When we are told that ideally we should get rid of all fossil fuels, to avoid global warming and a resulting global catastrophe, it helps to look at prior warnings that we should replace our energy sources. A book written in 1984 by my parents: titled The Coercive Utopians – Social Deception by America’s Power Players describes the mindset of at least some of those who pushed for this idea in the recent past.
The book shows that multiple agendas can converge on a seemingly straightforward scientific question, and I think a corrollary is to be suspicious of socialists who act like born-again converts to environmentalism.
But lets go to the book:
Ecological panic struck the United States in 1970. The earth, up to then, a comfortable, taken-for-granted dwelling place, suddenly seemed in imminent danger of becoming uninhabitable. And just as millennial sects provide a date for the world’s end, so the enthusiasts of the ecological crisis offered a limited time span—unless radical steps were taken immediately—for the continuance of life. “We are already 5 years into the biosphere self-destruct era” read a sign in the Berkeley office of Ecology Action, one of the two hundred environmental groups that mushroomed in the San Francisco area alone during the panic. “The generations now on earth may be the last” read the cover of The Dying Generations, a book of readings published in 1971.
Public emotion reached its peak on April 22 with Earth Day, in which millions of Americans took part. Congress closed down as its members fanned out to make speeches on the environment to their constituents…reporters estimated that a hundred thousand people poured into Union Square…Mayor John Lindsay addressed the throng [saying that] the environmental issue could be summed up simply: “Do we want to live or die?” Other parts of the country produced more imaginative demonstrations. In Bloomington, Indiana, coeds dressed as witches pelted participants in the Earth Day rally with birth control pills.
The authors of the book consider the new left as made up of utopians. In this case, there were both environmental and political utopians.
Both groups wanted minimal production of energy. The political activists wanted to minimize energy production as a means to overturn the existing political and economic order, which they saw as incapable of continuing without abundant energy. Environmentalists..foresaw increased pressure for development of American resources, especially coal, offshore oil and hydroelectric, all of which, in their view, would have far-reaching undesirable environmental impact.
[Both types of utopian] have been opposed to further development of all forms of power that are viable economically. The Natural Resources Defense Council has used its money, including almost five million dollars from the Ford Foundation alone, to hire 20 lawyers who have brought suit against projects involving most kinds of power development: nuclear, coal, oil and hydroelectric. Similarly the Sierra Club’s energy platform not only opposes nuclear plants but asserts that strip mining of coal should be prohibited. (This would eliminate more than half our supply of coal.) The platform calls for moratorium on offshore oil drilling programs, opposes geothermal operations except under restrictive conditions, and opposes the “sacrifice for water power of any . . . high quality scenic resource area.” The same pattern of opposition to all forms of energy development characterizes the suits of the Environmental Defense Fund, which is frank in stating in its 1973 report to members that the foremost priority of its energy program is “to slow the rate of growth in demand for energy thus reducing the need for environmentally destructive generating and transmitting facilities.” The entire environmental movement has opposed synfuels, which are described with typical relations flair as “sinful.”
The environmental movement is of course associated with advocacy of “renewable” energy, above all solar power. But when the Department of Energy and NASA proposed developing a $2.5 trillion system of solar collection satellites to beam microwave energy from the sun to collectors on earth, environmental groups promptly banded together in Coalition against Satellite Power Systems. Since the complaint of
these groups is constantly that the government is not investing enough in solar energy, the cost was not what upset them. Rather, in the words of one of the groups, Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass project, it was that yet another energy technology would be “centralized.”
Some political radicals, proposed the transformation of society into decentralized pre-industrial communities: the medieval manor without its lord. This required radically reduced quantities and new forms of energy, not involving centralized generation.
Environmentalists were receptive to the anti-Capitalist ideas of the political radicals.
To them, it seemed that economic growth required fostering unnecessary appetites in the consumer to obtain corporate profits. The unnecessary products filling unnecessary appetites exacerbated pollution. And so economic growth, traditionally highly valued in American society, was portrayed by some environmentalists literally as a disease. In The Environmental Conscience, editor Robert Disch assails “the cancer-like expansion of the GNP” and Environmental Ethics, produced by the Science Action Coalition, similarly decries “the cancer of modern material growth.” Barry Commoner, both a recognized environmental leader and a political radical, asserts that since “environmental pollution is a sign of major incompatibility between our system of production and the environmental system that supports it,” capitalism will have to go.
Perhaps the most mysterious aspect of the campaign for de-development of the United States is the respectful hearing it has won. That a sect subscribed to a belief system that calls for rolling back the Industrial Revolution would entail no surprise. We would expect to see the sect’s visions of the future and roadmap for its achievement detailed in the magazines and bulletins of small groups of the faithful. But the visions of the environmental utopians are published in quintessential establishment journals like Foreign Affairs, whose editor told a reporter that he was prouder of having published Amory Lovins’ essay than of any other article. They are given lengthy and respectful treatment in such opinion-setting journals as The New Yorker, and a avalanche of books detailing the sect’s analysis of our problems and solutions for them have poured from virtually every major publishing house. The spokesmen for eliminating complex technology are consulted by President Carter and have been respectfully attended by committees of Congress. A number of those subscribing to the solutions were put in charge of major government energy programs in the Carter administration.
Why solar power? For anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, solar energy should be “a revolutionary vehicle with which people can take charge of their own power supplies, leaving the world’s richest corporations out in the cold.”
An article in Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass objects to corporate investment in development of photovoltaic cells on the grounds that solar energy should be an opportunity “to redistribute social and economic power.”
Self-proclaimed ecological anarchist Murray Bookchin, a guru not only of the counter-cultural Mother Earth News, but of Friends of the Earth, has announced: “Neither sexism, ageism, racism, the ‘energy crisis,’ corporate power . . . bureaucratic manipulation, militarism, urban devastation or political centralism can be separated from the ecological issue.”
My parents conclude their book, most of which is on political radicalism of the 60’s and 70’s with this:
And while they cannot build Utopia, “dystopia,” the antithesis of Utopia, men have the power to create. Long time New York Times correspondent, Arthur Krock, quoted a Czechoslovak student who visited the United States during the 1960s. He observed that the Americans he met were “pampered children of your permissive society, throwing temper tantrums because father gave them only education, security and freedom—but not Utopia. The student, experienced in “dystopia,” declared: “You simply haven’t faced up to the fact that you can’t build a Utopia without terror, and that before long, terror is all that’s left.
The Coercive Utopians – Rael Jean Isaac and Erich Isaac (Regnery Books – 1983)