Green Energy Chickens Coming Home to Roost
Never in history has a civilization willfully embarked on destroying its own material foundations.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
This year will graphically demonstrate the malign consequences of the misguided efforts to replace cheap, reliable fossil fuel energy with unreliable, inefficient “renewable” energy like wind and solar. Never in history has a civilization willfully embarked on destroying its material foundations, based solely on a hypothesis rather than scientifically established fact.
The first red flag alerting us to this feckless policy appeared during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Much of Europe––the most aggressive nations in replacing fossil fuels with wind turbines and solar panels––has grown dependent on Russian exports to make up for the energy lost from shutting down nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Since directly helping Ukraine by fighting is politically impossible, sanctions were imposed on Russia’s oil and gas industries.
But sanctions severe enough to concentrate Putin’s mind carried a political cost as well as an economic one. So Europe is still buying Russian energy, postponing tougher sanctions until the end of the year. The result has been the embarrassing and dishonorable spectacle of European countries helping to finance Russia’s brutal war crimes. Indeed some have accepted Putin’s condition that purchases be made in rubles, thus mitigating the damage to Russia’s economy.
Here at home, warnings of electricity blackouts across the country this summer have not slowed down many states’ increased efforts to shutter electrical plants powered by coal, natural gas, and nuclear fission. In New York, Governor Kathy Holchul has announced the state’s commitment to enforcing a requirement that new power plants must achieve “zero on-site greenhouse gas emissions for new construction no later than 2027.” This policy of wishful thinking follows New York’s Climate Act of 2019, which requires that all power generation comes from “green” sources by 2040, including 70% from renewable energy by 2030.
In California, the California Political Review reports, demolition of four dams will soon begin, “with no replacement for the water and energy they provide.” Compounding this blunder, in two years the state’s last nuclear power plant, which provides 10% of the state’s energy, will be shut down without any plans to replace that loss. And even worse, the Democrats who run the state are sticking with plans to banish gas-powered vehicles from the state by 2035, replacing them with 8 million electric vehicles in a state already incapable of keeping the lights on in hot weather or during wildfires that damage transmission lines. According to one study, achieving this goal of 30 million EVs would require electric power companies with 2-3 million customers to invest between $1700 and $5800 in grid upgrades per vehicle, costs that will no doubt be passed along to customers.
Adding insult to injury, rather than spending the state’s surplus revenue and remaining covid swag from the feds on preparing for this summer’s looming blackouts and water shortages, Gov. Newsome has proposed an $18.1 billion “Inflation Relief Package,” a grab-bag of giveaways including up to $800 in cash to registered vehicle owners, free public transit, and subsidies for child care. Needless to say, this new infusion of cash into the economy will do nothing to lower inflation, and in fact will make it worse.
New York and California, however, are just following the lead of the federal government. The Biden administration has been just as feckless in its drive to eliminate fossil fuels and automobiles. It has shut down pipelines, cancelled leases for drilling in federal lands and waters, and strangled the petroleum industry with more regulations, even as the national average cost of a gallon of gas approaches $5.
Yet our country possesses abundant energy resources and the technologies for extraction such as fracking to produce all the cheap energy we need––if that production was not thwarted by environmental lobbies, virtue-signaling corporate boards, green subsidies grifters, and naïve nature-lovers who promote government regulations that guarantee we will not have enough energy, and that what we do have will be punitively expensive.
What makes these common “green energy” policies so astonishing is the lack of “settled science” to justify them. Anthropogenic, Catastrophic Global Warming adherents claim that additional atmospheric CO2 caused by humans will, in a few decades, have effects devastating enough to destroy civilization. This conclusion is buttressed by little more than computer models that disagree with each other, and depend on data inputs that are either fabricated or rife with confirmation bias.
But the problem is even worse than that. Even if what “greens” predict is true, outside the West few countries trying to develop their economies are going to give up cheap, abundant coal to generate electricity. China, India, and Russia, the first, third, and fourth largest emitters of CO2, continue to burn coal to generate energy, paying only lip-service to the West’s climate virtue-signaling and efforts to reduce emissions by switching to “renewable” energy. This mean that even if the West eliminates all its emissions, it will not be enough to stave off the predicted warming apocalypse. But it will be sufficient for weakening, if not destroying, Western economies.
Take the obsession with electric vehicles. Their batteries require rare-earth elements like cobalt and lithium that have to be mined, processed, and transported using diesel-powered machinery, bulldozers, and trucks, which of course spew more CO2 into the atmosphere. The great majority of these rare-earth elements are mined and processed outside the West, especially in China and Congo. This creates a dangerous dependency on geopolitical rivals and enemies.
Next, for electric cars to advance beyond a taxpayer subsidized novelty and replace gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, electric grids will have to be enlarged substantially, and charging stations will have to multiply. Available, reliable electricity supplies will have to grow by orders of magnitude presently unattainable. And batteries with much more storage capability will need to be developed. Worse, our current most reliable energy sources––nuclear and natural gas––which could help us reach those goals are being proscribed and replaced with unreliable wind and solar energy, which produce energy less than 20% of the time.
The issue is not just about more electricity for our cars and homes. As Vaclav Smil, who believes in anthropogenic global warming, writes in How the World Really Works, fossil fuels have been the key to the creation of the modern world. Our amazing physical infrastructure and technologies are the fruit of plastics, concrete, and steel, all of which use fossil fuels in their production and assembly into modern skyscrapers, highways, and transportation resources.
More critical are the improvements in growing and producing food-stuffs that have lifted billions of people out of malnutrition and famine. This achievement has been made possible by nitrogen, one of the basic plant-foods, extracted from ammonia using natural gas. Nitrogen fertilizers have increased crop yields and productivity per unit of land. And of course, every phase of food production–– from tractors to container ships to diesel trucks delivering food to grocery stores, and the factories that make all those vehicles–– are powered by electricity generated by fossil fuels or natural gas.
Smil illustrates how important nitrogen has been, and how critical fossil fuels are in producing abundant food, by examining just three important foods: bread, which give us carbohydrates; chicken (protein), and tomatoes (Vitamin C). One medium-sized tomato, for example, requires four tablespoons of diesel. “None of them,” Smil writes, “could be produced so abundantly, so reliably, and so affordably without considerable fossil fuel subsidies . . . . [F]or now, and for the foreseeable future, we cannot feed the world without relying on fossil fuels.” Indeed, 20% today’s energy supply goes to producing food.
The same holds true for plastics, concrete, and steel, all of which rely on fossil fuels for their production. As for replacing, in two or three decades, fossil fuels with wind or solar––as of 2020 only 12% of our total energy resources––that’s a pipe dream. “Both the high relative share and the scale of our dependence on fossil carbon,” Smil writes, “make any rapid substitutions impossible.” The technologies for effecting this replacement are at best in their infancy, and will require multiple decades of further research and development before they can replace fossil fuels. So much for net-zero carbon by 2050.
Moreover, pressuring the developing nations to substitute less reliable “green energy” for coal, and thus cripple their economic development, bespeaks the callous arrogance of the selfish rich. The affluent West can reduce its use of fossil fuels, though not to the extent that we can do without them altogether. “But,” Smil writes, “that is not the case with the more than 5 billion people whose energy consumption is a fraction” of that in the affluent West, and “who need much more ammonia to raise their crop yields to feed their increasing populations, and much more steel and cement and plastics to build their essential infrastructures.”
Net-zero carbon is a dangerous fantasy that in the West puts at risk our economy and national security, and in the developing nations hinders their ability to improve their economies and quality of life. If the war on carbon conducted by states like California and New York, and by the current federal administration continues, as soon as this summer we will see more damage done to our economy and well-being, the wages of feckless and irrational anti-carbon “green energy” delusions.