In his column on December 30, George Will seemed positively giddy that 2011 ushered in a new era of fossil fuel abundance. You see, according to Will, this newfound energy abundance is good news for conservatives (and, presumably, libertarians) because the absence of energy scarcity is bad news for progressives. They need scarcity, Will writes, to justify “rationing … that produces ever-more-minute government supervision of Americans’ behavior.” And with this newfound energy abundance, progressives will have less justification for many of their big government endeavors.
There may be valid reasons for conservatives and libertarians to take a skeptical approach to anthropogenic climate change. There are certainly good reasons for those who care about limited government to oppose the means that have been proposed to deal with it, which include such big government gems as carbon taxation and its initially conservative alternative, cap and trade. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a conservative or libertarian who doesn’t oppose the scandal (Solyndra), overregulation (good golly), or nannyism (We <3 Incandescent Light Bulbs) that have passed for energy and environmental policy in Washington.
But there are no good reasons for either conservatives or libertarians to be excited about fossil fuels. George Will argues that our newfound energy abundance will liberate us from many big government endeavors. I argue that our dependence on Old Energy empowers progressives — and, in some cases, conservatives — in at least five ways to insist upon the necessity of big government.