Opinion

A small, sweaty and dirty green future

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Opinion,Op-Eds

Environmental activists are preparing to converge on Washington for a rally on July 28. Dubbed "Stop the Frack Attack," the daylong demonstration will be devoted to scaring Americans into abandoning development of our domestic energy resources. Activists will be promoting an agenda of bigger government, smaller economies and a dramatically different lifestyle for Americans.

So what's life like in this new green world look? Just ask the environmentalists themselves.

When you wake up in your new sustainable home, the first thing you notice is the cramped quarters. Today, the average home size in the United States is about 2,700 square feet. That's about five times more than environmentalists think you need.

The founder of treehugger.com, for instance, just moved into a sustainable home many consider a model for the future. At 420 square feet, the home comes with movable walls to create separate spaces when you need them.

The upside is you won't need much space for appliances. Environmentalist guru Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, notes that a 60 percent reduction in fossil fuel usage would require dramatic reductions of carbon emission per person. Says McKibben, "If you carpooled [six miles per day], you'd have about three pounds of CO2 left in your daily ration -- enough to run a highly efficient refrigerator. Forget your computer, your TV, your stereo, your stove, your dishwasher, your water heater, your microwave, your water pump, your clock. Forget your light bulbs, compact fluorescent or not."

But surely your electric vehicle will get you around greenly? Unfortunately, no.

A recent study by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership suggests electric powertrains actually have a bigger carbon footprint than internal combustion engines, once you take into account the manufacture of the battery and the production of electricity to charge it. Electric cars don't even out with their gas counterparts for about 80,000 miles. So plan on biking.

It's a long way down from what McKibben called "the tottering perch where we currently cling." The Internet collectively generates emissions equivalent to half the fossil fuels burned each year in the United Kingdom. That's a lot of CO2. No more Web surfing for you.

But surely we can move heavily into renewables and stave off these extreme lifestyle modifications, right? Again, no. The Worldwatch Institute notes that "in order to produce enough energy over the next 25 years to replace most of what is supplied by fossil fuels, the world would need to build 200 square meters of solar photovoltaic panels every second plus 100 square meters of solar thermal every second plus 24 3-megawatt wind turbines every hour nonstop for the next 25 years. All of this would take tremendous energy and materials -- ironically frontloading carbon emissions just when they most need to be reduced."

It turns out that it takes a lot of power (and a lot of carbon) to build solar panels and wind turbines. But even in the event he same environmental groups opposing oil and gas production are also opposed the extraction of the rare earth metals required to go solar. If they have their way, environmentalists will ensure that these alternative energy sources remain out of reach for some time.

To sum up, you're back in your postage-stamp home after work. Your clothes are sweaty from riding your bike. You don't have a washing machine or a place to keep a large wardrobe. You're offline for good. It's a wonderful life.

Fortunately, Americans still have access to clean and abundant energy thanks to the oil and natural gas industry -- a sector that depends on market demand, not government subsidies.

Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government. For more, visit protectingtaxpayers.org.

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