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Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., took advantage of last week’s tornados in the Midwest to boost their climate change plans. More “green” energy from wind and solar power is needed if we are to avoid dangerous global warming and increasing extreme weather events, they say. But their advocacy makes no sense, no matter what you believe about the causes of climate change.
Studies show that strong to intense tornados have actually decreased markedly over the past 50 years, despite a warming climate. When the period from 1954 to 2003 was analyzed in a 2008 paper published by the American Geophysical Union, it was found that the most damaging tornados were about twice as frequent in the first half of the record than in the second half.
This is not surprising. Contrary to Boxer and Whitehouse’s assertions, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events decrease as the planet warms. It is during cooler periods, not warmer ones, that such phenomena increase. Strong to violent tornadoes actually peaked during the 1970s when concerns about global cooling dominated.
Boxer and Whitehouse have things backwards for another reason as well. If strong tornados and other extreme weather events were actually on the rise, then they should be boosting America’s most affordable and reliable energy sources to prepare for and cope with these hazards. After all, more electricity would be needed to handle greater demands for air conditioning and heating. More power would be required to irrigate lands, build dikes, strengthen public infrastructure and relocate populations living on flood plains or at risk from tornadoes and hurricanes.
Yet in discussing their solutions to these dangers, Boxer and Whitehouse promote wind and solar power, the least reliable and most expensive options available. They don’t support an expansion of the most reliable and cheapest energy source, coal, from which comes 11 percent of Massachusetts’s electricity, and about half of America’s.
Extreme weather events aside, modern industrialized societies need massive quantities of reliable, high quality power to run steel mills, Internet servers and transportation systems, even when the wind drops or a cloud passes in front of the sun. So it would be foolish to rely on electricity from these intermittent sources.
And although wind and solar power have had decades to mature, they still cost between three and 10 times the price of electricity from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. The Energy Information Administration shows that even though non-hydroelectric renewable electricity generation received 53.5% of all federal financial support for the electric power sector in 2010, it produced only 3.6 percent of all generation.
Moving away from the inexpensive, steady power that coal provides America because of tornados and other weather extremes is analogous to a ship captain ordering his crew into lifeboats when a severe storm is approaching. It would be suicide to abandon ship exactly when the protection of a sturdy vessel was most needed.
Even if there were a human-caused climate crisis happening, and increasing numbers of experts doubt that there is, the energy policies promoted by Boxer and Whitehouse would have little climatic impact. China, which derives 80% of its electricity from coal, is planning to build 500 coal-fired plants over the next ten years, easily swamping the impact of changes in America’s energy sources.
The only result of a move away from coal and other highly effective hydrocarbon energy sources in the U.S. would be one of mass unemployment and millions of Americans joining the billions of people throughout the world already mired in energy poverty. And severe tornados and other extreme weather will continue to occur as they always have, with the climatic effect of America’s sacrifice immeasurable in the real world.
[First published at The Herald News]
To read The Heartland Institute’s response to Senator Whitehouse’s comments, please click here.