In recent years, apocalyptic predictions of climate change have been popular. As politicians and activists push their preferred policies to supposedly prevent climate change, their claims of what will happen if we do not adopt them grow more severe. One politician claimed, “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” I remember hearing similar predictions while growing up in the early 2000s about the ozone layer and polar ice caps. But their fearmongering overstates the dangers posed by a changing climate, and their solutions are unlikely to fix the problem. Indeed, their solutions will likely cause even more problems, especially for states where fossil fuels are a staple of their economy.
One of the more radical proposals to fight climate change involves making the United States carbon neutral by a specific year, such as 2030 or 2050. To do this, activists want to transition to an electrical grid that runs on renewable sources of energy. Such a process would be expensive, costing nearly $6 trillion. Beyond the dollar cost, such an act would require massive amounts of land. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institute, wind and solar generation need ten times as much land to produce a similar amount of energy as coal or natural gas. We simply do not have the land necessary to make this happen. For a typical power system that has peak demand of 4,000 megawatts and an energy demand of 19,000 gigawatt-hours, 650 square miles of land would be needed to power this system with solar energy. To power this system with wind, 1,600 square miles would be needed. By contrast, a nuclear power plant would need 4 square miles and traditional coal and natural gas plants a little less than that.
Even at such a cost, oftentimes, changes to renewable sources of energy do not provide significant reductions in carbon emissions. On average, solar power can operate at capacity only 25.7% of the time, and wind power is only able to operate 34.6% of the time. Due to this inconsistent generation, these energy sources require reserve generation, which often comes from traditional fossil fuels, burned less efficiently than traditional generation. If fossil fuels are banned, then the United States could face challenges with rolling blackouts. Last year, California experienced its first rolling blackout in 20 years due to the failure of government officials to account for inadequacies in the state’s solar production.
The effects of these harmful policies are not limited just to energy production. Researchers at the Potsdam Institute found that climate change policies that reduce energy availability would cause more harm to food production and worsen rural poverty more than climate change itself. This would essentially reverse a century of gains in economic security due to industrialization. It is hard to see how this outcome would qualify as being “better off.”
What is even more perplexing are policies included in proposals like the Green New Deal that have nothing to do with climate, policies such as universal basic income and single-payer healthcare. Ignoring their lack of impact on the climate, these policies are still bad. Perhaps all this apocalyptic talk around climate change serves the fearmongers by getting support for pet policies that would otherwise have low support.
The effects of climate alarmism go beyond just bad policy. The fearmongering by activists and politicians has had a severe negative impact on the mental health of our nation’s youth. And why wouldn’t they feel anxiety and fatalism when they have adults telling them they might not grow up as a result of climate change? This type of anxiety has become so commonplace in children that psychologists have given it its own label, eco-anxiety. Among the consequences of eco-anxiety is an increase in suicide rates.
Despite all of the alarmism and doomsday predictions from climate activists, there is reason to be optimistic about our current situation. Humans have an amazing capacity to adapt and innovate. The world has been improving over the last century. Natural disasters, like the wildfires that rocked California last year, are portrayed as evidence of the disastrous effect of man on climate change. However, these disasters are not a new phenomenon, either in frequency or severity. Furthermore, many of these disasters are due to poor management and policies. In fact, deaths from natural disasters across the board have decreased dramatically since 1900. This is largely due to human ingenuity and innovation. So, whatever challenges do come our way, mankind can overcome them without costly government mandates and programs, and without the constant and harmful fearmongering of some climate activists.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.