White: Climate change policies driven by power, not science

  • Kathleen Hartnett White
  • Special to the American-Statesman
3:49 p.m Monday, June 20, 2016 Opinion

The technologies that drove the shale revolution are neither new nor high risk. Fracking has been around since 1947 and horizontal drilling since the 1980s. The historic breakthrough that led to the shale revolution was George Mitchell’s combination of the two technologies in 1998: fracking in the horizontal well bore, targeting the plentiful but previously noncommercial tighter hydrocarbon bearing zones.

As has been the case for decades, a large contingent of environmentalists treat oil and natural gas as inherently villainous. Yet, these fuels are integral to modern prosperous societies, have lifted billions out of poverty and offer the chance for health and economic growth in the poorest countries on the earth. Fossil fuels have amplified our food supply. Natural gas-based fertilizer accounts for 40-60 percent of the global supply. Well over half of the materials and fibers that fill our homes, offices and hospitals are made out of fossil fuels. We are so swathed in energy services that we don’t even notice their presence. Even our small, clean smartphones are energy guzzlers, consuming more electricity than all of global aviation.

The crucial fact omitted from the debate surrounding man-made global warming is that there are no alternative energy sources that can replicate the performance of fossil fuels right now. Lavishly subsidized renewables cannot provide the concentrated, abundant, affordable, reliable, versatile and controllable energy that fossil fuels can. Consider how Germany’s aggressive deployment of subsidized wind and solar facilities turned electricity into a “luxury good.” With retail electric rates now three times higher than the U.S. average, almost a million German homes no longer can afford electricity and have reverted to burning wood. Using taxpayer money to subsidize renewables to the tune of perhaps $175 billion over the last ten years in the U.S. is transfers wealth from the poor to the rich. Meanwhile, the private sector-driven shale revolution has spurred a U.S. energy renaissance while creating tens of thousands of jobs and dramatically lowering the cost of energy.

Americans now use around two hundred times more energy than in 1800, and all but a trace of this is derived from fossil fuels. Since fossil fuels were first harnessed less than two centuries ago, our life expectancy is now three times longer and average income per person has risen ten- to twentyfold. As late as 1900, the workweek was 72 hours – 12 hours per day for six days. The colossal productivity made possible by fossil fuels shortened the workweek and increased per capita income, leading to the emergence of an enduring middle class with upward mobility. Do we really want to reverse this trajectory and restore the misery of pre-industrial societies when a small sliver of elites enjoyed the fruits of energy while the majority of society was trapped in gnawing poverty?

Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, and carbon is certainly not a poison. Carbon is the chemical basis of all life on earth. Our bones and blood are made out of carbon. A natural, trace gas in the Earth’s atmosphere, invisible and odorless, carbon dioxide does not contaminate the air as genuine pollutants can do. Ambient CO2 has zero health impacts. This falsely maligned natural gas is better known as the “gas of life” because it is a necessary nutrient for plant growth — the food base of life on the planet earth.

No genuine empirical science is ever settled. Science begins with a theory that must then be validated by observational measurements. In the case of climate modeling, the United Nation’s predictions of dangerous warming have been at odds with NASA’s more sophisticated satellite and balloon temperature measurements. Although you won’t hear this from politicians and activist scientists, the UN’s most recent climate report admits this discrepancy and suggests that the models assumed too much climate sensitivity to man-made CO2. While a modest correlation between CO2 and temperature has been observed throughout history, it appears that rising CO2 follows rising temperatures, suggesting that CO2 may not be the cause of warming but instead a symptom of it. And we still know little about how other natural variables impact climate. What role does our sun play? The sun is the source of over 99 percent of the energy in the earth’s climate.

Since its inception 30 years ago, the U.N. has politicized and driven climate change alarmism. Climate science should continue but under normal scientific transparency. The current state of the UN science is not validated and politically corrupt. It’s truly remarkable that some propose it as justification for dismantling our fossil-fueled energy system that our very lives depend on. As with so many politicized issues, the climate issue is not about the weather, the environment or energy. It’s about power, over our economy and over our lives, at the expense of liberty and the human condition.

View full experience