80 by 50: Why Climate Science Doesn’t Matter Any More

So I’m away again this weekend at a conference doing my typical think-tanky stuff, and surprisingly my Internet access is strangely limited, so posts may be sporadic.  But I thought it worth sharing one of my four “heterodox propositions” about energy and climate that I offered to a small audience last night.

It is this: climate science doesn’t matter any more.  While the arguments between the alarmist and skeptics camp will grind on—very likely to the detriment of the alarmists—what has really turned climate change into the biggest environmental cul de sac of all time is the brutal arithmetic of energy use.  In a fit of madness, the climate campaign a few years ago put forward the conclusion that meeting the greenhouse gas stability target required an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050 by the whole world, not just the United States or Europe. This is a very short time frame when you keep in mind the enormous capital cost of the world’s energy infrastructure and the fact that energy transitions are historically very slow.

I was among the first, five years or so ago, to do the arithmetic to point out that this goal of climate policy orthodoxy would require scaling back fossil fuel use in the United States to the level last seen in the year 1910, when the U.S. had a total population of only 92 million people, and was less than 1/40th the size of today’s economy in real terms.  By 2050 we’ll have a population of more than 400 million people, and the emissions reduction target of climate policy means that our per capita emissions will have to be about 2.4 tons of CO2 per person.

Are there any nations that emit at that low a per capita level?  Yes—in fact there are! Haiti, Somalia, and the other poorest and most backwards nations are all in that neighborhood.

Keep that 80 by 50 target, as I call it, in mind.  This. Ain’t. Going. To. Happen.  (By the way, Al Gore says the emissions reduction needs to be closer to 90 or 95 percent, so don’t waste time saying “But won’t it be worthwhile to go some of the way down the field?”  Short answer: No.  Longer answer: Ask Al Gore.  He’ll say “No,” too.)

The prolonged and solemn farce of climate change policy has finally come to be understood by most responsible governments, even if not fully admitted by the climate campaign.  We’re not going to go very far down the road toward a world of serious carbon constraints for the simple reason that it is economically unserious.  This is why the all of the early regimes of carbon constraints are collapsing or retreating—Europe’s ETS, Australia’s emissions tax, Canada formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol (which is a dead letter anyway), etc.  As I’ve been saying for a long time, we’re someday going to look back on the entire Kyoto process as the climate policy equivalent of the Kellogg Briand Pact of 1928 that promised to end all war.  Or maybe we’ll see it as the climate policy equivalent of wage and price controls to fight inflation in the 1970s.

This will remain the case even if catastrophic climate change turns out to be true.  But as Walter Russell Mead likes to point out, the climate campaign is probably the single most incompetently led social movement ever.  So they have only themselves to blame for the dead end they’ve led us to.  So they can keep stamping their feet, blaming the Heartland Institute for all evil in the world, and throwing up more scare stories that people long ago started to ignore, and it won’t change the fact that their remedy—the jihad against fossil fuels—is going nowhere.

Perhaps later I’ll post up my three other heterodox propositions.