The real threat is 'Big Environment'

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Earth Day, held annually on April 22 since 1970, is the official holiday of Big Environment, the organizations that keep supposedly evil corporations from ruining our “Pale Blue Dot,” as the late, great Carl Sagan once described Earth.

In the early 1990s, I remember seeing people mark the day by cleaning up roadside trash tossed aside by careless motorists. This was useful action by those early environmentalists, but it seems Earth Day is more than that now. Now, it seems like a pagan rite of spring, where we humanize the natural world and deify it at the same time. All the while we elevate ourselves, believing we caused the Earth to change and that we have the power to revive it.

While I’m no expert in climate change, I know the environment is a huge political football. There was a time when environmentalists were on the outside looking in. Now, Big Environment (yes, they’re as big and powerful as Big Oil) seems to be the driving force in politics. Just as they would say about Big Oil, Big Environment is run amok.

While it’s right to think of environmental impact when crafting legislation – so we don’t go back to red-running rivers and smog-filled cities, the very issues the environmental movement rightly sought to fix in the 1970s – some believe the health of the environment should trump every other concern, especially when government faces issues related to population or commercial growth.

We need look no further than our own backyard for examples of Big Environment in action.

Protect South Portland has been intent on ridding the city of its once-thriving oil industry, despite that industry’s importance regionally, nationally and even internationally. The group’s influence a few years ago to pass the Clear Skies Ordinance is now costing city taxpayers millions to defend in court. The law, which bans Canadian oil sands within city limits, is decimating the local oil industry, and impacted companies are, not surprisingly, seeking tax abatements.

I feel especially sorry for those South Portland taxpayers (especially those who voted against the ordinance) who are paying for Big Environment’s appeal to emotion regarding water quality. The likelihood of bursts and spills is too much to risk, pipeline foes say, despite the pipeline being in existence for 75-plus years with nary an errant drip.

Protect South Portland and other groups argue that all oil is bad and “sustainable” alternatives are good. I’m not so sure that’s true. Have you seen what wind power does to the environment? Before windmills dotted Maine’s upland horizon, you would have experienced nothing but wilderness in some areas.

Now, thanks to Big Environment and their powerful friends like U.S. Sen. Angus King, you see massive turbine blades placed atop huge concrete foundations that ruin the mountainous landscape. They’re just plain ugly, noisy, dangerous to birds and taint what makes Maine unique – unbridled wilderness.

If wind power worked, I might look past these sensory impacts. But it doesn’t, because wind, even massive arrays like the one on Mars Hill in eastern Maine, can’t provide enough electricity to make a meaningful dent in energy generation. To illustrate how feeble Maine’s wind capacity is, there would have to be 47 Mars Hill-sized wind farms in each and every county to offset the energy needs of just the homes in Maine; never mind commercial energy needs.

While they aren’t great at discerning fact from fiction, the one thing that Big Environment is good at is filling their coffers. They devise would-be perils to convince us to donate. The recent furor over tar sands (a biased term concocted by Big Environment and parroted by the media) is a fitting local example. How much money did those anti-pipeline groups bring in as a result of their hysteria? To twist a U2 lyric, they remind me of a preacher from the Old-Time Gospel Hour, stealing money from the fearful and easily persuaded.

If the thermometer consistently read 120 degrees in the summer and 60 in the winter, I might join the Big Environment club. But January thaws still come and go; February blizzards blow; mud season and flooding occur in April; flowers still bud in May; August is as intolerable now as when my grandmother was young; apples still ripen in September, and we haul out those winter jackets around Thanksgiving every year. Nature works like clockwork.

I understand Big Environment needs to keep us in perpetual fear of creation’s imminent demise so their cash reserves stay plump, but maybe we should use Earth Day in a different way this year. After collecting that winter’s worth of roadside litter (a truly noble undertaking), spend the day outdoors doing something fun. Nature was created for our enjoyment, not for Big Environment’s political and financial benefit.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.