Anyone who sincerely argues that efforts to protect the environment can only hurt the economy has not been paying attention. The EPA reports that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 alone prevented “160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, millions of cases of respiratory problems such as acute bronchitis and asthma attacks, and 86,000 hospital admissions,” just in 2010. The 1990 amendments also prevented 13 million lost workdays and 3.2 million lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution, also in 2010. That same study, commission in 2011, estimates that economic benefits of the law in 2020 are expected to outweigh benefits by a factor of about 30-to-1.
Arguments against environmental policy are not fact-driven; they are driven by ideology. In spite of a legacy of bipartisanship on environmental legislation, most notably in the early 1970s, the current political climate regarding environmental policy is characterized by gridlock and stalemate. Environmentalism, once a bipartisan issue, has now been transfigured into a sharply divisive issue, splitting the parties as readily as social issues or healthcare policy. The primary reason for this is the influence of powerful interests, with a profit motive for undermining environmental policy, funding Republican candidates. These candidates then have an invested interest in stifling environmental protection legislation, and that ethos proliferates throughout the party.
The proposition, made in the “If I Wanted America to Fail” video, that environmentalists are “guilting” Americans into using renewable energy is hypocritical at best. The video itself uses charged language, asserting that environmentalists want America to “fail” without sufficient reason. It guilts its viewers into using fossil fuels because only then can America avoid “failure.” It leads its viewers to believe that renewable energy is inherently un-American, regardless of the opportunity for American renewable energy companies to create jobs and grow into a thriving industry. The narrator in the video, like Michael S. Berliner from the Ayn Rand Institute, uses a straw man argument to mischaracterize the position and ideology of environmentalists, attacking them and their goals as un-American.
A middle ground is not possible as long as these types of arguments persist and powerful lobbies continue to fund Republican (and certainly some Democratic) candidates. Until then, we will fail to create new, effective environmental policy.