Climate change actually has little to do with energy choices
In his October 2 address on the economy at Northwestern University, President Barack Obama told students, “If we keep investing in clean energy technology, we won’t just put people to work assembling, raising and pounding into place the zero-carbon components of a clean energy age. We’ll reduce our carbon emissions and prevent the worst costs of climate change down the road.”
But what does climate change have to do with energy supply? Almost nothing.
Climate change issues involve environmental hazards, whereas energy policy is concerned with supplying affordable, reliable electricity to industries and families. So where is the relationship to climate?
Until the 1980s, there was none. That one is now perceived testifies to the effectiveness of relentless lobbying by environmentalists and commercial special interests towards the idea that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from hydrocarbon-based power-generation will cause dangerous global warming.
So far, that has not happened. It has now been 18 years with no measurable planetary warming.
However, this warming disaster idea has become so entrenched that even prime ministers and presidents now misuse “carbon” as shorthand for “carbon dioxide,” and often call this plant-fertilizing gas a pollutant. For example, during his 13-minute address at the UN’s Climate Summit 2014 in New York City September 23, Mr. Obama referenced “carbon pollution” seven times and “carbon emissions” five times. That’s almost one misnomer per minute.
In reality, CO2 is environmentally beneficial. It is the elixir of life for most of our planetary ecosystems. Without it, life as we know it would end. No evidence exists that the amount humans have added to the atmosphere is producing dangerous warming or, indeed, any climate or weather events noticeably different in frequency, duration or intensity from human experience over the past couple of centuries.
Many negative consequences flow from wrongly connecting energy and global warming issues. Foremost among them has been a lemming-like rush by governments to generously subsidize what are otherwise uneconomic sources of energy, solar and wind power in particular.
The International Renewable Energy Agency reports that worldwide investment in renewables (not counting large hydropower) amounted to an incredible $214 billion in 2013 alone! IRENA insists that these expenditures need to more than double by 2030, to achieve the impossible goal of restricting average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
However, results to date show that those investments have brought few benefits, and much harm. European studies have found that expensive, unreliable wind and solar power kills two to four jobs for each “renewable” energy job this heavily subsidized industry creates.
Mr. Obama paints alternative energy sources as environmentally virtuous, because they supposedly reduce CO2 emissions and provide renewable and clean sources of power. This too is highly misleading.
Wind and solar energy are certainly renewable – when the wind blows and the sun shines. But there is no power otherwise, so it’s tough luck if that’s when a hospital needs electricity for emergency surgery. Such intermittency also makes these sources entirely unsuitable as major contributors to national energy grids, to power factories, schools, businesses and families. The use of wind and solar power also increases the cost of electricity dramatically.
Moreover, these sources are assuredly not renewable when you consider the enormous amounts of land, mining, energy and raw materials required to build the wind and solar facilities, the extremely long transmission lines required to carry their electricity to urban centers, and the backup fossil-fuel generators needed the 80-90% of the time the renewable sources aren’t working.
Alternative energy sources are also far less environment-friendly than the President would have us believe. Wind turbines kill millions of birds and bats every year, and some rare species will undoubtedly be vulnerable to extinction if wind power continues to expand near important wildlife habitats. Massive solar installations have a disastrous effect on desert ecosystems and incinerate important bird species.
And yet the wind and solar generators are typically exempt from environmental laws that are used to block many other activities.
These problems are becoming apparent even to the European Union, once the world’s green energy leader. EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger recently said European energy policies must change, from being climate driven to being driven by the needs of industry, and job preservation. He could have included families, because millions of European households can no longer afford to heat their homes properly, due to soaring energy prices.
All nations need to return to the historic separation that previously existed between energy policy and climate policy. They must analyze and plan for both, in accord with their own distinct requirements and resources, and based on defensible environmental, technological, and economic analyses.
This means abandoning Mr. Obama’s naïve mantra that our energy choices affect global climate.
Dr. Bob Carter is former professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University in Australia. Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.