California’s Cruel Green Cramdown

A few years ago, a provocative book by Rupert Darwall called Green Tyranny made the case that climate alarm is more about power and control than it is about the climate or the environment. Darwell’s argument, echoed today by a growing number of economists and environmentalists such as Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Shellenberger, concludes that environmental extremism, especially now that it is amped up with climate alarm, is disastrous to both the environment and the economy.

It’s worse than that, however, because the economic misery inflicted by extreme environmentalism only afflicts middle-class and low-income people. Wealthy elites are either indifferent to the costs or are set to make hefty profits from them.

In America, California is ground zero for green tyranny. If Joe Biden actually manages to take office in January 2020, every state will have to contend with what Californians have endured for decades.

There’s a reason why it costs so much to rent an apartment or buy a house in California. There’s a reason why gas and electricity bills are so high, why water bills are so expensive, and why sometimes even water is rationed.

California’s green tyrants explain away the punitive cost-of-living endured by ordinary residents as the result of capitalism, racism, and white oppression, or maybe they just blame Republicans. To date, with a majority of Californians, this nonsensical, obsessive distraction still works. But it’s wearing thin. The real reason everybody in California suffers from a high cost of living is extreme environmentalism, translated into laws that benefit the wealthy and connected and impoverish everyone else.

Extreme environmentalists have made it almost impossible to get permits to build new homes. California has five times as much land used for grazing cattle as it does land used for homes and businesses, but all that land is off-limits because of environmentalist restrictions.

Extreme environmentalists have made electricity expensive because the only new electricity sources have to be from wind and solar power, even though California has plenty of natural gas, which is clean and cheap. Environmentalists are even making the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant shut down in a few years, even though it generates almost 10 percent of California’s electricity supply.

Extreme environmentalists won’t allow any new water storage, preventing Californians from capturing more runoff from winter storms. Up and down the state, environmentalists stop the construction of new dams that could guarantee Californians plentiful water supplies. They won’t even allow desalination plants to be built on the coast—plants that could produce millions of acre-feet of fresh water.

Environmentalists have practically destroyed California’s timber industry, which is the real reason its overgrown forests are burning. They have also made it impossible to operate mines and quarries, so Californians have more affordable and abundant building materials. And all of this takes away good jobs.

David vs. the Green Goliath

An apt metaphor for the green tyranny that grips California is the story of David and Goliath, although the metaphor breaks down when considering David’s ability to sling a stone into Goliath’s unarmored forehead, to deadly effect. The Green Goliath terrorizing California is a coalition so powerful that only a massive populist rebellion can stop it.

At the head of this leviathan are massive environmentalist nonprofits, with budgets that collectively amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. They include the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Pacific Institute, Earthjustice, the Friends of the River, and many others.

The body of the Green Goliath is a vast assemblage of constituencies, including the high-tech industry, corrupted cronies and profiteers in all facets of business and construction, the entertainment and media complex, every major public utility, the full spectrum of academia from kindergarten to graduate schools, the financial sector, leftist billionaires and multi-billionaires, and the entire government bureaucracy.

Against this array of institutional might, outgunned and outfoxed, and always, always, playing defense, are California’s trade associations. Examples of these beleaguered institutions are the California Building Industry Association, the California Forestry Association, the California Cattlemen’s Association, and the Agricultural Council of California. These organizations and others fight a holding action against the Green Goliath, losing ground every year.

As for populist rebellion against the green tyrants, entrants are few. The simple fact that “climate change” objectives, even if you believe in their urgency, are not furthered by the green tyrants’ actions, is lost on most Californians. But maybe that can change.

In 2015, the fourth consecutive dry year in a drought-stricken state, after watching 27,000 acre-feet of water get released into California’s Stanislaus River to save just 23 steelhead trout, one Californian decided to start a movement.

Five years later, with no money, Kristi Diener’s “California Water for Food and People Movement” has 14,200 members on a Facebook group where they share information and ideas dedicated to restoring common sense and humanity to California’s water policies. Based in California’s Central Valley and agricultural heartland, this group includes thousands of farmers, along with families in farm communities on the front lines in the fight against the green tyrants. They are very well-informed. But they haven’t been able to stop the ongoing attacks on their lives and livelihoods.

Consider this recent post on their Facebook page:

During November [2020], knowing we could be heading into a multi year drought, northern reservoir managers continued to release water through the Delta, and into the Pacific Ocean anyway. Environmental regulations say the flows are necessary to produce a rebound of endangered Delta smelt and Chinook salmon, yet zero of either species have been collected in all of the latest trawling surveys, where they spend several days a month searching in more than 200 spots. This practice of releasing water and hoping fish improve, has been unsuccessful for nearly 30 years. Both species are close to extinction.

Even with little to no rain to speak of in November, an amount of freshwater equal to a year’s supply for 3,031,560 people for a year, was emptied from storage and added to the supposedly rising sea level. It is equal to 987.8 billion gallons, or 303,156 acre feet. Last week, State Water Project contractors, who provide water for 27 million people and 750,000 acres of the most productive farmland on Earth, were given their initial allocation of 10 percent. Put another way, 303,156 acre feet was sent to the ocean for failing fish-saving policies in one month with little rain, while contractors received 422,848 acre-feet to share among 27 million people and 750,000 acres of food production.

This is typical behavior, thanks to the green tyrants, and it’s getting worse.

In January, under the California legislature’s recently passed “Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” Central Valley farmers are required to reduce the amount of well water they use to irrigate their crops. In March, California regulators set new rules that reduce how much river water farmers can take.

Obviously, it makes no sense to drain aquifers dry or divert the entire flow of a river for irrigation, but these two regulations hitting farmers at the same time is a perfect storm. Suddenly farms that have operated for generations face the possibility of having to shut down operations. And to pick up the pieces, flush with subsidies, are renewables “entrepreneurs” who aim to carpet the valley with solar farms.

A Completely New Way of Thinking is Required

It wouldn’t be so bad if more water stayed underground and more water stayed in the rivers if there was more water available. But when California’s rains falter for a few years in a row, it is impossible to satisfy both environmentalists and farmers. And invariably, the farmers lose. But why not store more water by capturing storm runoff, even in dry years, and reserving more water in reservoirs captured during the wet years?

This is where the environmentalists have forced Californians into a lose-lose scenario. Californians have to restrict their water use, thanks to the environmentalists, but they are also prevented from increasing water supply, thanks to the environmentalists.

An example of this is the proposed expansion of Lake Shasta, California’s biggest reservoir, by raising the dam 18 feet. Just with that incremental increase, this steep-sided, deep water reservoir would be able to yield a half-million additional acre-feet of fresh water every year. This cool water could be used to send pulses down the Sacramento river, helping fish populations, and it could be transported through aqueducts to farmers south of the delta. But environmentalists have used endless lawsuits to block this project for years. It is unlikely ever to be completed.

Down on the Southern California coast, another example of environmentalist power plays out in the city of Huntington Beach, where a proposed desalination plant has been fighting for nearly 20 years for approval. Despite the environmental issues associated with desalination being thoroughly addressed in the modern design proposed, environmentalists have stopped this project in its tracks. It, too, is unlikely ever to be completed.

It’s not just water. The same cruel green cramdown plays out in every sector. There are countless examples of how environmentalist litigators and lobbyists have tied the economy of California up in knots, imposing politically contrived scarcity on the people. Until Californians can recognize that they don’t have to live like serfs, that affordable abundance can be achieved while making acceptable tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic growth, the green tyrants will reign supreme in the golden state. Will the nation follow suit?

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Steven Mcdowell/Science Photo Library/Getty Images