“We’ll always have Paris,” runs the classic line from “Casablanca,” and it might as well serve as one of the Biden-Harris administration’s central mantras. Joe Biden promises to aggressively combat climate change, starting by rejoining the Paris Agreement, which Team Trump ditched to the horror of the global cognoscenti.
That’s not a good thing.
In 2015, the Obama administration entered the Paris Agreement. Unlike treaties, which must be ratified by the US Senate, the Paris Agreement is “voluntary”: Each signatory nation vows to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions sometime in the future.
China, for example, whose emissions have been increasing rapidly and which in 2019 accounted for 30 percent of global carbon emissions, has “promised” to start reducing its emissions by 2030. In that respect, the Paris Agreement is no different than those of us who each year, after our excesses during the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas season, promise to lose 10 pounds in the coming year. Really, we will.
Or think of smokers who promise, promise, promise to quit next year, next month, next — well, you get the idea.
The United States pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to just over one-fourth below 2005 levels, which were about 6 billion tons. By 2019, thanks in large part to increased natural-gas use made possible by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), US emissions were just under 5 billion tons, a reduction of more than 16 percent. By way of comparison, in 2019, world carbon-dioxide emissions were estimated to be just more than 34 billion tons and have been growing about 400 million tons a year over the past 10 years.
All of which is to say that the Paris Agreement’s lofty goals are unlikely to be met. Worse still, even if they are met, the accord will have been as successful at “solving” climate change as King Canute was at holding back the tide.
Yet Biden is adamant. According to the “Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice,” the Biden administration will rejoin the Paris Agreement and spend $1.7 trillion to achieve US commitments over the next 10 years. Supposedly, that investment will reduce American emissions by 75 billion tons over the next 30 years — all to avoid a global temperature increase of one-tenth of 1 degree Celsius.
That doesn’t sound like much. Moreover, the earth’s temperature can’t be measured using a planet-sized thermometer. Rather, temperature estimates and forecasts of increases are based on statistical models that average surface or atmospheric temperatures over portions of the planet. And statistics always mean “noise.” That avoided one-tenth of 1 degree is within the noise band. In other words, from a statistical standpoint, it’s meaningless.
What the Paris Agreement will do is impose huge costs on American consumers and taxpayers, while other countries, not least China, exploit those self-imposed higher costs. Energy costs will rise as fossil-fuel use is placed in a regulatory stranglehold and huge subsidies for wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, batteries and much else are shoveled out to the politically well-connected.
And higher energy costs will mean higher costs for, well, just about everything: food, clothing, medical supplies, you name it.
Those higher costs will reduce US competitiveness. Manufacturing industries will move abroad in search of more relaxed regulations, eliminating thousands of domestic jobs. Higher energy costs will mean fewer dollars available to invest elsewhere.
Despite the Biden Plan’s promise of endless subsidies to consumers and industries to ease the pain of a green-energy transition, the simple economic fact is that nations can’t subsidize their way to prosperity; there is no free lunch; the bill will eventually come due.
Want to know who will pay? Look in the mirror.
Jonathan Lesser is the president of Continental Economics and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute.