Following Barack Obama’s recent visit to China, the White House issued a joint US-China climate announcement that says “China intends to achieve the peaking of C02 emissions around 2030.” But that isn’t news.
A report published three-and-a-half-years ago and funded by the US Department of Energy had already predicted this. Titled China’s Energy and Carbon Emissions Outlook to 2050, it says that population growth, urbanization, and other factors are all expected to peak in China by 2030. Therefore, emissions will, too.
Welcome to the smoke-and-mirrors world of climate negotiations. First, Mr. Obama’s “historic” agreement takes credit for forces already in motion in a foreign country. Second, despite all evidence to the contrary, it pretends that America is capable of reducing its own emissions dramatically over the next decade.
When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was born in 1992, humanity collectively emitted 21 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. By 2012, this number had increased by 50% to 31 billion tonnes. What was the rate of increase between 1971 and 1991, before the treaty? Amusingly enough, it too was 50%.
Keen to pose as saviours of the planet, politicians across the political spectrum have spent two decades announcing UN-inspired emissions targets that no one has any realistic hope of meeting. When discussing these matters, Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, uses phrases such as “fantasy island” and “emissions impossible.”
In 2011, he called Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction goal “fanciful at best.” Much of Australia’s electricity comes from coal. Replacing sufficient amounts of this electricity would require the construction of 56 nuclear power plants, or 12,000 solar power facilities, in less than a decade.
More recently, Pielke has observed that, following the passage of the UK’s Climate Change Act, that nation’s economy has decarbonized at a rate of 1 percent per year. But meeting its 2022 emissions target, a mere seven years away, implies an annual decarbonization rate 4 to 5 times that.
On November 16, Der Spiegel reported that Germany will also miss its 2020 emissions goal. New coal-fired power plants are currently being built not because the German public doesn’t prefer wind and solar but because those technologies can’t produce enough of the reasonably-priced, reliable energy necessary to power an advanced, industrial economy.
Even the editors of the MIT Technology Review, who believe climate change should be Mr. Obama’s top priority, have publicly acknowledged that “Renewable energy sources, like solar and advanced biofuels, are simply not yet ready to compete with fossil fuels.”
Over the past 40 years, worldwide CO2 emissions dropped significantly only once: during the 2009 financial crisis. The New York Times says four million additional Americans fell below the poverty line that year, and that median family incomes “were 5 percent lower than in 1999.”
According to the World Bank, “virtually every developing country” was hit hard in 2009; an additional 50,000 African children may have died of malnutrition that year, and an estimated “64 million more people around the world” may well have been pushed back into abject poverty.
This is the dirty little secret lurking behind every new emissions deal: when emissions disappear, so do jobs, economic opportunities, and human well-being.
The manufacturing jobs found in factories and the auto industry need affordable power – not the intermittent, stupendously-priced, boutique power generated by wind turbines. Coal mining feeds families. Oil wells put food on the table.
We used to view the dignity that accompanies a paying job as an important social good. We used to understand that working class families are vulnerable. We used to care that unemployment, substance abuse, and family breakdown are closely connected.
These days, we’ve convinced ourselves that driving CO2-emitting factories into bankruptcy is smart. That throwing people out of work makes sense. That plunging families into crisis is the path to glory.
What a strange new religion we’ve adopted in the name of saving the planet.