Cape Wind was supposed to be a victory for environmentalists. With the offshore wind turbine farm, 75 percent of the Cape Cod area's electricity would come from a green, renewable, zero emissions energy source. It would have a measurable environmental benefit, the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road each year, according to advocates.
Even groups like the Massachusetts Audubon Society signaled support for the project, acknowledging the turbines weren't going to harm the local bird population, according to the Boston Globe.
There was just one problem: The proposed wind turbines would be visible from the Kennedy family's famous compound on Nantucket Sound, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wasn't having it. Kennedy, who styles himself as an environmental activist, fought tooth and nail to derail the project, even writing an editorial in the New York Times in which he claimed to support wind power, but apparently not in places that "should be off limits to any sort of industrial development."
Translation: Not in my backyard, or NIMBY.
NIMBY and its cousin, BANANA -- "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything" -- have plagued environmental efforts in the U.S. for decades. But they've also helpfully revealed the fact that there are a whole lot of people who pay lip service to a clean environment while refusing to take any personal responsibility for it. Or in the case of the ultra wealthy liberal set, people who pay lip service to a clean environment, as long as it doesn't interfere with their privileged lifestyle.
How else do we explain celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, who loves to lecture the plebs on environmental responsibility while flying on private jets and enjoying cruises on private yachts? Or noted environmental activist John Travolta, who owns a fleet of private aircraft, a motorcade's worth of luxury SUVs, and a Harley Davidson. Or Laurie David, ex-wife of funnyman Larry David, who has called SUV drivers "terrorist enablers" yet sees nothing wrong with zipping back and forth between New York and Los Angeles in a private jet.
In the 2010s, fracking has become the new wind turbine, and opposition to fracking has become the new banner waved by classic NIMBY-ists.
You'd think there would be a lot to like about fracking, from a social responsibility standpoint. Fracking is a way to extract gas and oil from shale rock by drilling into the earth. Natural resources are extracted by blasting the rock with high pressure water, sand and chemicals, releasing the gas so it flows up to an extraction well, as the BBC explains.
Gary Sernovitz, a managing director at oil and gas company Lime Rock Partners, makes the case in The New York Times for compatibility between fracking and liberalism.
First, there's the most obvious benefit: Any alternative energy, whether it's wind, solar or fracking, has an immediate beneficial impact in reducing dependence on coal, the most environmentally damaging of energy production methods.
Coal plants pump toxic emissions into the atmosphere, emissions that are the number one culprit in climate change, according to Green America. Strip mining coal destroys ecosystems, and we need look no further than China -- where the air quality in some cities is so bad, regular people have the lungs of smokers -- to see how it impacts human life.
Fracking not only reduces reliance on coal, it helps keep oil prices down. It also bolsters local production, Sernovitz points out, which means western governments are less dependent on oil from the Middle East. The U.S. would benefit enormously by freeing itself of dependence on that region of the world, unshackling itself from despots and regimes that have no respect for human rights, like a heroin addict who kicks his habit and is no longer beholden to a drug dealer.
Morally and ethically, what's not to like about that?
"A ban on fracking is not just about whether to drill in New York State," Sernovitz writes, "but also about the oil-fueled power of a Middle Eastern king to resist domestic reform and how that power can be checked by rising American oil and gas production."
Any real route to energy independence will depend on advancing beyond using dead biological material as energy, but wishful thinking doesn't produce reality. When Lockheed Martin announced it had made significant progress on its compact fusion reactor -- and that it hoped to bring fusion power to market within a decade -- the world was given a glimpse of the future, a future of clean and reliable energy.
But that's not something that's going to happen tomorrow, and in the meantime modern post-industrial society is a beast that needs to be fed.
Fracking's not perfect, and fracking's not without risks, but nothing ever is. The mature solution is to look at the positives and negatives, and see if one outweighs the other. Instead of fracking's standard knee-jerk reaction, which leaves the country dependent on foreign oil and environment-destroying coal, we'd benefit from the pragmatism of giving fracking a chance.