November 17, 2023
The recycling myth – Save the planet by separating paper and plastic! – is a foundational falsity of the green movement.
By promising a relatively simple solution to an alleged problem, it has enabled the left to control behavior through a made-up morality that stigmatized dissent – Only bad people refuse to recycle.
Like most progressive interventions – from welfare policies that destroyed families while increasing dependency, to drug use reforms that have filled city streets with desperate addicts – recycling plans that sound good on paper (and plastic) have continuously collided with reality so that even liberal outlets such as the New York Times (“Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not”), NPR (“Recycling plastic is practically impossible — and the problem is getting worse”) and the Atlantic magazine (“Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Will Never Work”) have finally admitted its failures.
The same dynamic is now at work regrading a far more significant green fantasy: the left’s push to decarbonize the U.S. and other Western industrial economies during the next few decades and attain an eco-purity calculus known as Net Zero. While brandishing the moral cudgel with full force – President Biden describes climate change as “an existential crisis,” i.e., every person and puppy will die if we don’t submit to his agenda – the left also suggests the transition will be easy-peasy: Just build some windmills, install some solar panels, and swap out your car, stove, and lightbulbs for cleaner and cheaper alternatives.
Though much of the cheerleading media downplays this fact, it is already clear that Biden’s enormously expensive, massively disruptive goal is a pipe dream. In a recent series of articles, my colleagues at RealClearInvestigations have reported on several of the seemingly intractable problems that the administration and its eco-allies are trying to wish away.
The dishonesty begins with the engine of the green economy – the vast array of wind and solar farms that must be constructed to replace the coal and gas facilities that power our economy. James Varney reported for RCI that the Department of Energy’s official line is that the installations required to meet Biden’s goal of “100% clean electricity” by 2035 will require “less than one-half of one percent of the contiguous U.S. land area” – or roughly 15,000 of the lower 48’s roughly 3 million square miles. However, Varney noted, “the government report that furnished those estimates also notes that the wind farm footprint alone could require an expanse nine times as large: 134,000 square miles. That is equivalent to the land mass of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky combined – plus all of New England.
Echoing the 19th century adage that figures don’t lie, but liars figure, the discrepancy mostly involves estimates of what can be built around the windmills. Each turbine’s footprint is relatively small, but they have to be spaced far apart. The DOE’s smaller number is based on the fanciful assumption that all the surrounding land can be used for agriculture and other purposes, while the larger figure assumes none of it will. The truth probably is somewhere in between. That the government is trumpeting the impossibly small number – while ignoring the additional land needed to build transmission lines which will carry the current to end users – is telling and troubling.
Given Biden’s aggressive timeframes for the build-out – 2035 is a mere dozen years from now – one might expect that the administration has a master plan detailing where and when these green farms will be constructed. It does not. And, as Steve Miller reported for RCI, this challenge already seems insurmountable given the “grassroots resistance … coalescing in varied new state laws and local ordinances that threaten to bog down solar and wind development in a multi-front legal and regulatory war on a scale not seen before.”
In a stinging irony, opponents are routinely invoking arguments regarding endangered species and wetlands that environmentalists have long deployed to kneecap pipelines, gas fields, and other fossil fuel projects.
Another largely ignored problem area is charging stations for electric vehicles. John Murawski reported for RCI that California’s first-in-the-nation move to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars after 2035 is highlighting an array of challenges and dislocations. To keep electric cars rolling, the state “may need to install at least 20 electric chargers for every gas pump now in service to create a reliable, seamless network” – or more than 2 million new stations during the next decade, which is about 10 times as many EV ports as gas station nozzles.
It might be hard to convince private businesses to house the chargers, because, as a 2022 report from the California Energy Commission noted, “Revenue from electricity sales alone is often not enough today for chargers to be profitable, especially for stations with lower utilization.” That’s why California is investing at least $14 billion to subsidize this fantasy.
Even if the EV infrastructure gets built, it will require a massive change in behavior. The days of fill ’er up once or twice a week will likely become a distant memory. Most public stations will only be able to provide between five and 60 miles of range for an hour hook-up. Private citizens will need to pony up for their own charging infrastructure at home, while renters and low-income drivers will have to rely on employer and municipal largesse to supply chargers.
The green dream also involves knotty geo-politico issues. Ben Weingarten reported for RCI that America’s transition to renewables is empowering its most formidable economic adversary. “China currently holds a commanding position in the clean energy industry, controlling the natural resources and manufacturing the components essential to the Biden administration’s desired alternative energy transition,” Weingarten wrote. “Energy experts believe that its dominance will become more entrenched in the years ahead because of domestic environmentalist opposition to perceived ‘dirty’ mining and refining operations, and the Biden administration’s ‘clean energy’ spending blitz – which could provide Chinese companies and subsidiaries billions in subsidies.”
What’s more, if the U.S. slows its production of oil and gas in the coming years, hostile or problematic nations that continue to drill – including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Venezuela – will reap the benefits should renewables fail to become a reliable source of power.
Finally, the systematic erasure of these and other consequential questions is part of a broad effort to quell dissenting views. While climate action advocates in the government, media, and academia argue that the science is settled, Murawski reported for RCI that a growing number of experts are courageously challenging this orthodoxy. In August, for example, “more than 1,600 scientists, including two Nobel physics laureates, signed a declaration stating that there is no climate emergency, and that climate advocacy has devolved into mass hysteria,” Murawski wrote. “The skeptics say the radical transformation of entire societies is marching forth without a full debate, based on dubious scientific claims amplified by knee-jerk journalism.”
In detailing the central arguments of these skeptics, Murawski reported that few fall into the camp of “climate deniers” – itself a shameful label used to equate climate change with the Holocaust. They acknowledge the Earth is warming. Some, however, question whether human activity is to blame and, if it is, whether the massive human interventions being demanded can make much difference. Others say that the money spent retooling the economy would be better spent spurring economic growth that will allow people to adapt to a changing world.
Murawski reported that many dissenters believe that “[S]logans such as ‘follow the science’ and scientific consensus’ are misleading and disingenuous. There is no consensus on many key questions, such as the urgency to cease and desist burning fossil fuels, or the accuracy of computer modeling predictions of future global temperatures. The apparent consensus of imminent disaster is manufactured through peer pressure, intimidation, and research funding priorities, based on the conviction that ‘noble lies,’ ‘consensus entrepreneurship,’ and ‘stealth advocacy’ are necessary to save humanity from itself.”
A lie is rarely noble. It is almost always evidence of a weak argument and contempt for those it seeks to influence. Those who see climate change as an urgent danger and believe they know how to counter the threat should make their case forthrightly instead of recycling tired myths. Our democracy faces an existential threat when the will of the people gives way to the coercion of the masses.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.