The White House will, in effect, be hosting the highest-powered Zoom call ever with a virtual summit on climate this week.
Everyone who is somebody will participate. Vladimir Putin (otherwise occupied in killing his chief political rival and plotting a potential invasion of Ukraine) and Xi Jinping (taking time out from grinding Hong Kong to dust) will be there, as well as Pope Francis and Bill Gates.
In addition to the usual environmental officials, the Biden administration will trot out the secretary of Defense and the director of national intelligence, who are now charged with protecting the United States against alleged threats emerging from greenhouse gas emissions.
The storyline will be big, ambitious goals for reduced emissions and a renewal of U.S. “credibility” after President Donald Trump supposedly trashed it by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords.
Biden is expected to announce a commitment to cut U.S emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030.
This will be greeted by huzzahs from elite opinion makers, but this commitment, and this entire effort, is misbegotten.
A key theory driving it is that if the U.S. cuts its emissions, everyone else around the world will as well, preserving the Earth as we know it.
But even well-intentioned countries are liable to miss, or to manipulate, their climate targets, whatever they say. And not all countries are well intentioned.
Consider China, which the Biden administration has been desperate to get on board. Amazingly enough, climate envoy John Kerry was the first Biden official to visit China, signaling that climate change is more important to the administration than China’s threatening behavior toward Taiwan, its aggression in the South China Sea, its suppression of the Uighurs, its predatory trade practices, or its theft of intellectual property.
Kerry got verbiage from the Chinese about tackling climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”
This is a great coup, just not how Kerry imagines. Every time we pump up China as a partner on the climate we feed the ridiculous pretense, which President Xi is desperate to create, that China is a good global citizen overwhelmingly concerned with the planet’s welfare.
It’s highly doubtful China is going to reach peak emissions in 2030, or zero by 2060, its latest promise. Beijing is bringing a massive amount of coal-fired power plants on line. Regardless, it’s not clear how high the Chinese emissions peak is going to be, or what the trajectory will be after it hits it.
And who’s going to hold China accountable for its climate pledges, and how, precisely?
If the Chinese fall short of their pledge in 2030, by which time we may have fought and lost a hot war with China over Taiwan, what are we going to do to punish or correct them? If we can’t get them to stop committing genocide in Xinjiang province today, are we really going to bring them to heel over excess emissions nearly a decade from now?
That aside, the U.S. pledge itself is not very credible. Would it really survive the advent of a Republican Congress, possibly as soon as next year? 2030 is two years after the end of what would be Biden’s second term. In political terms, it is an eon from now and no one can say what crises will potentially have emerged to overwhelm the current obsession with climate change.
Besides, trying to meet the goal will be harmful to the economy. It is inarguable that alternative sources of energy are more expensive than fossil fuels and drive up costs. Both Germany and California, which have made major commitments to wind and solar, have amply demonstrated this fact. There’s no way to make wind and solar competitive with conventional energy. Subsidies only mask the higher costs, and new “green energy jobs” can’t compensate for the adverse economywide employment effects of higher energy costs.
The cost-benefit calculation doesn’t make sense, either. As Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute notes, the upshot of the Paris Climate Accords would have been a reduction in the global temperature of .17 degree Celsius by 2100, based on calculations using the EPA’s climate model.
To do more than nibbling around the edges of climate change would require restrictions on economic activity too onerous to contemplate. The point was illustrated by the pandemic, which, by grinding economic to a near-halt around the advanced world, drove unprecedented reductions in carbon emissions. Now that things are beginning to return to normal, carbon emissions are recovering smartly.
This is why, at the end of the day, the virtual climate summit will be showered with media adulation and self-congratulation, but achieve little besides making energy more expensive.
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