This commentary originally apeared in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on August 6, 2016.
The United States is the prime target for the planetary managers intent on reducing energy consumption. Some climate crusaders advocate curbing per capita energy consumption in the U.S. from its present level of about 8.5 TOE (tons of oil equivalent) to 3 TOE. Such energy austerity would obliterate the comforts and conveniences that distinguish the average American home. What may appear as profligate consumption to one person may be life-saving consumption to another.
A look at the European countries our home-grown climate crusaders seek to emulate shows just how painful the radical changes they intend to mandate are.
The epochal decarbonizing project, most aggressively pursued in Germany and Great Britain, is not going as planned. Before implementing an even more radical rush to renewable energies, U.S. policymakers would be wise to note recent resistance to the climate crusade.The day after Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May assumed office, she dissolved the Department of Energy and Climate and transferred environmental policy to a new ministry of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy with the implication that energy policies must be handled within economic realities. A few days before Britain nixed the climate agency, the German parliament ended the major subsidies that have driven the most vigorous climate initiative in the world to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar power.
Even the Brexit debate reflected a retreat from climate mania spurred by the EU’s “crack down” on electric teakettles and toasters for reason of excessive energy consumption. Some tea-loving Brits giggled when the Leave contingent’s chief spokesman Brian Monteith somberly noted, perhaps with inspiration from William Wallace, “They may take our tea and toast but they will never take our freedom. And we can have both when we vote to leave.”
A closer look at the EU’s “crackdown” on small appliances exposes a rarely acknowledged dimension of climate policies: energy scarcity forcing decreased consumption of energy. Britain’s national grid has already warned that as a result of climate policies, the electric generating capacity has fallen to a seven-year low. On several occasions, only emergency measures have kept the lights on.
The EU’s energy efficiency programs for small appliances are not consumer friendly energy-saving measures. They arose in a program to impose mandatory consumption limits. Enter the age of policy-created energy austerity to be “wisely planned” by planetary managers in huge bureaucracies like the United Nations, the European Union, and the EPA.
Most enthusiasts of policies to decarbonize society by 2050 claim renewable energy can fully replace goods and services currently provided by fossil fuels at only a slightly higher cost. More realistic voices conclude intermittent renewables will meet only a small fraction of current electric demand regardless of subsidies or cost to consumers. Our power system will not work without enough reliable and flexible generation that can be ramped up and down in almost instantaneous response to shifting demand for electricity. Wind and solar power lack this flexibility and controllability that coal and natural gas supply.
As Michael Kelly, Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge notes: “our mobility, our health and lifestyles, our diet and its variety, our education system…would be quite impossible without fossil fuels, which have provided ninety percent of the energy consumed on the earth since 1800.” Although current renewables have been subsidized for decades, only one percent of global energy derives from renewable sources.
The scale, risk, and damage of the decarbonizing project institutionalized in the most affluent nations of the world are without precedent in human history. Yet, the topic is rarely, and only superficially, discussed in the public square. If the United States is going to avoid the mistakes of Europe, a more substantive debate about the grand plans to eliminate fossil fuels is urgently needed.
Kathleen Hartnett White is Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence and Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former Chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She is coauthor of the new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy (Regnery, 2016).