Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is environmentalism good for the environment?

Although I am not a global warming alarmist, I am concerned with conservation. So, all things being equal, I think it’s a good idea not to pollute the environment unnecessarily. Now, you might think that environmentalists agree with me on that.

Let’s take a look at this article by Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal where he writes about how a train that was transporting shale oil was derailed and then exploded. (H/T Dennis Prager)

Excerpt:

The derailed 72-car train belonged to a subsidiary of Illinois-based multinational Rail World, whose self-declared aim is to “promote rail industry privatization.” The train was carrying North Dakota shale oil (likely extracted by fracking) to the massive Irving Oil refinery in the port city of Saint John, to be shipped to the global market. At least five people were killed in the blast (a number that’s likely to rise) and 1,000 people were forced to evacuate. Quebec’s environment minister reports that some 100,000 liters (26,000 gallons) of crude have spilled into the Chaudière River, meaning it could reach Quebec City and the St. Lawrence River before too long.

Now the question is, why is it that trains are used instead of pipelines, when pipelines are safer than trains?

Let’s see why:

The reason oil is moved on trains from places like North Dakota and Alberta is because there aren’t enough pipelines to carry it. The provincial governments of Alberta and New Brunswick are talking about building a pipeline to cover the 3,000-odd mile distance. But last month President Obama put the future of the Keystone XL pipeline again in doubt, telling a Georgetown University audience “our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

[...]Like water, business has a way of tracing a course of least resistance. Pipelines are a hyper-regulated industry but rail transport isn’t, so that’s how we now move oil. As the Wall Street Journal’s Tom Fowler reported in March, in 2008 the U.S. rail system moved 9,500 carloads of oil. In 2012, the figure surged to 233,811. During the same period, the total number of spills went from eight to 69. In March, a derailed train spilled 714 barrels of oil in western Minnesota.

Predictable, you would think. And ameliorable: Pipelines account for about half as much spillage as railways on a gallon-per-mile basis. Pipelines also tend not to go straight through exposed population centers like Lac-Mégantic. Nobody suggests that pipelines are perfectly reliable or safe, but what is? To think is to weigh alternatives. The habit of too many environmentalists is to evade them.

Investors Business Daily has more on the benefits of pipelines:

Railways suffer spills 2.7 times more often than pipelines, according to the Washington-based Association of American Railroads. If that seems self-serving, the State Department, citing a 2012 study from the free-market Manhattan Institute, said trains spill 33 times more oil than pipelines.

[...]“The evidence is so overwhelming that railroads are far less safe than pipelines,” says Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s energy security initiative.

Brookings is a left-leaning think tank, and they agree: pipelines are safer than trains.

It does make sense, I think, for Christians and conservatives to ask ourselves sensible questions about the environment. How do we make air clean enough? How do we make water clean enough? How do we avoid impacting nature unnecessarily? But I think this story about the train should help us realize that fundamentalist environmentalists are not the best people to be making these sorts of policy decisions. These decisions should be made by rational thinkers, who can consider all sides of an issue and think critically about the needs of everyone concerned. This is not a problem for secular leftist idealists who are more motivated by blind faith than by facts.

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