Biden’s climate policies: Adrift in economic and scientific fantasyland
In his groundbreaking 2011 book, “Civilization,” Harvard scholar Niall Ferguson memorably observed that “Western elites are beset by almost millenarian fears of a coming environmental apocalypse.” These fears were prominently on display at the recent climate summit for world leaders hosted by President Biden. At this gathering, Biden not only recommitted to the goals that President Obama endorsed in the 2015 Paris Agreement but pledged an even greater U.S. contribution, including a doubling of financial aid for low-income countries to support climate improvement plans.
Few specifics on costs were put forth at the summit, save the obvious fact that the greatest burdens would fall upon the U.S. economy. Also not on the agenda was any discussion of the March report of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which bluntly stated that $131 trillion would have to be spent on clean technologies by 2050 in order to meet current climate goals. Rather oddly,White House climate czar John Kerry assured the conference, “No one is being asked for a sacrifice. This is an opportunity.” Yet, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, economists and climate analysts alike contradict Kerry’s bland assurances while insisting that sharply reducing emissions would entail “staggering costs and looming political battles.”
Further adding an air of unreality to the whole climate discussion is the beyond naïve belief that developing nations such as China and India — which have lifted hundreds of millions of their citizens out of poverty on the basis of huge increases in energy production, mainly coal — will consent to short-circuiting their own economies on the basis of a presumed planetary crisis that appears to be mainly an obsession of Western elites. Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the summit that his country would reduce coal consumption by an unspecified amount, but not for another five years, while artfully insisting that developed countries, particularly the United States, “need to increase climate ambition and action.” He did not mention, however, China’s 2020 decision to build new coal plants with a capacity five times the rest of the world combined.
If economics — the “how” element of climate policy conversation — is somewhat vague and unfocused, climate science — the “why” element — is even cloudier and became dramatically more so with the recent publication of Steven Koonin’s book, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.” The book’s impact derives both from the nonpartisan credentials of the physicist author — a longtime provost at Caltech, President’s Obama’s chief scientist at the Energy Department, and author of more than 200 peer-reviewed papers on astrophysics, scientific computation and climate science — as well as the startling conclusions he advances, notably:
- Heat waves in the U.S. are no more common than in 1900;
- The warmest temperatures in the U.S. have not risen in the last 50 years;
- Tornado and drought frequency and severity are not trending up;
- The rate of sea level rise has not accelerated;
- Greenland’s ice sheet isn’t shrinking any faster than it did 80 years ago; and
- The net economic impact of human-induced climate change will be minimal at least through the end of this century.
Koonin makes clear that the global climate is changing and human activity is a partial cause. What is not clear at all, he insists, is the magnitude of the change and the extent attributable to human causality. Furthermore, he asserts that extreme governmental policy responses would be unwise before we have answered those two critical questions.
Needless to say, if Koonin’s book gains traction politically and/or scientifically, it could be a massive body blow to the “Science Settled/ Debate Over” consensus of the world’s climate zealots. Already they have urged Facebook to find a way to ban the book.
In a 2003 lecture at Caltech, the scientifically trained novelist Michael Crichton famously stated, “If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.” Apparently, however, this dictum doesn’t apply to those who prefer politically invented fantasies to objective scientific truth.
Let there be no doubt that what is at stake here is the most consequential of the many sweeping policy initiatives the Biden administration seeks to impose in its quest to transform this nation.
William Moloney, Ph.D., is a Fellow in Conservative Thought at Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute who studied at Oxford and the University of London. He is a former Colorado Commissioner of Education.