Spokane greens fail the test of personal, environmental responsibility

Jun 4, 2019

Some of the people with the loudest voices demanding that we all change our lifestyle to help the planet also refuse to live up to their own standards.

A couple weeks ago, some left-wing organizations and activists signed a letter attacking the Washington Policy Center, making a vague claim about their opposition to our environmental policy proposals. The ad insinuated the groups signing the letter were doing more for the environment than the rest of us do. Being an independent research organization, we decided to test that claim.

We asked the groups signing the letter whether they reduce the impact of their CO2-footprint by investing in carbon-reduction projects, as I do. We gave them until the end of May to provide the evidence, promising to highlight and applaud their efforts to help the environment.

It is now June and we can report the number of people and groups that signed on to the ad attacking us who met the challenge by demonstrating they live up to their environmental values.

That number is zero.

Not a single individual, elected official, or organization offered any evidence that they offset their own CO2 impact. Ironically, many of these individuals and groups actively work to force lifestyle change on others.

Notably absent are Spokane City Councilmembers Breean Beggs, Kate Burke, and Ben Stuckart. Rep. Marcus Riccelli also signed on to the ad but provided no evidence that he reduces his CO2 impact. All are loud advocates of harsh climate regulations, and are happy to publicly condemn others, but were not willing to publicly model the environmentally friendly behavior they demand from others.

The most dramatic example of this hypocrisy came from 350 Spokane, one of the most radical climate activist groups. Earlier this year, 350 Spokane signed a letter saying that by 2035 the United States must eliminate all energy from fossil fuels as well as “nuclear, biomass energy, large scale hydro and waste-to-energy technologies,” which account for 94 percent of current electricity generation.

Here is their full response to my question about whether they live their own values: “You're not my mom. We're not playing.”

This is an organization that paternalistically demands that everyone else completely reorganize their lives, even in ways that are extremely harmful. When asked to live up to their own standard, however, they call personal action to reducing CO2 emissions a game. That perfectly exemplifies our point – extreme environmental proposals are designed to signal moral piety, not to actually help the environment. 350 Spokane’s response is a perfect illustration of that reality.

Another business’s response demonstrates how some greens want to have it both ways – feel pious for their actions while refusing to sacrifice anything themselves.

Business owner Ara Lyman added her Spokane Yoga Shala to the ad attacking the Policy Center. When we challenged her on her claim to be environmentally friendly, she called our e-mail, “divisive,” complaining about our “destructive policies,” without taking the time to name one. Such is the state of political discourse: attack someone by making vague insinuations, and when challenged to back the claim up, blame others for the divisiveness of your own attack.

She went on to claim that WPC shouldn’t hold a meeting in Spokane because we don’t live there. She notes that although her business doesn't invest in carbon-reduction projects, “The building my business is in is completely powered by solar panels. Pretty green.”

There are several problems here.

First, WPC’s Eastern Washington offices are in Spokane, with three employees who live there. Many of our board members live in and around Spokane and their families have decades, if not more than a century, of history in the area. We are firmly rooted in Spokane and have been for many years. This is simply uninformed.

Second, claiming to be “green” because you have solar panels while dismissing investment in carbon-reduction as “petty carbon purchases,” is ironic. Federal and state subsidies for solar panels are so large those who can afford to install them are likely to actually make money on them. State law requires utilities, like Avista in Spokane, to buy energy from people with solar panels, up to $5,000 per year. These benefits go primarily to wealthy homeowners. The Energy Program at Washington State University notes, “since the average Residential-scale system cost is over $25,000, it is unlikely that the Residential-scale incentive resulted in significant penetration into low to moderate income communities.”

Rather than sacrificing, people wealthy enough to buy solar panels are profiting from taxpayer subsidies, and in Washington state do little to reduce CO2 emissions from the low-carbon hydro and nuclear that dominates our energy generation.

Finally, while complaining that people outside Spokane should not be allowed even to meet in the city to talk about public policy, they are happy to be subsidized by state and federal taxpayers who don’t live there. The Energy Information Administration reports that in 2016, solar energy received $2.2 billion in federal subsidies.

Again, one set of rules applies to people who call themselves “green,” while they apply a different standard to everyone else. If they want Spokane to be free of ideas generated outside the city limits, they should also be free of energy and tax subsidies generated outside city limits.

If we are going to be serious about climate policy, we need solutions that are personalized, focusing on the ability of individuals to do more with less in ways that suit them. The more we pretend we can outsource environmental solutions to politicians, the more we will continue to fail to effectively reduce CO2 emissions, as we have seen with Washington state and the city of Spokane.

Demanding environmental regulation for others while doing nothing yourself is not merely hypocritical, it undermines the best option for effective environmental stewardship – engaging individuals to take responsibility for their impact, and give them the technology to be more energy efficient, and to adjust when new opportunities emerge or results don’t materialize.

Until environmental policy becomes more about real solutions and less of a game of public posturing, however, we will continue to fail.

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