This commentary originally appeared in The Hill on August 9, 2016.
Rarely and only superficially discussed among the current raging policy debates is the proliferation of federal measures “to battle climate change.”
Without much scrutiny, this Administration keeps ratcheting up the scope and stringency of executive “climate action” now institutionalized across the federal government. Step-by-step, these “climate actions” are dismantling the energy systems on which modern economic growth and improving human welfare is utterly dependent.
The rubric “climate change” is so vague and the culprit—carbon dioxide—so ubiquitous that government actions to “tackle climate change” are limitless. For example, a single action with huge ramifications, EPA in July declared that the entire aviation sector will be now subject to carbon cuts.
After the failure of the massive cap and trade bill to pass the Senate in 2013, the President noted “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” and has proceeded to execute almost every item in the White House’s Climate Action Plan. He is now accelerating radical actions to the expanding climate edifice.
To name a few items that have already engaged the United States in the mad decarbonizing project, consider the following executive actions: EPA’s seizure of the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the tight-fisted Clean Air Act; rejection of the Keystone Pipeline; regulatory initiatives to kill coal, leading to closure of over 244 coal plants and bankruptcies of the major coal companies; a mandatory plan to re-engineer the national electric system known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP); a crackdown on methane—the primary component of natural gas; the first global Paris agreement to decarbonize; and an overlooked but extremely broad trilateral effort known as the Three Amigos (U.S., Canada and Mexico), a climate plan to include a perplexing “gender responsive approach” to climate action.
Some of the more radical climate policies currently being discussed mirror the Three Amigos’ agreement, including generation of fifty percent of electricity from renewables within ten years; meeting one-hundred percent of residential energy needs with clean sources by 2030 and installation of 500 million solar panels within four years.
Data from the Energy Information Administration would enrich the public’s understanding of the futility of those policies. After receiving subsidies since 1992, wind power generated only 4.7 percent of total U.S. electricity in 2015. Solar power accounted for only 0.6 percent. Globally, wind produced only 2.6 percent of generation. Wind and solar hardware may be rapidly growing on the ground, but as a share of total power, actual generation increases at a snail’s pace. The installed generating capacity of wind and solar is only 88.6 gigawatts (GW) of total U.S. capacity (1065 GW). If actual generation is calculated according to EIA’s average capacity factor, wind only contributed 26 GW of actual generation.
Installing 500 million solar panels within a few years with a goal to meet all residential demand with zero-carbon energy by 2030 is an exorbitant pipe dream. The cost of fabricating and installing that many solar panels could approach one trillion dollars. How many voters would support such a public investment with a national debt of almost $18 trillion, declining middle-class incomes, and the weakest economic recovery since 1949?
The global goal of the grand climate plan is to displace eighty percent of fossil fuels with zero-carbon energy sources by 2050. The main tactic is massive, subsidized deployment of wind, solar and biomass. Unless modern societies will accept a regression to the level of energy consumption in the early 18th century with a much smaller food supply, a much larger population and far more centralized government, the decarbonizing project is simply not feasible.
These wildly brief time frames are issued by would-be planetary managers who refuse to acknowledge the economic damage following the rush to renewables in Germany, Britain and Spain. The day after Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May assumed office, the Department of Energy and Climate Change was dissolved. Within the same week, Germany announced an end to major renewable subsidies and put a cap on renewables to avoid a meltdown of the grid.
Without an “energy miracle,” as Bill Gates and Google concluded, current renewable technology simply cannot replace fossil fuels at the scale envisioned. Yet, the U.S. accelerates the climate crusade.
Unlike European countries, the U.S. never enacted new laws to authorize a sweeping energy revolution. Yet, the Administration is handily implementing a comparable plan on the basis of strategy and tactics formulated without input from Congress. The “fight against climate change” will not merely increase electric bills by a modest amount as EPA contends. This is an epochal issue that demands far more substantial discussion in the public square.
The cautious right is typically reticent about the climate issue and when questioned often switches the topic to more low-risk issues like job creation. The left, meanwhile, spews bombastic propaganda about saving “the one planet that we’ve got.” Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statement that “air-conditioning is a greater threat to civilization than ISIS” may have backfired. Such absurd, climate hype at the highest levels of government is offensive to a wide swath of the electorate.
The basic data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration deserve the light of day to ensure Americans are well informed on how these policies will affect them. Crucial are the voices of the engineers who make energy work. Michael Kelly, Prince Philip Professor of Engineering and Technology at the University of Cambridge, offers sound advice: ‘‘the scale and the different engineering challenges of the decarbonization project are without precedent in human history.… An altogether more sophisticated public debate is urgently needed on appropriate actions that consider the threats to humanity and weigh more carefully both the upsides and downsides of taking any action [on climate] and of not taking any action.”
Current renewable technologies cannot replace the goods and services now delivered by the concentrated, abundant, cheap, reliable, versatile, and controllable energy in fossil fuels without major damage to economies, major reduction of the global food supply, major decline in basic human welfare and major disruption of global geopolitics. The climate crusade is no longer a peripheral, aspirational matter. Executive action without popular consent has enlisted our country in this mad “battle against climate change.” It’s time to be upfront and engage in a battle against deluded energy policies.
Hartnett White is Distinguished Senior Fellow-in- Residence and Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former Chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She is co-author of the new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy (Regnery, 2016). Follow her on Twitter @FuelingFreedom