- - Monday, September 29, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama boasted to the United Nations General Assembly last week that America is working hard to deal with what he called the “one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.” The president explained, “The United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy … . We now harness three times as much electricity from the wind and 10 times as much from the sun as we did when I came into office.”

Is Mr. Obama talking about enhancing energy security? That issue will certainly define the contours of what we can, and cannot, do over the next century.

No, he is talking about “stopping climate change.” After all, the president was speaking at the U.N.’s Climate Summit 2014.

However, what has climate change got to do with energy supply? The answer is — almost nothing.

It is a remarkable fact that virtually all governments now view climate change and energy supply as closely related policy issues. Climate change issues are concerned with environmental hazards, though, whereas energy policy is concerned with supplying cheap and reliable electricity supplies to industry and the populace. Where is the relationship?

Until the 1980s, there was none. That one is now perceived testifies to the effectiveness of relentless lobbying by environmentalists, nongovernmental organizations and commercial special interests toward the cause of connecting climate and energy policies. Scientific balance, good engineering practices and common sense have been casualties along the way.

The conflation of these two issues has been brought about by evangelizing the view that carbon-dioxide emissions from power generation using hydrocarbon-based fuels will cause dangerous global warming.

This unjustified idea has become so embedded in society that even prime ministers and presidents now misuse “carbon” as a shorthand for “carbon dioxide,” and then label it a pollutant to boot. During his 13-minute address at Climate Summit 2014, Mr. Obama referenced “carbon pollution” seven times and “carbon emissions” five times. That’s almost one misnomer per minute, which, sad to say, is only too typical of the president’s speeches on the topic.

In reality, carbon dioxide is environmentally beneficial; it is the elixir of life for most of our planetary ecosystems, and to label it as a pollutant is, therefore, grotesque rather than merely just wrong.

Second, the amount of carbon dioxide produced by human industrial processes is less than 5 percent of natural emissions from the atmosphere and ocean. Third, and most important of all, despite carbon dioxide being a greenhouse gas, no evidence exists that the amount humans have added to the atmosphere is producing dangerous warming, or, indeed, any measurable temperature rise at all.

Many negative consequences flow from inappropriately connecting energy and global-warming issues. Foremost among them has been a lemminglike rush by governments to massively subsidize what are otherwise uneconomic sources of energy — solar and wind power in particular.

In 2013 alone, worldwide investment in renewables (excluding large hydropower) amounted to a staggering $214 billion, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. The agency explains that this rate of expenditure needs to more than double by 2030 in order to achieve the fantasy-world goal of restricting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Mr. Obama and his activist allies paint alternative energy sources as environmentally virtuous because they are claimed to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, and are both renewable and supposedly clean sources of power.

Wind and solar energy are indeed renewable — when the wind blows and the sun shines. When they do not, though, it’s tough luck if a hospital needs power to perform emergency surgery. Such intermittency also makes these sources entirely unsuitable to be major contributors to a national energy grid.

Besides dramatically increasing the cost of electricity, a disaster for poor people across the world, alternative energy sources are far less environmentally friendly than activists would have us believe. Millions of birds and bats are killed every year by wind turbines, and some rare species will undoubtedly be vulnerable to extinction if the pace of wind-power expansion continues. Similarly, massive solar-power stations have a disastrous effect on desert ecosystems, especially during construction.

These problems are starting to become apparent even to the European Union, originally the world’s green-energy leader. For example, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger recently stated in Berlin that European energy policy must change from being climate-driven to being based on the needs of industry.

All nations need to recognize the historic distinction between energy policy and climate policy, analyzing and planning for each in accord with their own unique requirements and resources. This means abandoning Mr. Obama’s naive mantra that our energy choices affect global climate.

Bob Carter is former professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University in Australia. Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition.


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