The next time you hear about a proposed measure that promises to lower greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tons per year, consider the following response: “so what?” Many of us grow up thinking that “millions” represents a massive amount of whatever it is we’re counting. The tyranny of millions is a powerful tool when placed in the hands of the PR professionals who push climate change and other environmentally driven agendas.
Replacing incandescent lightbulbs in the United States with LEDs and other technologies that were more energy efficient was supposed to fight climate change by reducing electrical consumption and thus reducing the amount of fossil-fuel electricity generated and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel combustion. I doubt the actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions associated with this program was in the millions on a net basis, since incandescent bulbs generated measurable and useful heat the LEDs do not. But it really doesn’t matter, because when you’re dealing with emissions in the billions of tons per year, a million tons here or there is hardly a blip on the radar.
We’re at the same point with the latest panacea: electric vehicles. Like LED light-bulbs, electrics will save the planet, at least according to dopey reporters and politicians. It’s a toss up whether electric vehicles are a net environmental benefit, however one feels about the "climate change" issue. You have to draw some pretty small boxes in order to make the case. One box must encompass the electric vehicle alone, specifically its lack of a tailpipe. Without a tailpipe environmentalists can congratulate themselves for not directly introducing any air pollutants into the environment whilst cruising about town. The fact that the ultimate source of the energy involves a lot of fossil fuel combustion seems not to matter, or at least not nearly so much as it mattered during the Great Light Bulb Reformation.
Nor does the tiny box consider all of the other environmental consequences associate with going electric. This includes items such as the cost of mining and refining the metals needed to make high capacity batteries, the amount of energy needed to do so, and the difficulty of disposing of the batteries when they reach the end of their useful life.
Embracing electric vehicles also necessitates a fanatical belief that unilateral action by America can significantly influence the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We cannot. Moving to electric vehicles, as it appears we are determined to do, will have no measurable effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve reduced so much that further reductions hardly matter. The future use of fossil fuels and the effect of their use on the environment is a discussion that involves China and India alone. Everyone else is merely a bystander.
For example, the once sane state of California recently passed a law that will ban the sale of gasoline powered vehicles within its borders starting in 2035. The California Air Resources Board praised the measure, saying “the proposal will substantially reduce air pollutants that threaten public health and cause climate change.” What exactly constitutes “substantial” reductions? After poking about the Energy Information Administration (EIA) a bit, it appears that making California all electric is pretty inconsequential from an environmental point of view, even if it can be done, which is very doubtful.
The law does not outlaw driving gasoline powered vehicles in the state, it merely bans their sales within the state. Like most draconian measures it’s unlikely that the ban will do much to change the mix of vehicles on the road, it will merely shift where people who chose to drive gasoline powered vehicles purchase them. Automobile dealerships in Oregon, Nevada and Arizona ought to send thank you notes to Sacramento.
While recognizing the implausibility of eliminating use of the internal combustion engine in California, it’s interesting to examine what would happen if such a thing were possible. First of all, California would need to come up with more power – a lot more power. According to EIA data the state consumes about 2,625 trillion Btu of energy annually producing electricity. Motor vehicles consume an additional 1,465 trillion Btu of energy from gasoline. If one is not using gasoline, the energy has to come from somewhere. The 1,465 trillion Btu represents around 21,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity that would have to be added to the grid. That’s about as much energy as a mid-sized state like Illinois requires on a typical summer day.
Currently, wind and solar power represent about 20 percent of California’s energy portfolio, generating about 7,000 megawatts on average. If all the additional electrical demand is to be met by wind and solar, they would have to quadruple that portion of their portfolio. Possible? Maybe. Expensive? More and more eyesores? More and more bird strikes? More and more rolling blackouts? You bet.
Would the woke "sustainable" fantasy save planet Earth? Ignoring the fact that building and operating all those windmills and solar farms involves the use of fossil fuels, and also ignoring the fact that you’d have to have fossil-fired backup power because neither wind nor sunlight are reliable energy sources, you get a theoretical carbon dioxide emissions reduction of about 24 million tons per year.
Sure, 24 million tons sounds like a big number, but it’s really not. That’s about as much China emits every 12 hours. Or to look at it another way, given that global carbon dioxide emissions are about 36 billion tons per year, California’s fantasy would reduce that number by about 0.03 percent.
The simple fact is that if you really think we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s all about China. America could reduce her greenhouse gas emissions to zero and the amount of carbon dioxide would still continue to increase based on China’s past and projected rate of growth. Did you know, for example, that last year world wide coal consumption hit an all-time high? That didn’t happen because of coal-fired power plants in the United States. Our coal fired generation capacity continues to dwindle. The bulk of the coal is going to China and, to a lesser extent, India.
But we are talking California, so solving a make-believe problem using a pretend solution shouldn’t surprise anyone. As far as environmental policies go, California remains Fantasyland, and Tinkerbell rules.