By Rupert Darwall, Senior Fellow, RealClear Foundation on 11/23/2020
Those hoping that a vote for Joe Biden would be a ticket to normalcy will be disappointed. “At this moment of profound crisis,” the Biden-Harris transition website states, “we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy—one that will put the U.S. on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.”
Resilient and sustainable? The U.S. has just achieved energy independence—a goal sought by every president since Richard Nixon (his administration was 1969-1974). Those economic and strategic advantages will be thrown away by a Biden administration, as it moves to outlaw domestically produced oil and gas in favor of vast quantities of imported minerals from countries such as China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Russia for use in wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles. As for resiliency, you’d better check out California, the state of the rolling blackout, to get an idea of the results that come from pursuing such a strategy.
Of course, a Biden administration promises millions of “green jobs,” because generating energy from wind and solar is highly labor-intensive. A 2017 analysis found that to produce the same amount of electricity as one worker in the coal sector required two in the natural gas sector and 79 workers in the solar sector. One megawatt-hour of electricity generated from wind and solar is worth less than one from gas- or coal-fired power stations, because wind and solar produce electricity only when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining—and not necessarily when people want it. Modeling of the European electricity market suggests that when solar reaches 15% of total electricity generation, its economic value halves; and when wind reaches 30% of total electricity generation, its economic value falls 40%.
Economic logic, therefore, suggests that energy prices will be higher, and wages lower, in an economy using more wind and solar power. In January 2020, before Covid-19 struck, the national payroll average weekly wage was $971.15. For workers in the oil and gas sector, weekly pay was $2,059.28—more than double the national average. By contrast, in 2019, the average wage for wind turbine technicians was $1,014.71 per week; for solar panel installers, it was $860.91. Solar panel installers must work 2.4 times longer to earn the same pre-tax wages as workers in the oil and gas industry.
On prices, too, the evidence supports the logic, with a correlation between the share of total electricity generation provided by wind and solar, and average domestic electricity prices. Last year, wind and solar in America contributed 4.1% of total electricity generation; the average electricity rate was 14.7 cents per kWh (March 2020). Denmark, with the highest proportion of renewable electricity in the world, has the second-highest residential prices, at 32.5 cents per kWh—more than double the average in the U.S. Only Germany has higher residential electricity prices. Germany forces households to cross-subsidize industrial consumers to protect German exporters from becoming uncompetitive.
“To save everything, we must change everything,” proclaims the World Economic Forum. For the U.S., net-zero means changing more than any other nation. One reason is the math. Previously, when the U.S. signed up to emissions reductions, they were expressed as proportionate reductions. In the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Europeans agreed to cut their emissions by 8% on 1990 levels and the U.S. by 7%. In its 2015 commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Obama administration pledged to cut emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. It mattered less, then, that American emissions were a lot higher than other nations’ levels.
An absolute commitment. By contrast, Biden’s net-zero pledge is absolute—and those absolute reductions are far bigger for Americans than for almost anyone else. Per capita, Americans emit 16.56 metric tons (mt) of carbon dioxide annually from energy and cement production, and that’s before taking account of American agriculture and a meat-and-dairy-rich national diet. Of developed nations, only Australians emit more CO2. By comparison, E.U. per capita emissions are only 7.53 mt a year; in Britain, 5.65 mt, and in France, only 5.20 mt. Small wonder then, that Britain’s Boris Johnson and France’s Emanuel Macron like to grandstand their net-zero commitments—but then, neither country has experienced America’s hydrocarbon fracing boom.
Since 2005, America has boosted its production of natural gas by 75% and since 2008, of crude oil by a spectacular 145%. To give up being the world’s hydrocarbon superpower represents a huge strategic and economic sacrifice that no other country is making. And yet, an even greater one is being demanded. Enforcing net-zero requires continuous state interventions across society to bring about unprecedented changes in people’s lifestyles and habits, with more bans, rules, and taxes sustained not over a few electoral cycles but over the next three decades. Put simply, net-zero is incompatible with federalism and the separation of powers. It therefore requires America to make the ultimate sacrifice: to abrogate its Constitution for the duration of the climate emergency.
Rupert Darwall is a senior fellow of the RealClear Foundation and author of THE CLIMATE NOOSE.
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