything to stop them? Not likely. Gina McCarthy serves at his behest as the first ever White House Climate Advisor. Before that, she was the president and CEO of NRDC. Maybe Thrasymachus was right after all.

Suggested reading from the editors
Minority Report

Minority Report

The Biden Administration’s domestic terrorism strategy threatens to criminalize conservative speech and thought.

The War Comes Home

The War Comes Home

The Biden Administration’s Domestic Terrorism Strategy is practically designed for overreach.

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