VAN DER VAART: Rejecting fossil fuels comes at high cost

“The protests in France and the demise of the Clean Power Plan may have convinced far left progressives to alter their narrative, if not their mission.”

Carbon Emissions Reduction by Country

We hear people say we should combat global warming, but it may not always be clear what that really means — even to the people urging us to join the cause. Recent events in our country and abroad illustrate that as the theory of rejecting fossil fuels is put into practice —and the real-world impacts hit close to home — the public is learning to be skeptical.

Embracing a 100 percent renewable energy infrastructure requires us to also embrace higher costs, and not just for the other guy. That’s a no-go, even in France. President Emmanuel Macron’s recent attempt to reduce CO2 emissions through a ramped-up “carbon tax” was met with violent protests. The fuel tax was needed to pay for the transition to renewable energy. Macron needed money to pay for the windmills and solar panels. Instead, his efforts caused a joining of factions from left and right as they protested the steep increases in proposed fuel taxes. While the French may be concerned about global warming, their concern has a price, and apparently it’s less than the increases sought by Macron.

Like Macron’s scheme, President Barack Obama’s mandated embrace of renewables – the Clean Power Plan— would have imposed higher costs on Americans. And with little to show for the pain. The impact on global temperatures was calculated to be essentially zero over the next 100 years. Mr. Obama sought to replace coal with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. But wind and solar energy are much more expensive and require subsidies from both ratepayers and taxpayers. Thankfully, the Trump Administration is taking steps to vastly reduce its scope while making it consistent with the law, all while the U.S. has outpaced the world in actual CO2 reductions.

The protests in France and the demise of the Clean Power Plan may have convinced far left progressives to alter their narrative, if not their mission. Newly elected Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York frames her fight against global warming as an issue of social justice.

At a recent symposium organized by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez discussed her view of the economic benefits of the demise of fossil fuel, saying, “It’s inevitable that we will create jobs. We can use the transition to 100 percent renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America.”

This is a somewhat more direct restatement of the position of former U.N. Executive Secretary Christiana Fugaeres when she discussed U.N. efforts on global warming. This, Fugaeres said, “is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.”

Maybe these leaders recognize that the environmental narrative, which asks people to pay a lot of money for a change that may or may not occur many years from now, is a tough sell. Look no further than California for evidence that even progressives aren’t interested in taking a financial hit for the cause.

On Oct. 4, 2018, a policeman was elected to replace the president of CalPERS, California’s State employee pension fund. Jason Perez ran on a platform disavowing the use of nonfinancial factors in making investment decisions for the fund. These factors included environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) criteria. The ousted president was an international proponent of this approach. The fund lost money using the ESG strategy, and it didn’t go down well. It seems that as progressive as Californians are thought to be, when their own money is at stake, global warming and other nonfinancial causes are not important enough to put their under-funded pension fund at risk.

Donald van der Vaart is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation and the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. These comments are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily express the position of the John Locke Foundation.