The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse

The Empty Radicalism of the Climate Apocalypse” is the title of an article in the latest issue of the National Academies of Science journal Issues in Science and Technology by my very smart and sensible progressive (not always an oxymoron!) pal Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute. While Ted agrees with the standard or “consensus” view of climate change risk, that’s about all he agrees with the climatistas about. That’s because he actually understands how energy works.

Anyway, the article is quite long and is a bracing critique of the conventional (and superficial) environmentalist views of the issue, but I thought it worth sharing his thought experiment in the form of a “future news story” that begins the article:

“We must stop asking what the Earth can do for us,” newly elected President Jay Inslee concluded in his inaugural address, “and start considering what we must do for the Earth.”

Inslee had launched his campaign two years earlier as a longshot, single-issue candidate. But events rapidly outpaced what had begun as a boutique candidacy intended to call attention to climate change.

In the spring of 2020, another record Mississippi River flood, a brutal tornado season, drought in the Northwest, and a series of damaging thunderstorms in the Northeast brought battleground primary states into Inslee’s camp. As Democrats gathered for their convention in Milwaukee that July, three weeks of heat that approached 40 degrees Centigrade across the corn belt wiped out half the nation’s corn crop. Then, on Labor Day weekend, a category 3 hurricane made its way up the Eastern Seaboard, maintaining hurricane strength all the way to Washington, DC. Six weeks later, a category 4 hurricane took dead aim at New York City, forcing a hasty evacuation of millions of people out of Manhattan and other boroughs.

Inslee had set out to run an optimistic campaign, arguing that a Green New Deal to take on climate change would create good jobs at home and position the United States to compete for growing clean energy markets abroad. But by the time of his election, the feel-good rhetoric was unnecessary. The nation faced a crisis and President-elect Inslee was the person to fix it.

As his first act as president, Inslee declared a national climate emergency. As his second, he announced national carbon rationing. Until further notice, consumers were limited to one tank of gas per month. Based on time of year and regional climates, natural gas and heating oil deliveries to households were cut by as much as 60%. Utilities were directed to submit plans within the month to cut total electricity generation by 40% and to optimize their existing generation mix to use as little fossil generation as possible.

The rationing was dubbed temporary by the new administration, a stopgap measure until the president and the new Democratic Congress were able to mobilize the full force of the nation’s manufacturing and industrial capacities to retrofit the economy for a low carbon future. Inslee informed congressional leaders that he would relax rationing only once Congress had enacted the measures he would shortly send to the House and Senate.

Inslee delivered to Congress a sweeping package of legislation to tackle the crisis. Senate Bill 1 nationalized the power sector, centralizing the nation’s mostly private utilities under the publicly owned Tennessee Valley Authority in the East and the Bonneville Power Authority in the West. Senate Bill 2 created the National Renewable Energy Corporation with a mandate to convert domestic manufacturing capabilities to produce wind turbines and solar panels sufficient to produce 60% of the nation’s electric power with renewable energy by 2030. Senate Bill 3 created the National Nuclear Energy Corporation, which consolidated the nuclear divisions of Westinghouse, General Electric, General Atomics, and Bechtel into a single public corporation with a mandate to operate the nation’s existing nuclear reactors and construct 200 more large light water reactors of a single design to meet the rest of the nation’s electrical needs within 10 years. Senate Bill 4 nationalized the Big Three automakers, along with Tesla. The new national automobile corporation would produce only electric and fuel cell vehicles, with a target of retooling all automobile manufacturing capacity to electric vehicles within three years.

A month after his inauguration, Inslee traveled to meet with European allies. There, he announced his plan to convert NATO to a global climate mitigation and relief force. NATO and its wealthy members would directly finance the construction of low carbon infrastructure across the globe. Like the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe, NATO would provide long-term, low-interest loans for developing economies to purchase and deploy clean energy technology. NATO forces would also lead relief efforts to rebuild after natural disasters and resettle refugees in regions less vulnerable to climate change. “It doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, or brown, American, Indian, or Chinese,” Inslee thundered at the end of the NATO meetings. “We are all Earthlings now, with a common challenge and a common destiny.” As Inslee boarded Air Force One, en route to meet his Indian and Chinese counterparts, the battle to stop catastrophic climate change had finally been joined.

That is some great satire. Or is it? Yes, Nordhaus knows this is a ridiculous scenario, and that’s the point. He goes on to deliver a comprehensive thrashing to the conventional environmental wisdom on the whole subject. Expect him to be denounced for departing from the narrow orthodoxy of climate change non sequiturs, which hold that because the climate apocalypse is upon us, it must be possible to power the whole world with windmills.

P.S. Probably worth linking against to my own 2014 contribution to Issues in Science and Technology on “Conservatives and Climate Science.”