Confessions of an Environmentalist

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Imagine you dedicated your life to environmentalism and all of its assumptions. Then imagine you realize those assumptions are all wrong. What would you do? Entrepreneur Brian Gitt tells his personal story and where it led him.


Just because you feel like you’re doing the right thing doesn’t mean you are. I have dedicated most of my life to protecting the environment. But I went about it the wrong way. I thought I was acting morally, protecting the well-being of people and the planet. In fact, I was harming both.

I believed solar and wind power were the future—our only hope of avoiding environmental catastrophe. Fossil fuels were the enemy, extracted from the earth by greedy companies plundering the land, polluting the air, and destroying ecosystems.

Keeping the wilderness as pristine as possible was my passion.

Ever since I was a teenager, I loved the outdoors. I led mountaineering expeditions in Alaska, spent months backpacking in the Rockies, and climbed the highest peaks in national parks. I only took jobs that I thought would protect the environment.

I started a company that built composting systems for cities and businesses.

I served as executive director of an organization that championed green construction policies.

And then I became CEO of a consulting firm that worked on making homes more energy efficient.

At that time, the Obama administration had earmarked billions of dollars in federal funding to create jobs in the energy sector, and my company won multi-year contracts valued at over $60 million.

I thought I was making a real difference in the world. I was surrounded by smart, successful, ambitious people who shared my beliefs and my heartfelt desire to change things. And my company had lots of money and lots of government support.

There was only one problem: our project to build more energy-efficient homes was an utter failure.

Making home energy improvements was much too expensive for middle-class families—even with generous government subsidies. Wealthy families, by contrast, loved the program. They got subsidies they didn’t need and the environmental cred they craved. In reality, though, we weren’t achieving much of anything—except wasting taxpayer money.

That’s not how the government saw it. The government celebrated the project as a big win.

It was a great photo op for politicians. But I knew the program didn’t deliver the jobs and energy savings we had promised.

Maybe I should have accepted the props and kept doing what I was doing.

But I couldn’t.

I began re-examining everything I had believed about energy and the environment.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I had been living in a fantasy world: perfectly fine for making me feel good about myself and my mission, but perfectly useless for making real environmental change.

The more research I did, the more I realized that my project was just a symptom of a much bigger problem.

We’re wasting trillions of dollars on the false hope that wind and solar power are going to replace fossil fuels—oil, coal, and natural gas. Yet over the last 20 years, the world’s dependence on these fuels has declined by only three percentage points—from 87% to 84%.

That’s a pathetic return on our “investment.”

If we’re serious about confronting climate change, protecting the environment, and helping people climb out of energy poverty around the world, we need to stop chasing fantasies. Instead, it’s time to honestly examine all the costs and all the benefits of every energy source—wind, solar, oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear.

Greenhouse gas emissions are a concern but not the only thing we need to consider when discussing energy and the environment. Here are five principles to help us evaluate the best energy options to protect both people and the planet.

One. Reliability: A reliable energy source provides power 24/7/365. States and countries that have doubled down on renewable sources face energy rationing and power blackouts.

Two. Affordability: The cost of energy affects the cost of everything else. If energy isn’t affordable, ordinary people can’t heat and cool their homes, and businesses can’t make the products we want and need.