Why Halting Failed Auto Fuel Standards 2020 Update

Update April 2, 2020: Much in the news today is the EPA relaxing of Obama-era auto fuel standards, along with the usual Trump bashing and complaining while ignoring why the efficiency rules were ill-advised. Text from a previous post is printed below explaining this positive development.

There are deeper reasons why US auto fuel efficiency standards are and should be rolled back.  They were instituted in denial of regulatory experience and science.  First, a parallel from physics.

In the sub-atomic domain of quantum mechanics, Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist, determined that our observations have an effect on the behavior of quanta (quantum particles).

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that it is impossible to know simultaneously the exact position and momentum of a particle. That is, the more exactly the position is determined, the less known the momentum, and vice versa. This principle is not a statement about the limits of technology, but a fundamental limit on what can be known about a particle at any given moment. This uncertainty arises because the act of measuring affects the object being measured. The only way to measure the position of something is using light, but, on the sub-atomic scale, the interaction of the light with the object inevitably changes the object’s position and its direction of travel.

Now skip to the world of governance and the effects of regulation. A similar finding shows that the act of regulating produces reactive behavior and unintended consequences contrary to the desired outcomes.

US Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards Have Backfired

An article at Financial Times explains about Energy Regulations Unintended Consequences  Excerpts below with my bolds.

Goodhart’s Law holds that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes”. Originally coined by the economist Charles Goodhart as a critique of the use of money supply measures to guide monetary policy, it has been adopted as a useful concept in many other fields. The general principle is that when any measure is used as a target for policy, it becomes unreliable. It is an observable phenomenon in healthcare, in financial regulation and, it seems, in energy efficiency standards.

When governments set efficiency regulations such as the US Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for vehicles, they are often what is called “attribute-based”, meaning that the rules take other characteristics into consideration when determining compliance. The Cafe standards, for example, vary according to the “footprint” of the vehicle: the area enclosed by its wheels. In Japan, fuel economy standards are weight-based. Like all regulations, fuel economy standards create incentives to game the system, and where attributes are important, that can mean finding ways to exploit the variations in requirements. There have long been suspicions that the footprint-based Cafe standards would encourage manufacturers to make larger cars for the US market, but a paper this week from Koichiro Ito of the University of Chicago and James Sallee of the University of California Berkeley provided the strongest evidence yet that those fears are likely to be justified.

Mr Ito and Mr Sallee looked at Japan’s experience with weight-based fuel economy standards, which changed in 2009, and concluded that “the Japanese car market has experienced a notable increase in weight in response to attribute-based regulation”. In the US, the Cafe standards create a similar pressure, but expressed in terms of size rather than weight. Mr Ito suggested that in Ford’s decision to end almost all car production in North America to focus on SUVs and trucks, “policy plays a substantial role”. It is not just that manufacturers are focusing on larger models; specific models are also getting bigger. Ford’s move, Mr Ito wrote, should be seen as an “alarm bell” warning of the flaws in the Cafe system. He suggests an alternative framework with a uniform standard and tradeable credits, as a more effective and lower-cost option. With the Trump administration now reviewing fuel economy and emissions standards, and facing challenges from California and many other states, the vehicle manufacturers appear to be in a state of confusion. An elegant idea for preserving plans for improving fuel economy while reducing the cost of compliance could be very welcome.

The paper is The Economics of Attribute-Based Regulation: Theory and Evidence from Fuel-Economy Standards Koichiro Ito, James M. Sallee NBER Working Paper No. 20500.  The authors explain:

An attribute-based regulation is a regulation that aims to change one characteristic of a product related to the externality (the “targeted characteristic”), but which takes some other characteristic (the “secondary attribute”) into consideration when determining compliance. For example, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the United States recently adopted attribute-basing. Figure 1 shows that the new policy mandates a fuel-economy target that is a downward-sloping function of vehicle “footprint”—the square area trapped by a rectangle drawn to connect the vehicle’s tires.  Under this schedule, firms that make larger vehicles are allowed to have lower fuel economy. This has the potential benefit of harmonizing marginal costs of regulatory compliance across firms, but it also creates a distortionary incentive for automakers to manipulate vehicle footprint.

Attribute-basing is used in a variety of important economic policies. Fuel-economy regulations are attribute-based in China, Europe, Japan and the United States, which are the world’s four largest car markets. Energy efficiency standards for appliances, which allow larger products to consume more energy, are attribute-based all over the world. Regulations such as the Clean Air Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Affordable Care Act are attribute-based because they exempt some firms based on size. In all of these examples, attribute-basing is designed to provide a weaker regulation for products or firms that will find compliance more difficult.

Summary from Heritage Foundation study Fuel Economy Standards Are a Costly Mistake Excerpt with my bolds.

The CAFE standards are not only an extremely inefficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emission but will also have a variety of unintended consequences.

For example, the post-2010 standards apply lower mileage requirements to vehicles with larger footprints. Thus, Whitefoot and Skerlos argued that there is an incentive to increase the size of vehicles.

Data from the first few years under the new standard confirm that the average footprint, weight, and horsepower of cars and trucks have indeed all increased since 2008, even as carbon emissions fell, reflecting the distorted incentives.

Manufacturers have found work-arounds to thwart the intent of the regulations. For example, the standards raised the price of large cars, such as station wagons, relative to light trucks. As a result, automakers created a new type of light truck—the sport utility vehicle (SUV)—which was covered by the lower standard and had low gas mileage but met consumers’ needs. Other automakers have simply chosen to miss the thresholds and pay fines on a sliding scale.

Another well-known flaw in CAFE standards is the “rebound effect.” When consumers are forced to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, the cost per mile falls (since their cars use less gas) and they drive more. This offsets part of the fuel economy gain and adds congestion and road repair costs. Similarly, the rising price of new vehicles causes consumers to delay upgrades, leaving older vehicles on the road longer.

In addition, the higher purchase price of cars under a stricter CAFE standard is likely to force millions of households out of the new-car market altogether. Many households face credit constraints when borrowing money to purchase a car. David Wagner, Paulina Nusinovich, and Esteban Plaza-Jennings used Bureau of Labor Statistics data and typical finance industry debt-service-to-income ratios and estimated that 3.1 million to 14.9 million households would not have enough credit to purchase a new car under the 2025 CAFE standards.[34] This impact would fall disproportionately on poorer households and force the use of older cars with higher maintenance costs and with fuel economy that is generally lower than that of new cars.

CAFE standards may also have redistributed corporate profits to foreign automakers and away from Ford, General Motors (GM), and Chrysler (the Big Three), because foreign-headquartered firms tend to specialize in vehicles that are favored under the new standards.[35] 

Conclusion

CAFE standards are costly, inefficient, and ineffective regulations. They severely limit consumers’ ability to make their own choices concerning safety, comfort, affordability, and efficiency. Originally based on the belief that consumers undervalued fuel economy, the standards have morphed into climate control mandates. Under any justification, regulation gives the desires of government regulators precedence over those of the Americans who actually pay for the cars. Since the regulators undervalue the well-being of American consumers, the policy outcomes are predictably harmful.

Climate Beauty Pageants

Exxon CEO Calls Rivals’ Climate Goals a ‘Beauty Competition’ reported in the Houston Chronicle. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

“Individual companies setting targets and then selling assets to another company so that their portfolio has a different carbon intensity has not solved the problem for the world,” Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods says.

Exxon Mobil Corp. dismissed long-term pledges by some of its Big Oil rivals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as nothing more than a “beauty competition” that would do little to halt climate change.

Energy companies need to focus on global, systemic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, rather than just replacing their own emissions-heavy assets with cleaner ones to make themselves look good, Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods said in New York on Thursday.

“Individual companies setting targets and then selling assets to another company so that their portfolio has a different carbon intensity has not solved the problem for the world,” Woods said at Exxon’s analyst day. Exxon is focused on “taking steps to solve the problem for society as a whole and not try and get into a beauty competition.”  Woods’ remarks, which echo those made by Chevron Corp. CEO Mike Wirth earlier this week, underscore the divide between U.S. and European oil explorers in their approach to addressing climate change.

Both American companies see oil and gas demand growing for decades and refuse to compete in a crowded market for renewables where they have little expertise.

Much-derided plastic even came in for some praise, with Exxon Senior Vice President Jack Williams arguing that it’s “a net benefit to society and to the environment.”

By contrast Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Repsol SA and Eni SpA have pledged to make large reductions in carbon emissions over the long term, while last month BP Plc went a step further with a target to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Companies changing their production mix “doesn’t change the demand” for oil and gas, Woods said. “If you don’t have a viable alternative set, all you’re doing is moving out from one company or one country to someplace else. It doesn’t solve the problem.”

Exxon sees world demand for oil and gas growing substantially out to 2040, even under the goals of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Renewables such as wind and solar won’t be enough to meet demand growth on their own, according to Exxon.

In any case, it remains to be seen whether oil giants can generate big profits by producing carbon-free energy. Solar, wind and battery storage projects haven’t shown they can fund the huge dividends that underpins the industry’s investment case.

To underscore his point, Woods said that global emissions have risen 4% since the Paris Agreement was signed four years ago and energy demand is up 6%.

For the energy industry to truly address climate change, Woods believes major technological breakthroughs are needed in the fields of carbon capture, alternative fuels in transport and re-thinking industrial processes. The company is investing in all of these fields but admits that progress will take time.

Exxon is also taking steps to reduce emissions from its own operations including reducing methane emissions and gas flaring.

Speaking at the company’s annual investor day meeting, CEO Darren Wood stated that Exxon is “mindful of the current market environment.” However, Woods said that Exxon plans to maintain its current strategy of “leaning into this market when others have pulled back.”

Exxon intends to use “the strength of our balance sheet to invest through the cycle,” according to Woods. As such, it will outspend its cash flow when necessary to maintain its investment pace while also continuing to increase its dividend as it has for the last 37 consecutive years. It also aims to sell $15 billion in assets to help finance its investment plan.

While Exxon isn’t making any changes to its planned investment level, it is adjusting its development plan. Most notably, it will operate at a reduced pace in the Permian Basin over the next two years compared to its previous outlook. However, it still expects to produce more than 1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day from the region by 2024.

Exxon fully believes that energy demand will grow in the coming years. That’s why it’s taking advantage of the current environment to invest while costs are lower so that it can cash in on more favorable future market conditions.

Activists attempt to storm the Exxon Mobil bastion, here seen without their shareholder disguises.

Let’s Scrub Away Climate Change

Carbon Dioxide Scrubber

Ross McKitrick says Jeff Bezos has put enough money on the table to vanish climate change concerns, except for those who won’t let go. He writes at Financial Post: It’s never enough with climate activists — even a staggering $10 billion from Jeff Bezos. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Observers might conclude activists don’t care about the climate per se but instead want to impose a big-government central planning regime

Jeff Bezos, the mega-billionaire founder/owner of Amazon, just announced he will give US$10 billion to “fight climate change.” According to CNN, this followed immense pressure from his employees to take action. And, as is inevitable with this issue, as soon as he made the announcement his activist employees declared it wasn’t enough.

“We applaud Jeff Bezos’s philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” their group sniffed. “Will Jeff Bezos show us true leadership or will he continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis, while supposedly trying to help?”

It is never enough with climate activists. Bezos’s US$10 billion is a staggering sum. But it’s also a drop in the bucket compared to what governments have spent over the past two decades on the climate issue. Yet activists keep complaining governments aren’t doing anything, either.

One begins to suspect they are not being up front about what they really want.

Politically minded observers might conclude activists do not care about the climate per se but instead want to impose a big-government central planning regime — for which the supposed climate emergency is merely a pretext. Any response to their demands that leaves the market system intact is therefore inadequate.

So where should Bezos direct his money?

If he really wants to make the world a better place, he should fund the invention of a low-cost carbon scrubber. If ever someone could invent a device that filters carbon dioxide out of a smokestack or tailpipe and turns it into a stable solid that can be cheaply disposed of or even used for another purpose, all for under $5 or $10 per tonne, the entire climate change issue would vanish.

Such a scrubber would mean we could carry on using fossil fuels while decoupling them from greenhouse gas emissions. We would continue getting all the benefits of cheap fossil energy without any climate side-effects. This is what we did with sulphur dioxide. The invention of sulphur scrubbers meant we could keep enjoying the benefits of fossil energy without the harm of acid rain. Now let’s do the same with carbon dioxide.

The only reason climate change is such a big, intractable worldwide issue is precisely that we cannot currently decouple fossil fuel use from carbon dioxide emissions, so trying to achieve deep emission reductions means imposing harsh costs on the world economy. But if carbon dioxide could be cheaply reduced while we continued to burn fossil fuels, that problem would be resolved.

Prototype Anti-smog Device

Once you realize this, you can then complete the thought-experiment by posing the question: Who would be the saddest people in the world if a cheap carbon-scrubber were invented? Answer: climate activists. They would almost certainly be bitterly crestfallen if ever an inexpensive technological fix resolved the climate issue. I say this because they so often give the impression their real motivation is not concern about the climate but rather a strange abhorrence of the modern world. The giveaway is their angry reaction to any information showing climate change isn’t a crisis — even though they of all people should be most cheered when such research appears.

Here is a useful litmus test for whether you or someone you know is an environmentally conscious person who wants to take a responsible stance on the climate issue.

Suppose Bezos funds a project that does invent a cheap carbon-scrubber and he gives away the technology so that overnight the need for climate policy vanishes (other than a requirement to use the scrubber). Our entire apparatus of climate policy would then become unnecessary. Ethanol mandates, electric vehicle subsidies, energy efficiency regulations, pipeline bans, the coal phaseout, natural gas bans for new homes, the oilsands emissions cap, et cetera — all of it could be eliminated and carbon dioxide emissions would plummet nonetheless. The Paris treaty would be redundant. There would be no more “conferences of the parties,” no more UN summits, and an end to the vast climate bureaucracies around the world — all of it replaced by quick, cheap and easy emission reductions. The litmus question:

Would that strike you as wonderful news or leave you bereft, your purpose in life lost?

“Wonderful news” is the correct answer. If you got it wrong, please stop blocking roads and railways and get some psychological help.

Ross McKitrick is a professor of economics at the University of Guelph.

Not to mention no more Fridays for the Future.

US Gas Crushes Wind and Solar

Jude Clemente reports at Forbes The Obvious Reality Of More U.S. Oil And Natural Gas
Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Natural gas overwhelmingly dominates the U.S. electric power system, double second place coal. Gas is cleaner, cheaper, more flexible, and more reliable. Gas will supply over 40% of our power this summer and is racing toward being 50% of total generation capacity. Just think about the scale of that. For every 100 power plants in America that create electricity, 50 of them will run on natural gas (see Figure above). Further, the International Energy Agency has specifically credited the rise of gas in our power system as the reason why we are slashing CO2 emissions faster than any other country ever.

Understanding this reality, we must continue to resist growing “energy unrealism.” More bluntly, a fracking ban would be the worst policy for American economic, energy, and environmental security ever “nightmared” possible. Fracking accounts for some 80% of U.S. gas production and will represent almost all of incremental domestic supply.

So why do some presidential candidates want to slash $7.1 trillion and 19 million jobs from the U.S. economy from 2021 to 2025?

Indeed, the “shoot yourself in the foot” energy policies of California, New York, and the New England states cannot be allowed to go national. Even though gas is their primary source of electricity, these states have installed anti-production and anti-pipeline policies. Thus, their power prices are 50% or more above the national average and they are addicted to energy imported from other states. Massachusetts has been forced to import natural gas by ship from Russia over the previous two winters.

Too illustrate, like too often eating out at an expensive restaurant, California in some years has been importing a staggering 95% of its gas and 33% of its electricity. Talk about unsustainable. As we saw with the 2018 “Yellow Vest” riots in Paris against carbon taxes, Americans will not stand for such purposely installed expensive energy.

As fracking is set to make the U.S. the world’s largest oil and gas exporter, “Fiona Hill educates Democrats: Fracking hurts Putin.”

Further, fracking has soared U.S. crude oil production 160% to over 13 million b/d since 2008. This is a huge deal since oil remains our most vital source of energy, lacking any material substitute whatsoever. The U.S. Department of Energy has consistently modeled this to be true: since oil is an inelastic good, even drastic rises in pricing have little impact on demand (see Figure below).

This is hardly a surprise since overly expensive electric cars still account for just 1-2% of annual U.S. passenger car purchases. No kidding. The average Tesla buyer makes $400,000 a year – seven times the national average. Quietly even worse, “Taxpayer subsidies for electric vehicles only help the wealthy,” and “The U.S. Should Ban All Electric Cars in the Interest of National Security.”

The oil industry knows that it must tread lightly these days but is also wisely banking on oil as the ultimate indispensable product: “oil cannot not be used.” As for oil’s much reported on “social license to operate,” a reality check: “Exxon Isn’t the Oil User. You Are.”

For our own supply, fracking accounts for some 80% of U.S. oil production, and fracking will yield basically all new output for decades to come. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that fracking has the potential to skyrocket U.S. crude output another 50% or so to nearly 20 million b/d.

Indeed, OPEC’s and Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare come true.

Figure 12: Figure 9 with Y-scale expanded to 100% and thermal generation included, illustrating the magnitude of the problem the G20 countries still face in decarbonizing their energy sectors. (Thermal refers to energy from oil, gas and coal.)

See Also  What If the US Banned Fracking?

Climateers Tilting at Windmills

 

 

What If the US Banned Fracking?

Other posts have addressed the murky science underneath the claim that burning fossil fuels makes the earth warmer, and the alarmist claims that a warmer world is more dangerous than a colder one. This post takes up the issue that even if rising human CO2 emission were causing dangerous warming, what are the likely consequences of policies to cut down on carbon-based energy. Text below in italics comes from sources listed as links at the end.

This issue arises in the US context because presidential candidates of leftist stripes have pledged to do away with fracking operations and forego the resulting boom in natural gas and tight oil production.

The Narrative

“I will ban fracking—everywhere.”
— Elizabeth Warren

“Any proposal to avert the climate crisis must include a full fracking ban on public and private lands.”
— Bernie Sanders

“I favor a ban on new fracking and a rapid end to existing fracking.”
— Pete Buttigieg

“I want you to look in my eyes. I guarantee you, I guarantee you we’re gonna end fossil fuel.”
— Joe Biden

And don’t forget the Democratic 2016 nominee whose election was narrowly averted by the Trump surprise:

“So by the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
– Hillary Clinton in 2016

In other words, she declared her intention to follow the Obama program: Regulate anything that moves until it stops moving.

Some skeptics caution against overreacting to electioneering rhetoric, citing the practical limits of presidential authority to implement a ban on fracking. But “elections have consequences,” executive orders have an impact, and few industries have been subjected to such consistent attack and misinformation. It might be hard to imagine serious proposals to ban, say, farming or at least all grain farms, but it would be theoretically possible to do so by radically increasing imports. Administrative agencies can pursue creative interpretations of the labyrinth of rules and issue aggressive “guidances.” A broad and coordinated set of such actions can slow or outright stop all manner of industrial activities up and down supply chains, including, especially, the construction of vital pipelines and ports. And lest one forget, Congress enacted legislation in 1972 and 1982 to ban oil production on about 90% of America’s offshore domains.

A detailed analysis has been performed by the Global Energy Institute. The updated report is What if . . . Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?

The Economic Benefits of the Shale Revolution and the Consequences of Ending It.

The Reality

The extraction of oil and gas through the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (colloquially, “fracking”) has catapulted the United States into leadership of the world’s energy markets. Since 2007, fracking has doubled U.S. oil production and increased gas production by 60%. Instead of a major importer, America is rapidly becoming the largest exporter of oil and is expected to supply the majority of net new energy traded on global markets over the next two decades.

If the U.S. imposed a fracking ban, the supply disruption would trigger the biggest oil and natural gas price spikes in history—almost certainly by more than 200%—which would, in turn, tip the world into recession. Even the expectation that a ban could be enacted would destabilize markets. U.S. imports and the trade imbalance would soar, as would consumers’ spending on energy. To keep the lights on, America would have to nearly double the quantity of coal burned, as well as import up to 1 million barrels of oil per day for dual-fueled power plants that would lose access to natural gas.

A fracking ban, regardless of motivation, is anchored in magical thinking that non-hydrocarbon energy sources could fill a massive global energy shortfall if the U.S. exited the world stage as a major supplier of oil and natural gas. Both fuels will be critical for the global economy for decades to come. The key issue is not whether wind and solar can supply more energy—they can and will—but whether a future American administration would reverse the progress of the last decade in lowering energy prices and enhancing geopolitical stability.”
—Mark Mills, senior fellow, Manhattan Institute

Supply Impact

The study is based on what GEI calls conservative assumptions. These include the continued use of hydraulic fracturing in non-tight oil and gas plays, and a 23.7% annual decline rate for existing shale plays. GEI also assumes a drop in gas exports to Mexico, and increase in gas imports from Canada, and a shift from LNG exporting to LNG importing—all designed to close the supply/demand gap that would occur as shale gas is phased out.

“Currently, shale production is about 50.5 Bcf/d or 62 percent of U.S. production. Under a hydraulic fracturing ban, production from existing sources would drop significantly due to the field production decline rates. Similarly, natural gas production from tight gas formations would drop quickly as well, since they rely on hydraulic fracturing to generate production,” GEI said.

With gas in tighter supply (see graph above), prices would soar to $12/MMBtu by 2025 (2nd graph below).

Economic Impact

With supply for gas and oil constricted, energy prices would rise dramatically. In addition to $12/MMBtu gas, GEI says that West Intermediate crude would reach about $130/bbl by 2025, or more than double today’s price and nearly double the forecast out to 2025.

“In 2025, the U.S. would lose around 19 million jobs and $2.3 trillion in GDP. For comparison, this is roughly three times the economic impact of the Great Recession of the late 2010s,” GEI said. “Disallowing hydraulic fracturing would shrink the size of the U.S. energy industry and eliminate its ability to cushion the economy against large swings in prices. A ban on hydraulic fracturing would essentially be the worst of both worlds – low production as if prices were low, while the rest of the economy (in the form of millions of households and businesses) struggles to adapt to a doubling of oil prices and quadrupling of natural gas prices,” it said.

The economic results for the nation and for key energy-producing states (as well as two, Michigan and Wisconsin, which are considered to be close in the 2020 election) is shown below.

Why a US Self-embargo is Unicorns All the Way Down

The fracking ban campaign is neither new nor connected only to the politics of this presidential election cycle. The movement emerged from the intersection of two global trends: the expansion of hydrocarbon production; and a time when many pundits and policymakers believe that an “energy transition” to something different is urgently needed. For example, some 400 domestic and international environmental leaders and organizations petitioned the United Nations in September to demand “a global ban on fracking.”[14] Essentially all fracking production is done in the United States.

A ban on fracking would end U.S. exports, cause imports to soar, and increase the trade deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars. The more serious impact would come from the shock to global markets. Global oil prices swing widely when markets are surprised by even a 1%–2% change in the supply/demand balance. A fracking ban would entail a loss of 7% of global oil production, comparable to the 7% lost with the infamous 1973 Arab oil embargo—an embargo that drove world oil prices up 400% and triggered a global recession.[25] Similarly, the 1979 Iranian revolution took 5% of oil off global markets. Prices rose more than 200%, sparking another global recession.[26] Today, taking shale production off the market would also constitute an additional 17% loss to global markets in the form of natural gas.[27] Higher energy prices would hit global consumers; Americans would pay more than $100 billion a year at the gas pump alone, an average of $1,000 per household.[28] Even a slow 10-year production phase-out would trigger an estimated two-year recession in America and eliminate $270 billion of private investment.[29] There would be some winners: Russia and OPEC would derive huge revenue and geopolitical benefits.

Losing the share of new electricity generation that is now fueled from natural gas (produced by fracking) would push utilities to increase the use of existing underutilized power plants where they’re available, which are mainly coal-fired.[30] That would increase carbon dioxide emissions by some 600%—more than all emissions avoided from wind and solar on U.S. grids.[31]

Regions heavily dependent on natural gas but with minimal coal capacity would be faced with rolling blackouts—such as New England (where gas currently provides 49% of electricity), the Mid-Atlantic region (38%), and the Pacific coast (30%).[32] Some of that shortfall could come from burning oil in the 130 GW of gas-fired turbines designed to be dual-fueled.[33] If fully utilized, those turbines would burn about 1 mmbd of oil (necessarily imported), a 10-fold increase in U.S. oil-fired power generation.

The Impossibility of Filling the Gap

The central motivation for the movement to ban fracking is the global abundance of hydrocarbons at a time when many pundits and policymakers believe that an “energy transition” is urgently needed. But America’s shale production could not be replaced quickly by alternatives, at any price, regardless of climate-change motivations. To the extent that there is an “energy transition” to new technologies, it is happening in slow motion.

Politically popular wind and solar power have become far less expensive and have enjoyed massive global subsidies; but together, they still provide only 1.8% of global energy. The 5 million electric vehicles on all the world’s roads now displace 0.1% of global oil use.[34]

Replacing the quantity of energy produced by fracking in the U.S. shale fields would entail (in energy-equivalent terms) expanding all of America’s solar and wind production by 2,000% more than what has been added in the past decade.[35] Somehow accomplishing that miracle wouldn’t help the 99% of Americans driving oil-fueled cars. In fact, because the hydrocarbon market is global, the entire world would have to increase global wind and energy supply by 500% to replace the energy that would be lost from an American fracking ban—never mind the additional energy needed to fuel global economic growth.[36]

Resources:

New Study by Global Energy Institute Puts Impact of Fracking Ban at $7.1 Trillion Over Four Years

A Fracking Ban Would Trigger Global Recession

New Chamber Analysis Quantifies Economic Risks of Proposed Fracking Ban

U.S. Chamber of Commerce says proposed fracing ban puts Texas economy at risk

 

Court Thwarts Seattle Climate Power Play

News today that the Washington state supreme court has blocked a scheme by Governor (and erstwhile candidate for climate President) Inslee from taking over the energy industry.  Washington state is a place where leftist progressives live in large numbers in and around Seattle and impose their virtue signalling ideas on the rest of the population who are more skeptical.

This story is also of interest since the maneuver follows the practice of weaponizing environmental law to overthrow society’s dependence on energy from fossil fuels.  For example, NGO lawyers have attacked permits for infrastructure like pipelines by demanding that the assessment also include emissions from end users burning the gas or oil after it has left the pipeline.  In the Washington state case, Inslee tried to put the Department of Ecology in charge of taxing energy used by the transportation industry under the auspices of a Clean Air Act. This was in fact an end run around the defeat of a state carbon tax in the last election.

The story from the Seattle Times is State Supreme Court limits Gov. Inslee’s rule cutting greenhouse-gas emissions  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The Washington State Supreme Court has invalidated key portions of a rule imposed by the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee capping greenhouse-gas emissions by fuel distributors, natural-gas companies and other industries.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, the court upheld a 2017 lower-court decision that the state Department of Ecology had exceeded its legal authority in trying to apply clean-air standards to “indirect emitters” that don’t directly burn fossil fuels.

“The issue is not whether man-made climate change is real — it is,” wrote Chief Justice Debra Stephens in the majority opinion. However, Stephens wrote, the department’s efforts to enforce the state Clean Air Act went beyond what had been authorized by the law.
[That is a social opinion not a legal one since IPCC suppositions have not yet been litigated.]

“We are confident that if the State of Washington wishes to expand the definition of emission standards to encompass ‘indirect emitters,’ the Legislature will say so. In the meantime. Ecology may not claim more authority than the Legislature has granted in the Act,” Stephens wrote.

The state had projected the rule would reduce emissions by 20 million metric tons by 2035 — about two-thirds of the target established by the Legislature in 2008. But three-quarters of that reduction would have come from applying the regulation to indirect emitters, according to the court ruling.

[The hypocrisy is striking; people who burn gasoline in their cars and trucks are directly responsible for those emissions, not their suppliers.  Energy products are provided in a free society to those who want and can afford to pay for them.  Those who want to live without such energy are also free to make that choice.  But beware, in modern nations like the G20 nearly 90% of energy comes from burning fossil fuels. CO2 zealots want to shut off the supply for everyone else instead of themselves.  Socialism is another name for shared misery]

Figure 12: Figure 9 with Y-scale expanded to 100% and thermal generation included, illustrating the magnitude of the problem the G20 countries still face in decarbonizing their energy sectors.

During a news conference, Inslee said he disagreed with the court majority’s central conclusion but hasn’t yet decided whether to ask lawmakers to amend the Clean Air Act to include indirect emitters.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, praised the court ruling in a statement calling the clean-air rule “a classic example of government arrogance and overreach.”

A longtime opponent of Inslee’s climate agenda, Ericksen, the ranking Republican member of the state Senate’s environment committee, said the rule would have imposed “onerous new regulations on oil refiners and distributors of natural gas” and passed potentially billions of dollars in costs on to consumers.

Ericksen added he hoped the decision would “quell the enthusiasm of other agencies” to push legal boundaries, citing the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s decision to develop a low-carbon fuel regulation.

Frustrated by legislative inaction, Inslee had directed Ecology in 2015 to use executive authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions.

After a lengthy rule-making process, the state issued regulations in 2016 which would have targeted dozens of top emitters, from Skagit County oil refineries to Boeing’s Everett plant and Eastern Washington food processors. The rule required such facilities to cut their carbon footprint by an average of 1.7% a year — either by cleaning up their own facilities or paying for carbon-reduction projects off-site.

But the rule was quickly challenged in a lawsuit by business groups led by the Association of Washington Business. The association’s president, Kris Johnson, said in a statement he welcomed the court’s ruling and intends to work with lawmakers “to find a bipartisan solution” to reduce the state’s carbon emissions.

A trade association for paper mills said its members remain concerned about the effects of even a more limited version of the clean-air rule.

EPA Overhaul Long Overdue

Prudent public officials should anticipate that some future periods will be warmer and other periods cooler than today. They should also affirm that cold is the greater threat to human health and prosperity. Thus investments should place priority on building robust infrastructure and ensuring reliable affordable energy. These things can not be achieved if the planning and approval process is so long and costly that needed developments are discouraged or abandoned.

The worst kept secret in US politics is how effectively environmental activists and lawyers have used EPA regulations to block, impair and frequently kill off projects for energy infrastructure. Some regions like the Northeast are lacking natural gas supply pipelines from US sources and are forced to import from Russia, among other foreign producers. Former EPA administrator made the point that some people believe that if you are for the environment you are against development, and if you are for development you are against the environment. Instead the law and the agency have the mission of ensuring environmentally responsible development, recognizing that natural resources are essential to human flourishing.

Thus I welcome this announcement reported in the Wall Street Journal Trump Seeks Overhaul of Federal Environmental Rules  Of course the subtitle say: Environmentalists criticize proposal, saying it will hamper efforts to slow climate change.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

WASHINGTON—President Trump proposed a major overhaul of federal environmental permitting, responding to business complaints of bureaucratic delays to infrastructure projects such as roads and energy pipelines.

“We want to build new roads, bridges and highways bigger and faster,” Mr. Trump said from the White House, adding that the proposal would help create new jobs.

But environmentalists assailed the changes to rules tied to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, saying they would weaken standards at a time when climate change is making federal review even more critical.

“Forcing federal agencies to ignore environmental threats is a disgraceful abdication of our responsibility to protect the planet for future generations,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said this week anticipating the overhaul. He called it a “gift to the fossil-fuel industry.”  The administration sees the move as a broad-based effort to modernize rules that have gone largely untouched for more than 40 years.

The primary aim is to shorten the review process to two years—a drastic change given that assessments can now take a decade or more.

“The step we’re taking today…will hit a home run in delivering better results to the American people by cutting red tape that has paralyzed common-sense decision-making for a generation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said on a call with reporters. “The consequences of the government being stuck in place are far-ranging.”

Some projects that don’t have significant federal government funding or involvement might now become more likely to skirt the process altogether, a change likely aimed at helping pipelines in particular. For projects that do have to go through the NEPA review process, the changes would clarify what environmental effects agencies have to plan for and what future changes to the environment permit reviews will have to consider in advance. The stated goal is to limit reviews to environmental risks more directly associated with a project.

Critics fear that is a major setback for planning around climate change. Administration officials say agencies would still have the option to include climate-change risks in their permitting processes. But infrastructure experts and environmentalists say any weakening in that connection would be a step in the wrong direction as the effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced and society needs stronger rules to adapt to those emerging risks.

Issuing this proposal is an early step in what could be a lengthy process. There will be at least two months of public comment starting when the proposal is published on Friday, administration officials said. Many more months of review will likely follow that before any changes are finalized.

Many expect the administration won’t have enough time to finish an overhaul if Mr. Trump isn’t re-elected in November. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D., Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, on Thursday called the rewrite illegal, potentially foreshadowing several lawsuits that could further delay an overhaul.

The president on several occasions has criticized the environmental permitting process as a bureaucratic barrier to economic development. Many lawmakers and economists say that America needs to fix a backlog of infrastructure needs, which the administration has pegged at roughly $1 trillion.

In recent months, the administration has turned its attention to addressing several bedrock environmental laws and changes aimed at jump-start development. A plan to overhaul NEPA would be the latest in a series of moves that have also tried to limit the reach of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, especially in how much those laws require consideration of risks associated with climate change. The NEPA review process can serve as the ultimate fail-safe on environmentally unsound projects.

But energy companies and manufacturers in particular have argued that NEPA, in recent decades, has become a tool for environmentalists to block progress. Since its last update, major roads and pipeline projects have become harder to complete and a drilling boom has led to an expansion of oil-and-gas production nationwide. Industrial interests have asked for a modernization to improve efficiency and consistency in permitting across federal agencies.

“The administration’s modernization of NEPA removes bureaucratic barriers that were stifling construction of key infrastructure projects needed for U.S. producers to deliver energy in a safe and environmentally protective way,” said Anne Bradbury, chief executive of the American Exploration & Production Council, a trade group for some of the country’s largest independent oil-and-gas companies.

Environmental groups have been concerned that an attempt to streamline NEPA permitting would degrade its ability to protect the environment. They have criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 decision to eliminate letter grades that often came as guidance in the process. Such changes can make NEPA reviews less helpful to the public and weaken a process designed to prevent oil spills and other environmental accidents, environmentalists said.

Footnote:  

Convoluted and CO2 obsessive regulations are a large factor leading to the Australian bushfires.  Also, Canada is unable to build a badly needed pipeline expansion that the federal government wants and owns because of the same kind of onerous environmental permitting processes.

2020 Green Obstruction Targets

The remarkable turnaround in the US economy was achieved despite large and expensive Green efforts to stop economic projects and infrastructure. While needed energy pipelines and power plants remain unbuilt in coastal places like New York and California, the heartland will be a battleground for activists wanting to leave the best sources underground in favor of aboveground dilute and intermittent wind and solar power.

Walker Orenstein writes at the Minnesota Post The five environmental stories to watch in 2020. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Next year will be a pivotal one for many of Minnesota’s most controversial environmental debates, from mining to climate change and the 2020 elections. Here’s a look at some of the big questions heading into 2020:

File photo courtesy of the Timberjay PolyMet Mining has won state and federal approval to break ground on its $1 billion copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes.

1. Will PolyMet move forward?
PolyMet Mining has won state and federal approval to break ground on its $1 billion copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. But the project now faces serious questions after Minnesota courts put several permits on hold by this year.

First, The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered a lower court to examine if state regulators hid concerns the federal government had with a key water safety permit. The Court of Appeals is also investigating whether Glencore, the Swiss mining giant that owns a majority of PolyMet’s shares, should be named on state permits, and whether the plan for a tailings dam at the mine is safe enough.

On top of the permit issues, PolyMet’s majority owner Glencore is now facing a bribery investigation in the United Kingdom and is in the midst of a leadership change.

After a year of turmoil, 2020 could be pivotal for a project that has faced 15 years of environmental review and could bring hundreds of jobs to the Iron Range. If built, it would be the first copper-nickel mine in the state.

2. Will the Line 3 pipeline get built?

Another controversial project on the brink of construction is Enbridge’s Line 3 oil pipeline. The Canadian energy company is hoping to build a 337-mile pipeline through northern Minnesota to replace an aging and corroding one that is operating at half capacity. State regulators on the Public Utilities Commission granted the $2.6 billion project a Certificate of Need and approved its route.

In July, however, the Court of Appeals ruled the PUC failed to consider the impact an oil spill could have on Lake Superior’s watershed, setting the project back months. A new environmental assessment was completed earlier this month by the Department of Commerce, modeling a spill into a tributary of the St. Louis River. In a worst case-type scenario, the research found oil would be unlikely to reach Lake Superior.

Final Line 3 Replacement Project routek

The five-member PUC now needs to vote again on whether to approve Line 3, which also needs federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to move forward.

Opponents of Line 3, who argue building new fossil fuel infrastructure would further contribute to climate change, have protested the Walz administration at many public events and have taken steps to disrupt Enbridge’s existing infrastructure. Will wide-scale protests follow if Line 3 does get approved for construction?

3. Will the Legislature pass any climate change policy?

The 2019 session ended with very little new climate and energy policy, despite a Democratic push to make Minnesota’s power grid carbon-free by 2050 and GOP support for a measure to make it tougher to build new fossil fuel projects.

While 2019 was ultimately focused on writing a two-year budget, such debates could find new life at the Legislature in 2020. Especially since lawmakers will have a healthy pot of unused money from Xcel Energy, from the funds the energy company pays to store nuclear waste in Minnesota.

4. Will there be a showdown over the study of mining near the Boundary Waters?

Ever since the Trump administration canceled a study that could have led to a 20-year ban on copper-nickel mining in the Rainy River watershed, some Democrats have tried to finish the research or at least get the federal government to disclose what it found.

While U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and others have not been successful in Congress, the state Department of Natural Resources has asked for the information to include in its environmental review of a mine Twin Metals Minnesota wants to build just outside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The DNR won’t say if it will proceed with its review if the federal government stonewalls the agency. But the state has left open the possibility of a showdown with the pro-mining Trump administration. “We will request the information, we expect to get it,” Barb Naramore, an assistant DNR commissioner, told reporters. “If for some reason it’s not forthcoming we’ll need to evaluate the implications of that at that point in time.”

5. How will environmental issues play in the 2020 elections?

The 2020 elections carry massive stakes for local environmental issues. If Trump is re-elected, his administration is likely to continue support for Twin Metals. Many of the Democratic frontrunners have said they oppose mining in the Rainy River watershed, including Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden has not, although the Obama-Biden administration launched the study on a 20-year mining ban in the Rainy River watershed and took other steps to stymie Twin Metals.

Trump has generally supported pipelines, while Warren and Sanders have also opposed Line 3.

At the Legislature, Republicans would likely need to keep a majority in the state Senate to head off the most aggressive parts of Gov. Tim Walz’s climate change agenda in 2021. While not all DFLers support the governor’s measures, minority Democrats in the Senate recently launched a “Clean Energy and Climate Caucus” with an eye on passing some form of Walz’s legislation.

Leaf Blowers Banned (Take that, Greta)

Greta keeps repeating that nothing is being done to reduce emissions, blind to all the imposed policies and regulations.  So today good news out of California, the leader in fighting climate change.  From NBC San Diego Encinitas Leaf Blower Ban Goes Into Effect.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Businesses in Encinitas are no longer allowed to use gas powered leaf blowers as of Friday, Dec. 20.

The Encinitas City Council approved the leaf blower ordinance back in August. Then in September, the ordinance went into effect for city operations.

The goal of the city’s Climate Action Plan is to eventually ban all gas powered leaf blowers by January 20, 2020 in order to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. The next goal is to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030. The city estimates that this leaf blower ban will reduce local green house gas emissions by 128 metric tons of CO2 emissions by the end of 2020, and 142 metric tons by 2030.

Then on January 20, 2020, the ban will go into effect for residents as well.

But, the ordinance also states that electric or battery powered leaf blowers are allowed. So the city is now offering a city-funded rebate program, so that residents and business owners can buy a new electric or battery-powered leaf blower.

The ordinance also lays out a list of rules about the time of day people are allowed to use their leaf blowers.

Now, people in Encinitas are only permitted to use their electric or batter powered leaf blowers between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and between 12 noon and 5 p.m. on Sundays.

So calm down Greta and show some respect for all the nanny-state rules coming on.

Choose Life over Climate Despair

I have often written that prudent policymakers recognize the future will include periods both warmer and cooler than the present, and cold is the greater threat to human life and prosperity. Thus, government priorities should be to invest in affordable reliable energy and robust infrastructure. A recent article gets the importance of energy abundance, and makes many lucid points about climate policy failures, even while accepting uncritically some mistaken suppositions about the issue and what can be done about it.

Matt Frost published an article at The New Atlantis After Climate Despair. Excerpts in italics with my bolds, some images and comments.

The dream of a global conversion to austerity has failed to stop climate change. Energy abundance is our best hope for living well with warming — and reversing it.

Overview

Each of us constitutes a link between the past and the future, and we share a human need to participate in the life of something that perdures beyond our own years. This is the conservationist — and arguably the conservative — argument for combating climate change: Our descendants, who will have a great deal in common with us, ought to be able to enjoy conditions similar to those that permitted us and our forebears to thrive.

But the dominant narrative of climate change, though it claims to be aimed at protecting future generations, in fact leaves little room for continuity. Preventing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above the nineteenth-century baseline, the latest aim of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will, as they put it, require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Only a vanishingly unlikely set of coordinated global actions — an extraordinary political breakthrough — can save us from what the most pessimistic media portrayals describe as “catastrophe,” “apocalypse,” and the “end of civilization.”

Only by changing our entire energy system and social order can we preserve the continuity of our biosphere. And so climate politics has become the art of the impossible: a cycle of increasingly desperate exhortations to impracticable action, presumably in hopes of inspiring at least some half-measures. Understandably, many despair, while others deny that there is a problem, or at least that any solution is possible.

But we are not condemned to a choice between despair and denial. Instead, we must prepare for a future in which we have temporarily failed to arrest climate change — while ensuring that human civilization stubbornly persists, and thrives. Rather than prescribing global austerity, reducing our energy usage and thereby limiting our options for adaptation, we should pursue energy abundance. Only in a high-energy future can we hope eventually to reduce the atmosphere’s carbon, through sequestration and by gradually replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives.

It is time to acknowledge that catastrophism has failed to bring about the global political breakthrough the climate establishment dreams of, and will not succeed in time to avert serious warming. Instead of despairing over a forever-deferred dream of austerity, our resources would be better spent now on investing in potential technological breakthroughs to reduce atmospheric carbon, and our political imagination better put toward preparing for a future of ever more abundant energy.

[Frost could have added that human flourishing has always occured in warmer, rather than colder times. Our Modern Warm Period was preceded by Medieval Warming, before that by Roman Warming, and earlier Minoan Warming. Each period was cooler than the previous, so the overall trend in our interglacial is downward. Ensuring favorable conditions for future generations means protecting against the ravages of frosty times. (pun intended)]

The Futility of Dread

The bleak poll results may reflect a broad, if perhaps tacit, agreement that we have reached diminishing returns on dread. Even now that most Americans accept the dire predictions of scientists and journalists, their assent does not change the fact that we currently lack the institutional, technological, and moral resources to prevent further climate change in the near term. The lay public has been taught to regard stabilizing the climate as an all-or-nothing struggle against the encroachment of a dismal future.

The bar for success is set high enough that failure is now the rational expectation.

A common reaction to “there is no solution” is “then there is no problem.” No matter how persuasive the evidence of impending danger, most people find ways to dismiss or evade problems that appear insoluble. Attempting to build political support for impossible interventions by making ever more pessimistic predictions will not work; it will only leave us mired in gloom and impotence. This polarized fatalism will grow more extreme as opposing partisans, recognizing our dearth of practicable options, choose either glib denial or morbid brooding.

Entirely predictable Time Magazine declares Greta Person of the Year. Just like Big Brother she is watching.

Missing the Target

We will not stop global warming, at least in our lifetimes. This realization forces us to ask instead what would count as limiting warming enough to sustain our lives and our civilization through the disruption. There can be no single global answer to this question: Our ability to predict climate effects will always be limited, and what will count as acceptable warming to a Norwegian farmer enjoying a longer growing season will always be irreconcilable with that of a Miami resident fighting the sea to save his home. But because our leadership has approached climate change as a problem of coordinated global action, they have constructed quantitative waypoints around which to organize the debate.

Some news sources portrayed 2030 as an official deadline for avoiding climate catastrophe. It is worth noting that the report’s lead author, Myles Allen, has warned against this interpretation: “Please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening and every half a degree of warming matters, but the IPCC does not draw a ‘planetary boundary’ at 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond which lie climate dragons.”

The extreme unlikelihood that we will meet the target of 1.5 degrees becomes even clearer when we notice that doing so requires that we not only cut emissions radically, but at the same time remove enormous volumes of carbon dioxide already emitted. The report estimates that a total of 100 billion tons must be removed by 2050. For comparison, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted globally from fossil fuels last year was around 37 billion tons.

Even were it possible to scale bioenergy and capture that quickly, doing so would have a major drawback: It would take up an immense amount of farmland. By one 2016 estimate, capturing enough carbon to meet even the 2-degree target by the end of the century could require devoting up to three million square miles of farmland to bioenergy crops — nearly the size of the contiguous United States.

[Frost seems not to realize the the 2C target, and more recently 1.5C are both rabbits pulled out of a magical activist hat. Economists have projected that future generations will be far wealthier than us, and only slightly less so should there be all the warming predicted from burning known carbon fuel reserves. Many dangers are based upon scenario RCP8.5 which is so unrealistic that some analysts say that models using it should be revised. Principled inaction is appropriate when threats are claimed without solid evidence.]

The Age of Overshoot

Expanding the climate options we allow ourselves to consider is easier said than done. The political and moral challenges are daunting. We will need to adapt to a warmer climate for perhaps decades to come, while at the same time preparing technological and policy solutions for a more distant future where we can finally claw our way back to lower levels of carbon and warming. At the same time, the stressors that a warmer climate will bring will be unequally felt across the globe, likely making our politics more divided and only dimming hopes for international coordination.

We must finally abandon the empty hope of imposing equitable austerity via globally coordinated government fiat.

Furthermore, as we adapt to a warmer climate, complacency will be tempting, since we will likely not experience a sudden decline in global quality of life or biodiversity, and may be able to avoid the most dire disruptions. Changes will be slow, with many unfolding on a generational time scale, and with dramatically different impacts among populations. The misery that climate change is likely to cause, or is already causing, will be difficult to distinguish from deprivation as we already know it — the people most harmed, that is, will be the poor, who are already most vulnerable to natural forces. Even if there is a distinct moment of irrecoverable failure, or a tipping point that triggers the worst feedback effects, most people might not notice until it has passed.

[His belief that CO2 is some kind of temperature control knob is touching, but naive and dangerous. H2O is actually earth’s thermostat, and we don’t have a dial for that either. Fortunately the climate system includes complex negative feedbacks which throughout history have kept both ice house and hot house eras from being permanent. Otherwise we would not be here to talk about it.]

The global failure to control emissions is not just a failure of political will or technological progress. Rather, it reflects the problem’s inherent resistance to unambiguous characterization. Different observers can all adopt different conceptions of the problem, many of which are not mutually exclusive but remain practically or politically irreconcilable.

For this reason, we will no more agree on some single new ethics than we will on the “correct” amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Addressing the problem, then, must not mean the coordinated pursuit of a single solution but a perpetual process of decentralized negotiation and risk reduction. Our varied conceptions of climate change will never fully converge, and so the “correctness” of any approach is best evaluated not by whether it meets the latest IPCC target but by how well it affords broad political buy-in. Identifying alternatives to our current, failed approach to climate change requires identifying a more constructive set of ideas — practical, political, and sentimental. We will then be able to focus our resources on those interventions most likely to succeed.

[Among the failed solutions is the idea that modern societies can be powered with solar and wind energy.  Not only is bioenergy land intensive (as noted above), so are these other renewables.  Here is the map of UK showing the acreage required to power London without thermal generators.]

The gray area would be covered in wind farms, while the yellow area is needed for solar farms.

Austerity vs. Abundance

What should motivate our response to climate change is what got us into this mess in the first place: our desire for the abundance that energy technology affords. Energy is the commodity that allows us to protect ourselves from the ravages of nature and to live distinctly human lives, and many of the benefits we enjoy today were made possible by the exploitation of fossil energy. Our children should enjoy greater energy abundance than us, not less.

But the mainstream climate establishment — the government officials, researchers, advocates, and journalists who sustain the consensus agenda represented by the IPCC — is bent on austerity. They demand that we ration fossil energy consumption until zero-emission sources like wind and solar replace the fossil share of the global energy budget.

Discussions about climate change are also riddled with population anxiety. Lugubrious climate dread appears both as the idea that we should not inflict any more humans on this dying world and that we should not inflict this dying world on any more humans. For the most part, we no longer suffer from feverish speculation about runaway global population growth, since the population may peak anyway by the end of the century. Yet we still hear the old Malthusian idea that our limited energy resources will only be enough for everyone if there are fewer people to whom they must be handed out. Because the climate establishment views energy consumption as the problem, energy consumers must be on the negative side of the ledger — even if their welfare, or their grandchildren’s welfare, is supposed to be the good being protected.

An alternate framework based on abundance would engage each of us as participants in the flow of human history, as the forebears of unknown successors. It would complement even the doomsayers’ calls for taking expensive measures today, since the benefits of mitigating climate change would apply to more people as the population increases. The number of future occupants of our planet is, or should be, the salient variable in any calculation of the long-term costs and benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. We can’t know the economic return on any dollar we invest today in stabilizing the future climate, but we can model it as a function of, among other things, the number of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Our climate approach should presuppose that we are the benefactors of a burgeoning future population, not the progenitors of an ascetic cult formed to dole out a dwindling stock of resources. New sources of carbon-free energy would offer more value to more people than whatever new levers of social control we might invent to enforce a worldwide carbon-rationing regime.

A stronger focus on human utility does not discount the non-human biosphere: When we evaluate the natural world for its beauty or its diversity, we are still expressing human values, and those values are part of the civilization we hope to carry forward in time. For instance, the desire to protect coral reefs, one of the first casualties of global warming, can increase as more people gain freedom from poverty, allowing them to see the reefs’ aesthetic and ecological benefits as worth spending resources to preserve.

An abundance framework is also aligned with our persistent human desire for comfort, and would lead us to reformulate our collective problem as one of scarcity, rather than prodigality. Instead of constraining our energy budget, we would look to a future in which a large, decarbonized energy capacity allows more people to enjoy the access to wealth and comfort that many of us take for granted. It would make little sense to leave cheap fossil energy underground in the name of future generations’ well-being, only to also leave those descendants an energy-constrained world full of incentives to drill. To remove those incentives, they will need abundant energy.

Obviously, meeting the energy demand of a high-growth world would require new sources of carbon-free power in amounts beyond the IPCC’s most optimistic scenarios. But we are already stuck hoping for a global political breakthrough. Technological breakthroughs are less far-fetched a solution. And a mass embrace of abundant energy is more realistic than sudden globally coordinated altruistic self-abnegation. Once we embrace abundance as a normative principle, it directs our attention and ambition toward the bets that, however long the odds, might actually pay off.

Embracing abundance means more than just a rhetorical or sentimental overhaul; it should change how we rank our policy and technology options. And gaining new energy sources would actually expand our options beyond the limited ones available to us now. Choosing abundance does not require that we first have all the answers for how to produce carbon-free energy, or how to reduce current levels of carbon dioxide. Rather, shifting our mindset from austerity to abundance will open up the political space necessary for imagining these answers and pursuing them.

In the near term, we must accept that expanding our political capacity to regulate carbon dioxide depends on driving down the cost of carbon-free energy. Penalizing fossil-energy use can encourage research and development of alternatives, but panic alone will not engender a new democratic mandate for costly restrictions on emissions. Cheap, low-carbon energy can be an alternative to bureaucratic rationing or socially enforced austerity. If we are stuck hoping for a breakthrough, let us hope for one that further emancipates us from want rather than one that more efficiently imposes it.

After Despair

We are stuck waiting for a breakthrough. The sort of breakthrough we await says much about who we are and where we hope to go. The consensus austerity view would have us hope for a moral breakthrough of penitential retrenchment. The abundance view would have us hope for a technological breakthrough to enable a flourishing future. One says that we have used too much energy, and our descendants should use less. The other implies that we have not devoted enough energy to capturing and storing carbon dioxide, and that we must leave our children and grandchildren as much energy capacity as possible to clean up our carbon waste.

Our mission must be to provide future generations with better technological alternatives than the ones currently on offer, which range from prohibitively expensive (like BECCS) to wildly reckless (like pumping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to block sunlight). We owe our descendants progress toward the long-deferred dream of energy “too cheap to meter,” as Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, famously said in 1954. We owe them the tools with which to dispose of the waste carbon they will inherit. We owe them a better sentimental investment than morbid despair about the future they will occupy.

Other policy approaches are less applicable to a strategic framework of energy abundance. “Weaning ourselves off nuclear energy,” as Senator Elizabeth Warren proposes, is a fatuous idea even within the austerity framework, if the risks of climate change are as dire as predicted. Replacing already online, zero-carbon generation with wind and solar plants that require carbon-emitting construction and infrastructure overhauls will only dig us deeper into debt. In an abundance framework, the proposal becomes even more misguided.

The policy measures we pursue in the near term should express the ethos of abundance and continuity. They should avoid emission cuts today that might limit wealth and technology options tomorrow. And they should set us up to take the best advantage of whatever breakthroughs, technological or political, we might be fortunate enough to see in the coming years.

Key Points

Global conversion to austerity is a lost cause.

Energy abundance is our best hope for the future.

We have always lived well when it warms.

When nature reverses and cools, we had better be ready.

Footnote: Since 1985 the band Opus has celebrated Life and access to energy (I’m sure they were referring to electrical power as well as personal mobility).