Giving up fossil fuels would mean severe limits on mobility and economic activity—permanently.
The climate-change movement is taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic, equating it with the “existential crisis” of man-made global warming. While praising the current display of unilateral government action as a model for addressing climate change, many environmentalists and liberal politicians have also called for a surge in government spending on renewable energy projects. The 2020 Democratic Party platform champions “decarbonization” as the best way to “build back better” from the coronavirus.
Green activists and their Democratic standard-bearers should be more focused on the potential that the coronavirus crisis could undermine support for their cause. Here are the climate lessons from the pandemic:
• This is what a world without fossil fuels looks like. The lockdown of the U.S. economy beginning in mid-March temporarily choked off demand for crude oil and refined products, driving oil prices negative for the first time ever in April. In recent weeks, production declines have slowed as consumption patterns have started to return to normal with the lifting of quarantines.
If oil use were declining with supply rather than demand, the situation would be similar. Fracking ban advocates and pipeline protesters who want to shut down U.S. production permanently have gotten a glimpse of the end result of their stated goal: dead cities and town centers, empty highways and shopping malls, and abandoned airports and stadiums.
Without fossil fuels, Americans would face limited mobility and economic activity would be diminished, with higher unemployment and perennial supply chain disruptions since hydrocarbons are used to make and transport most goods. This economic reality is probably not lost on the cooped-up general public.
• Urban Americans now know how coal miners feel. Since Covid hit, 56 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits—with roughly 16% of the U.S. labor force still unemployed at the end of July—as aggressive, sometimes overreaching shelter-in-place orders forced businesses to close, sometimes for good. Coal miners have faced mass unemployment for a decade because of end-market demand destruction caused by government decrees.
But whereas the unemployment and related social pathologies (including opioid addiction, overdoses and suicides) caused by anticoal climate regulations have been confined to Central Appalachia and other rural areas, the current pandemic-related unemployment spike is mainly an urban phenomenon, which makes it harder to ignore. Having walked a mile in the steel-toed boots of coal miners, Americans should have a different perspective on the enlightened nature of elected officials and may think twice about supporting arbitrary shutdowns of politically incorrect businesses.
• There’s no money left to subsidize green energy. The pandemic has exposed the precarious financial position of almost every part of the U.S. economy. Before the crisis, most American households lived from paycheck to paycheck, with little savings for an emergency. We now know that the same is true of most U.S. businesses and almost every level of government.