Anybody who has ever played chess knows that winning is extremely difficult if you are not thinking at least several moves ahead. Yet, many Americans applaud, or at least meekly accept, every move by their leaders without regard to whether it contributes to winning the game. People are constantly being conditioned to admire the act of sacrificing a piece, as a kind of virtue-signaling gesture, regardless of whether it moves us closer to victory.
As a result, politicians constantly exploit this public myopia to win votes, paying little heed to whether a particular policy or initiative is sensible and will make a meaningful difference in achieving the goals that are important to their constituents. Such short-sightedness is on vivid display when it comes to carbon emissions.
There is no doubt that carbon dioxide (CO2) is accumulating in our atmosphere, and despite some debate as to the degree and its consequences, there is a broad consensus that slowing and eventually reversing that trend is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, the climate extremists (such as these, for example) who now dominate public discourse, want to throw all prudence and judgment to the winds. They are urging politicians to implement “revolutionary” policies that have no likelihood of achieving the overall goals, oblivious to the pain they inflict, while ignoring more effective alternatives.
We are struck by the utter futility of some of these actions. Ten U.S. states will require all new cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks sold to generate zero tailpipe emissions by 2035; several jurisdictions in California have tried to prohibit the “installation of natural gas piping within newly constructed buildings”; and Australia has moved to ban gas stoves and heating. Such initiatives will make hardly a dent in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, while failing to consider the financial and lifestyle impacts this will inflict on the public. At the same time, China and India are commissioning enough coal-fired power plants to more than offset all of these climate change “triumphs” many times over.
The pièce de résistance of the climate change hysterics is the push for electric vehicles (EVs). The astronomical cost includes trillions of dollars of subsidies to enable the sale of vehicles that would be completely unaffordable without them. In addition, impending unsustainable losses by their manufacturers increasingly deprived of profits from well-liked traditional cars and trucks will threaten jobs and economic stability.
Even at the cost of such disruptions, the climate “benefits” will be small or even negative. All the upbeat predictions by the proponents of EVs willfully ignore the gross uncertainties and variabilities in assumptions about emissions and the costs involved in mining, manufacturing, charging, and decommissioning the batteries. They ignore that critical raw materials are mostly obtained from nations hostile to our interests and in timeframes that are unachievable. Their “analyses” also presume that consumer behavior can be coerced toward smaller cars, less driving, and limited EV ranges. Finally, they ignore the costs and challenges of rapid charging, a necessity for driving greater distances.
Today’s reality is that EVs are mostly for more affluent drivers who enjoy the performance benefits of these vehicles and are typically second or third cars driven half the mileage of gasoline-powered cars. Arguments to the contrary based on the number of EVs being produced conveniently ignore that 80% of those vehicles are in China.
A simple way to think about the problem is that the average twenty tons of CO2 emitted to mine minerals and produce the EV batteries are not offset by eliminating tailpipe emissions until more than ten years of typical driving. Worse, averages are misleading, and the most popular EVs in the U.S. have bigger batteries and cause this emission “breakeven point” to recede farther into the future, if it can be reached at all.
Moreover, the electricity for charging is not carbon-free. No current trends significantly alter that reality, given the cost and logistical challenges of renewable energy. Nor is account taken of the vast cost or emissions from creating the necessary charging infrastructure.
In another example of myopic policy, renewable energy in the forms of wind and solar is touted as a route to salvation. Advocates rarely, if ever, are transparent about the costs associated with intermittency, transmission from remote locations, the profligate waste of land, the challenges of offshore wind, skyrocketing maintenance issues, and ecological damage. Renewables have a place, but the subsidies to them often are futile efforts to make the uneconomic seem virtuous.
At the same time, we are virtually ignoring highly cost-effective opportunities such as small-scale nuclear power plants that could even be exported to the countries where they might displace emissions-intensive power plants. If even a fraction of the massive EV and renewables subsidies were directed to nuclear innovation and expansion, the climate would benefit far more, faster, and with less disruption and waste.
The mindset of myopic climate policies extends, as well, to other societal woes. “Progressive” approaches to crime focus on the criminal – the “root causes of crime” – while ignoring the broader impact on society and the people who depend upon the rule of law for their safety and wellbeing. Cashless bail is the poster child of this misbegotten mindset: Let’s spare the criminal from incarceration, to the detriment of the victims who so often suffer from unimpeded recidivism.
Also, consider how open-border advocates focus on the economic plight of the migrants while ignoring the broader impact on U.S. schools, health care systems, housing markets, and the burden on state and local governments. It is an example of forcing many to suffer for the benefit of the few who “smash and grab” residency in the U.S.
The mainstream media revel in narrowing their readers’ focus to the individuals the policies are designed to help, while paying scant attention to the much larger numbers who pay the price. The solution to this miasma? We must reject politicians whose willful myopia will make us poorer and our lives more difficult; and instead embrace those willing to make unpopular but evidence-based policy choices.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is the Glenn Swogger Distinguished Fellow at the American Council on Science and Health. They were undergraduates together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.