Biden’s Green Agenda Doesn’t Help You

Source: The American Conservative

In what stage of dystopian postmodernity would a country, in which millions of working-class families struggle to afford soaring costs for groceries and rent, devise a bill to pour billions of dollars into Sisyphean pursuits of climate-change reduction and have the nerve to sell it as the “Inflation Reduction Act”? This is where America has landed. Words no longer map onto meanings; the names given to multi-billion-dollar federal spending orgies have become bait-and-switch advertisements.

The Inflation Reduction Act is just the latest example in a long line of emperor-has-no-clothes misnomers shrouding the self-flagellating impulse among American political elites for supposed climate wrongdoing. Meanwhile, emissions in China, India, and other countries in the developing world persist unabated, counteracting any reductions the U.S. could measurably achieve. This latest bill is a green-energy-subsidy lover’s dream, poised to shower wind and solar developers—and indirectly China—with billions of dollars.

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The bill’s provisions for electric vehicles are perhaps the most egregious example of the overall hypocrisy animating the legislation. The bill provides $7,500 in tax credits for Americans to purchase some new electric vehicles and a $4,000 tax break for used ones, a measure that Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts claimed would give Americans “no reason” not to buy an electric vehicle.

Meanwhile, claims that consumers will reap the benefits” from tax credits for new E.V.s, as well as the $4,000 tax credit for used E.V.s—but only those sold through dealers and, oddly, not starting until 2024—ignore basic economics.

Forget the fact that E.V. tax credits are just wealth transfers paid for by taxpayers. Introductory economics students know that subsidies and tax credits allow sellers to raise their prices, thus capturing a portion of the savings from buyers.  

The sharing of subsidy lucre between buyers and sellers is based on price elasticity of demand (how responsive consumers are to changing prices) and price elasticity of supply (how responsive suppliers are to changing market prices). The less elastic the demand for something, the more the benefits of a subsidy will accrue to consumers. Salt, for example, is relatively price inelastic; most people will salt their french fries the same way whether the price of salt rises or falls. A tax credit for household salt won’t cause consumers to suddenly rush out and fill the pantry with cases of the stuff.

Cars and trucks are different. Most people can delay a purchase of a new or used vehicle if prices rise or their income falls, which means the demand for new vehicles is elastic in the short-run. A tax credit for new and used E.V.s will increase that demand. But because the supply of cars and trucks is relatively inelastic—it takes time to build new factories and expand production—E.V. manufacturers and sellers of used E.V.s will respond to the new tax credits by raising their prices. A lot.

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Perhaps coincidentally, after Senate passage of the Act, Ford announced it was hiking prices for its Lightning pickup truck between $6,000 and $8,500 because of “significant material cost increases and other factors.” It’s true that the prices of materials, such as lithium used in EV batteries, have increased. But Ford’s announcement effectively captures most of the $7,500 subsidy for itself.

Meanwhile, in a further example of postmodern bafflegab, the current administration has commanded our tech overlords to prohibit calling these measures what they are. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board has pointed out, Gina McCarthy, President Biden’s climate advisor, is on a mission not only to “silence critics of climate alarmism,” but also “to censor content on the costs of a force-fed green energy transition.”

Thankfully, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are at least trying to get to the bottom of this. In a letter sent to McCarthy earlier this month, ranking members James Comer of Kentucky and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico requested communications between the White House and those tech companies, whom they claim McCarthy asked to censor views critical of the administration’s climate policies. 

In other words, what Ms. McCarthy calls “disinformation,” the lawmakers call “free speech,” which they suggest she is suppressing. Who’s right?

Consider attitudes surrounding climate change, for example. While stewardship of the environment is virtuous, this administration seems to consider climate change the font of all evil: extreme heat and cold, drought, floods, blizzards, volcanic eruptions, and even shark attacks. The list never ends. Perhaps there is validity to some of the claims; perhaps not. But for Ms. McCarthy and her ilk, challenging the climate-change mantra is heresy that must be suppressed by the Church of Green Energy.

And yet, basic questions remain unanswered. Economists, for example, often focus on optimal outcomes. Given the hysteria about our potentially exceeding pre-industrial temperatures by more than 1.5 or 2 degrees, what is the basis for claiming that the average temperature of the earth in the pre-industrial period before 1850 was “optimal”? How accurate are the measurements of pre-industrial temperatures? And what does an “optimal” temperature for the Earth even mean?  

Presumably, the climate 20,000 years ago, when much of North America and Europe were covered in glaciers, isn’t anyone’s idea of optimal. What about 2,000 years ago, when Rome was at the height of its power and global temperatures were warmer than they are today? How accurate are the various climate models, on which the myriad forecasts of impending doom are based? By Ms. McCarthy’s standards, even to ask such questions is to promote heresy and spread disinformation.

The attempts to strike down climate heretics would almost be amusing were it not for the trillions of dollars being spent—and wasted—in the U.S. and Europe to combat climate change, mostly in the form of subsidies and mandates for green energy.

Even if one accepts the premise that preindustrial temperatures were optimal, data on carbon emissions reveal the futility of U.S. and European efforts to reduce them and thereby “combat” global warming. The most recent edition of the BP Statistical Review shows that, between 2005 and 2021, world emissions increased by 5.7 billion metric tons, an average of over 300 million tons per year, despite emissions in the developed world decreasing by about 2.4 billion metric tons. For developing nations, including China and India, that translates into an average increase of almost 500 million tons per year.  

U.S. emissions in 2021 were about 20 percent lower than in 2005, a 1.2-billion-ton reduction over 16 years, achieved not with subsidies for wind and solar energy, but by switching from coal to natural gas. The U.S. must reduce those emissions by another 1.8 billion tons in the next eight years to meet the Biden administration’s goal of a 50 percent reduction in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions below 2005 levels by 2030.  But according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2021, despite decades of subsidies, wind and solar generation produced only half as much electricity as coal-fired plants and accounted for less than 5 percent of total energy consumption. Worldwide, wind and solar energy’s share was even smaller, accounting for less than 2 percent of all end-use energy consumption.

Meanwhile, China, India, and Africa are building new coal-fired power plants to meet their energy needs. China alone is set to build 100 new coal plants, which will emit an additional one billion tons of CO2 each year. The upshot is that the developing world’s hunger for reliable and cheap energy will swamp all future decreases in emissions by the U.S. and Europe.   

As John Kerry, the president’s climate czar, admitted, even if the U.S. reduced its emission to zero, the impact on world climate would be negligible. After all, to believe that developing nations, observing the U.S. and Europe destroying their economies by making energy supplies more scarce and costly, will pursue the same policies is either wishful thinking or a ruse to justify costly and ineffective policies.  

This raises the most heretical question of all: Why pursue costly green-energy policies here when those policies will have no measurable impact on world climate and thus no benefits? The answer is simple: the “green” in green-energy policies stands for money. The green-energy subsidies in the Senate’s “Inflation Reduction Act” are merely the latest exercise in political green trough-feeding, which will enrich the well-connected few at the expense of everyone else. 

And as our politicians enjoy the spoils of their green-energy schemes, the rest of us will be forced to call what is black, white, and what is up, down. That which exacerbates our current inflation crisis is named an act of reduction. That which tells truths or even raises questions is dubbed “misinformation.” 

The emperor has no clothes, but we must pretend the opposite is true, even as fewer than a quarter of Americans polled in a recent Morning Consult/Politico survey expect the Inflation Reduction Act to actually reduce inflation. We’re breathing in hot air, but not the type our leaders think we are. 

Therein lies the most royal humiliation of all.