The Conservative Case for Conservation

By JIM DIPESO, REP’s policy director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Jim gave this slide-show presentation at Mesa College in Grand Junction, Colorado, on October 24, 2006.

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Hello, it’s a pleasure to be here in Grand Junction.

I’m Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection. And I’m here to talk about the conservative case for conservation.

I know there are doubters – among environmentalists who don’t trust Republicans and among Republicans who don’t think conservation is a conservative issue.

Republicans for Environmental Protection is often described as the world’s funniest oxymoron – often by our organization’s president, who appreciates the apparent irony.

But tonight, let me try to iron out the irony.

Follow me eastward on Highway 50, through Delta and Montrose, and we’ll come across Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Black Canyon used to be a national monument. It was established by presidential authority under the Antiquities Act, a great conservation law whose centennial anniversary we are celebrating this year.

Black Canyon National Monument was established by this man: Herbert Hoover.

Herbert Hoover! Not many people in this room probably spend a lot of time thinking about Herbert Hoover.

To Generation X or Generation Y, he’s some obscure figure from a history book, who was president or something back during the Ice Age.

Baby boomers might recall a line from the theme song to the old TV Show “All in the Family.” Remember when Archie and Edith Bunker sang, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again”?

Some of the old-timers may remember, back in the Thirties, their parents talking about Herbert Hoover, the man who singlehandedly caused the Great Depression.

Well, let’s scrape off the encrustations of history and discover Herbert Hoover, the 32nd president of the United States, conservative Republican – and – a great conservationist.

Not only did he set aside Black Canyon of the Gunnison. He established numerous national monuments throughout the West, landscape-sized units – what is now Arches National Park in Utah, Saguaro National Park in Arizona, Death Valley National Park in California, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, and part of what is now Grand Canyon National Park.

Take a look at this picture. Why would anyone go fishing with a coat and tie on? Well, that’s what he did. But Herbert Hoover could fish anyone in this room under the table.

Had he never gone into politics, Hoover would be remembered today among sportsmen as one of the great fishermen of the 20th century. Fly fishing in the mountains, pond fishing back East, deep sea fishing in the Atlantic or the Pacific, when it came to fishing, Herbert Hoover could do it all.

Let me read you something both amusing and profound that Herbert Hoover once said about fishing:

“It’s a chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men, for all men are equal before fish.”

So, he was a great outdoorsman. Is that why he protected all these great wild places in the West? Partly. But he had another, deeper reason.

He was a true conservative. Which meant, that he was worried about materialism, what devoting our lives to accumulating piles of stuff would do to our souls.

That’s right. True conservatives worry about the coarsening effects of materialism and the grasping reach of the consumer culture.

  • Conservatives seek to conserve what are called “the permanent things.”
  • Conservatives believe in a transcendent moral order that rules society and our individual consciences.
  • Conservatives believe we have a moral obligation to the future. The British statesman Edmund Burke is the founder of modern conservatism. He likened society to an intergenerational contract among past, present and future generations. The present generation is duty-bound to pass on to unborn future generations our societal inheritance. That includes the natural capital that underpins all life.
  • Conservatives appreciate beauty, and appreciate the variety of human existence. Dogmatic uniformity is not for us. We appreciate old buildings, distinctive small towns, and quiet nature, not strip malls and big box stores sprawling across Anywhere, America destroying local character and uglifying the landscape.
  • Conservatives defend private property and true freedom – the freedom that is coupled with responsibility to do nothing on your property that will harm your neighbor.
  • Conservatives are skeptical of utopianism – the impulse to reconstruct society on abstract notions that take no notice of old customs rooted in the old wisdom traditions.
  • Conservatives are not materialists. As the conservative writer Russell Kirk wrote: “The conservative knows that material production and consumption are not the purpose of human existence.”
  • Above all, conservatives are prudent. They know that mankind is fallible and does not know everything. Conservatives are skeptical of hasty change and believe that we must leave ourselves large margins of error. That has implications for how we manage wildlife, water, climate, and the other components of the natural capital that underpins human existence.

So, Herbert Hoover saw outdoor recreation as a counterbalance, as a way to get in touch with bigger, intangible things that are more important than stuff.

Of course, much of his legacy has been forgotten. His presidency was judged a failure as a result of the Great Depression, when millions of Americans faced hunger and destitution.

But in our age of got-to-have-it-all consumerism, the wisdom of Hoover’s conservative conservation should not be forgotten.

Now, let me show you another conservative Republican conservationist: John Saylor, Republican congressman from Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Doesn’t he look like a conservative? Looks like he’s ready to jump out of that picture and cut your budget. He served at a time when congressional Republicans worried about balancing the budget. I guess that’s gone out of fashion.

Old-timers on the West Slope may remember John Saylor. For almost 20 years, he worked with and butted heads with Congressman Wayne Aspinall of Palisade, Colorado, over the Wilderness Act, dams, wild and scenic rivers, and many other conservation issues.

Usually, Aspinall, the Democrat, wanted less conservation than Saylor, the Republican. You don’t see that political dynamic very often anymore.

For John Saylor, conservation was inseparable from conservatism. It was a moral imperative.

John Saylor was intensely patriotic. He believed that America’s natural beauty symbolized our nation’s greatness like nothing else.

More than any other Republican in either house of Congress, John Saylor was responsible for passage of the Wilderness Act, the most sublime expression of our duty to future generations that any legislative body has ever passed. “Man does not live by bread alone,” he told his colleagues in Congress. “His soul hungers for a sustenance that only Nature’s grandeur can offer.”

  • In wilderness, America’s unique identity as a liberty-loving, self-reliant, enterprising people was forged.
  • In wilderness, we find freedom in its most fundamental form.
  • In wilderness, Americans can challenge themselves and accept personal responsibility by facing nature on its own terms.
  • In wilderness, we can protect nature’s vast library of knowledge, much of which is still unexplored.

For John Saylor, a land set aside for preservation was sacrosanct. He would tolerate no dams, no oil wells, nothing that would impose man’s fleeting agendas on the timeless beauty and our stewardship trust. That went for Dinosaur National Monument, the Grand Canyon, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

John Saylor was a man of deep faith. The transcendent moral order expressed by his Christian beliefs demanded stewardship of creation. As he put it:

“To permit despoilment of natural resources would be to desecrate a divine inheritance.”

John Saylor spoke of wilderness as a conservative preaching a conservative principle – the need for humility, to see our place in a much larger world that is indifferent to our daily dramas, for acknowledging our faults, fallibilities and limitations, and for avoiding hubris and for leaving ourselves large margins.

The Wilderness Act was passed with bipartisan support. Most wilderness bills that have made it out of Congress enjoyed bipartisan support. Ronald Reagan, for example, signed dozens of wilderness bills that together account for about 10 percent of the entire wilderness system. As Reagan once said:

“A strong nation is one that is loved by its people. As Edmund Burke put it, for a country to be loved, it must be lovely.”

And let us never forget the essential role that First Lady Nancy Reagan played in the advancement of conservation. It seems that Interior Secretary James Watt had denied a permit for the Beach Boys to give a concert on the Capital Mall. He said they would attract what he called the wrong element. Nancy Reagan heard about this, and said: “But I like the Beach Boys!” Well, Watt already was on thin ice, and Nancy did not tolerate hired help who made her husband look bad. Watt didn’t know what hit him when Nancy moved against him. The Beach Boys got their permit and Watt left office shortly thereafter.

Of course, the quintessential Republican conservation hero was this man: Theodore Roosevelt.

With the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt was the most accomplished person ever to serve as President.

  • He was a historian and an author, serving as president of the American Historical Association and a charter member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters.
  • He was a skilled outdoorsman – birding, hunting, and nature study. His arduous and life-threatening expedition down what is now known as the Rio Teodoro in the Brazilian wilderness was an epic voyage of discovery and adventure.
  • He was a naturalist. During his time, he was considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on large North American mammals.

All of the threads of TR’s interests came together in a visionary political philosophy that embraced conservation as a centerpiece of national well-being – essential for our defense, our prosperity, and for America’s future prospects.

He said,

“Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the Nation.”

For TR, conservation broadened the concept of democracy. He said,

“The greatest good for the greatest number applies to the number within the womb of time.”

As the British philosopher Edmund Burke advised, Roosevelt left a legacy for the future. On his watch, the national park system doubled from five to 10 parks. Of the 191 million acres of national forests on the map today, two-thirds were designated by Theodore Roosevelt. He founded the national wildlife refuge system, which today covers more than 90 million acres in all 50 states.

This year, as I mentioned, we are celebrating the centennial of the Antiquities Act, which was passed by a Republican Congress in 1906. The original idea was to protect archaeological curiosities in small areas. TR set a precedent for making broad use of the Antiquities Act to protect natural curiosities in large areas. He designated 18 such monuments, such as the Grand Canyon, a geological curiosity covering 800,000 acres,

TR’s precedent is relevant today. This year, President Bush used the authority of the Antiquities Act to designate the largest marine reserve in the world – the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, covering nearly 90 million acres.
As you may be aware, that is not all that the White House has been up to for the last six years. So let’s bring our conversation forward to today. And talk about the conservative case for conservation in the context of energy.

Energy is the topic of the hour, here in Colorado and across the country. I don’t have to tell you how our nation’s failure to adopt a rational, conservative energy policy is affecting the wildlands, ranches, and communities here on the West Slope.

But what you’re experiencing in western Colorado is part of a broader issue with profound implications for future generations.
Here’s why: Energy is the story of our lives. It touches on how we live, how we eat, how we move around, and how we relate to other countries.

If we get energy policy wrong, we’ll get a lot of things wrong. We will endanger our security, put our economy at risk, and ultimately, undermine the natural life support systems upon which we depend.

On the other hand, if we get energy policy, right, we’ll get a lot of things right. We will be safer, we will have a foundation on which to build sustainable prosperity, and we will be better stewards of the natural capital that underpins our civilization.

It won’t be easy. There are no magic bullets. But we can figure this out without finding ourselves on a treadmill of futility. We don’t have to settle for abusing more wildlands to chase more oil and gas, to burn away on more badly designed buildings, cars, and machinery.

Let’s review briefly what’s going on in the energy world, how we got to this point, and what a rational, conservative energy policy would look like, and how that would benefit Colorado and the nation at large.

First, our dependence on oil is a strategic liability. Here’s why:

Oil is bought and sold in a global market. The global oil market has been stretched tight by soaring demand. We’re using five times as much oil as we discover. That’s deficit spending and that’s not sustainable.

With the market under such stress, it’s become twitchy and prone to price spikes. Anything that happens anywhere in the world that disrupts the global oil market will show up in gas prices right here in Grand Junction. All you need is a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, unrest in Nigeria, a pipeline problem on Alaska’s North Slope, or a pipeline bombing in the Middle East to set the market gyrating.

Last February, we dodged a bullet. A group of car bombers tried to break into Saudi Arabia’s largest oil processing facility. The bombers were repulsed, but had they succeeded in damaging or destroying that facility, the oil market would have been plunged into a supply deficit, causing prices to rise to very high levels.

We were lucky. But as the terrorists like to point out, they only have to be lucky once.

There is little chance that we can wall ourselves off from the oil market’s dangers by drilling more oil wells at home. We use nearly three times as much oil as we produce. To become self-sufficient in oil between now and 2025, we’d have to just about triple domestic oil production – finding and producing an extra 18 to 19 million barrels per day.

It won’t happen, folks. U.S. oil production peaked more than three decades ago. Even if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds as much oil as the vivid imaginations of Alaska politicians would like us to believe, that would add maybe an additional 1 to 1.5 million barrels per day to the pool.

Here’s the crux of the problem:

This pie chart shows the world’s remaining conventional oil reservers. The wedge that takes up nearly two-thirds is the oil reserves in the Middle East. The wedge taking up one-third is the oil reserves everywhere else.

In order to meet growing demand for oil worldwide, the International Energy Agency forecasts that more oil production will be centered in the Middle East. That’s where the biggest reserves are. As Saudi Arabia goes, so goes the world. We think the Saudis can ramp up production to meet rising demand. That’s what they tell us. But outsiders don’t know for certain.

In any event, as long as we depend on oil, we will depend on foreign oil.

  • By using so much oil, we are failing to heed George Washington’s warning about the dangers of foreign entanglements.
  • We are funding both sides on the war on terrorism.
  • We are giving our money to the world’s worst governments.
  • We are involving ourselves in old blood feuds in strange lands that we don’t understand well.
  • We are undermining our nation’s moral authority.
  • And we are sowing the seeds of future conflicts for those last pots of black gold in the Middle East.

Remember that oil is bought and sold from a global pool. Even if we didn’t buy a drop of oil from the Middle East, we would be affected by what happens there. Our demand puts upward pressure on prices. That benefits the nuclear dabblers in Iran – even though we don’t import a drop of oil from Iran.

Increased dependence on the Middle East is not a good idea. As Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a recent speech:

“An energy policy that relies on a finite resource concentrated in a few countries is doomed to failure.”

How about gas? You know better than I that the administration has made gas production the dominant use of public lands in the Intermountain West.

Gas demand is growing. And the drilling rush is on – too fast and too far for the taste of ranchers, sportsmen, and conservationists worried about dust, traffic, noise, and air pollution, plus all the social pathologies that break out in boomtowns.

There are now 63,000 gas wells on public lands. The Wilderness Society just released a report saying that there are plans for nearly 120,000 new gas wells on public lands in five Western states, including 22,000 in five areas of Colorado, in places such as the Roan Plateau.

Does the BLM have the resources or the direction to properly oversee all this activity and protect other uses of public lands? A 2005 report from the Government Accountability Office is doubtful.

But here’s the rub. As is the case with oil, domestic demand for gas is outrunning domestic supply. By 2025, gas demand is projected to be up 50 percent.

What we often don’t hear in the midst of the drilling rush is that older gas fields are running down. For every new well drilled in Colorado, an old well in Kansas is running down.

This chart, which was shown by architect Ed Mazria at REP’s annual conference in Golden last month, shows that we’ve drilled thousands of gas wells since 1994, but domestic production has been flat.

So, in spite of all the gas production planned for the West, the industry is gearing up to import gas from overseas. You know where the largest gas reserves overseas are located? Russia. Iran. Saudi Arabia. We’ve seen this movie before and the ending isn’t good.
OK, what about shale oil? Hot diggity dog, we’ve got 1 to 2 trillion barrels of the stuff buried in the rocks here and in Utah. Don’t have to worry about Iranian bomb builders or Russian autocrats controlling that resource.

Shale oil is not oil. It’s a low-grade hydrocarbon that requires a lot more energy to produce than conventional crude oil, which packs a much bigger energy punch.

Conventional crude oil is the champagne of fossil fuels. Shale oil is the cheap convenience store beer.

Producing energy is like investing money. You have to put energy in to get energy out. The greater the return, the higher quality the energy source. In conventional crude oil production in the U.S., for every unit of energy you put in, you get 11 to 18 units out. That’s not a bad rate of return. With shale, for every unit you put in, you would only get 2 to 3 units out. Not so good.

Shell is experimenting with a method of producing shale by heating the source rock underground. It would be very energy intensive. They’d have to build the largest wall heater, with electric rods shoved into the ground, but they’d have to build the world’s largest chest freezer, a freeze wall to keep moisture away from the production zone.

To produce 1 million barrels per day, you’d need 12,000 megawatts of electricity. That’s about equal to Colorado’s total generating capacity today. Shell says they can generate this power with gas from shale production, but another likely alternative is coal.
What about coal? The U.S. has gobs of coal. Nearly 500 billion tons of the stuff are underground. About 16 billion tons here in Colorado. We can produce a lot of electricity from coal. We could also produce a lot of liquid fuel from coal.

Coal could be our ticket to freedom from an oil market that is under duress from multiple pressure points – high demand, falling rates of discovery, instability in production areas.

It’s tempting. Our country’s emergence as an economic superpower was built on coal.

My family has a little bit of history with coal. Right after he emigrated from Italy, my Grandpa Boggio worked for a time as a coal miner in Pittsburg, Kansas. He could hardly speak a lick of English.

One day, the mine boss gave him a job to work “ahead of the air” for $1.25 a ton and another $1 for every foot he expanded the tunnel. Grandpa would repeatedly breathe a lungful of air, hold his breath, run into the tunnel dig until he couldn’t stand it anymore, run out, let the air out, suck in another lungful of air, hold his breath, and go back in. Over and over and over.
Well, Grandpa decided the coal business wasn’t for him. He enrolled in a correspondence course to better his English, moved to Los Angeles, and took a job as a meat cutter.

I tell this family story to illustrate that coal has a shadow side of hidden costs. Past and present, it has left a legacy of disease and disfigured landscapes. The bill of particulars against coal is long. Acid rain. Deadly particulate pollution. Mercury. Mountaintop removal. Most worrisome, carbon dioxide and global warming.

Coal can still have a future. But we have to figure out how to clean up coal’s act.

Up in Montana, Governor Schweitzer is touting a vision of coal without all the environmental baggage. He’s traveling the country to talk up gasifying coal so the dirty impurities can be stripped out before the gas is burned in power plants or used to produce liquid fuels. He says we can store the carbon dioxide underground where it won’t do any harm.

He may be right. Scientists think there is enough storage capacity to sequester billions and billions of tons of carbon.

Down near Houston, scientists are experimenting with carbon sequestration in a saline aquifer. The outlook for success is not certain.

But it had better be certain if we’re going to continue to use coal. Among credible scientists who know what they’re talking about, there is little doubt that carbon dioxide emissions are heating up the global climate. The National Research Council recently reviewed the research and found good evidence that the past few decades have been the warmest in hundreds of years, possibly in the last thousand years.

One-third of the carbon going up smokestacks in the United States is coming from coal-fired power plants. Over the next 50 years, under a business-as-usual scenario, carbon emissions will double.

NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen says we’re about 1 degree Celsius shy of the maximum temperatures seen in the past 1 million years. He says that further warming of 2-3 degrees Celsius will make Earth a different planet than the one we know today.

This NASA graphic shows the warming that has taken place globally since 1880. As you can see, much of the warming has taken place in the polar regions.

This slide shows that temperatures and CO2 levels march in lockstep. CO2 levels go up, temperature goes up. CO2 levels go down, temperature goes down.

This data goes back half a million years, derived from analyzing the chemistry of air trapped in ancient ice cores.

The buildup of greenhouse gas emissions is like the buildup of debt. The longer we wait to start paying it down, the harder it will get and the greater the risk of tragic consequences.

Here in the Rockies, the impacts of a warmer climate are making themselves apparent – in ways that the “greening Earth” crowd never talks about when they insist that more carbon dioxide emissions will be good for us.

Yes, extra carbon in the atmosphere will stimulate plant growth. Extra carbon also will hold in heat that stimulates the growth of insect pests that prey on trees. The extra heat also may result in a thinner snowpack, which will mean a drier forest where trees are moisture-stressed and fires burn hotter and more frequently.

None of this is 100 percent certain. Climate is complicated. There are many variables and feedback loops.

But the lack of 100 percent certainty cannot excuse inaction. Every day, all across this country, families, businesses, and institutions make decisions based on incomplete information. They use their best judgment and move forward.

We do things everyday to mitigate risk. How many drivers here have collision insurance? If so, how many of you are absolutely certain that you will get into an accident?

And much of what we need to do will have spin-off benefits – even if Rush Limbaugh is right about climate change and all the climatologists are wrong.

Which brings me to the search for a conservative energy policy that will reduce our dangerous dependence on oil, take the drilling pressure off our wildlands, dry up the flow of money to rancid regimes, create economic opportunities in rural and urban America, and start paying down that carbon debt. It’s the conservative case for conservation that I’ve been talking about. It’s our moral obligation to the future.

Here’s an interesting way to crack the nut. It was developed recently by two scientists over at Princeton University. It’s called the wedges strategy – like pie wedges.

Here’s what it is. We need to stabilize carbon emissions by 2056 – 50 years from now. Huge task, almost beyond comprehension. Well, the wedges strategy breaks the task down into manageable components. As one of the scientists put it, it reduces an utterly “heroic challenge into a limited set of monumental tasks.”

What we need are seven wedges – seven technologies, each of which can prevent the emission of 1 billion tons of carbon.

What I find interesting about this strategy is that there are more than a dozen possible wedges. We can mix and match, figure out what works and what doesn’t. And, most of the cars and buildings that will be in use in 2056 have not yet been built. So we have time – not much time – to do this right.

But there are a couple of rules.

Wedges Rule No. 1. Each technology has to be available today – something that can be scaled up. No pie in the sky, no magic bullets. Real technology. Like a truly conservative strategy, this is not utopian.

Wedges Rule No. 2. What we’re doing is setting a global carbon budget. That budget must be balanced and remain balanced. If one wedge doesn’t work, you have to find another wedge. Like a truly conservative strategy, this demands a responsible budget – deficit-spending politicians, please take note.

So, what are some of those possible wedges that will cut emissions and keep us from turning our wildlands into fossil fuel industrial zones?

Let’s start with efficiency. That’s where any conservative energy strategy must start. Any self-proclaimed conservative who disses energy efficiency is not a conservative at all. How in the world did we get into a fix where it is liberal to conserve energy and conservative to squander energy?

One wedge – Fix up buildings, lights, and appliances. Buildings are responsible for about half of U.S. carbon emissions, when you take into account all the energy used to heat them, cool them, light them, and plug in appliances. One wedge is to cut carbon emissions from buildings by 25 percent by the 2050s.

Energy efficiency has saved us money and reduced pollution. Efficiency measures implemented since 1973 have saved more energy than we obtain today from coal, oil or natural gas. With efficiency measures that are cost-effective right now, we could cut gas consumption by a minimum of 10 percent and electricity use by a quarter. When you save electricity, you save gas that is used to generate it.

But there’s more.

At REP’s annual conference in Golden last month, Ed Mazria the architect told us that three-fourths of America’s building stock will be new or renovated by 2035. Friends, that’s an energy efficiency opportunity screaming at us.

Go to architecture2030.org and see what he’s talking about. Check out the ideas and case studies for reducing building carbon emissions to a net zero by 2030. Remember, there’s no magic here. It’s a matter of being smarter about building design, materials selection, and using natural heating, cooling, and daylighting techniques.

So, we have one wedge. Six more to go.

Cars. Two billion cars will be on the road in 2056. If we raise their mileage from 30 to 60 mpg, that’s another wedge. How could we get there? Plug-in hybrid vehicles is one way. A plug-in feature would enable you to top off the battery every night. Sixty percent of Americans travel 30 miles per day or less. If you could run your car off the battery for 30 miles, you would only need the internal combustion engine for a longer trip.

How do we fuel all those cars? How about biofuels – ethanol and biodiesel? Expand ethanol production to 100 times current U.S. production. That’s a wedge. Get this. If you fill up a plug-in hybrid car with E85 – 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gas – you could get 500 miles per gallon of gasoline.

If we’re going to really ramp up ethanol production, corn is not the right answer. You just can’t grow enough to get the production you need – and it requires a lot of energy input. You have to fertilize it, spray it, baby it. A better alternative is producing ethanol from farm waste and fast-growing low-maintenance crops such as switchgrass.

Four more wedges to go.

Scale up wind power by a factor of 50. There’s a picture of a wind farm in Prowers County in the eastern Plains. President Bush believes we can satisfy 20 percent of our nation’s electrical energy needs from wind. We can do it. Xcel Energy has reached the Amendment 37 renewable energy target eight years ahead of the deadline. Xcel’s wind investments have put a billion dollars into Colorado’s rural economy.

Three wedges to go.

How about nukes? Double the current nuclear capacity and that’s one wedge. Don’t like nukes? Scale up PV solar generation by a factor of 700. That’s one wedge.

Either way, we have two wedges to go.

How about our old friend coal? To get one wedge, we’d have to sequester the carbon from 800 big coal plants. If we’re going to use coal to produce fuel, as Governor Schweitzer in Montana is advocating, sequestering the carbon from 30 million barrels per day of synfuel capacity gets you a wedge.

One more to go. Let’s ask farmers and foresters to help. Expanding conservation tillage, paying farmers and foresters for storing carbon, can get you one wedge.

OK! We have our seven wedges.

Of course, each one of these wedges has implementation issues.

  • How do you get architects to design buildings to use less energy?
  • Will people buy plug-in hybrid cars and use them to their most efficient advantage?
  • Who will build and operate the transmission lines from remote wind farms to urban load centers?
  • Can we drive the cost of solar cells down further?
  • Can we expand nuclear capacity without the Kim Jong Ils of the world getting their hands on fissile materials?
  • Can we scale up carbon sequestration and keep the carbon sequestered for centuries?

One answer to the puzzle is that carbon disposal should no longer be free. We can no longer use the atmosphere as a free garbage can for our wastes. We’ll have to figure out a way to price carbon, so that the true costs of carbon are communicated to the market. That’s how functioning markets are supposed to work. One way is cap-and-trade. Set a cap on emissions, and create a market in emissions allowances, in order to encourage innovative ways of cutting emissions.

They’re going to try that in the Northeast with power plants. And they’re going to try that in California with the whole economy. With the federal government on the sidelines, the states are stepping up to the plate.

That’s good. The genius of our constitutional system at work. That leaves me with a sense of hope. And I’m confident that the federal government will eventually get into the game. Cracks are showing in the wall of indifference inside Congress.
But to be better stewards of creation, from the wildlands of Colorado to the global climate, we need more than programs and policies.

We need to rediscover and rejuvenate our conservation ethic.

We need to revive and reconnect a healthy, civil political culture.

We need to understand that conservation and environmental protection is not a liberal issue or conservative issue, but a transcendent human concern that is rooted in both liberal and conservative traditions.

There is a conservative case for conservation. It’s been with us since conservatism emerged as an intellectual and moral tradition centuries ago.

Let me close with a quote from a contemporary conservative thinker, Rod Dreher, who this year published a very funny, very informative book that you ought to read: It’s called Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).

Dreher wrote: “It’s not easy being a green conservative, but if we conservatives want to be true to our principles, we have to move in that direction. It is morally right. It is religiously correct. It is economically prudent. It strengthens national defense. And it makes a better world for our children, and our children’s children.”

Thank you very much.

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