State of the Union Address reveals dangerous flaws in U.S. energy policy
Scuttling the Ship of State to appease climate activists
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Imagine you are travelling on the safest, most powerful ocean liner in the world. One day, the captain announces, “We are approaching a severe storm so we’re scuttling the ship. Man the lifeboats!”
A deck-hand explains to the incredulous passengers, “The Captain believes that big vessels like ours are causing an increase in ocean storms. So we must sink the ship!”
Hours later, the crew assure frightened passengers huddled in lifeboats, “A smaller ship is due in a few days. We’ll be fine as long as a real storm doesn’t blow up.”
In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama demonstrated that, like scuttling the best ship in the fleet to control the weather, he too is risking America’s prosperity with irrational climate and energy policies.
If it were actually true that “Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and intense”, as the President said in his address, then he should be boosting the most affordable and reliable energy sources to prepare for and cope with these hazards. After all, we would need more electricity to handle greater demands for air conditioning and heating. More power would be required to irrigate lands, build dikes, strengthen public infrastructure and relocate populations living on flood plains or at risk from tornadoes and hurricanes.
Yet, in discussing his solution to these dangers, Obama promoted wind and solar power, the least reliable and most expensive sources. He said nothing about the most reliable and cheapest energy source available—coal, from which comes half of all America’s electricity.
The President presents the transition to wind and solar as drivers of strong economic growth. This is a serious mistake. Even though wind and solar power have had decades to mature, energy from these sources still costs between three and ten times that from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. While Obama was right to say that, “Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America”, this only happened because the American government funneled vast amounts of money into subsidies for the field. The U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that for 2010, non-hydroelectric renewable electricity generation was still only 3.6% of all generation even though it received 53.5% of all federal financial support for the electric power sector.
No industrialized society can successfully replace dependable coal-fired electricity generation stations with intermittent and diffuse sources such as wind and solar. We need massive quantities of reliable, high quality power to run steel mills, Internet servers and our transportation system, even when the wind drops or a cloud passes in front of the sun. Obama’s conclusion, “So let’s generate even more [wind power]”, begs common sense.
Obama also promoted natural gas in his address. Given the vast reserves that modern fracking technology is making available, this is sensible. But it is a mistake to use natural gas to replace coal as the country’s main base load electricity source. Natural gas should be saved for domestic cooking and heating, transportation, fertilizer production and for peaking power when electricity demand rises suddenly. And, if gas resources turn out to be less plentiful than forecast, America will need its coal-fired stations to avoid freezing in the dark.
Obama’s drive to dismantle coal is not about providing energy and economic security for the country. After all, the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal with enough reserves to last for centuries. The President is basing national energy policy on the improbable hypothesis that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion is a major cause of dangerous climate change. Although coal combustion does emit more CO2 than most other sources, Obama was wrong to refer to CO2 as “dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet.” CO2 is not a pollutant. It is essential to life on Earth and its increasing concentration has led to greater agricultural productivity. And the idea that the rise in CO2 is causing a climate crisis is falling into disrepute as the world fails to warm as alarmists predicted.
Obama was also wrong to imply that “the overwhelming judgment of science” supports man-made climate catastrophe theories. It has never been demonstrated that there is any consensus about the causes of climate change among scientists who specialize in this research. Polls that have attempted to make this connection either asked the wrong questions or are so methodologically flawed that they cannot be taken seriously.
Even if there were a climate crisis of our making, Obama’s expensive energy policies would have little climatic impact as long as China, which derives 80% of its electricity from coal and is planning to build 500 coal‐fired plants over the next ten years, continues on its current path. To say they are “going all-in on clean energy”, as the President did in his address, is simply a mistake.
Obama warned Congress that if it doesn’t enable climate legislation soon, he will direct his Cabinet to devise “executive actions” that he could use to force strong climate policy on the country. If he fulfils this threat, his legacy will be one of mass unemployment and millions of Americans joining the billions throughout the world already mired in energy poverty. And climate will continue to change as it always has with the impact of America’s sacrifice being too small to even be measured.