Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

Fantasy Island

One of the most pernicious long-term consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic is that Americans became used to acquiescing to the most intrusive and all-encompassing government mandates, and many governors – mostly Democrats, but not just – discovered how much easier it is to rule by emergency order, without the nuisance of legislatures and citizen consent. A taste for unfettered power is not a difficult one for politicians to acquire.

As the pandemic demonstrates, widespread panic is the necessary precedent for conferring emergency powers. And in no area have our cultural institutions been so busy sowing panic over the last three decades as with regard to global warming, even as one apocalyptic prediction after another has failed to materialize.

President Biden’s May 20 Executive Order, in which he directs financial regulatory agencies dealing with every aspect of the American economy to draft regulations to incorporate environmental, social and governance issues into financial regulation, provides a taste of what’s to come.

I personally worry much more about other threats – cyberwarfare, electromagnetic pulse attacks, and, after Wuhan, the possibility of biological warfare. The danger of rising temperatures, such as they are, are well within the human capacity to adapt, making a mockery of every Malthusian prediction of mass starvation and the like since the dour Englishman first propounded his theory over two centuries ago.

That is one of the central arguments of a new book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why it Matters, by physicist Steven Koonin, who was the chief scientist in President Obama’s Department of Energy. Koonin, a professor at Caltech for nearly thirty years, is skeptical of the global warming simulated models, upon which the current alarmism is based (and which increasingly diverge from one another). He recently told the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, “I’ve been building models and watching others build models for 45 years, [and the current climate models] are not to the standard you would trust your life to or even your trillions of dollars to.”

In September 2019, five hundred scientists and professionals in climate-related fields sent the UN Secretary General a letter noting that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global warming forecasts have consistently failed as predictive tools and therefore are “not remotely plausible as policy tools.”

To tell the truth, I suspect that most of those who most loudly announce the impending climate disaster do not believe their own claims. Former President Obama famously pronounced his nomination “as the moment the oceans began to slow their rise and the earth began to heal.” But he and his wife recently plunked down $15 million for a mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, a coastal island that would be a prime candidate for submersion by rising sea levels.

“Expressions of concern about climate change are performative rather than reflective of deeply considered beliefs. They are designed to signal acknowledgment of the consensus of what constitutes good taste and morally correct opinion,” writes Rupert Darwall (“Has Climate Change Become a Tool of Social Control?”).

One good test of seriousness about reducing carbon emissions is nuclear energy – by far the cleanest and cheapest form of energy. And yet, despite the Biden administration’s proposals for trillions of dollars in new spending to reduce carbon emissions to zero in fourteen years, one could listen in vain for any mention of nuclear energy.

The Biden administration’s efforts to stop fracking also fail the seriousness test. The fracking revolution enabled America to reduce emissions more than any other country and simultaneously achieve once-deemed-impossible energy independence.

But such folly is par for the course for much energy policy. The European Union renewable directives forced countries to burn more wood, which released four times as much carbon dioxide as natural gas per megawatt-hour, notes Sir John Beddington, former chief science advisor to the British government

Instead of serious and achievable policy prescriptions, we are blessed with fanciful goals of achieving zero carbon emissions within fourteen years that would cripple the American economy, particularly manufacturing, cost trillions of dollars, and still fail to come close to achieving their goals, while having negligible impact on global temperatures – a repeat, in short, of the experience of Germany, which in 1992 committed to reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and did not come close. (In that period, it closed all its nuclear power plants.) German energy rates soared to three times those of the U.S. on average. During its major shift to wind and solar power between 2006 and 2016, electricity rates increased over 50 percent.

Neither solar nor wind power are, or ever will be, remotely competitive sources of electricity. They suffer from an inherent and unsolvable problem – both wind and the sun are intermittent sources of energy. Proponents of a massive increase in reliance on solar and wind place their hopes in the development of batteries to store the energy produced when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. But that battery capacity is absent. The consulting firm Wood Mackenzie estimates that there will be 741 gigawatt hours of battery storage in 2030. That is approximately one percent of the annual energy consumption of the medium-sized state of Minnesota. The annual output of Tesla’s Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory, could supply three minutes of the annual U.S. electricity demand, and it would take 1,000 years of production to cover two days of U.S. electricity demand. Moreover, between 50 to 100 pounds of material must be mined or processed for every pound of battery produced.

In addition, almost all the current batteries rely on rare earth metals, such as cobalt and lithium, of which China controls most of the global supply. Dependence on batteries, then, would vastly increase our vulnerability vis-à-vis China.

Solar and wind power require vast acreage to generate a small amount of energy, compared to that generated by nuclear and fossil-fuels. Wind produces one watt per square meter and solar ten, compared to 1,000 for a natural gas pad and 2,000 for nuclear energy. To supply the U.S. needs via wind power would require the appropriation of 12 percent of the U.S.’s continental land area.

Solar and wind would be inevitably be placed in rural areas far from major population centers and require the confiscation via eminent domain of a great deal of ranch and farming land. Fierce rural opposition would be result, as has already happened throughout Europe. And America would have to double its current 240,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines to bring the electricity from rural areas, much of that mileage cutting through rough terrain.

Ironically, many environmentalists also oppose wind farms for the havoc they wreak on bird and bat populations. Numerous studies establish the adverse effect of the noise generated on humans. And with a lifespan of only twenty years, disposal of the massive windmills constitutes a major undertaking.

The one thing that the wind and solar fantasy would surely achieve, however, is a regime of massive government subsidies, which enrich a few out of the pockets of the many. Professor Michael Lind of the University of Texas describes how green crony capitalism “privatizes the benefits of an activity while socializing the costs.” First, the government would provide investors in “green energy” with tax credits for wind and solar production. And then it would guarantee their profits by mandating electric companies purchase ever higher percentages of their electricity from the green sources, regardless of price. According to the Congressional Research Service, investment tax credits for wind energy in 2018 were over two billion dollars for wind per unit of energy produced and close to three and a half billion dollars for solar, compared to $13 million for nuclear energy.

Besides the enriched investors, the only people who love such massive subsidies are the politicians who create them, as they rake in campaign contributions from their grateful and fantastically enriched beneficiaries.

The complete reordering of the American economy that President Biden’s professed energy goals would entail would have almost no impact on global emissions – of which only 15% are generated by the U.S. – and even less impact on global temperatures. Large developing nations like China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia will not abandon their pursuit of prosperity by abandoning far cheaper sources of energy. And the largest sources of pollution are the poorest countries, whose people still rely on wood and coal for cooking and heating, points out environmentalist Michael Shellenberger in his recent book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

John Browne, then the CEO of what was once known as British Petroleum and now goes by Beyond Petroleum, provided Mr. Koonin with half a billion dollars to establish the Energy Biosciences Institute at Berkeley. Koonin loved the science involved, particularly its multidisciplinary nature. But he became convinced over time that the real climate crisis was one of political and scientific candor. He told Browne, “John, the world isn’t going to be able to reduce emissions enough to make much difference.”

And that difference would be long in the future. Contrary to popular belief, atmospheric CO2 levels cannot be ratcheted up and down. Forty percent of the carbon dioxide released a hundred years ago is still in the atmosphere. And its impact only emerges slowly. Similarly, any benefit of reducing emissions today would be “small and distant,” according to Koonin.

Better, he suggests, to rely on the capacity of human beings to adapt to what he expects to be a one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures by the end of the century than to trash our economy and our political system for no benefit.

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