Obama, the Environmental Charlatan
The president is committed to the idea of anthropogenic global warming. Man-made carbon emissions, he believes (or pretends to believe), cause global temperatures to rise, and this temperature increase is destructive. By reducing man-made carbon emissions, temperatures can be made to fall.
Every part of this logic is flawed, if not utterly false. Do carbon emissions cause global warming? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is largely composed of climate researchers with what would seem a strong vested interest in promoting the global warming agenda. Yet even the IPCC has a 5% doubt that human activities affect the climate.
Do man-made emissions cause temperatures to rise more than natural carbon emissions do? With regard to the last 15 years, the IPCC states flatly that natural factors have influenced the climate as much or more than human ones. Is global warming destructive? Large areas of the northern hemisphere that were once nothing but ice-covered wastelands have now been opened up for agriculture, mining, energy exploration, and shipping. Millions of human beings stand to gain. For many, it is a matter of life and death, as marginally lower food costs will be just enough to keep them alive.
Finally, there's the notion that lowering man-made carbon emissions will cause temperatures to fall. Global carbon emissions have increased dramatically over the past 15 years, but temperatures have not risen.
If the U.S. and Western Europe reduce their carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, as many environmentalists propose, will this have any effect on global temperatures? Global population is expected to peak at 10 billion in 2050, with nearly all of the increase taking place in the developing nations. As global incomes rise, most of those 10 billion people will demand goods and services that depend on carbon-based fuels. Inevitably, man-made carbon emissions are going to rise, regardless of what Western countries do. America's carbon emissions have already declined roughly to 1990 levels. Reducing them further will have little if any effect on global climate, but it will affect American living standards.
Still, the Obama administration continues to pursue an anti-carbon agenda -- not because it is the "right" thing to do, but for political reasons. Environmentalists tend to be generous single-issue donors - just the kind of wealthy supporters Obama prizes. To retain these supporters, Obama is willing to go a lot farther than nix the Keystone XL pipeline. He's willing to wield environmental policy like a blunt instrument to kill jobs, reduce growth, lower living standards, and crush retirement accounts.
And to repeat, a reduction in man-made carbon emissions in the U.S. will have no perceptible impact on global temperatures. Every time the Obama administration places new restrictions on U.S. carbon usage, carbon-based fuels become less expensive and thus more attractive to overseas buyers. The shutdown of coal power plants in the U.S. will lead to increased exports of coal. Chinese consumers will benefit from Obama's political calculations.
Strangely enough, for a president who claims to believe in climate change, Obama has avoided certain actions that would actually lower carbon emissions. If he really believed that carbon emissions matter, he would eliminate ethanol subsidies. But corn ethanol is produced in politically important Midwestern states -- states that Obama needed for re-election and that the Democratic Party needs in 2014. Corn ethanol is a net carbon emitter, but it continues to be subsidized by taxpayers, and Obama wants more of it.
Ethanol subsidies distort the energy market, making it harder for innovative products to compete. Some charge that the president's ethanol subsidies have suppressed new techniques for the production of methanol -- techniques that would actually remove billions of tons of carbon from the atmosphere at no cost to taxpayers and lower cost to consumers. But the "methanol revolution" will never take place with this president in office. The environment is not what counts -- "winning" is.
The president talks about the world his daughters will inherit, but he does nothing to secure a better future. By calling off his administration's war on oil and gas, he would allow that sector to create a million jobs in addition to the million that have been created since the shale revolution began. But Obama is not promoting oil and gas; he is trying to kill them off. That is the effect of a host of actions, from EPA regulation of fracking to "sue and settle" over endangered species at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Obama does nothing to halt this activism; instead, he nominates ever more radical agency heads.
Winning is everything to Obama, even if the country loses. That's true not just of the budget impasse, but of energy policy as well.
If Obama really cared about the environment, he would endorse a comprehensive energy strategy that truly reflects "all of the above," not just give lip service to the idea. He would approve energy exploration and development on federal lands, including offshore and arctic drilling. That decision would bring about more production of clean-burning natural gas. Obama talked a lot about promoting natural gas during the 2012 campaign, but since his re-election, he has done nothing but try to regulate it out of existence.
Meanwhile, Obama's energy policies have matched environmentalist contributions dollar for dollar. Obama may not have much understanding of America's energy needs, but he can add. He does understand how much environmental groups contributed to his campaign and what they expect in return. The irony is that by distorting the free market, Obama's energy policies are stifling innovation and harming both the environment and the economy. Corn ethanol may be great for Iowa, but it is a killer for the rest of us.
All in all, Obama's energy policy is a shambles because it is driven by politics, not by principle or even by reasonable economic calculation.
If the administration's energy policy were driven by principle, it would be consistent. It would adhere to free-market principles, or to environmental principles, or to Marxist principles. But when it comes to energy policy, Obama's sole motive seems to be campaign contributions, not the actual state of the environment, the cost of energy for ordinary Americans, or the energy security of the nation as a whole.
At present, a lot of those contributions are coming from environmental groups that support the complete elimination of carbon fuels. It goes a lot farther than energy saving light bulbs and shower heads. There are many on the left who speak of cutting global population to what they consider "sustainable" levels. And there are some chilling proposals out there for cutting global populations to "optimum" levels.
For the rest of his presidency, Obama will go on kowtowing to these environmental radicals. In doing so, he suppressing a decade's worth of economic growth. Instead of the greatest rebound in our nation's history, we're facing a long period of economic malaise. Families will be ruined, and lives will be lost. But Obama will retain the contributions of wealthy donors -- the only class he cares about -- and he will retain a measure of political power.
Ordinary Americans will have to wait until after 2016, if then, to see real gains in their standard of living. A large part of the reason is Obama's politically motivated energy policy. As long as the war on carbon continues, America will not prosper.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books on American politics and culture, including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).