Pandemic Lockdown: A Preview of the Green New Deal?
By Paul Driessen, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
Within six months after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, the spread of the virus sickened 3.5 million Americans and killed 150,000. The human toll was accompanied by an economic one, with 3,400 U.S. companies filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and damage reaching into the trillions of dollars. Unemployment shot from 3.8 percent in February to 14.4 percent in April. America’s GDP plummeted a staggering, worst-in-history 33 percent in the second quarter and the Eurozone’s nose-dived 40 percent.
While President Donald Trump sought to control the virus and continue progressing improvements to our nation’s competitive edge through measures including deregulation and tax reduction, others rejoiced that the shutdowns and lockdowns made the air cleaner and replaced city traffic noises with birdsongs. The International Energy Agency noted that the plunge in economic activity had reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a projected 2.6 billion tons or 8 percent globally in 2020 compared to 2010. United States CO2 emissions also fell significantly, following a 12 percent decline from 2000-2019.
Climate activists claim this shows the world can reach “net zero carbon emissions” by 2035, at least in electricity generation. They view the COVID crisis as an opportunity to
“fundamentally transform” economies and societies along “more sustainable” and “climate resilient” lines, with more “ecologically feasible” jobs and living standards, by replacing fossil fuels with “renewable” energy.
From their perspective, the pandemic lockdown is a preview or blueprint for a Green New Deal (GND).
Indeed, presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to end the “climate crisis” by spending $2 trillion to electrify America’s vehicle fleet, prohibit most drilling and fracking, and replace coal, natural gas and perhaps some nuclear generating plants with wind, solar and biofuel power, backed up by batteries. This, he says, will reinvigorate the economy and create millions of jobs.
It’s an unworkable pipe dream that would ultimately cost tens of trillions of dollars. Blue-collar families and communities would be especially hard hit, as manufacturing, jobs and prosperity migrate from the U.S. to foreign shores. America’s rural areas would be blanketed with wind turbines, solar panels, battery warehouses and transmission lines.
Examining the Green New Deal
In 2018, America’s fossil fuel and nuclear power plants generated 3.5 billion megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity. Natural gas provided the equivalent of 2.7 billion MWh for factories, businesses and homes, while internal combustion vehicles used over 2.0 billion MWh equivalent of gasoline and diesel.
That’s nearly 8.5 billion MWh of electricity that America would have to replace annually under the GND.
Harnessing diffuse, intermittent, weather-dependent energy is inefficient and brings its own ecological concerns. As reliance on wind turbines and solar panels increases, more must be located in suboptimal locations – meaning even more are needed to generate daily electricity and recharge batteries for windless, sunless hours, days and weeks.
Generating 8.5 billion MWh per year would require some 20 billion sun-tracking solar panels, or 50 billion fixed thin-film panels, or four million 1.8-MW onshore wind turbines, or 300,000 10-MW offshore turbines or a combination of these technologies – plus several billion half-ton Tesla-style backup battery modules, and thousands of miles of new transmission lines connecting these facilities to distant cities.
These enormous industrial facilities would cover tens or hundreds of millions of acres of crop, scenic and habitat lands and displace or kill wildlife.
Manufacturing all this equipment would require tens of billions of tons of materials: concrete, steel, copper, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, cadmium, silver, graphite, rare-earth elements, polyvinyl fluoride, fiberglass composites and dozens of others – obtained by mining, processing and smelting hundreds of billions of tons of ore.
America has nearly all these metals and minerals. However, unrelenting environmentalist opposition means most of the materials and products are imported, often from China or companies owned or controlled by China. Most of the mining, processing and manufacturing are done with far less stringent pollution control, mined land reclamation, wildlife protection, workplace safety, fair wage, child labor and human rights. “Responsibly sourcing” these materials, components and equipment – buying them only from sources that comply with U.S. standards – would double or triple GND costs.
Turbines, panels and batteries have short life spans. For the most part, they are non-recyclable, and wind turbine blades cannot be shredded, crushed or cut up easily. Huge landfills would fill up quickly.
Converting to an all-electric economy would also require upgrading grids, communities and homes. A recent study found it would cost $250 billion to rewire Britain and install heat pumps and rapid electric-car chargers. With five times the population and 37 times the land area, a similar U.S. upgrade would likely cost trillions.
Biofuel production would mean a California-sized area planted in corn, canola and palm oil. Power plants fueled by wood chips from clear-cut forests are classified “carbon neutral” because trees and habitats will eventually return, decades later.
As to American jobs, up to 15 million connected to fossil fuels, petrochemicals and manufacturing would disappear, due to the high cost and unreliability of GND power. The jobs promised by GND advocates would mostly be in government bureaucracies and in hauling, installing, maintaining, dismantling and landfilling wind, solar, battery and related equipment.
The drastic global COVID-19 lockdowns will reduce average planetary temperatures in 2100 by an undetectable 0.05 F (0.03 C), according to Norway’s Center for International Climate Research – if CO2 really is the primary factor in climate change.
Achieving net zero “carbon” emissions through a GND would require the equivalent of continuous, ever-stricter lockdowns, for decades. More sectors of America’s economy would close. Health and living standards would decline. Huge wind, solar and biofuel “farms” would replace habitats and eradicate birds and wildlife.
Meanwhile, China, India and other countries would build hundreds more coal- and gas-fired power plants, to industrialize and improve their living standards, mine and process most of the world’s metals and minerals, and manufacture most of its solar, wind and battery equipment.
Those countries would prosper, while America declines. Carbon dioxide emissions would decrease within U.S. borders, but continue rising planet-wide. And if “skeptical” scientists are correct – and climate change is driven by the sun and other powerful natural forces, not by CO2 – all of this would be for nothing.
GND energy is clean, green, renewable and sustainable only if we consider greenhouse gas emissions solely within the United States. From all other perspectives, a Green New Deal would inflict incalculable human and ecological harm, for almost no benefits. If the costs are measured globally, fully and honestly, it is destructive insanity.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues.