06/30/2016 08:18 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2017

Undemocratic Environmentalism

Environmentalists in Senator Bernie Sanders' progressive, Left Wing camp are demanding some major reforms in a way more akin to a dictatorship than a democracy.

They want the 2016 National Democratic Platform to include an immediate total ban on the widespread natural gas extraction process known as fracking. Also sought is a declaration that whatever fossil fuel deposits still remain in the ground should stay there permanently. Curbing greenhouse gas emissions to slow, and eventually stabilize the global warming trend is the rationale behind these demands.

From a purely environmental perspective, the Sanders crowd's ambitious goals are unassailable. But desirable as they might be, we live in a democracy where policy is normally established through due process rather than decree. In a totalitarian state, political leaders usually have the leeway to impose a sea change overnight. (A society of this sort has to hope its dictator is benevolent, but few dictators are.) Such arbitrary behavior is deemed inappropriate here unless the crisis is an obvious, immediate matter of survival that merits declaration of a national state of emergency.

Even though they are environmentally bad actors, fossil fuels are too entrenched in our society to be summarily dismissed. So is the industrial practice of fracking that Sanders and his followers contend should immediately be discontinued. Too many people are dependent on these energy sources for daily usage and/or employment to be abruptly cast aside. In a Democracy, pollution's demise ordinarily must take a more circuitous route unless a blatant affliction is wreaking highly visible havoc. The desired objective is achieved primarily through thoroughly vetted regulation. Scientifically-based environmental restrictions gradually close the vise on the targeted activity until it becomes so untenable as to constitute de facto elimination.

We are already seeing this scenario play out in the Arctic Ocean. Stringent antipollution regulations helped to ultimately dissuade oil companies from completing their plans for extensive offshore drilling in an ecologically fragile marine environment where a significant spill would be an ecological catastrophe.

The same pattern is emerging with fracking as restrictions tighten against the process' pollution of air and water as well as its seismic proclivity for stimulating local earthquakes.

Yet the campaign to transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy through the democratic process won't be easy. A lower Court has ruled that states, with their varying degrees of conscientiousness, rather than the federal government, have the authority to regulate fracking on public lands. {The decision is being appealed.)

At least the Sanders crew is on the right track by insisting--so far unsuccessfully--that a carbon tax be included in the Democratic National Platform. Carefully crafted, the tax offers the public a more palatable alternative than a draconian edict to cut greenhouse gas emissions or face a penalty. Revenues from the carbon levy could be returned to the public as rebates or offsets to the payroll tax, averting any onerous fiscal burden. Meanwhile, Americans would be steered by market pricing towards the use of clean, renewable alternates to fossil fuels.
Mission accomplished through the framework of democracy.