Latest posts by H. Sterling Burnett (see all)
- Russia Is Polluting Energy and Climate Politics in Western Democracies - April 15, 2019
- The ‘Green New Deal’ Is Dead. Long May It Stay Buried! - April 10, 2019
- Coloradans’ Votes Don’t Matter to State’s Democratic Leaders - April 10, 2019
Stories this week shed light on the often hidden high costs of both private sector (sort of private sector at least) and public sector efforts to promote renewable energy to fight climate change.
On the semi-private side, a new study examines the high environmental costs of Elon Musk’s sweetheart deals to push green energy. Musk, while taking millions of dollars from the federal government in the form of contracts, subsidies, and tax credits for his various enterprises, resigned from President Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a White House advisory council, in protest of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Musk may not like Trump’s climate moves but I bet he still loves the money Trump’s government will continue to shovel his companies way in the form of government subsidies and tax credits for Tesla, his electric car venture for the rich, or for the rooftop solar panels Solarcity installs.
Musk likes to claim his business enterprises are green, leading modern society to a more environmentally friendly future. A new study shows technologies integral to the products made by Tesla and Solarcity have devastating environmental side effects.
A study by America Rising Squared (AR2) shows carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels produce the energy used to produce Tesla vehicles, batteries, and Solarcity’s solar panels. Indeed, the Union of Concerned Scientists calculated the emissions produced by manufacturing electric vehicles were between 15 and 68 percent higher than for an equivalent gasoline-powered vehicle. In addition, each Tesla electric vehicle and each solar panel relies on “rare earth” minerals, which are, according to the study, “produced under some of the most appalling environmental and labor conditions on the planet.”
Rare earths are overwhelmingly controlled by countries with terrible human rights records and lax environmental laws, including China (which controls 95 percent of the world’s rare earths) and the Congo (which produces 50 percent of the cobalt used annually). Air pollution is endemic in the Chinese towns in and around the country’s rare earth mines, the report notes, and the toxic sludge from the waste ponds is leaching into the ground water, causing serious human health problems. A November 2016 report by the management consulting firm Arthur D. Little found each “battery electric vehicle … generate[s] approximately three times as much human toxicity over the course of its lifespan compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle.” Thousands of acres of earth have to be mined for each ton of rare earth produced, and for each ton of usable rare earths processed, 2,000 tons of toxic waste are created.
The environmental harms resulting from the production and use of hybrid and electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels will only grow as green technologies are increasingly forced into use by governments in the vain effort to fight climate change. When green technologies impose severe environmental harms, how green are they truly?
In the public sector, state governors and local mayor continue to pontificate about the need to pursue the Paris climate goals despite Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris agreement. Research shows however, their current climate commitments impose high energy costs on ratepayers in their respective states/municipalities, and make their business climate less competitive — both trends that will only get worse if they pursue Paris climate goals or go even further.
For instance, more than a dozen states and Puerto Rico have formed the U.S. Climate Alliance, pledging to meet the Paris climate agreement, from which the United States has officially withdrawn, by reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.
Twenty states and Washington, DC had already adopted their own greenhouse gas emission targets, including California and New York, whose goals go beyond the Paris commitments.
California has an existing goal of achieving a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. By 2050, the state’s goal is to bring emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels, both far beyond the Paris commitments.
In 2016, New York enacted legislation requiring 50 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030. The state has a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Residents of states and cities committing to Paris and beyond should understand how policies cutting fossil fuel use affect their energy costs. California and the northeastern states that joined the regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative already pay the highest electricity prices in the lower 48 states (see this Chart).
European countries that have gone farther than even the most aggressive states have electricity prices two to three times higher those in the United States.
As an article at Icecap article states: “You hear the democrats yelling bowing out of Paris will hurt the poor when in fact abiding with the Paris agreement would cause electricity and energy prices to rise significantly which hurts the poor and middle class. 300,000 German households had their electricity turned off for inability to pay and over 25 percent of UK residents are in energy poverty, many of them pensioners. That is coming here to the cities and states which are going to commit regardless of Trump.”