Last August, Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, published a prescient report entitled “The ‘Energy Transition’ Delusion: A Reality Reset.” The report demonstrates convincingly that the transition to Net Zero Emissions (NZE), if politically imposed, will mean a dramatically reduced standard of living for the world’s advanced industrial societies. It’s an excellent essay, but it misses the mark because Mills misses the real point of the leftist push for a “green energy” revolution: For leftists, NZE is not about the climate. Instead, NZE is simply a vehicle to achieve a purely political goal.
While eminently reasonable and admirable, the Manhattan Institute’s push for “energy and climate” reality to dominate governmental policy debates will fail because global warming and climate change hysteria derive from neo-Marxist anti-capitalist ideology. “Imaging a world without hydrocarbons” is predominately a utopian dream, fit only for a John Lennon lyric. Climate scientists, who exchange emails admitting their “hockey stick” arguments require rigged data, know that CO2 is not the turning knob of Earth’s temperature.
Do we want to return the world to a preindustrial level of CO2? Daniel H. Rothman, a professor at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at MIT, published an important paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2002 His research established that over most of the geologic record of the past 500 million years, Earth’s CO2 concentration fluctuated between values two to four times greater than those of today. However, over the past 175 million years, the data show a long-term decline in the air’s CO2 content.
Mills correctly observes that “policymakers are beginning to grasp the enormous difficulty of replacing even a mere 10 percent share of global hydrocarbons—the share supplied by Russia—never mind the impossibility of trying to replace all of society’s use of hydrocarbons with solar, wind, and battery (SWB) technology.” He stresses that after two decades “of aspirational policies and trillions of dollars of spending, most of it on SWB tech, have not yielded an ‘energy transition that eliminates hydrocarbons.” He concludes that the lessons of the recent decade make it clear that SWB technologies cannot be surged in times of need, are neither inherently ‘clean’ nor even independent of hydrocarbons, and are not cheap.”
In a brilliant Twitter video, Mills points out there is “no such thing” as a zero-emissions vehicle.”
He points out that electric vehicles (EVs) do not eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but instead, EVs export CO2 emissions to the production chain. “You have to dig up about 500,000 pounds of materials to make a single 1,000-pound battery,” he explains. “It takes 100 to 300 barrels of oil to manufacture a battery that can hold one barrel of oil equivalent of energy. Just manufacturing the battery can have a carbon debt ranging from 10 tons to 40 tons of CO2, and the plans that are in place to increase the use of batteries will require an increase of minerals like lithium, cobalt, and zinc. Demand for those minerals will increase between 400 percent and 4,000 percent. There isn’t enough mining in the world to make enough batteries for that many people for their cars.”
Mills’s point is that the loss of a significant share of Russia’s energy supplies could trigger the third and most tremendous global energy shock since the invention of the computer. He writes:
Given that hydrocarbons are essential for contemporary society, the consequences of shortfalls or bans would be severe. The first two global energy shocks in the modern world—the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian revolution—triggered oil price increases of 200 percent and 400 percent respectively, and touched off global recessions. Each one had long-lasting impacts on policies, government spending, and geopolitics.
Against the backdrop of years “of hypertrophied rhetoric and trillions of dollars of spending and subsidies,” we still depend on hydrocarbons for 84 percent of all energy, merely two percent lower than two decades ago. “Solar and wind technologies supply barely 5 percent of global energy,” Mills observes. “Electric vehicles still offset less than 0.5 percent of world oil demand.”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPC) insists on understanding Earth’s weather and climate in linear terms, targeting CO2 as the sole variable responsible for global warming. That the IPCC can confidently say that continued burning of hydrocarbon fuels will mean Earth’s temperature will rise more than 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by 2030 or 2050 is nonsense.
In Earth’s nonlinear climate system, any number of nonpredictable events may occur. The sun might flare or otherwise increase activity. Equally possible, the sun might already be entering a new minimum period. In time-series analysis, the variations of temperature recorded over a few years are too short a period to establish a recent Earth temperature phenomenon statistically. Time-series climate analysis requires hundreds of thousands or even millions of years of accurate data to be meaningful in geological time. But again, the real issue is that the climate is a vehicle for political change.
In his 2022 book, Marx in the Anthropocene, associate professor at the University of Tokyo Kohei Saito reimagined the writings of the “young Marx” to argue that Marx was a “degrowth ecological communist.” Saito embraces the NZE movement because he understands that “ecosocialism is the basis for degrowth.” He rejects the possibility of sustainable growth under socialism, realizing that only through degrowth ecosocialism can the “anarchy of capitalism” be transcended.
After years of the radical eco-left preaching the evil of hydrocarbon fuels, we have higher energy costs caused by the systematic implementation of SWB technology that makes no sense, given the rigors of economic theory, energy dynamics, or climate science. The global warming/climate change ideologues preached green energy, but not because the neo-Marxist left knew we had to achieve NZE to save the planet. Today’s radical green revolutionaries embrace NZE because they know that capitalism will fail, not because the world’s workers will unite, but because advanced industrial economies will collapse without abundant, cheap hydrocarbon fuels.