Lawrence Solomon: Why Jews like climate policy

(December 16, 2011) Their belief it will help Israel is ­counterproductive.

“Jews are pro-nuclear because of Israel,” a Jewish colleague and former federal energy official told me near the beginning of my environmental career, to help me in my puzzlement as to why so many Jews supported this technology. Nuclear reactors, from my perspective, had nothing going for them — they produced ruinously expensive electricity, they were an environmental pariah, and they were being built by dictatorial regimes — at the time by the military junta in Argentina, by Ceausescu in Romania, and by Zia in Pakistan — as a cover to develop nuclear bombs.

The penny dropped for me the instant my colleague finished his sentence, as it would have for many Jews like me, who have an instinctive desire to protect Israel. This was in the early 1980s, after two OPEC oil embargoes had sent the Western world into recession. The Arab states had been using the “oil weapon” against countries that had relations with Israel, with the explicit goal of destroying Israel.

And it was working. Poor countries in Africa and Asia, to avoid being cut off from oil, had fallen in line with the Arab states by severing diplomatic relations with Israel and supporting anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations. Western countries, though they maintained diplomatic relations with Israel, were beginning to resent the costs of their relationship. Many Western Jews, hoping to lessen their countries’ dependence on Middle East oil, saw nuclear as the answer. These Jews supported renewables and energy conservation, too, but wind and solar were then seen as technologies of the distant future. Only nuclear seemed to hold the large-scale energy potential needed to wean the West off oil.

The view that nuclear power plants could replace the West’s need for Middle East oil, or in any way protect Israel, proved a fantasy. Being wildly uneconomic, the industry was doomed to fail, costing ratepayers and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Even if endless subsidies had been able to perpetuate the nuclear industry, the West would have remained reliant on the Middle East because nuclear reactors produce electricity, not oil. Weaning off oil would have entailed replacing the internal combustion engine with electric motors and an overhaul of the West’s entire transportation system. That didn’t happen.

Fast forward to today and the nuclear-wind-solar fantasy has been revived and at a far more fantastical scale, this time through global warming. Quite apart from their concern for the environment, Jews who want to protect Israel see in anti-global-warming policies a means to wean the West off Middle East oil, and reduce the influence of Middle East oil-producing countries on the West’s foreign policy.

This time, with governments all-in, the ante was upped with trillions of dollars being committed to the cause. Because wind and solar, like nuclear, produce electricity and not oil, governments decided to convert the transportation system to fuel electric vehicles.

In all this, one of the leading advocates for reform was Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a repeated sponsor of sweeping global warming legislation designed to remake American society. Not coincidentally, Lieberman is a fierce defender of Israel — “without exception, no conditions … the No. 1 pro-Israel advocate and leader in Congress,” according to NACPAC, America’s largest pro-Israel political action committee. Jewish groups at the grassroots likewise supported Lieberman’s climate-change legislation.

“Urge your Senators to Support America’s Climate Security Act (S. 3036),” read the headline in the Advocacy Alert from the San Francisco chapter of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The Alert, issued by the group’s “Israel, Zionist and International Affairs” wing, noted that: “The more we depend on carbon-emitting fossil fuels, the more U.S. foreign policy is at the whim of nations that do not share our values, including our loyalty to Israel.”

As with the push for nuclear, the push for global-warming legislation has done nothing to protect Israel. The renewables industry is now crashing, as it was doomed to — like nuclear, wind and solar remain unaffordable. If anything, the Jewish drive to protect Israel by promoting nuclear and renewables was counterproductive, because it helped send society down the wrong road.

To make the West energy independent, the West needs only to develop its own fossil fuels. They are both bountiful and affordable, so much so that imports from hostile Middle East countries could be quickly eliminated. Jews in the West who care about Israel, and who want the foreign policies of their own governments to be formed free of fear of retribution from Middle East oil states, can best help their cause by working to remove senseless restrictions on homegrown energy development.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers.

This article first appeared in the Financial Post.

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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