This list could be closer to 50 but let’s just stick to a handful of them. I live in this business every day, and I’m just so confused.
1. In a world that is apparently getting both warmer and colder because of global warming, how is it that we can increasingly rely on non-dispatchable (i.e., intermittent, usually unavailable), weather-dependent electricity from wind and solar plants to displace, not just supplement, dispatchable (i.e., baseload, almost always available) coal, gas, and nuclear power? In other words, if our weather is becoming less predictable, how is it that a consuming economy like ours can, or should even try, predictably rely on weather-dependent resources? ERCOT exemplifies this: the Texas grid operator has around 31,000 MW of wind capacity but goes into winter expecting only 6,000 MW (just 20%) of wind farms to be available to generate electricity. Again, in the marketplace, the “alternatives” you keep hearing about are proving to be far more supplemental than alternative.
Further, good wind and solar spots are finite, based on geography, so new builds, naturally, will be forced into areas that are less windy and less sunny, lowering their already very low 35% capacity factors. And because they devour immense swaths of land, interrupting a whole host of things, that Renewable Rejection Database is mounting very quickly. If wind, solar, and electric cars too are as effective and low-cost as so many keep promising us, there would obviously be no need for government subsidies for broad adoption. Yet, there is, gigantically so. Huge amounts of taxpayer money going into this, what I call “the holy climate panacea triad,” are vulnerable to changing politics and bound to become politically untenable at some point: “Ford Is Losing $66,446 On Every EV It Sells.”
2. Climate change is a global issue, so how is it that we can claim climate benefits for unilateral climate policy. For example, U.S. gasoline cars constitute just 3% of global CO2 emissions, so how will getting rid of them impact climate change? But this dose of real science doesn’t stop California leaders, a state responsible for just 1% of global CO2 emissions, from telling us that energy policy in the nine-county region of Northern California alone is “responsible for protecting air quality and the global climate in the nine-county Bay Area.” No wonder then that a Biden administration official was incoherent when asked how $50 trillion in climate spending in the U.S. will lower any global temperature rise. Indeed, despite the Sierra Club in 2014 promising us that “China’s Thirst for Coal Is Drying Up,” the Chinese Communist Party approved two coal plants a week in 2022. But, don’t worry guys, China promises to be net-zero by 2060. On climate, you don’t matter nearly as much as some want you to think.
So, it becomes very obvious very quickly that no energy policy in northern California has any relevance in terms of changing the climate. The region could literally disappear and there would be no discernable impact on climate change. Even our climate czar John Kerry, loving the CO2-devouring life in a private jet and $250 million, has been forced to admit that the U.S. could even go to zero emissions and it would make no material impact on climate change. Talk about all pain, no gain. The real science is that incremental global emissions are “not here but over there” U.S. CO2 emissions are in structural decline regardless of what policies we pass (save 2021 and the rebound from Covid-19’s devastation in 2020). So, where is the climate benefit for Americans when it comes to U.S. climate policy? Because we’re continuously told to “believe science,” any positive answer to that question can only be deemed as anti-science. In fact, common sense and science itself tell us that unilateral climate policy can actually be really bad for climate change because it encourages carbon leakage (e.g., climate policy in the U.S. increases costs and just pushes a manufacturing firm to re-locate to coal-devouring China).
3. Back to electric vehicles. Green-tinted but surely practical Bloomberg admits that more than 85% of Americans can’t afford an electric car, since they are well more than double the price of oil-based cars. How can a product bring racial justice for Black Americans when the vast majority of them can’t afford it? Forcing electric equipment over natural gas? Sorry but “gas is four to six times cheaper than electricity.” Battery costs might be much higher than expected: 1) rising global demand, 2) rising costs and unavailability of their raw materials, 3) mining complications and environmental damage, and 4) China flexing its muscles since it controls the supply chains and uses hoarding as political leverage (see Covid-19 and medical supplies). Reality check, unlike what we keep hearing about “green energy,” no technology continues to decline in cost in perpetuity: “EV battery costs could spike 22% by 2026 as raw material shortages drag on.”
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And this one I’m really confused on. President Biden promotes his climate agenda as a way to create jobs. Besides lacking in economic literacy (i.e., jobs are costs not benefits), the truth is that electric cars, for instance, entail far less jobs because they, for one thing, have far less moving parts. And there’s all kinds of evidence that electric car life-cycle emissions could be way worse than advertised, mostly because of the massive amounts of mining required to make them. We all know about child labor and your electric car, but even pro-EV outlets are being forced to report on the mounting problems from mining, the latest on how bauxite for the aluminum needed is destroying the Amazon. And about our President’s we’ll need oil for “another decade” claim? The U.S. Department of Energy just modeled that our oil demand will actually slightly INCREASE, not decline, to over 21.1 million b/d by 2050. Reality check: planes, industry (petrochemicals), heavy trucking, and sheer Energy Inertia will have oil dominating way longer than you’re being told.
4. How on Earth could anybody expect those in Africa and the other horrifically poor nations to “get off fossil fuels” when the rich countries haven’t come close to doing it. Germany and California, the world’s two greenest governments, are still overwhelming fossil fuel-based and overwhelmingly dependent on imports (dangerously so in Germany’s case). This comes despite decades of huge subsidies, scores of mandates, deploying the best engineering expertise, and having low population growth and thus low incremental energy needs, all giving them a huge advantage in “going green.” The energy stat to remember most? No U.S. state will ever “try to go green” like California has over the past 20 years, yet oil and gas still supply 70% of the state’s energy, even above the national average of 65%.
Germany and California have shown us what these climate policies bring: Germany has the highest electricity prices in the world; and California’s are the highest in the continental U.S. and soaring out of control (Figure). How the heck can we push for “deep electrification” to fight climate change if we are going to follow policies that surge the price of electricity, while also lowering grid reliability? And rich Westerners, spare us the judgments, demands, and hypocrisy on climate change: Germany thrives on a GDP per capita per year of $51,200, compared to a horrifically sad $2,260 for India.
5. But, perhaps I’m most confused about the whole air quality thing. The obsession over it gets attached to all energy policies. But there’s clearly a strawman to the “we need cleaner air now” demand. First, the air quality conversation in the U.S. reminds me of Voltaire’s “the perfect is the enemy of good.” Americans seem completely unaware how drastically our air quality has improved. Check data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), our criteria pollutants have been plummeting over the past many decades. The risks seem exaggerated. Let’s just take Los Angeles, which for a big city notoriously has the worst air quality in the country. Tell me, please, if air quality is such a problem and such a health concern for Americans, why is it that Angelinos have a life expectancy of 82 years, a hearty three years above the national average. Just think of all the coal that China has devoured since 2000 (I figure around 70 billion tonnes), yet the country’s life expectancy, apparently shockingly to so many, is up a very impressive six years to nearly 78 since then. Maybe it’s because Chinese GDP per capita per year has skyrocketed nearly 9-fold to over $18,500. Even for rising asthma rates in the U.S., smoking is way down, coal usage is way down, and criteria pollutants are way down. So what gives?
“Better air quality and environment” are not free, as attaining government standards cost businesses hundreds of billions of dollars per year. These costs are ultimately paid by Americans in the form of higher prices, lower wages, and less choices. And at some point, the cost of the regulation to achieve better air outweighs its benefit. We’ve won on water too: the water in your toilet is cleaner than what the vast majority of humans on Earth drink. For every time that we hear “environmental justice” we need to say “economic justice” 100 times. In this country for all Americans, Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos make 30% less money than Whites and Asians. Too many politicians focus on the endless pursuit of “better air quality” and other abstract, seemingly impossible to measure benefits because they have no clue on the real ways to help communities of color and other low-income Americans: help them get a better education, help them get a better job, and help them make more money. Career politicians love bottomless, money-devouring pits the most: “America’s $100 billion climate change flop.” And although its entire existence is based on never being able to declare victory (imagine a football game with no time and no keeping score), EPA should consider that it’s wealth that matters most for health equity.
But, that’s not its business, is it?