The town of Cushing, Oklahoma, lies about halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. With a population of just under 8,000, Cushing is unremarkable save for the fact that, thanks to an accident of history, thousands of barrels of West Texas Intermediate oil are delivered to and distributed from there every month.
As the economy has ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, demand for oil has dropped, but Texas rigs have continued to pump it out of the ground. With supply steady but demand dropping, Cushing’s storage tanks filled up. As a result, the people expecting to take delivery of oil in May started dumping those contracts, driving the price for a May-delivered barrel of WTI down. Eventually, something funny happened: The price went negative, reflecting the fact that the bearer would need to pay someone to take the oil off his hands.
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Most readers might take this situation for what it is: another strange side effect of the market entering a self-imposed shutdown, combined with the fact that there isn’t that much space in which to store crude oil.
To the Democratic Party’s ecosocialist flank it was something different entirely: the latest sign of impending global catastrophe—perversely, something they are celebrating.
Freshman firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) responded to the news by writing in a tweet she later deleted that “you love to see it”—that is, oil prices dropping below zero. In a subsequent tweet, the Green New Dealer wrote that her fellow environmentalists were celebrating the market fluke “as a turning point in the climate movement” and that “fossil fuels are in long-term structural decline.”
Failed 2020 contender Tom Steyer took to Twitter to argue that “oil is in total free-fall because it is a bad investment that won’t create sustained jobs or prosperity.” The Sunrise Movement, the youth wing of American ecosocialism, claimed the temporary drop is “our chance to publicly own oil & gas companies.”
Enter reality. Far from being in “structural decline,” the shale revolution has brought U.S. oil production to record highs, helping to ensure our energy independence from two-bit tyrants in Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. And even as contracts on one month’s delivery of oil go south, oil remains a key strategic resource and every patriot should hope and pray for the day that consumption returns to where it was—because that will be the day that the American people have their lives back, their jobs back, their schools back.
What’s really telling about Monday’s environmentalist jubilation is not the greens’ misunderstanding of the situation, but the value judgments that lay behind their misapprehension. If negative oil prices did, in fact, mean the coronavirus had crushed wholesale the American oil industry and the 10 million jobs it supports, then Ocasio-Cortez’s pronouncement that “you love to see it” cannot be judged anything other than grotesque.
The same motivated reasoning attends when climate activists applaud the shutdown’s effect on the environment; moan that while “emissions are way down,” it’s “not all good news” because President Trump is more focused on saving jobs than saving forest animals; or scold you about having children or refusing to eat bugs. Their conclusion is that the collapse of America’s industrial prowess and the attendant suffering that would accompany it are a necessary and even desirable part of the coming eco-realignment. Americans must suffer not just because it might lead to a better tomorrow but as punishment for our hubris.
As Americans endure an unprecedented economic and health crisis, take notice of who is cheering for a recovery—and who thinks our loss is Gaia’s gain.
Happy Earth Day!