Reality Strikes a Zero Emissions Future Without Fossil Fuels
A funny thing happened on the way to “green nirvana” of a zero-emissions future without fossil fuels. Energy shortages began to occur, the cost of gasoline, fuel oil, natural gas and electricity skyrocketed — and voters didn’t like it.
Many things look wonderful in the abstract, like an all-electric world without pollution. And yes, it will probably happen in the future – but that future isn’t next month, or next year, or even the next decade. Environmental fanatics and their political scoundrels often have no understanding of basic physics and cost-benefit analysis.
Europeans furthest from the utopian green lane suddenly found their homes were cold and businesses were closing with the loss of good jobs. This was happening because they could no longer compete in the global market with companies from low energy cost countries.
Historically, increases in energy consumption per person were strongly correlated with increases in living standards. Over the past 25 years, energy consumption in Europe has fallen by 30% to 1990s levels. The United States has stagnated, but then fell by 13% in 2020 in total energy consumption , returning again to 1990s levels. Falling energy consumption is not a sign of a healthy economy, despite efficiency gains. For example, LEDs only use a small fraction of the energy of older incandescent bulbs, but much of that cost advantage disappears as people use a lot more lighting because it’s so cheap.
Huge sums of money have been spent on renewables like wind and solar power, while too often the costs of the necessary backups needed when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining are ignored. The construction cost of renewals and their unsightly appearance are also neglected. Wind and solar may be free, but converting them into useful electricity and transmitting them to market is far from free.
Russia’s war on Ukraine has accelerated the need to face reality, as Russia’s natural gas supplies are dwindling and renewable energy shortfalls can no longer be ignored. So much of Europe and the UK is scrambling to get old coal-fired power stations out of mothballs and build new coal-fired power stations – coal-generated electricity being relatively cheap and reliable. Coal is often considered the “dirtiest” source of energy – because it often is – but again, it’s cheap. That is why the Chinese and Indians are building new coal-fired power plants at a breakneck pace.
The United States has made far greater gains in reducing CO2 emissions than any other country due to the switch from coal to natural gas over the past two decades. Unfortunately, these gains have been totally offset by increased CO2 emissions from the Chinese and Indians – thus American taxpayers and consumers have borne a huge cost with no global air quality gain from the actions. others.
Self-proclaimed energy experts like John Kerry (Biden’s energy czar) have told us that the environmental crisis must take precedence over all other human concerns – but the reality is that people don’t die at this global warming day. Plants (food) grow best in warm climates and CO2 is like fertilizer for plants. One of the reasons for the global decline in food prices over the past decades (until last year) is that the planet has warmed slightly and atmospheric CO2 has increased.
Obviously there is a limit at which the negatives outweigh the positives – but those who give arbitrary dates to which they claim there can be no reversal have lost touch with reality. (Please note that over the past two decades a number of those dates have passed – and the world had gone on.) Wars, pandemics, and economic and political mismanagement are far more dangerous for people living today. today as climate change. If the power grid fails, death rates will skyrocket, especially among the elderly and the very young.
It is often noted that many wealthy environmental extremists have large seaside homes, private planes and huge “carbon footprints”. They had lobbied for years to get rid of coal-fired power plants – even though enough renewable and backup power had not been put in place. Reality has now struck – brownouts and huge increases in gas, oil and electricity prices are making people poorer. The energy reality means that greens who fail to compromise are getting the worst of all possible worlds for them – the return of coal and an increased likelihood of losing political power, credibility and influence.
Where do wind turbines and solar structures come from? Do they magically appear or use rare resources and materials that drive up prices in competing uses? How many new mines and refineries of copper and other highly polluting metals will be needed? Are the mines and structures going to be built in high-wage countries with strong worker and civil protection, or by oppressed workers in low-wage authoritarian countries?
To be a true environmentalist and also a realistic advocate for increased development of clean burning natural gas and new technology nuclear power. The road to a cleaner environment and lower energy costs, which will reduce global poverty and increase wealth, is clear.
• Richard W. Rahn is President of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and of MCon LLC.