A Stable Economy or a Stable Environment?

Kyra Wilmes – Period 2

The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly more difficult to disprove, and public opinion on the issue is changing as well. More and more global leaders taking action and speaking out against environmental issues, such as the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions, and Pope Francis stating that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”[1][2] This has led to increased interest amongst Americans to be more “eco-friendly,” with solar panels, hybrid and electric cars, and other renewable energy resources being more easily accessible than in the past. For example, Tesla Motors, the makers of the Model S, a car rated no. 1 on the U.S. News’ best luxury car listings that has a range of 270 miles on one charge, recently announced the production of a $35,000 car in 2016. [3] With the current Tesla models costing an average of almost three times that, the introduction of this newer, cheaper car will allow more middle class individuals to purchase a car that is not only luxurious but in the long run, will save them a lot of money. Yet if consumers will begin to spend less on gas, what effect will this have on the natural gas industry? The question is this — Is it in our best interest economically to continue to introduce more cheaper, environmentally friendly products, or to continue to support industries like the natural gas industry that help contribute to climate change?

Frédéric Bastiat states obstacles are necessary, because they “[provide] employment for a part of the domestic labor force and [enrich] a certain number of our fellow citizens.” [4] Currently, the natural gas industry is accountable for 60% of the United States’ power and employs around 4.2 million Americans. [5] The obstacle directly related to this industry is the lack of oil in the United States and limited access to it abroad, yet an even more important ‘obstacle’ is climate change. With awareness increasing and more consumers tiring of paying for gas, the demand for electric and hybrid cars has never been higher, and the demand for cleaner, renewable energy is rapidly increasing. This is the main reason for many who disapprove of increased spending and purchasing of environmentally friendly products. Using the example of the Tesla, if consumers begin to demand more products like electric cars, the demand for conventional, gas-guzzling cars will most likely decrease, due to consumers realizing that they can save more long term by not needing to purchase gas. While this is better for both the consumer and the environment, many Americans are not ready to shift to majority clean energy.

With the natural gas industry expected to add an additional 1 million U.S. jobs in manufacturing in ten years, many doubt that an emphasis on clean energy could provide as many opportunities for Americans as the crude oil industry currently does. [5] Yet to create these jobs, the United States must find new places to drill for oil, relying on methods such as fracking, which has become a controversial issue recently as it becomes a more prominent way of obtaining oil. Methods like fracking may unlock vast amounts of oil for U.S. consumption, but they are also linked to things like groundwater contamination and earthquakes. In states where fracking occurs, been high, even amongst supporters of natural gas. [6] In purely economic terms, having to look for new ways to procure crude oil can be seen as a large obstacle, and therefore be seen in a positive light in that it will decrease the price of gas and provide additional jobs to Americans. But when we must directly face the consequences of such obstacles, like the multiple earthquakes which have occurred in the previously earthquake-free state of Texas, we must think about whether the obstacles we celebrate are really in our best interest.

In the same work by Bastiat, A Petition, he proposes a hypothetical situation of cutting off France’s access to sunlight in order to provide more jobs in various different industries. [4] By enacting such a plan, citizens would be denying a perfectly safe, reliable resource, the sun, in order to bring about more economic benefits to the society. While not nearly as dramatic, the same sort of situation seems to be playing out across the globe with renewable and natural resources. In just the past one hundred years, technology has advanced in ways unimaginable, and has improved our lives immensely. With things like computers, televisions, and phones, we are more than eager to upgrade to the faster, more energy efficient product—yet with energy, we mostly choose to remain in the past. One hundred years ago, powering our houses and cars by renewable energy was an impossible, unheard of task, and the only possible way to power them was by using natural gas. Today, solar energy is just as safe and reliable a resource as the sun, however we have mostly chosen to ignore its benefits and continued to use the resource we know and love—natural gas. Renewable energy, whether it comes in the form of solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric or biomass, is almost in every way better for the environment than the extraction and usage of natural gas. All forms reduce barely any global warming emissions, and are all virtually unlimited. [7] One hundred years from now, our supply of natural gas will be drastically reduced, yet most likely our supply of solar, wind, and other powers will stay the same.

Is it truly in our best interest to continue to create jobs directed towards extracting every last drop of oil from the Earth when these multiple renewable resources are currently available? Obstacles have clearly proven to be beneficial to our economy and our citizens in ways, but the time has come where we must ask ourselves whether we should continue to encourage them or embrace the easy solution that is readily available. Bastiat’s example of cutting off access the sun, a proven safe and reliable resource, just to provide new jobs, seems comical to one on first read. Yet if this is true, why do we continue to struggle and place our environment under continued stress when renewable and clean forms of energy are currently out there? The natural gas industry is not the only industry that faces harsh obstacles; the agriculture industry, America’s largest, strives to find ways to produce more and more food to satisfy the nation’s hunger, and various sectors of the health care industry continue to work for new, safer drugs for the American public.

While using natural gas is almost second nature to most of us, it is something that with today’s technology is just not needed. Unlike the agriculture and health care industries, the natural gas industry has a clear solution to its main obstacle of not having enough access to oil. If the effort is made, America’s power source could easily be shifted towards renewable energy instead of natural gas. Bastiat may state that obstacles are beneficial to society by providing new jobs, but he does not necessarily say that obstacles must be created in all industries. In many ways, the obstacles in other industries are much harder to overcome than the issue of finding oil, and will provide just as many or more jobs for Americans. It may seem as though we have been dependent on natural gas forever, since it plays such a huge role in all of our lives, powering almost everything around us. We are afraid of the unknown, of what will happen if we abandon this reliable resource we have become all too dependent on. In the case of natural gas, we must learn to pick our battles wisely, and to spend our time working on overcoming the necessary obstacles. Is there a surefire way to keep all of our crops disease-free, or a cure for cancer? There is currently no way to overcome these obstacles, but there is a great solution for finding ways to power our homes and cars without natural gas—clean energy.

Footnotes

  1. Pierrehumbert, Raymond. “These Charts Show Why the U.S.-China Climate Deal Is a Very Big Deal.” Slate. November 17, 2014. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  2. Pope Francis. Twitter Post. June 18, 2015. 6:00 AM. https://twitter.com/pontifex/status/611518771186929664.
  3. “Tesla Model S Performance.” U.S. Best Cars. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  4.  “A Petition”, Frédéric Bastiat in Selections from Economic Sophisms, edited by Mr. Aparacio, Ursuline Academy, 2015.
  5. “Jobs – America’s Natural Gas Alliance.” ANGA. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  6. Hoffman, Joe. “Potential Health and Environmental Effects of Hydrofracking in the Williston Basin, Montana.” Case Studies. May 20, 2015. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  7. “Benefits of Renewable Energy Use.” Union of Concerned Scientists. Accessed June 28, 2015.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s