Reality Bites the Green Movement
Thomas Friedman had a very strange column -- even for him! -- in the New York Times recently entitled “A Scary Energy Winter Is Coming. Don’t Blame the Greens.” The headline captures pretty well what Friedman obviously wanted to say, namely that the exploding energy prices we are already beginning to see, and the shortages that Europe, especially, is bracing for, are not the fault of the environmentalist movement. But Friedman seemed to struggle making any kind of a case to that effect. Perhaps that's because there is none -- environmentalism really is at the heart of the matter, if not the whole of it. So he just sort of talks around the problem, and his ramblings are ultimately rather revelatory.
Friedman begins by fretting that the mounting crisis will, 1- "[M]ake Vladimir Putin the king of Europe," 2- Empower Iran to build atomic weapons, and 3- (apparently worst of all) cause blackouts in the U.K. during the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, embarrassing the all-in-on-wind government of Boris Johnson. Friedman is very aware of how bad things are shaping up to be:
Natural gas and coal prices in Europe and Asia just hit their highest levels on record, oil prices in America hit a seven-year high, and U.S. gasoline prices are up $1 a gallon from last year.
He's concerned about predictions that this might be an especially brutal winter, and quotes with alarm a recent newsletter by market analyst Bill Blain who said simply, “This winter [in Great Britain and Europe] people are going to die of cold." But then Friedman articulates the thought which seems to central to his foreboding: If these concerns are realized, he says, "I fear we’ll see a populist backlash to the whole climate/green movement."
I'm glad he's got his priorities straight.
Tom Friedman, green as ever.
This type of thinking is so typical of the environmentalist approach to the real world problems that arise from the relentless pursuit of their ideological goals. Governments around the world have been giving way to their pressure for years, mandating the transition to unreliable energy sources and creating increasingly onerous regulatory hurdles the traditional resource industry must meet.
But then the wind stopped blowing and the sun didn't shine enough and scaled-back production meant the oil and gas companies didn't have enough product in storage. At which point Friedman & Co. say, not 'We screwed up,' but 'The populists are going to say we screwed up!' It's never the Green movement's fault.
Now, perhaps I'm being unfair to Friedman -- he does suggest that developed nations have attempted to transition to renewables too quickly, and criticizes the clearly foolish decision of the Merkel government in Germany to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by next year ("an overreaction to the Fukushima nuclear accident," he explains). Even so, his solution to the current problem includes "a carbon tax in every major industrial economy" and using nuclear power and natural gas as a bridge to wind and solar power. Sounds like just more of the same to me.
Actually, the Earth Didn't 'Heal' Itself
Early on in the pandemic, former Greek finance minister (and current lefty activist) Yanis Varoufakis posted the following now-infamous tweet:
It was a perfect example of what the very online call "saying the quiet part loud," an admirable tendency of Varoufakis. The idea was that the δῆμος (or the plebs for us descendants of western Europe) were responding pretty well to the unprecedented government intrusion into their everyday lives, and that post-Covid we should extend the state of emergency in order to put an end to "climate change."
It was essentially the opening salvo of the Build Back Better/Great Reset discourse, and also anticipated the "Earth is Healing Itself" trope which emerged shortly thereafter. Since the Earth is doing such much better with us behind closed doors, went this line of thinking, perhaps we should stay there.
Well, unfortunately for Varoufakis and other likeminded leftists, the lockdowns don't seem to have effectively laid the groundwork for their green utopia. Jim Geraghty points out that climatologists are now saying that "carbon dioxide emissions fell by [only] 5.8 percent" due to the Covid-related lockdowns, which "merely amounts to a short-lived 'blip'" on the scale of global CO2 emissions. Geraghty explains the significance of this finding:
The global impact of COVID-19 is difficult to overstate. The earth literally grew quieter for several months, causing human-caused vibrations around the globe to be cut in half. At least 3 million excess deaths in 2020, a global working-hours impact four times worse than the 2008-2009 financial crisis, about $4 trillion in lost productivity, a huge drop in global gross domestic product, school closures for roughly 1.5 billion children around the world. This is about as big and bad as anyone could imagine, short of World War Three or the apocalypse. And if this kind of a halt to all kind of human activity wasn’t enough to have a significant impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, then no change in human behavior is going to make a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
In point of fact, it's hard to conceive of a more illustrative and visceral argument for our side of this debate. "You want to use the power of the government to massively reduce carbon emissions? Well, remember how awful the Covid lockdowns were? You'll have to do a lot more than that."
Great Reset hardest hit.
Lucky for all of us, higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere seem to have some real benefits, most especially for plant life and global crop yields. And then there's the fact that technological innovations like the improvements in fracking techniques, have enabled America's transition away from high-carbon coal to low-carbon natural gas, contributing to our leading the world in total emissions decline since 2000.
So maybe true lovers of the planet should consider leaning into the American energy revolution and embracing their ancient enemies, fracking and nuclear power, and stop lobbying for western nations to heavily invest in China's toxic waste generating solar panels, which are, by the way, built using coal-fired power plants.
A man can dream.
Which way, Senator Manchin?
Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resource committee, has sent an open letter to Joe Biden imploring him to reverse his Keystone XL pipeline decision. That letter begins:
I am writing to express my support of responsible energy infrastructure development, including of oil and natural gas pipelines. Pipelines continue to be our safest mode to transport our oil and natural gas resources, and they support thousands of high paying, American union jobs. To that end, I encourage you to reconsider your decision to revoke the cross border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and to take into account the potential impact of any further action to safety, jobs, and energy security.
Manchin goes on to argue that increasing our environmentally safe pipeline infrastructure (which, he explains, have "a 99.999% safety record," much better than oil shipped by rail or highway) should be at the very heart of Biden's "Build Back Better" economic recovery plan, because it keeps "Americans working while strengthening North American economic and energy security." Indeed, the great benefit of Keystone XL and other pipeline projects is that they "maintain that energy security through strategic relationships with our allies rather than increasing reliance on OPEC nations and Russia."
This intervention is notable. The last of the Blue Dog Democrats, Manchin represents the now-heavily Republican (and resource heavy) state of West Virginia. A former governor of that state, Manchin's margins of victory have shrunk in each of his senate races, and in 2018 he only won by about three percentage points. His next election will come during a presidential year, and in 2020 the Republican presidential candidate carried West Virginia by almost forty points. If he wants to be reelected, he will have to start getting some results.
Aware of the above realities, minority leader Mitch McConnell is no doubt courting Manchin heavily, in the hopes that he will cross the aisle and a 50-50 senate will be controlled by the GOP once more. Will letting Manchin keep the Energy committee chairmanship (over ranking Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming) be enough? Maybe giving him the Interior subcommittee (over Alaska's Lisa Murkowski) as well? Both seem doable.
At the same time, there is something to be said for being a senator from the president's own party. The real possibility that he could flip (as Jim Jeffords did in 2001, moving from the GOP to Independent and voting with the Democrats, thus ending the tie) makes him the most important senator for the White House's hopes of implementing some form of the new president's agenda, and he knows it. Manchin has already been throwing his weight around, vowing that he will not be the fiftieth vote in favor of "the Green New Deal or socialism," giving McConnell his word that he won't let his party nuke the filibuster, and voicing his opposition to further $2,000 stimulus checks for all Americans.
Still, if Biden wants to keep Manchin on his side, he'd better give him a few substantive wins that he can point to back home. Because if not, Biden's unmerited triumph in Georgia (which saw Republican own goals turn the senate blue) will have been wasted. Taking Manchin's letter seriously would be a good place to start, if not with Keystone, perhaps with other, less conspicuous pipeline projects going forward.
If not, well, he'd look pretty good in a red jersey.