President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are more underwater than the Titanic. With rising fuel costs, spreading inflation, and unprecedented illegal border crossings, Americans had already begun to sour on many of Biden’s top priorities even before the debacle in Afghanistan. But, like the captain of the Titanic, this presidency might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg. Biden’s energy and environmental policies may wind up plunging his popularity to the bottom of the deep.
Biden’s climate policies are fatally flawed, on both foreign and domestic fronts. On the global stage, Biden plans to fight climate with joint actions that are never going to happen and distract the nation and the world from real environmental challenges like clean air and clean water. At home, he plans to meet his self-defined climate goals by starving Americans of affordable, reliable energy while imposing a government-mandated transformation of the energy sector. The latter is to be accomplished through sharply higher taxes, massive deficit spending, and burdensome regulations—an approach that won’t deliver a better economy or a better environment.
Over the Horizon
Biden fancies that he can lead the global response to climate change. The Chinese justifiably beg to differ, as do Russia, India, and numerous other developing nations.
China is already the world’s leader—in emitting greenhouse gases. A voracious energy consumer, its energy consumption has quintupled since the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Biden will somehow have to convince the Chinese to hamstring their economy in pursuit of his climate agenda.
It’s a naïve conceit, but one which the administration may pursue in a most callous fashion. John Kerry, in his non-Senate-confirmed position as Special Climate Envoy, has gone so far as to suggest the United States might even ignore Beijing’s genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs to make a deal. “Life,” he said, “is full of tough choices.”
It is also full of stupid ones. China has already demonstrated its commitment to continued Uyghur oppression, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. Thinking that we can talk China into hurting itself economically in exchange for turning a blind eye to Chinese systematic human rights abuses is wholly specious.
Like most countries, China talks a good line on climate responsibility—whatever that means. Its actual policy, however, is to obtain any energy at the cheapest price it can find—and “at all costs” if necessary. Increasingly, China is trying to alleviate its dependence on imported fuel by encroaching on the maritime fuel resources of its smaller neighbors. Yet even with these rapacious energy policies, China is in the midst of an energy crisis. This is not a country that’s going to concern itself with becoming carbon neutral anytime soon.
The situation doesn’t look any brighter on the other side of the world, where America’s best partners are experiencing trouble keeping the lights on. Europe faces an energy crunch all its own. Shortages and prices are at record levels and, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Double-digit year-on-year increases are likely to continue throughout the winter.” The Europeans’ situation is exacerbated by their major fuel supplier: Russia. The Russians are having production problems. Moreover, they are playing energy politics with the Europeans, refusing to increase their natural gas deliveries until Germany expedites approval of the Nord Stream II pipeline.
Will our allies really make good on all their green energy promises if it means tanking their economies? The smart money says “no.” After all, just look at what happened in Rome this Halloween at the G20 summit. Just days before jetting off to the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow, leaders of the world’s biggest economies retreated from their formerly zealous conviction to oppose building new coal power plants.
From Sea to Shining Sea
While the administration is grasping at air to secure China’s promise to lower emissions sometime in the future, it’s more than willing to make Americans bite the bullet now.
In the last year and a half, Congress has added nearly $5.5 trillion to the national debt, and the Biden administration is pushing for trillions more through radical social, labor, and climate policies. No matter what the reported price tag is, the reality is these proposals will expand the scope of the federal government into Americans’ lives for generations to come and make a wreckage of federalism.
The administration has moved quickly to implement or propose hundreds of billions in subsidies and tax favors for green energy technologies. It has proposed policies to reorient the energy grid and the entire transportation sector around arbitrary climate goals.
It has developed a raft of regulations that target nearly every aspect of the coal, oil, and natural gas industries. Even though Americans get nearly 80 percent of their power, heat, and transportation fuel from these energy resources, one gets the impression that the administration believes they are illegal. Firmly in bed with Big Green, the administration’s energy policy can best be described as command-and-control cronyism.
Another term that comes to mind is abject cynicism. The administration knows that all of this will have almost no impact on global temperatures by the end of the century. Climate Czar Kerry has openly acknowledged this on several occasions.
The administration also knows full well that higher energy costs act like a tax on the entire economy—one that hurts the poor the most. Between 2018 and 2019, as average energy costs fell 5 percent and Americans’ per capita energy costs decreased in every state except California, the nation’s economy was breaking records in growth and employment.
Californians’ costs rose, no doubt, because the state pursues a reckless climate agenda that includes banning gasoline-powered cars and regulating nuclear plants out of business. Yet the Biden administration would have the rest of the country follow California’s example. And it’s employing regulatory tricks like the “social cost of carbon” to inflate the supposed benefits of its job-killing climate regulations.
The administration seems bent on “transforming”—i.e., ruining—the energy sector and the national economy with it in service to a radical climate agenda.
A Real Action Agenda
A far more productive and realistic approach would be to expand economic freedom at home and abroad and especially amongst developing countries. Decades of data from The Index of Economic Freedom clearly show that economic freedom goes hand in hand with economic growth, which is essential to environmental stewardship. In fact, climate-related deaths have fallen 96 percent over the last century, thanks to rapid economic growth and increased access to affordable, reliable energy.
Rather than spending trillions that we do not have and making promises that cannot be kept, Congress and the administration should focus on implementing policies that reduce regulatory barriers to energy innovation, streamline permitting and regulatory reviews, and promote pro-growth tax policy.
Rather than urging our friends and allies to pursue policies that make their energy sectors more brittle and costly, the United States should be championing freer trade to get them the energy they need. Rather than naively taking China at its word, we should be pushing for transparency, reaffirming our commitment to human rights, and defending the sovereignty of neighboring nations against Chinese bullying.
This is a fundamentally different approach than the Biden administration’s reliance on extravagant government spending, high taxes, and massive regulation. But we can expect to see—as we’ve seen countless times in the past—the dynamic and diverse creativity of people innovating to address whatever challenges the future holds.
Jack Spencer and James Jay Carafano are vice presidents of The Heritage Foundation.