Fundamentally, none of us are paying the true financial price of legacy energy (i.e. fossil fuels), but the argument that it is “too costly” to transition away is a dangerous falsehood because we are paying the true cost (externalities included) in spades.
First, understand that the gallon price of legacy energy is kept artificially low by government subsidies (which come from our taxes, isn’t that a cost?) and consequently is somewhat insulated from market forces. It fluctuates more in response to financials markets than to actual supply and demand. The quest for cheap energy is not the driving force behind pipeline construction, maximizing shareholder value is. Consumers will not benefit from this infrastructure in any kind of lasting way, but shareholders, a few executives, and the politicians they grease will as their stock prices rise. Now here’s the clincher: the financials markets is not the true economy. I’ll come back to that.
At the same time, in spite of the protectionism granted to legacy energy and the obstructionism to more sensible alternatives, emerging energy sources — solar, wind, wave, biofuels, etc– are overtaking legacy energy, and transportation modes that don’t use fossil fuels are evolving apace. How can this be if everyone is so concerned with the price of a gallon of gas? Simply because many of us have already awoken to the falsehoods in statements such as “infrastructure such as the Dakota Access Pipeline is what keeps our economy going.” Again, the financials markets are not the economy, and perpetual economic growth of is not a requirement for a healthy economy. In fact, it is a detriment to it. Remember Ike and his admonitions about the military-industrial complex? What impact do you suppose having the largest mechanized military in the world has on the price of gas? More than a pipeline or two, I’d wager.
But I digress. No ecology is in a perpetual state of growth. It expands, it contracts, and it evolves, transforming over time. That last one is the key to this situation. An economy is an ecology. A move away from legacy energy is not a harbinger of a failing economy, it is an indicator of an evolving one. Staying the course when we know it is a path with no future is foolhardy and will cost each of us more in the long run than shutting down all the pipelines and laying the red carpet for the next energy economy ever will. While oil executives, much of the political class, and apparently “Travelers, vagabonds, and alternative lifestyle-seekers” whine about the demise of cheap gas, municipalities and communities around the country are leading the transition to renewable energy. Why? Because they know who is footing the bill for the true cost of cheap gas, and who is reaping the benefits. Hint: It’s not us.