David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy.
The Biden Climate Summit is not just the two day zoomfest. That show is the crescendo to a complex concert that has played out over the last few weeks. Each of the speeches by Federal Agency heads is the announcement of their part of a massive green plan — the Biden climate agenda. The speeches were predictably boring but the plan is unpredictably dangerous.
Here is my take on the whole concert, not just the snorey speeches. My focus is on how the Biden climate agenda will fail, as it surely will.
The climate action target date started out as 2050, basically a way to do nothing now. A free political promise, so widely adopted. But politicians compete to get elected, so that far distant horizon has come closer and closer. First to 2045, then 2040, 2035, until now we suddenly have 2030.
Cutting our emissions 50% by 2030 is Biden’s bid to retake the helm of the Paris Accord ship of fools. Technically it is America’s “nationally determined contribution” under the Accord. Mind you since the Paris Accord is not a Treaty this is just a Presidential Promise (to try).
2030 is just a little over 8 years away and when it comes to building big stuff, that is today. Literally, because major projects often take around 8 years from conception to completion.
In this case the projects are not just big, they are monstrously big. Completely rebuilding our electric power system for example. Or replacing our internal combustion engines with battery powered electric motors. Or getting rid of natural gas heat in all its myriad uses.
It has been firmly established that none of this can be done in the incredibly short times now being called for by national leaders. It could not be done in 28 years, much less 8.
The good news is these stupidly bold promises are going to hit the wall of impossibility. This raises the fascinating question: What will the crash look like?
Pointing out the impossibility, physical and/or economic, of these wild plans has been done carefully and repeatedly. What I have yet to see is any idea how and when this impossibility might manifest itself. We should be planning for it! So here is my shot.
It all depends on specifically how the various impossibilities are attempted. Happily thanks to the Biden Summit concert we now at least have a lot of conceptual plans. (Yes, “conceptual plan” is an oxymoron, but these plans are moronic, right?)
They are trying to fork us with two prongs — government funding and government force.
On the funding side Biden & Co are calling for truly huge sums of money, untold trillions to be exact. A lot of this just is not going to happen and hitting that wall hurts no one (except the people with their hands out for the money). This is important because a lot of people seem to think the failure of Biden’s plans will be painful. Some will, but much won’t be, and it is important to know which is which.
Mind you some of it is really good pork, making it likely to pass.
A good example of great pork is $20 billion for electric school buses. Not that we need electric buses, but every Congressional district includes one or more school districts and they get the big bucks. What Congressperson does not want to say they brought home the bacon for the schools. None. That these silly buses do nothing for education is irrelevant. Money for the schools is a vote getter. There is also billions for electric transit buses, which is iffier.
On the likely to fail side is the ask for $100 billion to subsidize electric car buyers. “I made your electric car cheaper” is not a big vote getter, more like a vote loser because it favors the wealthy, even on the side of an electric bus.
It is especially important to fight big ticket funding proposals that are actually harmful, like blanketing the country with windmills and solar slabs. Both are environmentally destructive, plus they stimulate blackouts. Again, no one is hurt if these destructive monstrosities are not built. Except the folks that make them, who are pushing them like crazy, which they are.
Things are different on the federal force side. Here the potential for hurting lots of people is very real. Especially when you force people to do things that do not work. History is full of government mandated catastrophes.
In this case a glaring example is the so-called Clean Electricity Standard or CES. This is the central feature of the proposed 50% cut. As proposed, the CES would be a law requiring the electric power industry to cut CO2 emissions a staggering 80% by the magical 2030 deadline. It has to be 80% because the other big emission sources, especially transportation, cannot do 50%. So that is 80% in just 8 years. Absolutely impossible.
I am not making this up. As part of the Summit concert, a dozen major electric power producers sent a letter to Biden saying this: “The U.S. should implement a broad suite of regulatory and legislative policies to enable deep decarbonization of the power sector, including a clean electricity standard that ensures the power sector, as a whole, reduces its carbon emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.”
The utilities love the CES because as regulated monopolies the more they are forced to spend the more they make. Rumor has it that some utilities have pointed out that it cannot be done, but they will be ignored, as all rational voices have been to date.
Under CES, failure will certainly be painful for the general public, consisting mostly of repeated blackouts. The “hitting the wall” question then becomes how bad it has to get before the political tide turns? I can see people running for Congress specifically to restore reliable power. It is that important.
Failure also looms at the international level, which makes the “we are all friends here” Biden Summit especially amusing. Under the Paris Accord, America and other relatively developed countries are supposed to provide a whopping $100 billion a year in climate funding to the developing countries. This was to begin in 2020 but it did not happen, nor will it in years to come.
This part of the Biden Summit concert is the just issued “U.S. International Climate Finance Plan”. It sets a funding target of double what Obama did, which is very far less than our fair share of $100 billion a year. Oh and the target date is 2024, or not soon. Biden’s FY2022 budget request for international climate programs is just $3 billion, or next to nothing. Even that may not get funded.
Among the Summit speeches a few developing countries touched briefly on this explosive funding issue, while no developed country mentioned it. Among the developing countries this lack of confrontation was likely a condition of their being invited to speak. The upcoming UN Climate Conference (COP 26) in November will be a different story. The Paris Accord may crash and burn when this huge money flow fails to show.
The press release on the Climate Finance Plan is funny in a way that reflects the state of the nonsense. It repeatedly says the “United States intends” to do such and such, as though the President (1) speaks for the country and (2) can carry out this intention. Neither is true. At the end it quietly says the Biden Administration “will work with Congress” on these intentions. Will beg Congress is more like it.
The President cannot do the massive things promised at the Summit. Only Congress can do them and in most cases that is looking very unlikely. In fact when it comes to Congress this showy Summit was irrelevant.
The real action is in the Senate where the Democrats have the world’s slimmest majority, namely one vote. (If a Democrat retires or dies that could quickly change.) The Democrat majority in the House is also slim, so the Congressional conditions for restructuring America by force are simply not there.
In the Senate the big game is how to get around the filibuster. There is a procedure called budget reconciliation that does not require the 60 votes that ending a filibuster does. It is for budget items and is designed to avoid government shutdowns. The Democrats are busily trying to figure out how to squeeze their massive restructuring America climate agenda through this tiny loophole. I doubt they will succeed.
As for the Summit speeches by countries, there were a few entertaining items but no surprises.
China was the funniest as they resolutely promised to try to stop growing their coal burn in the next five years or so. China already makes more electric power from coal than the US does from all sources and they are still growing fast. They also promised to try to actually cut back their coal use, by 2030. So Biden’s goal is to halve American emissions in 2030 while China’s is to maybe stop growing theirs. The stark difference speaks volumes to the stupidity of the American plan. That President Xi Jinping did not laugh is remarkable.
The U.K. had already beaten Biden to the punch by announcing a bigger 2030 cut. The Canadians increased their ambition but their government does not even have a majority. Japan also increased ambition, but last I knew they were replacing their extensive fleet of zero emission nukes with coal fired power, so going the other way on the ground.
Russia was second funniest. Putin did what he always does on climate and shrugged his shoulders. But then Russia is happy to see the most warming at high latitudes, at night in winter, since unlike Canada and the US they have built a lot of towns in Northern Siberia. They are also fielding a fleet of powerful nuclear powered icebreakers, trying to open the Northeast Passage to commercial shipping. Global warming? Bring it on!
About all Biden got out of this zoomfest internationally is that everybody showed up, which is not nothing. I am sure Kerry had a lot to so with getting all these big ducks in a row. He probably coached every speech, diplomatically to be sure.
As the press coverage makes clear, the real show was the waves of program announcements from the Biden Department and Agency heads. Many of these programs have foolishly been portrayed as real, when they actually await Congressional authorization and funding, which may never happen.
So here we have it, the glorious Biden climate plan, all dressed up with no place to go. They should have had a runway. Shows over, now let’s see what really happens.
Given that most of the Biden plan is either impossible or destructive, and all of it is wildly expensive, my bet is that very little of it will ever be implemented. The ridiculous target of 2030 almost guarantees it.
They are speeding up to hit the wall harder. The truly interesting question is just how the wreck will happen. Stay tuned!
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