The future of energy in the United States is a testy topic these days. Politicians, industry officials and special interests are fighting over partisan policy proposals. All actors are fully engaged in the art of hyperbolic mouth breathing — depraved political theater at its finest.
The Obama administration wants to build a legacy of environmental stewardship and energy independence. Not so easy in the current market, as these two tasks seem ever at odds. Regarding stewardship, the administration has put its political clout behind designating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness. This would liberate the landscape from oil and gas production, road construction, clear cuts and other industrial follies. However, the administration also proposes opening up sections of the Atlantic coast for oil exploration for the first time in US history. This would expose previously protected territories to industrialization and the risk of disaster.
Regarding ANWR, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) says this may be one of the largest conservation measures “since Congress passed the visionary Wilderness Act over 50 years ago.” Opponents, such as Marita Noon (executive director of Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy), liken the move to Obama siding with the Russians in America’s new Cold War: “The anti-American accusation may be a bit of hyperbole — but, then again, maybe not. When you connect the dots, it seems clear that President Obama is doing Russia’s bidding …” Apparently, Noon missed the Atlantic coast memo.
Regarding Atlantic exploration, DOI’s latest five-year plan calls for the government to lease southern coastal waters, and new areas of the Gulf of Mexico, to industry. In a flip-flop, industry officials celebrate the move while conservationists remain stunned, dismayed and angered.
The media narrative around these proposals is business as usual, focused mainly on what these proposals mean for Obama’s environmental legacy, the jeers and cheers from congressional Republicans and Democrats on their respective sides of the issues, and the wishes and concerns of industry giants and deep pocketed green groups are thoroughly detailed. Once again, the country’s energy future lies in the hands of those with access to the halls of power.
What’s missing from this narrative? The most important of social forces: You.
The market left has little regard for the vertical nature of the narrative. We envision vibrant social co-operation in the absence of centralized authority. We believe in competition between polycentric institutions and federations under democratic control. In short, we believe in the horizontal. Let’s look to one another as we craft the decisions that will cultivate the future of our communities — energy policy included.
In this libertarian order environmental stewardship and energy independence will not be at odds. Market actors will conduct cost/benefit analyses before harvesting resources. With the new burden of true environmental costs (such as the destruction of an ecosystem in the event of a disaster) a market mechanism for conservation will develop. It is in our best interest to have resilient, healthy ecological communities because the ecosystem services they award are far too important for the cash nexus.
The free society will be built by spontaneous order — by individuals with agency over their labor. Energy will be democratic, with decisions made based on community needs and natural limitations. The energy demands and environmental concerns of today are indeed great, but if we work together we can meet the challenges of the 21st century. So let’s begin our labor, leave behind the hyperbole and build democratic energy.