Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Last Thursday Joe Biden posed for a photo op with representatives from automobile manufacturers. They gathered there to mark the Biden administration’s plan to raise the miles-per-gallon standard that gasoline powered vehicles must achieve––52 MPG by 2026. The compensation for automakers will comprise more regulatory credits for carmakers and subsidies for electric vehicle (EV) consumers, which will lead to higher prices for trucks and SUVs to offset their losses on EVs. This means consumers of those popular vehicles will be subsidizing EV drivers. And more taxpayer money will go to increasing available electricity, providing more and faster charging stations, and improving battery capacity.
As the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “Behold Big Business colluding with Big Government to grab subsidies and raise consumer prices,” a form of “corporate socialism, or state capitalism.” This unholy alliance calls to mind the “military-industrial complex” Dwight Eisenhower warned about in 1961, a warning still pertinent today.
At least during the Cold War a nuclear-armed Soviet Union posed an existential threat that justified cooperation between politics and the armaments industries. Today, the purveyors of anthropogenic, catastrophic global warming (ACGW) ––the more accurate label masked by the euphemism “climate change”–– are using a dubious theory riddled with uncertainty to justify such crony capitalist policies. The challenges to ACGW in the last few decades have exposed those uncertainties and the dubious “science” proponents claim to be “settled,” and so can justify spending trillions of taxpayer dollars,
For example, MIT professor of atmospheric science Richard Lindzen, and Princeton emeritus professor of physics William Happer have written, “We are both scientists who can attest that the research literature does not support the claim of a climate emergency. Nor will there be one. None of the lurid predictions — dangerously accelerating sea-level rise, increasingly extreme weather, more deadly forest fires, unprecedented warming, etc. — are any more accurate than the fire-and-brimstone sermons used to stoke fanaticism in medieval crusaders.” So too physicist Steven E. Koonin, who writes in his new book Unsettled. What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, “The science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.”
On top of the contested rationale for pouring billions of tax-payer dollars into one industry, the logistics of enlarging electricity production for “green” technology like wind turbines, solar panels, and half-ton batteries for EVs, not to mention expanding exponentially the electrical grid, are formidable, as Mark Mills has reported:
Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic. Solar power requires even more cement, steel and glass—not to mention other metals. Global silver and indium mining will jump 250% and 1,200% respectively over the next couple of decades to provide the materials necessary to build the number of solar panels, the International Energy Agency forecasts. World demand for rare-earth elements—which aren’t rare but are rarely mined in America—will rise 300% to 1,000% by 2050 to meet the Paris green goals. If electric vehicles replace conventional cars, demand for cobalt and lithium, will rise more than 20-fold. That doesn’t count batteries to back up wind and solar grids.
The “green energy” promoters also ignore other costs. Building solar and wind farms requires much more land than does fossil fuel production, with a greater destructive impact on the environment. Mining the rare-earth minerals like cobalt and lithium necessary for EV batteries leaves behind toxic waste, pollution, damage to wildlife habitats, and lunar landscapes. Reductions in carbon emissions that come from EVs are greatly offset by the fossil-fuel powered big machinery and coal- or natural gas-powered electricity used in mining these minerals.
And there are the human costs. The bulk of these mines and processing facilities are in countries like China, which controls 90% of cobalt refining, and the Republic of Congo, which produces 70% of raw cobalt, that do not have labor protections like those in the West. About 40,000 children, some as young as four years old, are working long hours in Congolese cobalt mines. Imagine how many more children or political prisoners will be slaving away to meet the increased demands for the batteries necessary for Biden’s EV “green” dreams to be realized.
Similar fossil-fuel use attend wind turbines. As Mills points out, “Building enough wind turbines to supply half the world’s electricity would require nearly two billion tons of coal to produce the concrete and steel, along with two billion barrels of oil to make the composite blades.” The amount of land necessary for both solar and wind farms would be enormous, with environmental damage to wild life habitats. And NIMBY coastal dwellers are unlikely to agree to 850-foot tall wind turbines sullying their ocean views and making mincemeat of sea birds.
The biggest problem with EVs, however, is that apart from the high-end Tesla, they are not popular with the average driver, which is why consumers have to be bribed with taxpayer money to buy them. As the Journal reports, “EVs remain impractical for many drivers who live outside cities,” given that “batteries need to be recharged every 200 to 300 miles, which can take at least 30 minutes even with today’s fastest chargers. Most people don’t want to wait that long when they’re on the road.”
Building more charging stations, which the Biden plan proposes, is not as easy a fix for that problem as he seems to think. More charging stations means a much larger capacity electrical grid, a gargantuan task if “clean energy” regulations must be followed. Also as last year’s rolling blackouts in California and this year’s blackouts in Texas remind us, “clean” solar and wind energy obviously doesn’t work at night or when the wind doesn’t blow.
This requires millions of half-ton backup batteries to store energy when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, and a larger grid to deliver it. As of now, about 12% of U.S. energy comes from renewable sources, and of that 12%, 26% comes from the sun, and 11% from wind. This scant percentage of our energy production means some pretty spectacular advances in battery design and transmission line production and installation will have to happen to meet the “green energy” lobby’s fantastical goal to eliminate 80% of hydrocarbons by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
Furthermore, as Paul Driessen writes, “Generating all that electricity without new nuclear and hydroelectric plants would require tens of thousands of 850-foot-tall offshore wind turbines, hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of somewhat smaller onshore turbines, and billions of photovoltaic solar panels. Backing up sufficient nationwide electricity for even one week of windless, sunless days would involve well over a billion battery modules. Connecting all this and our cities would require thousands of miles of new transmission lines.”
And don’t forget, building any large-scale infrastructure in the U.S. incurs exorbitant costs in time and money because of multitudes of government regulations from environmental protection rules to hiring and contracting requirements. Boston’s Big Dig highway tunnel and California’s high-speed rail project are monuments to the waste and inefficiencies of such projects. And how will all these transmission lines and billions of solar panels and millions of wind turbines be constructed without using machines powered by fossil fuels, and electricity produced from natural gas and coal? Believing that all these miracles can happen by 2050––a mere ten years longer than it took for Boston’s Big Dig–– is a fantasy, albeit a lucrative one for the industries getting the subsidies.
Finally, these “green energy” solutions to impending ACGW doom even if accomplished will not make a difference in slowing temperature rises and the alleged catastrophes that will follow. For whatever reductions in emissions the West achieves, the rest of the world, especially China and India––the world’s first and third largest emitters––will undo. And why should developing nations that need cheap electricity and fossil fuels to expand their economies, condemn their peoples to the misery and diseases of poverty just because the well-nourished, rich West indulges its Disneyesque fantasies about Mother Nature, and its faddish distaste for icky, low-brow industries?
“Green energy” and “renewable energy” are mere marketing phrases like “all natural” and “organic.” They provide cover for industries partnering with government and lining up to get their share of the taxpayer money Biden promises to shovel over to them.
More important are the dangers of such collusion and concentration of power. Eisenhower’s warnings about the “military-industrial complex” are, mutatis mutandis, pertinent to the sort of political-economic collusion we are witnessing today:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
As always, in the end the buck stops with We the People.