New challenges to our civil rights involve access to energy – the master resource
Jim Crow energy policies
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The US civil rights revolution of the 1950s and ‘60s was one of the greatest social and political liberations in history. It gave African Americans and other minorities new opportunities and new levels of success in virtually every walk of life.
But today we face unprecedented new challenges to indispensable, but often neglected rights enunciated in our Declaration of Independence: “That all men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
These fundamental rights are under assault in subtle, often insidious ways. Sometimes it is with the best of intentions, by good people who don’t realize they are impairing other people’s rights, hopes and dreams. At other times, it is by people who are willing, even determined, to sacrifice individual rights in the name of a proclaimed threat or greater common good.
One critical challenge involves restrictions on access to energy and economic opportunity – and thus on liberties and rights – in the name of protecting the environment.
Energy is the master resource of modern society. It transforms constitutionally protected civil rights into rights we actually enjoy: jobs, homes, transportation, healthcare, and other earmarks of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
With abundant, reliable, affordable energy, much is possible. Without it, hope, opportunity, progress, job creation and civil rights are hobbled.
Laws that restrict access to America’s abundant energy drive up the price of fuel and electricity. They cause widespread layoffs and leave families struggling to survive, as the cost of everything they eat, drive, wear and do spirals ever higher. They roll back the progress for which civil rights revolutionaries like Dr. Martin Luther King struggled and died.
Regressive, energy-killing policies create unnecessary obstacles to the natural, justifiable desire of minority Americans to share in the American Dream. They prevent us from resolving conflicts through compromise, impose needless and unfair burdens on our poorest families, and send minority and other poor families to the back of the economic bus.
The Congress of Racial Equality and I care deeply about our environment. But we also care about having jobs, and affordable food, heat and transportation. We care about impoverished Third World families achieving their dreams.
We want proof that the environmental values we cherish really are threatened the way politicians and activists say they are. That the “solutions” they advocate really will safeguard those values, at reasonable cost, without creating enormous new problems, like global grain shortages.
Today, unfortunately, these common-sense requests are under assault by activists who want to eliminate fossil fuels, base public policies on unfounded ecological scare stories, and stifle debate by attacking anyone who challenges their assertions.
Fully 85% of all the energy Americans use comes from hydrocarbons. Nuclear and hydroelectric power bring the total to 96% … and biomass (3%) is mostly paper and saw mill waste.
Just 0.5% is wind power – and merely generating sufficient electricity to meet New York City’s needs would require blanketing Connecticut with huge wind turbines that generate power just eight hours a day, on average. Large scale wind power is neither economically nor ecologically sustainable.
Geologists say America’s onshore and offshore public lands could contain enough oil to run 80 million cars for 60 years; enough natural gas to heat 60 million homes for 160 years; enough coal, uranium and shale oil for centuries of power.
These energy resources belong to all Americans. They are not the private property of activists who insist they never be touched, or citizens who’ve been bamboozled into thinking they cannot be developed without destroying ecological values.
We could produce almost twenty billion gallons of gasoline annually by drilling safely and carefully in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – from an area one-twentieth the size of Washington, DC. We could get vast quantities of oil and natural gas just as safely from the Outer Continental Shelf.
But politicians have locked this energy up and told us to rely on 7 billion gallons of ethanol, from corn grown on an area the size of Indiana. Precious water is used up, food prices soar, and millions starve.
When we outlaw, restrict or price these fuels out of reach, Americans are forced to pay more for energy that is artificially scarce. Job creation and economic progress are stifled. Our nation loses billions of dollars in royalties and taxes. Energy saved through painstaking conservation and alternative energy efforts is offset by further declines in US production, forcing America to import more foreign oil and send more jobs overseas. Civil rights are trampled underfoot.
The same is happening with climate change. Climate change is real, and has been throughout Earth’s history. But there is a huge difference between acknowledging this – and claiming: our use of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change; future changes will be catastrophic; slashing carbon dioxide emissions will stabilize our always-changing climate; and we can slash emissions without impairing energy use and living standards.
Nevertheless, climate bills pending in Congress and state legislatures would require that our nation slash carbon dioxide by as much s 80% below 2005 emissions by 2050. In other words, to levels not seen in America since 1910, when our population was a quarter of what it is projected to be in 42 years!
Every one of these bills would curtail energy use and economic opportunity – while giving activists, courts and bureaucrats control over virtually any activity that produces CO2.
Every one would impose massive, punitive, deceptive, regressive taxes on American businesses and families – through energy taxes, carbon offsets taxes, cap-and-trade taxes, carbon sequestration mandate taxes, and intrusive bureaucracy taxes. Every one would further hobble civil rights.
Not one would make a noticeable dent in global CO2 levels or temperatures.
In this election season, every thoughtful, caring citizen in our great nation must join me in challenging the modern-day Jim Crow laws that prevent poor people from having the energy they need to achieve Dr. King’s dream of civil rights, equal opportunity and true environmental justice.
Together, we can make that dream come true.
Roy Innis is chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality and author of Energy Keepers - Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle.