Maintaining U.S. living standards and national security depends on the reliable, ample, and affordable flow and conversion of hydrocarbon energy sources – oil, gas, and coal – that supply 80% of the world’s growing energy supply. Hydrocarbons lifted humanity out of millennia of darkness and squalor and remain indispensable for all aspects of our daily life, including our domestic food and water supplies, our mobility, national security, and economic growth.
While massively beneficial, hydrocarbons also generate negative externalities, greenhouse gas emissions among them. The climate is warming and human activities, principally accumulating carbon dioxide from hydrocarbon combustion, exert a physically small but growing effect upon it. While the science is far from settled regarding how the climate will change under human influences and the net economic and environmental impacts of those changes, the issue requires a serious and sound policy response.
The prevailing narrative held by the current administration and many activists is ineffective, unscientific, and endangers America’s economic growth and national security, as well as the environment it claims to protect. Moreover, it is damningly silent on how to provide reliable and affordable energy to the six billion people who need more energy to improve their lot.
This narrative starts by misrepresenting the science to alarm the public and then demands the expunging of hydrocarbon energy from our energy options. The Green New Deal demands the solution of a permanent “wartime mobilization” on the nation and world. Its radical policy prescriptions include extensive government central planning, rationing of energy resources, individual compulsion, and punitive taxation. Their climate narrative defies physics, economic and political realities, human behavior and expectations, and rationality. It will therefore fail, as it should.
The United States and rest of the world need a new and improved blueprint for a sound and serious climate policy. Sound strategy must leverage practical but serious policies to address the real risks posed by human impacts on the climate while protecting free market capitalism, a healthy economy and environment, and national security and providing adequate energy to those who need it. Our blueprint for a sound and serious climate policy has three pillars:
1. Depoliticize and honestly explain to non-experts both the scientific certainties and uncertainties, as well as technical and economic realities;
2. Apply sound economic and cost-benefit principles to all strategies and fuels; and
3. Legislate at home and lead abroad.
1. Depoliticize and accurately represent the science and technologies
The foundation of any sound and serious climate policy must be complete, transparent, and unbiased descriptions for non-experts of the scientific understanding of climate and human effects upon it. Such honest summaries are critical to assess the costs and benefits of policy options in the context of certainties and uncertainties in the science.
Climate science is complex, and most citizens and leaders are not climate scientists. The public’s current understanding of “The Science” is distorted by the media and politicians who demand an almost religious conformity with their narrow viewpoint. They brand anyone – climate experts and non-experts alike - who objects to their alarmist, unscientific decrees to be a “denier.” This approach is extremely unhelpful and has backfired, particularly among conservative and independent audiences.
Given the rampant bias and intimidation, it is not surprising that the popular perception of what the science says is quite different from what the actual science says. There is scientific consensus that the climate is warming. And human activities contribute a physically small, but growing, warming influence on the climate, principally by consuming hydrocarbon energy.
However, as the veteran climate scientist and President Obama’s Undersecretary for Science at the Department of Energy Steven Koonin (among others) has noted, the science is far from settled about past human contributions to climate and is incapable of producing useful forecasts of future warming, much less human influences upon it. Historical data are often poor, natural influences on the environment are substantial, and the complexity of the physical and biological foundations of the Earth’s climate is immense. Modeling only scratches the surface.
The problem is that while the scientific research is typically transparent, rigorous, and objective, the government summaries that inform non-experts in the media, government, and citizenry are not. The U.S. government should subject summaries of the science to the same objective, rigorous peer-review that the actual science enjoys.
FAL’s Recommendations for Congress:
2. Apply sound principles and leverage all strategies and fuels
Consider all climate strategies
Policy options stemming from mitigation, geoengineering, and adaption strategies should be evaluated and debated based on their costs and benefits for climate, the economy, human wellbeing, and national security. Accurate information and analyses from existing bodies like the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) will be a cornerstone of this effort. Policymakers need to start with reliable data and information to make the best policy determinations.
Recommendations for Congress and the Executive Branch:
Prevent dependence on Chinese controlled critical minerals
Officials, investors, and companies are moving aggressively to shift away from petroleum and the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles and batteries. While the commercial viability of this plan remains to be seen, its ultimate success depends on voluntary and unsubsidized mass adoption of electric vehicles and the buildout of the electric grid and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Should vehicle electrification accelerate, U.S. and global dependence on OPEC+ oil reserve holders will increasingly shift to China, which already dominates the electric vehicle supply chain. U.S. policy must ensure neither China nor or any other power can dominate core global energy systems, including transportation.
FAL’s Recommendations for Congress (also included in FAL’s April 1, 2022 report “Creating an Arsenal of Energy”):
Foster innovation and harness free-market enterprise
Given its poor historical track record, governments should not be picking winners in the economy, especially in energy. Any policy responses should be fuel- and technology-neutral and account for market forces.
3. Legislate on climate at home and lead abroad
Congress should enact durable and effective climate policies
Congress should lead the debate and enact domestic and international climate policy. The current approach led by the executive and judicial branches yields only transient, legally vulnerable, and easily reversible domestic and foreign policies.
Lead the world toward a better climate strategy
Emissions policies are inherently global and directly impact trade, energy security, national security, development, human rights, and the environment. World governments and investors are moving ahead with climate policies and seismic investments, with or without the United States. The United States must engage and lead internationally on this issue.
The text of the 2015 non-binding Paris Agreement includes unwarranted alarmism and unrealistic targets. The United States should push for changes that would strengthen the agreement by depoliticizing science, embracing all strategies and fuels, leveraging sound principles, and clearly messaging that the purpose of the agreement is not to establish transfer payments from wealthy countries to poorer ones.
This paper is a product of the Forum for American Leadership’s Energy Working Group
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