This commentary originally appeared in the National Review Online on March 3, 2016.
The Supreme Court’s stay of the EPA’s sweeping Clean Power Plan (CPP) is one of several developments undermining the efforts of President Obama and his fellow climate zealots. The Obama administration expected the CPP to seal the U.N.’s first universal climate agreement, but now that the president’s grand plan has been put on hold until final judicial review on the merits, its fate will likely not be known until late 2017 at the earliest. Furthermore, the prospects for upholding the power plan are not that strong. As a legal condition of imposing the stay, the Supreme Court had to conclude that the EPA’s plan would likely be overruled in the Court’s final review.
Last December in Paris the climate agreement was declared a fait accompli, with representatives of around 190 countries expected to sign it on Earth Day (April 22) at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York. The Paris deal does not “enter into force” until at least 55 countries that together account for 55 percent of man-made greenhouse gases ink the document. But if President Obama’s grand plan to reduce CO2 remains in legal limbo for two more years, why would other countries go ahead and submit their economic future to the terms of the U.N. agreement?
In response, the White House has apparently assigned Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy on climate, to get busy on damage control. Stern last week warned the presidential candidates that they would be well advised to stop sowing seeds of doubt about the CPP. In Brussels, Stern reassured EU officials that the Court’s freeze on the CPP would not weaken the EPA’s resolve on pledged carbon cuts or delay the signing of the agreement in April.
However, the European Union has good reason to worry about the viability of the Paris deal if the United States’ contribution is uncertain. After ambitious green efforts over the last ten years, many EU member countries have substantial economic concerns about expanded carbon dictates. As a result of the carbon policies they already have in place, Germany, Britain, and Spain have experienced soaring electricity rates, energy poverty, unsustainable subsidies, and industrial flight — all while failing to achieve meaningful carbon reductions.
The incoherence of the policies spawned by the U.N.’s earlier Kyoto climate accord is increasingly undeniable. Germany is subsidizing the construction of coal-fired power plants as necessary backups to renewables, and Britain is burning wood imported from the United States to generate electricity on a massive scale. Renamed “biomass” and declared “carbon neutral,” wood is no less polluting than coal. Headlines in the Daily Mail excoriate the retrofit of Britain’s largest coal plant to burn wood as a “forest-destroying symbol of the shameful absurdity of European energy policies.”
As a result of the failure of these overly ambitious green programs, the EU recently shifted gears from mandatory carbon “goals” to softer “targets.” Although EU officials may have rhetorically supported stronger goals at the U.N.’s confab in Paris, a critical mass of their Eastern European members — notably Poland — may resist ratification of the EU’s pledge. EU officials admit that it may take several years to work out the green “burden sharing” such that the European Parliament can officially endorse the U.N. agreement.
Economic and geopolitical reality may finally be rising to the forefront of energy policy. Strikingly, Europe’s first initiative on energy following the Paris deal does not follow the green handbook. Under a new “Accord for an Energy Future,” the EU will be funding projects not for renewables, but for natural-gas pipelines and infrastructure to import natural gas.
Officials from China, India, and Brazil, long reluctant to gamble their countries’ economic development on the increasingly gauzy green dreams of the U.N., also question whether the Paris agreement could survive in the absence of enforceable commitments from the United States. The climate crusade may still be in well-heeled motion, but the movement is listing.
Although praised by the climate elites in the most histrionic tones, the Paris deal is a flimsy agreement. Unless there is a trap door hidden in the U.N.’s apparatchik-speak, gone is the original objective of the crusade: making carbon cuts binding on individual countries and enforceable by a globally governing authority. The voluntary “pledges” of Paris to reduce greenhouse gases are toothless. The only reprisal for a country’s failing to implement its pledge seems to be nosy U.N. bureaucrats shaking a finger in its officials’ faces. And the combined pledges from 190 countries don’t amount to enough of an aggregate reduction to avert the dangerous warming predicted by the calculus of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And for the clincher, most countries’ pledges are conditional upon whether they would adversely affect economic growth. In other words, we will pledge to cut carbon, but if doing so impairs economic growth, we will nix the green programs.
Another debilitating factor for the climate crusade is the fact that plans are being made to build 2,400 new coal plants in China, India, Japan, and other Asian nations.
And regardless of ever shriller claims that the science behind global warming is absolutely settled, mounting evidence invalidates the modeled predictions of the IPCC — the official scientific anchor of the crusade. For decades, the IPCC models have failed to accurately forecast temperature as observed by the most sophisticated technology: NASA’s remote sensing satellites and balloons.
Nor has the green media crusade convinced the public that a climate catastrophe is about to ensnare us. In polls of likely voters in the U.S. over the last ten years, no more than 1 to 4 percent of respondents viewed climate change as a pressing issue demanding action. In the U.N.’s own poll of seven million people in developing countries, respondents ranked “action taken on climate change” as the last of 16 priorities (education ranked first).
As the years go by, the theory of man-made global warming of apocalyptic proportions resembles previous doomsday scenarios in which mankind is invariably the culprit. These are epitomized by the now-aging Club of Rome’s misanthropic declaration in 1974: “The earth has cancer, and the cancer is man.” What percentage of us is so bereft of faith in and hope for humanity? Claims of global cooling, resource depletion, and overpopulation over the decades may have temporarily captured the public’s imagination, but the earlier doomsayers’ claims were eventually repudiated by overwhelming facts on the ground. Like it or not, prosperous countries are utterly dependent on the abundant, affordable, versatile, reliable, concentrated, controllable, and portable energy available from fossil fuels.
There is, however, a disturbing difference with the climate issue. The weak science and counterproductive policies have been institutionalized in law, academia, media, and culture. The elites effectively promote the specter of a planetary meltdown forecast by supposedly unequivocal science, while they dismiss the civilizational threat of trying to decarbonize human society. Like it or not, prosperous countries are utterly dependent on the abundant, affordable, versatile, reliable, concentrated, controllable, and portable energy available from fossil fuels. At this point in time, the intermittent, and far more expensive, renewable energies cannot provide the countless energy services on which our long, healthy, affluent, and comfortable lives with personal freedom depend.
A dose of energy reality is sorely needed. The long judicial review of the constitutional, economic, and engineering pitfalls of the president’s Clean Power Plan will provide the opportunity. The U.S. must learn from the bitter lessons of Europe. And the alarmists need to be candid about the massive risks of current policies aimed at rapidly supplanting fossil fuels with inherently weak renewables.
If U.S. leaders were candid about the environmental lunacy that is decarbonization, the international response might not be scorn, as our climate envoy warned, but relief that the misguided and destructive climate crusade might be coming to an end.
The Honorable Kathleen Hartnett White is a distinguished senior fellow-in-residence and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment, and the author with Steve Moore of Fueling Freedom, to be released by Regnery Publishing on May 23. Prior to joining the Armstrong Center, White served a six-year term as chairman and commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.