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OPINION

The Real 'Existential Threat' to People and Planet

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

It’s ironic. The very Biden Administration and European Government policies that are supposed to address the “existential threat” of climate change are themselves the true existential threat to modern civilization. 

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As someone trained in science and engineering, a lifelong hiker, gardener and lover of nature in the extreme, I want a healthy, sustainable planet as much as anyone promoting the climate change agenda.  It’s not that “green” energy is bad. It’s that the rate of “going green,” and the enormous investments required, are wildly disproportionate to society’s energy needs, now and for the foreseeable future. 

Elon Musk gets it, but most government leadership do not – or choose to remain silent. “Realistically, civilization will crumble if we don’t continue to use oil and gas in the short run,” Musk has said. 

Civilization crumbling is clearly an “existential threat.” And this guy sells electric cars! He also recommended “continued drilling and exploration for oil and gas,” because he understands that producing and fueling electric vehicles will require substantial fossil fuel electricity generation, for years to come. 

“Existential” issues like war, peace, economic vitality, jobs and living standards all have the same critical driving force: energy – all forms of energy. Energy to transport people and goods, to run farms and provide food, to heat and cool homes, to power manufacturing, and to fuel ships, planes and vehicles for our military. Natural gas is essential for fertilizers to feed a hungry world. Oil and natural gas are the building blocks for plastics, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fibers, paint and thousands of other products. 

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Today, these vital, taken-for-granted benefits come almost entirely from oil, gas and coal. Those who have it will be powerful, those who don’t will not. China and Russia know this well. 

Europe made a deal with the devil by handing its energy supply to Vladimir Putin and energy-rich Russia – while crippling its own energy future with anti-fossil-fuel climate change policies. Europe closed its coal, gas and nuclear power plants, while building expensive, less-reliable and weather-dependent solar and wind facilities. Putin’s war on Ukraine couldn’t have happened without his dominance over gas, oil and coal supplies to Europe. 

And where is the United States government on energy reality? It’s copying Europe, with vast green energy subsidies and an unrelenting “whole of government” regulatory war on fossil fuels. 

America should be telling an energy-insecure world, “We will do everything in our power to increase the supply of energy,” in an-all-of-the-above approach: not only fossil fuels and renewables, but nuclear, and hydroelectric power when feasible. Instead, we beg hostile dictatorships – that pay no attention to human rights or ecological values – to increase their production, because we refuse to increase ours.

Isn’t that just a little embarrassing? We could be the “gas station for democracy” for the Free World. But our government’s climate change policies stand in the way. 

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Simple arithmetic tells the story. Fossil fuels still provide some 80% of the world’s and America’s energy consumption. The rest comes from hydro, nuclear, solar, wind and biomass. In the USA, solar and wind provide less than 5% of our total energy consumption – and less than 2% for transportation, to fuel 290 million cars, trucks and buses. For airplanes, the percentage is zero. 

Coal constitutes some 33% of total energy consumption in the U.S. and 37% worldwide. Yet it is being prematurely withdrawn from global energy supplies by climate change policies. This is devastating, especially for poor countries.

Developing nations need expanded coal mining to produce electricity, to create jobs and lift billions out of abject poverty. But they are denied access to capital by the climate-obsessed bureaucracies in international financial institutions and government aid agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and USAID. This is this hypocritical, especially because the West industrialized predominantly with coal.

Climate campaigners at all levels of government and in the revenue-driven private sector have created a new energy economy based on vast subsidies for solar and wind, to replace coal, oil and gas. It portends disaster, for Europe and America, because they are doing it prematurely – well before replacements are anywhere near ready for prime time.  

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The Biden Administration “Inflation Reduction Act” contains some $370 billion in new green energy subsidies, purposely skewing massive private investment into solar and wind, and away from fossil fuels that are still essential – practically, economically and geopolitically.

Before governments provide such enormous subsidies, they need to analyze all the environmental impacts of producing and installing massive wind turbine, solar panel and backup battery facilities. On U.S. and global scales, those technologies would require massive amounts of metals and materials mining and processing – almost all powered by fossil fuels – on a scale unprecedented in human history, indeed, at levels impossible to reach for decades to come. 

Wind, solar and battery facilities also impact and occupy vast tracts of land: wildlife habitats, croplands and scenic areas. They kill eagles, birds of all kinds, bats and other wildlife. Without expensive, fire-sensitive battery backup, they require inefficient hydrocarbon “peaker” facilities going on and off repeatedly, whenever the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. 

Demonizing fossil fuel energy sources for electricity risks blackouts, factory shutdowns, and literally freezing people in the dark in wintertime. It has already started in California and Texas. “Clean, green, renewable” energy is simply not yet able to meet America’s and the world’s growing electricity needs. 

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Substituting natural gas for coal in electricity generation is the reason America has been leading the Free World in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas should be seen not as a pariah, but as the “bridge fuel” to any fossil-fuel-free future.

The Biden Administration is putting long-range, uncertain, potentially faulty, likely exaggerated predictions about climate over the lives and independence of Ukraine, the security of our European allies – and even America’s own security and well-being. India, Brazil, Indonesia and many others in the “Global South” need oil, gas and coal to exist and modernize. But the Biden Administration will not assure them that America will work to fill the gap if they try to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels. Is it any wonder they have stayed neutral on Putin’s brutal invasion?

Sadly, the debate over expanding American energy to substitute for Russia’s - and ensure our own energy security - is virtually non-existent within the Biden Administration, the Democratic Party which controls the Congress, most think tanks and the legacy media. In fact, they all seem to censor and silence debate over climate change, preferring to highlight calamitous predictions and then stay silent when the predictions don’t materialize. 

This is strange because the soaring cost of energy is the primary factor driving inflation and threatening recession, not just in America but worldwide. In fact, it is much worse than just strange, it’s existential. 

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Government suppression of fossil fuel production is threatening the national security and economies of countless nations. Demands that we precipitously ‘go green’ represent the greatest existential threat of all, to the survival of modern industrialized nations, to developing nations, and to the very well-being of our planet.

Don Ritter, MIT Doctorate in Metallurgy and Materials Science; served 14 years on the House Energy and Commerce and Science and Technology Committees; was Ranking Member on the Congressional Helsinki Commission, and was founding Co-Chair of the Baltic States-Ukraine Caucus. Ritter led the National Environmental Policy Institute after leaving Congress. He is a Trustee of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and Trustee and President & CEO Emeritus of the Afghan American Chamber of Commerce.

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