California’s Green Profiteers

by | May 14, 2001 | POLITICS

Last week, a quarter of a million Californians had their power cut in a new wave of rolling blackouts. As one official admitted, “This is the situation everyone feared. Here it is May 7, and we already have rolling outages.” This is only a warm-up for the summer, when peak demand is projected to soar […]

Last week, a quarter of a million Californians had their power cut in a new wave of rolling blackouts. As one official admitted, “This is the situation everyone feared. Here it is May 7, and we already have rolling outages.” This is only a warm-up for the summer, when peak demand is projected to soar 5,000 megawatts beyond the state’s supply, triggering months of blackouts.

But the key to understanding the disaster in California is to realize that it is not a disaster — not for everyone. The state’s environmentalists like it just fine.

For the greens, power outages represent a victory in their 30 years’ war against power plants. Over the past decade alone, environmentalists have succeeded in shutting down nuclear reactors at Rancho Seco, San Onofre, and the Trojan plant in Oregon, wiping out more than 2,000 megawatts of power capacity. They have made it impossible to build coal-fired generators, and even some natural gas plants, like Hunters Point in San Francisco, are slated for shutdown. What about clean, renewable hydroelectric power? The newest green crusade is to free the “shackled rivers” and “breach the dams.”

The result: There is less generating capacity in California today than in 1989. And thanks to environmental activists, the state has allowed the completion of only one, tiny, 44-megawatt power plant since the crisis began last year.

But cutting off the power supply is just a means to the environmentalists’ ultimate goal: shutting down industrial production.

Since the crisis began, energy-intensive businesses — the kind environmentalists attack most bitterly — have been dropping like flies. California Steel shut down one of its mills. Gasoline pipelines were closed off temporarily when power was cut to their pumps. Brick makers and textile dyers have suspended operations and laid off their workers.

The collateral damage has spread throughout the West. Washington’s aluminum smelters, for example, depend on cheap power from hydroelectric dams. This fall, their power contracts come up for renewal and prices are expected to jump 60 percent. Many producers will be forced to shut down. Luddites of the world, rejoice.

Heavy industry isn’t the only victim. In January, dairy farmers in California’s central valley had to dump thousands of gallons of spoiled milk when refrigerated storage tanks were blacked out. Animal rights nuts — who have been pushing the bizarre claim that milking is “cruel” to cows — must be pleased. More ominously, the state’s once-booming computer and Internet industry is now branded a “power hog.” It turns out — apparently to everyone’s surprise — that the electronic economy requires lots of electricity. It’s only a matter of time before the blackouts shut down Silicon Valley. No technology-hating Ted Kaczynski-type could ask for more.

But the environmentalists’ greatest victory has been their exploitation of this crisis to promote the self-imposed vow of poverty they call “conservation.”

For decades, the greens have screamed that we need to “conserve” because we are running out of natural resources. They have told us that we’re running out of oil, gas, coal and everything else — and all of these predictions proved spectacularly wrong. Now, however, the greens have created an artificial energy shortage — and they propose, as the alleged solution, more “conservation.” So people are being encouraged — and will eventually be forced — to shut off their lights, swelter without air-conditioning, stop surfing the net, and do without all of the other amenities made possible by electric power.

Power generators and utilities have been denounced across California as “profiteers” on the power crisis. But the real profiteers, the ideological profiteers, are the environmentalists. Their goal is to force us back to a primitive, pre-industrial way of life. At an Earth Day event for Los Angeles schoolchildren, for example, the American Indians were presented as role models because they “never took more from the land than they needed.” The Indians also lived in abject poverty, died young from starvation, accidents, and disease, and toiled at the backbreaking labor required for primitive agriculture — a fine ideal to hold up for our children’s futures. For those who want to return us to this primitive existence, California’s blackouts are not a disaster but a great leap forward. Except that “forward,” in this case, really means backward.

There is one way, however, in which the power crisis could become a disaster for the greens. Americans could begin to grasp the environmentalists’ real goal. They could get a taste of what pre-industrial poverty feels like — and decide that they do not want to sacrifice themselves on a green altar.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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