Just as reality set in after President Obama nixed the Keystone XL pipeline, one senses that the extreme environmental left is beginning to position COP21 in Paris as a matter of symbolism, rather than substance.
Before the confetti and balloons hit the floor during the celebratory “We Stopped Climate Change” tour after Keystone was denied, scores of level-headed experts, journalists, and environmentalists pointed out the hollow symbolism of the campaign to stop the pipeline. I won’t rehash the details here, but the Cliff Notes version is this: Keystone, built or not, impacts climate change hardly a whit. Slowly, many of the tens of thousands of activists who bought Big Green’s narrative, came to realize that, at best, they had won a symbolic victory with which to fuel the next great fight. At worst, they had unwittingly participated in a giant network-building and fundraising exercise. For those of us who genuinely care about our environment, that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, if deployed appropriately and factually in the future.
Oren Cass, writing in Politico, dives into the nitty-gritty of the likely ‘agreement’ to come out of Paris. It includes national carbon emission goals for most countries that promise little more than to stay on each nation’s current emission trajectory. There is no penalty other than global shaming if a country exceeds its self-set target. About the only hard figure that will come out of the conference is how much money will be transferred from developed nations to developing nations. India, alone, estimates it will need $2.5 trillion to support its goal that calls for neither peaking nor reducing emissions!
Acclaimed climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, writing in Huffington Post, frames Paris in no uncertain terms:
How can such miserable failure of political leadership be explained, when Obama genuinely wants climate policy to be one of his legacy issues? Don’t blame it on the fossil fuel industry; many industry leaders are beginning to say sensible things about the direction needed. And Obama is in his final political office he could act he does not need oil industry money. My thesis is that Obama actually means well, has some gumption, and wants effective actions to be taken, but he is being very poorly advised. As a result, people at the working level have been given no effective direction and are producing little. Mostly they are working on spin. Get ready for the great deceit and hypocrisy planned for December in Paris. Negotiators do not want the global leaders to look like fools again, as they did in Copenhagen. They are determined to have leaders clap each other on the back and declare the Paris climate negotiations a success.
Let me be clear. I believe climate change, greatly influenced by mankind, is a serious threat to our environment and our way of life. I recognize my willingness to accept scientific consensus puts me at odds with many of my colleagues on the right. Even if I wasn’t confident in accepting the consensus, as a conservative, I’d want to take out an insurance policy to protect the future of my twin sons and their progeny (not to mention my favorite trout fishing waters or ski hills).
It is that insurance policy that aligns me with my friends on the right, and more often gets me into hot water with Big Green. At ConservAmerica, we call it “CLEANER, HERE, NOW”.
The United States is the only nation to reach its Kyoto goal by lowering emissions to 1995 levels. We accomplished that not with onerous command-and-control regulations, but with American ingenuity coupled with free markets. America’s shale gas revolution has produced such an abundance of cheaper, cleaner burning natural gas that we’ve been able to displace or replace coal-fired energy without missing a beat. Bob Powelson, a Pennsylvania public utility commissioner, told me, thanks to natural gas, PJM, the thirteen state regional transmission organizer, has seen its emissions of other harmful toxins reduced by 60%.
Natural gas is cleaner, here, and now. Unfortunately, Big Green lets the perfect get in the way of the good. Wind and solar are the only sources of energy to carry Big Green’s stamp of approval. Who wouldn’t want to be powered 100% by clean energy with no fuel stock costs? The problem is scale and physics. Currently, solar and wind account for 1% and 4%, respectively, of U.S. energy production. The simple physics of transforming to all wind and solar is daunting. We can do it, but the timeline may be too long and too late to accomplish the necessary emission targets.
One of the best opinion pieces in recent weeks came from a couple of professors—Joshua S. Goldstein and Steven Pinker—titled “Inconvenient Truths for Environmentalists” which appeared in the Boston Globe.
“Nuclear power is the world’s most abundant and scalable carbon-free energy source. In today’s world, every nuclear plant that is not built is a fossil-fuel plant that does get built, which in most of the world means coal. Yet the use of nuclear power has been stagnant or even contracting.
Nuclear power presses a number of psychological buttons — fear of poisoning, ease of imagining catastrophes, distrust of the unfamiliar and the man-made — and so is held to an irrationally higher standard than fossils. When a coal mine disaster kills dozens, or a deep-water oil leak despoils vast seas, nobody shuts down the coal or oil industries. Yet the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan, which killed nobody, led Germany to shut down its nuclear plants and quietly replace them with dirty coal. Even France — which gets three quarters of its electricity from nuclear power and has never had an accident — now plans to shut down many plants under pressure from environmentalists.”
Nuclear energy is another source that is cleaner, here, and now. Again, Big Green lets the perfect get in the way of the good.
The one bullet point in ConservAmerica’s CLEANER, HERE, NOW platform on which nearly everyone agrees is energy efficiency. The cheapest and cleanest energy is that which is not produced or consumed. Already, we see the market place adapting to simple economics. The energy conservation industry has exploded, from major companies like Honeywell, GE, and Google to an army of small businesses sprouting all across America to create and capture market share. Hardly a week passes without some company sending canvassers through my neighborhood to ring doorbells and pitch the potential savings on monthly utility bills by installing new windows or attic insulation. (Mark my words; the next great network marketing opportunity is going to be energy efficiency products!)
Another inconvenient truth for Big Green is, if it really wants to scale up solar or energy efficiency in America, it must cooperate with and encourage major utility companies. All too often, Big Green wages an ‘all-or-nothing’ battle with utilities. ConservAmerica is working with several utility companies to ramp up “Blue Collar Solar” (BCS). BCS permits a utility company to leverage its access to capital to install solar on homes and businesses at a much faster scale than leaving it to organic, consumer-driven growth. Every home is a potential solar generator, even those of people with credit scores under 700 or no money to make a down payment. And the utility can better integrate the solar capacity with local demand, resulting in less wasted energy and better peak load management.
ConservAmerica played a key role in a recently approved Arizona pilot program to help public schools in that state become more energy efficient. That state’s governing body, the Arizona Corporation Commission, touted the agreement in a press release on November 17.
So, back to COP21 and that “miserable failure of political leadership” mentioned by Dr. Hansen. Paris provides a unique opportunity for Republicans and conservatives who have, heretofore, been too shy to speak out on climate policy. In response to “What do you think about the Paris agreement?” here’s a stock answer:
“The answer is staring the world in the face: it is cleaner, here, now. Through innovation and technology in the U.S. natural gas industry, we’re the only nation to reach its Kyoto target. We can export LNG and technology to help other countries do the same. We need to launch a new era of nuclear power. We need to eliminate regulatory and tax burdens on the small businesses leading our energy efficiency revolution, to help every American keep more money in their pockets each month. These are reality-based solutions climate change believers and deniers can support. We need leaders to unite us, not divide us.”
About the Author: Rob Sisson is president of ConservAmerica, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for Environmental Protection. Prior to joining ConservAmerica, he spent 22 years in commercial banking. In 2000, he was named Michigan’s Small Business Advocate of the Year.