President Joe Biden, contrary to expectations, said something consequential in his first address to members of Congress…by mistake.
It was a whopper that went unnoticed on Wednesday night; with just a few ill-chosen words Biden utterly toppled any justification for the Green New Deal, which plays a central role in his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and which, without a doubt, puts our economy at risk.
This is what he said, according to a New York Times transcript of the president’s remarks: “The United States accounts, as all of you know, for less than 15 percent of carbon emissions. The rest of the world accounts for 85 percent. That’s why I kept my commitment to rejoin the Paris Accord because if we do everything perfectly, it’s not going to matter.“
That was not in the version of the speech the White House handed out ahead of time.
No wonder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris looked visibly anxious throughout the president’s remarks: they were petrified he could make just exactly this kind of a goof.
This is not a “gotcha moment”, where a politician is caught embellishing his life story or fabricating excuses for some misdeed. On the contrary, Joe Biden was being honest.
And, for once in his life, Joe Biden was completely correct. Even if the Biden White House clobbers our economy, puts every last coal miner and oil driller out of work and drives down U.S. fossil fuel production and consumption, it will barely bend the curve on rising global emissions.
Why? Because the rapid growth in emissions from China and India, and other developing countries, will dwarf any action taken by the U.S. and will continue to push global carbon output higher.
The EIA predicts that, with current laws in place and no Bidenesque manhandling of our energy industries, U.S. carbon emissions will decline from 2023 to 2035 as we continue to shift away from coal and towards greater use of natural gas and renewable energy. After 2035, a growing population and consequent rise in energy demand will tilt emissions slightly higher; by 2050 our energy-related emissions will be roughly 5% more than the amount in 2020, which was severely depressed by Covid.
In other words, over the next thirty years, even if Uncle Sam does not demand Americans switch to electric cars or stop eating steak, our emissions will still be 20% below the peak total in 2007.
It is the rest of the world we must be concerned about. The EIA projects that between 2018 and 2050 emissions from non-OECD countries will grow 1% per year. China today accounts for 28% of global carbon output; India produces 7%. The U.S., as Biden accurately noted, contributes only 15%.
It is primarily China and India that continue to burn coal and add new coal plants as they rapidly industrialize. China not only consumes more coal each year, it is also opening new coal mines, even as older facilities are shut down. Xi Jinping has zero intention of sacrificing his country’s economic expansion on the altar of climate change.
It is worth noting that at the recent global climate summit, at which Biden opened the proceedings with a fervent call to action and offered up an unrealistic pledge to cut U.S. emissions 50% by 2030, other leaders were noticeably mute.
As the Scientific American reported, “China, the top emitter worldwide, resisted diplomatic pressure to reduce its carbon output over the next 10 years. So did India, Russia and Australia.”
Unlike the leaders of those countries, Biden is willing to roll the dice for a policy that, as he admitted, won’t make much difference. Even the New York Times noted the president’s plan is risky and that it met with considerable “skepticism”, especially about Biden’s promise of “good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.” As the Times notes, Democrats have been promising those “green” jobs for decades.
There’s good reason for skepticism.
Take Biden’s enthusiasm about electric cars, for which the American Jobs Plan provides $174 billion. “There’s no reason why Americans — American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries,” said the president in his speech to Congress. That may be true, but his administration’s focus on electric vehicles could put hundreds of thousands of auto workers out of a job.
It takes one-third fewer workers to build an electric car than it does to produce a gas-powered vehicle. UAW members are unlikely to transfer easily from auto assembly lines to helping construct electric charging stations across the country. Biden may think those dumped from making cars will help produce batteries, but most batteries are made mainly with parts from Japan and China.
The Times describes other jobs at risk: “the construction of a gas-powered electricity plant typically lasts two to three years and employs hundreds of skilled, unionized tradesmen — electricians, pipe-fitters and boilermakers — who make $75,000 a year or more, including benefits.”
That compares with solar projects which might employ a couple of hundred people for less than a year and pay them $30 per hour or more.
Some union leaders view Biden’s proposal with alarm. Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions recently said in an interview: “When you’re talking about the transition to the new green economy, the first question has got to be how are people going to make a horizontal economic move… in the onshore wind and solar industry, for my members we’re talking in some cases a 75 percent pay cut and they’re losing benefits.”
The risk to our economy if Biden pushes for extreme cuts in emissions and a rapid transfer to cleaner energy sources is profound. In California, efforts to go green have resulted in rolling blackouts and significantly higher electricity costs. Other states, like New York, where local officials have blocked new gas pipeline construction, will soon experience the same.
That’s what Biden has in store for the United States. Even though, as he said, “It’s not going to matter.”