If the answer to that is the federal government, then it should ask what the possible remedies are, whether any of them (and if so, which ones) are likely to be efficacious in solving the problem, what possible unintended negative consequences the proposed remedies might have, and whether the negative consequences would be worse than the original problem they were meant to solve. If, after all these questions are asked, the federal government should take action to address the problem at issue, it should then ask which policies or set of actions it can undertake will produce the result aimed at, at the least cost, in terms of both economic costs and in terms of restrictions on liberty.
The above serves as a preface for my thoughts on the Biden administration’s early actions to reduce America’s fossil fuel use: taking the United States back into the Paris climate agreement; retroactively rescinding the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline; and placing a 60-day moratorium (which I expect will morph into a complete ban) on future oil and gas auctions and leases. These steps are a down payment on Biden’s larger, comprehensive effort to make the battle against climate change the central unifying point of his presidency. As I explain below, they are all futile.
Anyone who has ever read CCW or anything else I’ve written on climate change, or heard me speak on the topic, knows my views on the matter: the evidence indicates climate change is happening, as it has happened throughout the Earth’s history; humans are at most only minor contributors to global climate change, though human development has had and can have an outsized effect on climate on a local and regional scale; the best science indicates present climate change is not causing global disasters and does not threaten human survival or human or environmental flourishing, and humanity has in fact benefitted from climate change thus far; the best evidence indicates the proposals offered to fight climate change would violate personal choice and economic liberty and are likely to impose greater costs on humanity than the harms they are intended to prevent; and as such, the federal government is not warranted in restricting fossil fuel development or use to fight climate change.
One can question any or all of my assessments, but before anyone challenges them, he or she should review the copious scientific literature they are grounded in, much of which can be found in the multivolume set of “Climate Change Reconsidered” books assembled by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).
In the end, my assessment of the evidence on the extent humans are contributing to climate change and its danger to us could be wrong. But even if I’m wrong about the science, and if the government is authorized constitutionally and legally to battle climate change, there is no evidence whatsoever any actions the United States takes can prevent climate change. Such efforts would be in vain, and they would harm the people of the United States by costing jobs and raising energy prices.
Biden’s actions will make people in the United States poorer than they otherwise would be. In addition, Biden’s reengagement with the Paris agreement and his ban on the Keystone XL pipeline and new oil and gas leases on federal lands will decrease state and federal revenues, increase the U.S. budget and trade deficits, and hurt the United States geopolitically. And for all these harms, nothing Biden has done or can do will prevent climate change, because greenhouse gas emissions are rising dramatically outside of U.S. borders and thus are beyond our control—a fact of which Biden and his team are well aware.
Concerning the Paris climate agreement, it was flawed from the start. It exempted the countries with the fastest-growing emissions, the countries that already contribute most of the world’s emissions, from any emission reductions. Even before the ink was dry on the agreement, its negotiators admitted it was unlikely the emission reduction targets countries committed to would be sufficient to prevent future temperatures from rising beyond the 1.5℃ to 2.0℃ target its negotiators said was necessary to prevent climate disaster. The authors of a study in The Journal of Environment & Development confirmed this, writing, “The scientific evidence on global warming is alarming, and the likelihood depressingly small that the world can stay below a 2°C—even less a 1.5°C warming—over pre-industrial times. The Paris Agreement does not provide a blueprint for achieving these stabilization objectives.”
For Paris agreement proponents, the news has only gotten worse since then. A recent article in Live Science states, “We've already blown past the warming targets set by the Paris climate agreement, study finds.”
There is no good climate change mitigation reason for putting the United States back into the Paris agreement, especially given that the United Nations’ own data in its 2020 Emissions Gap report shows U.S. emissions have declined since the agreement was signed because of the increasing use of natural gas for electric power generation, resulting from fracking making gas abundant and cheap, whereas other countries, those supposedly proving their commitment to fighting climate change by participating in the Paris agreement, have increased their emissions.
Biden’s Keystone XL ban likewise will have no impact on climate change. After reviewing 15,500 pages of documents and environmental impact statements, the State Department under President Obama determined Keystone XL could be developed safely, was in the national interest, and would have no effect on greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. The State Department reasoned shipping oil through the Keystone XL pipeline wouldn’t increase greenhouse gas emissions, because without the pipeline the oil would still be shipped, just by rail or trucks—both of which result in far more human and environmental harm and emissions annually than shipping oil through pipelines.
The only real effect of Biden’s action will be lost jobs in the United States, lost tax revenue for the federal government and the states, and loss of trust for the U.S. government because it in effect told the Canadian government (which publicly urged the Biden administration not to cancel the pipeline), industry, and state governments that you can’t rely on the U.S. government to keep its commitments.
To be clear, leaving U.S. oil and gas in the ground will not prevent climate change, nor will erecting industrial wind and solar facilities on every inch of open ground in the United States. In a video posted by the CO2 Coalition, John Kerry, former U.S. Secretary of State when the Paris climate agreement was negotiated and Biden’s new envoy on climate change, admitted as much. Kerry said we could stop using fossil fuels in the United States and turn off the electricity across the country, and climate change would still happen because emissions growth outside of U.S. borders swamps any reductions the United States could make.
China is building hundreds of new coal-fueled power stations, both within its borders and, as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to increase its influence around the world, across Africa and Asia. India and other developing countries are also investing heavily in coal power. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t blame them. They need to develop their economies, their people deserve access to modern conveniences, and coal is abundant, relatively cheap, and reliable. But if you think greenhouse gas emissions are causing dangerous climate change, you should oppose mass building of new coal plants in these countries and praise the United States for switching to natural gas.
Under the logical dictum of “ought implies can,” because the United States can’t control climate change and Biden and his team know we can’t, he ought not to force the American people to waste scarce resources, limit our liberty, and diminish the economy in a vain effort to do so. Unless one assumes Biden and the people surrounding him are abjectly stupid and immune to truth, one can only believe they have unspoken, ulterior motives for pursuing policies that restrict America’s energy supply, reduce its energy flexibility, weaken its economy, and make the country less competitive on the world stage.
Perhaps the pursuit of the pan-global elitist dream of large-scale economic and social engineering along the lines of a “Great Reset” is the real reason why Biden et al. are pushing policies restricting American fossil fuel use.
SOURCES: NIPCC; Stopping Socialism; CO2 Coalition; United Nations; The Journal of Environment & Development; Live Science
Dr H. Sterling Burnett is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.