Political platforms are not meant to be taken as anything other than aspirational documents. They make a brief appearance at party conventions and then sit on a shelf and collect dust for four years until the next presidential election comes along. One of the few things platforms do accomplish is they put on display the party’s collective id, laying bare the base instincts of its members. Essentially, for party supporters, the political platform acts as the road map on the way to immanentizing the eschaton: “Barring opposition, following this document will get us to heaven on Earth.”
On June 25, fifteen of progressivism’s greatest minds (and Cornel West), formally known as the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, put their seal of approval on what will most likely become the platform document that “reflect[s] the depth and breadth of the Democratic Party” for the American people. The full Platform Committee will vote thumbs up or down by July 9, and then Democratic National Convention delegates will vote on full ratification in Philadelphia in late July.
A sizeable portion of the platform deals with “Climate Change and Clean Energy.” Fortunately, in certain instances, the grown-ups in the Democratic Party were able to beat back the barbarians at the gate. The committee defeated, by just one vote apiece, planks in support of a hydraulic fracturing ban and a highly regressive carbon-dioxide tax, a “keep it in the ground” plank, and an anti-Keystone XL plank.
This was extremely regrettable to environmental radical Bill McKibben, head of 350.org and a member of the drafting committee—but not one of its grown-ups. After lamenting Hilary Clinton’s committee appointments for blocking his amendments and “being rhetorically committed to taking on our worst problems … but not willing to say how,” he noted “we did, however, reach unanimous consent on more bike paths!” Hallelujah!
More frighteningly, there were two other planks where the committee was also in unanimity. There first was a commitment to have the United States generate 50 percent of its electricity through clean energy sources by the end of the decade and 100 percent of electricity by 2050. The platform, as yet, does not spell out how they would get us to 50 and 100 percent, but presumably they mean to do so through subsidies and renewable-energy mandates.
The green energy forced on consumers through these subsidies and mandates is extremely expensive. A 2014 study by the Brookings Institution found wind power is twice as expensive as the conventional power it replaces. The same study found solar power is three times as expensive as conventional power. These higher costs impose real burdens on electricity consumers: Retail electricity prices in states with renewable power mandates are rising twice as fast as the national average.
The wind and solar power industries are already receiving disproportionate federal, state, and local taxpayer subsidies. (No energy company should receive any subsidy, period.) Those subsidies require higher taxation that imposes still-higher costs than those reflected in retail electricity prices. According to the EIA, solar power by itself receives more federal subsidies than all fossil fuel sources combined, even though it produces only 0.4 percent of the nation’s electricity. Wind power, too, receives more federal subsidies than all fossil fuel sources combined, even though it produces only 4.4 percent of the nation’s electricity. On a dollar-per-unit-of-electricity-produced basis, EIA reports wind and solar power receive 25 times more subsidies than fossil fuels.
Economist Robert Lyman notes the financial costs and amount of land needed to go entirely renewable is “daunting”: “To replace the 440 [megawatts] of U.S. [non-renewable] generation expected to be retired over the next 25 years, it would take 29.3 billion solar [photovoltaic] panels and 4.4 million battery modules. The area covered by these panels would be equal to that of the state of New Jersey. To produce this many panels, it would take 929 years, assuming they could be built at the pace of one per second.”
Essentially, saying you want the country to run fossil-fuel free in 34 years is about as realistic as planning to power the country entirely on pixie dust and unicorn flatulence. (Actually, I’m not sure if unicorn flatulence is also a greenhouse gas. Anybody know? Is it Koch funded?)
The second unanimous plank puts the Democratic Party fully behind the idea of having the Department of Justice prosecute “fossil fuel companies” for “alleged corporate fraud” for “[misleading] shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.” This is an illiberal tactic some Democratic attorneys general are using in the real world.
Now, never mind whether climate change is a “scientific reality” and whether we know (we don’t) how much, if any, impact human activity is having on it. Here, we have a political party endorsing one side in an ongoing scientific debate so complex that even leading experts admit we may never find the answers. The Democrats have put themselves on record: “We don’t like your opinion. Stayed cowed, keep your mouth shut, and you will be fine. If you continue to express yourself, we will use the jackboot of the state to destroy you.”
As my colleague H. Sterling Burnett has written, “Everyone who currently disputes one or more of the tenets of [anthropogenic global warming] theory could be completely wrong and may be shown to be so as more evidence comes in. So also could those who believe AGW is the gospel truth. But being wrong on a scientific matter does not constitute fraud. For centuries people believed illnesses were due to an imbalance of humours in the body, they believed Earth was flat, and they believed Earth was the center of the universe. Those people were wrong, they were not frauds.”
A document can be both aspirational and dangerous. That is certainly the case here. This is the Democratic Party’s id. Beware.