There has been a flurry of letters to The Bulletin on the subject of climate change, some stating that climate alarmism is a hoax intended to extort government funds for the climate industry, others claiming that humans are indeed responsible for our changing climate. It is my contention that those who argue an anthropogenic basis for global warming, melting glaciers, rising seas and more frequent extreme weather events are well meaning but misguided, basing their belief on flawed climate models. Whether we are skeptics on the issue of human-caused climate change or true believers, we all aspire to a cleaner environment. However, climate realists want the government to be guided by science and an understanding of the facts, not failed models, before making decisions committing resources that will have a major impact on our local, state and national economies.
The U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any of the signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement. According to Climate Action Network Europe, all but five countries are at less than 50% of their current targets for reducing carbon emissions. The U.S., on the other hand, has significantly improved our ambient air quality since 1980 by reducing levels of ozone (25%), sulfur dioxide (85%), carbon monoxide (85%), and nitrogen dioxide (60%), harmful gases as defined by the EPA. Technological improvements such as catalytic converters and scrubbers have contributed to the improvement.
Another reason for cleaner air in the U.S. is our greater use of natural gas. Though a fossil fuel, it is relatively clean burning. We have been able to do this through the innovation of fracking by the oil and gas industry. In the eight years through 2015 (the last year for which annual data was available), growth in oil and gas production exceeded by nearly twofold the total production of energy from renewable resources (excluding hydro power). The U.S. is now a net exporter of oil and natural gas. We no longer depend on unstable OPEC suppliers for our energy needs.
Another benefit of our success in the production of oil and natural gas is the economic impact. Employment growth in the oil and gas industry greatly outpaced nonfarm industry throughout the Obama administration and was largely responsible for the improvement in GDP, anemic as it was under Obama. Oil prices averaged $100 per barrel well into Obama’s second term and, under Trump, have dropped to about $60 per barrel.
Increased oil and gas production occurred in spite of heavy taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy sources. Anyone remember the Obama administration’s $500 million Solyndra boondoggle? In FY 2016, federal subsidies per megawatt hour (MWH) for wind was $5.75 and for solar a whopping $43.75. Together, these renewables produce less than 5% of our energy needs but drive up energy costs for consumers. By contrast, coal received $1.04, nuclear $0.46 and natural gas -$0.54, and these energy sources cost much less to deliver to the customer. Compared to the destructive aspects of huge wind farms, such as the loss of significant numbers of bats to the wind turbines along the Columbia River Gorge, fossil fuels are more environmentally friendly, especially natural gas, as well as more economical.
Despite the aforementioned statistics, climate alarmists dismiss the benefits of fossil fuels and the limitations of wind and solar and demand we spend trillions on alternative, noncarbon-based sources of energy to try to achieve net-zero CO2, a beneficial greenhouse gas (the “gas of life”) without which plants would not grow. Humans are not a significant factor in climate change, notwithstanding failed climate models and the fallacious claim of a 97% consensus. Futile attempts to reduce CO2 by replacing carbon-based fuels with unreliable renewables ignore scientific findings and will do nothing to improve the environment. These misguided efforts by climate zealots will, however, do great harm to the economy.
— Paul deWitt lives in Bend.