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When Politics and Physics Collide - Highlighted Article

Posted On:
Jun 27, 2024 at 6:00 AM
Energy Policy, Climate Change


From: City Journal

By: Mark P. Mills

Date: April 17, 2024

When Politics and Physics Collide

The belief that mandates and massive subsidies can summon a world without fossil fuels is magical thinking.

The idea that the United States can quickly “transition” away from hydrocarbons—the energy sources primarily used today—to a future dominated by so-called green technologies has become one of the central political divides of our time. For progressive politicians here and in Europe, the “energy transition” has achieved totemic status. But it is fundamentally a claim that depends on assessing the future of technology.

While policies can favor one class of technology over another, neither political rhetoric nor financial largesse can make the impossible possible. Start with some basics. It’s not just that currently over 80 percent of our energy needs are met directly by burning oil, natural gas, and coal—a share that has declined by only a few percentage points over the past several decades; the key fact is that 100 percent of everything in civilized society, including the favored “green energy” machines themselves, depends on using hydrocarbons somewhere in the supply chains and systems. The scale of today’s green policy interventions is unprecedented, targeting the fuels that anchor the affordability and availability of everything.

In the U.S., the energy-transition policies center around the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, the most ambitious industrial legislation since World War II. Both critics and enthusiasts note that the budget figure advertised when the legislation was passed—$369 billion—isn’t close to the real cost. A comprehensive Wood MacKenzie analysis shows that the Green New Deal’s price tag is closer to $3 trillion.

And that’s not all. Through regulatory fiat, the Environmental Protection Agency’s newly announced rules effectively mandate that more than half of all cars and trucks sold must be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2032. That will demand, and soon, the complete restructuring of the $100 billion U.S. automobile industry. At the same time, an EV-dominated future will also require hundreds of billions more dollars in utility-sector spending to expand the electric distribution system to fuel EVs. Added to that, among other similar administrative diktats, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s newly released “climate” disclosure rules (temporarily on hold) are intended to induce investors to direct billions of dollars toward energy-transition technologies. This rule will entail tens of billions annually just in compliance costs, never mind the shifts to investments it will create.

The total direct and induced spending on the energy transition could easily exceed $5 trillion before a decade passes, or sooner, if advocates prevail. For context, the entirety of World War II cost the U.S. roughly $4 trillion (in today’s dollars). More relevant in terms of domestic scope, building the entire U.S. interstate highway system cost just $600 billion (also inflation-adjusted).

The transition spending that’s coming will add up to far more money than the amount printed for economic “rescue” during the Covid lockdowns. Since all the Inflation Reduction Act, and related, spending has yet to flow through the economy, it bears asking why economists aren’t alarmed about reigniting inflation. Perhaps, behind closed doors, the Federal Reserve is worried. (continue reading)


When Politics and Physics Collide