The people who make these various carbon-emission reduction pledges do not seem to worry much about vulgar details like how to do it. To take a ludicrous example, right after Canada amped up its commitment from a 30% cut from 2005 levels by 2030 to a 41-45% cut, our environment minister told reporters they wouldn’t be increasing the carbon tax. Just sowing more magic beans or possibly weeds and salt. Which is typical of the mindset that thinks all you need is love. Including National Geographic’s “ENVIRONMENT Executive Editor” Robert Kunzig who gushed on April 20 that “By the time you read this, the Biden administration may have announced its near-term goal for U.S. carbon emissions—environmentalists have been urging a commitment to cut them in half by 2030. Would that even be possible? It will be exciting to find out.” Exciting? Not if it’s a disaster. For alarmists, their countries or both. And surely you should have some idea whether something is feasible and how, and what the challenges might be, before swaggering up to a microphone and promising it to wild applause. Because if it’s not practical, things could get ugly fast.
It’s even true politically, because if these would-be statespersons keep talking bigger and bigger without achieving anything they will eventually make enemies of their friends without making friends of their enemies. As of this spring not one G20 country was even on target to meet its existing commitments, and at some point the true believers will turn on these big-talking flops. As Greta Thunberg already seems to have done over the link between vaccines and climate or something.
Likewise, Andrew Leach of the University of Alberta just wrote for the CBC that “The fundamental problem with agreeing to reduce our emissions by the same percentage as the U.S. relative to some historic year (say, 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030) is that we'd require more stringent policies to reach that outcome.” And while authors do not write headlines, for better or worse, the CBC nailed it with this one “U.S. climate summit: Canada needs new and better policies, not another round of target bingo”.
Bingo indeed. On the other hand, it’s easier to say “new and better policies” than to devise them. And here the grand parleurs/petit faiseurs (a lovely and very apt Québecois expression) risk creating a fiscal and economic as well as political disaster by dumping vast sums of borrowed money into renewables that don’t deliver while emissions just keep rising. Which brings us to the third, even more extraordinary economic and human disaster that would result if they really tried to carry out their plans.
Trudeau may chirp that Canada is “now on track to blow past” its previous targets despite having gotten nowhere near meeting them. But he doesn’t seem to think he even needs a plan. Whereas for those who do think about practicality, Roger Pielke Jr. calculates that the United States will need to close more than one fossil fuel power plant every three days from now until 2035 without even taking time off for Christmas. Well, fuel shmuel, some may say. Texas didn’t need it, or California. But just in case you want the lights to stay on, Willis Eschenbach calculates that for the U.S. to replace that power with something that works, namely nuclear, it needs to “find sites, do the feasibility studies, get the licenses and the permits, excavate, manufacture, install, test, and commission two 2.25 gigawatt nuclear power plants EVERY WEEK UNTIL 2030, STARTING THIS WEEK.” (And one a week just to replace electricity generation if we forget about transportation and other uses.) Will it be exciting to find out if that can happen?
Meh. NBC is among those who don’t so much dismiss such warnings as never notice them. As it also doesn’t worry that Biden is not the King of America but just the president in a system that rather limits executive authority. Instead His Majesty goes abracadabra and we are all saved. Specifically, “the White House argued that it can achieve a 50 percent cut by the end of the decade by targeting the biggest-emitting sectors, including zeroing out emissions from power plants by 2035, boosting energy efficiency for homes and businesses, cutting tailpipe emissions through regulations and incentives for electric vehicles, and expanding ‘carbon sinks,’ like forests and agriculture. ‘We see multiple paths to reaching this goal,’ an administration official said.” Note how casually NBC glides past “zeroing out emissions from power plants by 2035” without inquiring into the details. Go plant a tree or something.
To its credit, the New York Times does acknowledge that “Mr. Biden’s target of 50 percent to 52 percent by the end of the decade calls for a steep and rapid decline of fossil fuel use in virtually every sector of the American economy and marks the start of what is sure to be a bitter partisan fight over achieving it.” But these political difficulties do not seem to the Times to be connected with any rational questions about its necessity or practicality or indeed ease. Rather, it quotes John Kerry breezing past them.
“John Kerry, President Biden’s global climate change envoy, said he believes the United States will meet and possibly even surpass the new goal. Speaking at the conclusion of the first day of the summit, Mr. Kerry called the goal ‘ambitious but appropriate and achievable’ and said the market is moving faster than expected in creating renewable energy and new breakthroughs are likely on the horizon in battery storage and other areas. ‘Is it doable? Will we probably exceed it? I expect yes,’ Mr. Kerry said.” (And he would know because?, we ask snidely.)
The stories do admit that Biden might have a hard sell if other countries infamous for their massive emissions don’t act. As some may not, including India rather vocally, while Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaped into inaction with a pledge to throw half a billion dollars at “four new hydrogen hubs” and hope Net Zero comes out. Activists blazed with fury, but when don’t they? Including some American liberals strangely persuaded that Communist China intends to fight climate change, unlike their own country.
NBC, for instance, chirps that “China’s President Xi Jinping, the first world leader to speak at the summit, reaffirmed that his country aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and would, he said, ‘strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030.’ The commitments are not a new pledge, but are seen as ambitious for China, which is the world’s biggest carbon emitter. Still, China’s targets fall behind those of other developed nations.” Um yeah. Imagine if Biden promised to peak before 2030 and get to Net Zero by 2050. These same people cautiously optimistic about China’s deceptive promises would microwave him, roasting being just too carbon-intensive.
The long and short of it is that the Net Zero enthusiasts have, with very rare exceptions not represented in politics, not done the math. And one day soon it will do them instead.