The three highest-spending environmental groups during the 2020 election cycle were the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and the Sierra Club. All in all, they ran up a pretty good tab: $18,058,948 from LCV, $6,491,361 from EDF, and $4,047,638 from the Sierra Club, according to OpenSecrets.
The Biden team worked hand in glove with environmental activists on the campaign trail and throughout the administration’s first year in office, maintaining that its effort to decarbonize the economy would be good for American interests in the long term. But in the face of rising gasoline prices and new sanctions on Russian oil, that strategy has come under fire from many of the White House’s critics. It’s worth looking at how dominant environmentalist groups such as the LCV, the EDF, and the Sierra Club are responding to the burgeoning energy crisis. After all, their advocacy sits at the intersection of environmental and energy policy.
The League of Conservation Voters’ main web page has links to an article about “celebrating black leaders who defined the environmental justice movement,” a call to tell the Senate we need climate action now!, and a memo about “why LCV’s fight for voting rights and democracy reforms is stronger than ever.” There’s also a (now months-out-of-date) report on a “Jan. 6 Candlelight Vigil for Democracy,” detailing how thousands gathered across the country “in remembrance of that dark day one year ago when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, threatening our precious democracy.” There’s no mention of Russia, Ukraine, or rising gas prices on the home page. A search of the whole website reveals two March press releases on the topic: The first, a statement from the LCV president solemnly informs readers that “the need to ban Russian oil in response to Putin’s unlawful attack on Ukraine is a sobering reminder of why we must end our addiction to fossil fuels.” The second argues that “families in need of relief from higher costs are being lied to by corporate polluters and their allies — we can’t drill our way out of high gas prices. The only real solution to high, unreliable energy costs is investing in clean, renewable energy and shifting to electric vehicles.”
The latest updates on the Environmental Defense Fund’s front page celebrate “Biden’s first year: A robust record of climate action,” and feature a statement from the organization’s vice president of equity and justice on “the ongoing harmful legacy of redlining.” But nothing on Russia, Ukraine, or rising gas prices. The whole website features only one mention of the issue, published March 4: “The truth about Russia’s war: Our addiction to oil gives Putin power.” The article, penned by EDF’s senior vice president of energy, laments “how sad” it is “that some columnists here in the United States are using it as an opportunity to spin up a partisan attack on the Biden administration’s energy policy.”
The Sierra Club’s home page features a call for designating the site of the Springfield Race Massacre as a national monument, a section celebrating Women’s History Month, and links to campaigns for passing the “For the People Act,” expanding “equitable access to the outdoors,” and “tearing down” the border wall. Ukraine, Russia, and gas prices don’t appear. A search of the website reveals just one mention of the energy crisis sparked by the Ukraine invasion this month, titled: “Amid War, Ukrainians Envision a Fossil-Free Future.” (“And how Big Oil is attempting to exploit the crisis,” the subtitle notes, without a hint of irony.)
Alas, the environmentalist movement deserves better leaders. When it comes to energy security and climate policy, it’s not actually an either/or. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. But rather than attempt to explain, rationally and coolly, how a cleaner economy would serve U.S. interests in the long run — while recognizing that an all-of-the-above approach is the only viable way to get there in the interim — the top environmentalist organizations are opting to either politicize the crisis or ignore it altogether.
All this is a stark illustration of the difference between so-called “climate justice” and serious, prudent climate action. The latter is a sustained, long-term approach — endorsed by serious thinkers from across the political spectrum — that recognizes the relationship between U.S. leadership on clean energy and green technology and American prosperity in the 21st century, while rejecting alarmism and utopian schemes. The former is an abstract ideological project that serves as a not-so-subtle Trojan horse for the entire progressive agenda. The Green New Deal, for example, was not originally “a climate thing at all,” according to one of its chief architects, Saikat Chakrabarti. Instead, Chakrabarti admitted to the Washington Post in 2019, “We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” When they tell you who they are, believe them.
One would have hoped that our contemporary predicament would provoke serious self-reflection and strategic reassessment on behalf of left-wing climate-advocacy groups. The fact that they haven’t figured out how to respond to the energy crisis points to a serious defect in their worldview.
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