- - Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In his inaugural address last week, President Obama demonstrated that he is putting people at risk with misguided climate and energy policies.

If there really were an increased threat from “raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” as the president indicated in his speech, then America would need more, not fewer sources of reliable and affordable energy to prepare for and cope with these hazards. More electricity would be needed to handle greater demands for air conditioning and heating. More power would be required to irrigate drought-ridden lands, build dikes, harden public infrastructure and relocate populations living on flood plains or in harm’s way due to tornadoes and hurricanes.

Yet instead of promoting the most reliable and least expensive energy technologies, such as coal-fired electricity generation, Mr. Obama encourages the least reliable and most expensive sources. It was certainly an understatement to say, as he did in the address, “The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.” He should have added, “and virtually useless,” because the sustainable energy sources he has most in mind are wind and solar power.

The president presents the transition to these technologies as an economic benefit. He asserted, “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality.”

No, that is how you ruin a country’s economy.

Sustainable energy sources have had decades to mature. Energy from wind and solar power still costs between 3 and 10 times more than energy from conventional sources like coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. The government had to funnel billions of dollars into subsidies for “green energy” technologies just to keep them afloat during Mr. Obama’s first term, and some failed even then. The Energy Information Administration shows that for 2010, non-hydroelectric renewable electricity generation was still only 3.6 percent of all generation, but it received 53.5 percent of all federal financial support for the electric power sector.

No country, the United States included, can afford to sustain this indefinitely. Industrialized societies cannot successfully replace significant amounts of conventional energy supplies with intermittent and diffuse sources such as wind and solar. We need massive quantities of reliable, high-quality power to run steel mills, Internet servers and our transportation system, even when the wind drops or a cloud passes in front of the sun.

Energy independence is not a good reason for promoting these technologies, either. Energy independence is more easily, and much more cheaply, attained by exploiting abundant national fossil fuel reserves and those of close allies such as Canada.

Mr. Obama’s promotion of ineffective power sources and his drive to dismantle America’s cheapest energy source, coal, is not about providing energy and economic security for America. It is climate policy by stealth to appease misguided activists among his supporters.

Speaking about the common belief that climate science is somehow settled in favor of the catastrophe theories of Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Mr. Obama said, “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science.”

Yet it has never been demonstrated that there is any consensus among scientists about the causes of climate change. Polls that have attempted to make this connection either asked the wrong questions or are so methodologically flawed that they cannot be taken seriously. Yet most developed nations continue to base climate and energy policies on the conclusions of the panel’s reports, even though they have been seriously discredited.

Citing thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change presents a more realistic perspective. It shows how the intergovernmental panel has ignored or misinterpreted much of the research that challenges the need for carbon-dioxide controls. The nongovernmental panel concludes that much of the science relied upon to create multibillion-dollar climate policies across the world is almost certainly wrong.

Even if the intergovernmental panel and Mr. Gore were right, Mr. Obama’s expensive energy policies would have little climatic impact as long as China — which is planning to build 500 coal-fired plants over the next 10 years — India and other developing nations continue on their current paths.

There have been societies throughout history, such as the Greenland Vikings and the pre-Incan civilizations in South America, that collapsed because of climate change. Modern societies are more robust due to technology and international trade, yet we must acknowledge the reality that the climate does change, and there are ways we can prepare for it. Crippling America in a vain attempt to stop climate change through misguided energy policy betrays everyone.

Tom Harris is the executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition and an adviser to the Frontier Center for Public Policy.