There was a net loss of jobs!
Certainly there can be a balance between rampant "free-market" pollution and ineffective/overbearing regulation when it comes to environmental issues.
This. Big fat ditto.
"It's never been about the environment from the begining."
I used to work for Schlumberger. Our truck was number 8215: the 15th logging truck added to the fleet in 1982:
(To make this link work, replace the * with @; ivillage editor was second guessing/expanding my link to an email address...sorry)
That is, I was an oil pig. And nobody can spin environmental issues like the oil industry. But, I digress...
Your post makes a very good argument for teaching the basics of science to all, including your "typical environmental hobbyist". I've never met one of those myself; most of the people I know who consider themselves "environmentalists" are very much aware of the issues, are well informed on them, and are not daunted by that scary "math" or "science". Some of them are quite personally invested, to the point of having built zero carbon footprint homes of sustainable/recycled materials, have reclaimed damaged lands, and get some of their energy from renewable sources. You mentioned PV's, which are quite dirty to manufacture, although they do not continue being "dirty" once they are in service. But it is quite possible to build a "passive" solar house that requires little or no additional energy to heat, which collects and heats its own water, whose grey water irrigates a garden. One of your "hobbyists" can build an indoor hydroponic system which produces both plants and fish, or install a vertical wall of plants that clean the air and provide food.
Environmentalism is not about those who are trying to game the system...those people will always be there, and they will try to use our appetites to satisfy their needs for money and power. And some of them will try to redefine the word "environmentalist", because it advances their agenda. And some will advance various conspiracy theories, and insinuate that "environmentalists" cause more problems than they solve, that they are in fact ignorant and stupid, cannot understand basic sciece even.
Your example are mostly about our enormous appetite for energy and consumer goods, and of the understandable desires of those who make their money in that business to keep on raking in the cash. If every person on the planet used the same amount of energy as the average American uses, we'd be in dire straits in terms of pollution, energy need, environmental degradation, etc...that is, even worse than we are now. We Americans are used to a high standard of living; it's hard to break the mindset of unlimited energy and goods for the taking. To the point that we'll use almost any argument to justify not having to break/change our energy "habit". Every environmentalist I know has decried the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" ethanol scam from the beginning...it is those who want a market for corn products who have ever pushed it.
The Exxon Valdez example was interesting...your claim that the cleanup was botched because of environmental concerns can actually be neither proven nor disproven, but one thing that is crystal clear is that if the spill had not occurred in the first place, a cleanup would not have been required.
The fact is: non-renewable energy is not viable for the long term. One of these days we will run out of fossil fuels, of uranium. If we follow current policy and thought, eventually we will have burnt every bit of fossil fuel, even if it means digging down 800 feet and strip mining like the Yates formation in central Texas for its oil. This is a fact. It is also a fact that none of us alive now will be around when that happens, so it is easy to be profligate with our energy and act as if our non-renewable resources are infinite.
I live in an area that generates wind power, a renewable energy. Across the border, energy is generated from a finite source by massive coal fired electricity plants. A couple of hundred miles to the south of my home, the skies to the southwest are always brown. You may choose to believe that the one time production and installation of windmills, a non polluting renewable source whose chief danger is to migratory birds is in a "dead heat" with unregulated (or even regulated) coal fired generators if you like, but I bet you'd choose to live next to the windmill rather than the coal fired plant or the strip mine, its runoff tainted by sulfuric acid. There are "dead" streams in Kentucky where my dh's father, a biologist (and environmentalist) used to do his field work...one of his interests was the reclamation of such mines, apparently an almost impossible task. An old windmill, used for drawing water for decades by my grandparents, still stands at their old home. It is not a Superfund site...even though it hasn't been able to spin for years, it will never be a Superfund site, regardless of some who would spin it otherwise.
edited to correct a couple of mistakes about coal mining and its runoff: dh told me that highwall mines, in which a "bench" is cut into a mountain to get at a seam of coal until no longer economically feasible to extract it, produce sulfuric acid because the coal is high enough in sulfur that tree stumps were fossilized by pyrite, FeS2. When the pyrite is exposed to the air, the pyrite oxidizes, forming rusted iron and sulfuric acid. dh said the streams are beautiful: crsytal clear, and absolutely lifeless. Also, dh told me about some early foci of the environmental movement in Kentucky when his dad was active there, in the seventies, that it absolutely was about real environmentalism, and that the coal companies "caught" on in the nineties that they were in some trouble with the public, and went about "greenwashing" their images. This "corporatization" of environmentalism does nothing to diminish the importance of environmental awareness and action.
Of course...I don't recall ever having championed "ineffective/overbearing" regulation. Ever. In an unregulated market we get the kind of mess in our air and water and soils that was becoming a nightmare in the sixties...I was a kid then...happened to live in an area that got nuclear testing fallout in the sixties and perhaps not surprisingly I'm part of a "cluster" of people from that time and area who have thyroid problems.
Fish biology...he wrote a book about darters...was one of those people reviled because of the endangered snail darters that kept dams from being built by the TVA (a worthless project, it later turned out) ...he used to go around and talk to the farmers who were going to be displaced by the dam projects. He also had a passionate interest in geology also and used to take dh along for his fish collecting, stream sampling, rock collecting jaunts...would take dh from the stream to the highwall of a strip mine.
Interesting side note: in the late 80's dh was working with water storage data (he was in hot pursuit of the "Chandler Wobble", a feature of the earth's rotation), and knowing my fascination for weather, told me about what the most recent computer models said about man's contribution to climate change. Weird how close to those predictions things have turned out so far. One of those predictions was that absolutely no significant steps would be made to change man's contributions even when the information was widely available, and that has certainly been true.
edited to change "headwall" to "highwall"...
That's interesting! My dad started out wanting to do fish, but then got hooked on small mammals, specifically bats and rodents. He also has done desert tortoise stuff.