Clinton-Gore 2016: A Campaign of Bad Ideas on the Environment

Hillary Clinton shared the stage last week with Al Gore. Her recycling of Gore's old environmental themes is ominous.

In this Oct. 11, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, right, accompanied by former Vice President Al Gore, left, takes the stage for a rally at Miami Dade College in Miami.

By Timothy Terrell Published on October 19, 2016

Last week, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore appeared before an adoring crowd at Miami-Dade College to promote Clinton’s environmental policies — and maybe pick up a few votes from Bernie Sanders enthusiasts who aren’t as excited about her campaign.

Speaking just a few days after Hurricane Matthew passed up the Atlantic coast, Clinton dedicated her entire speech to Gore’s signature issue — climate change. Whether Gore resonates with millennial voters too young to remember his presidential campaign remains to be seen. But Clinton’s recycling of Gore’s old themes is ominous.

Blaming Hurricane Matthew’s severity on climate change, Clinton commented that “sea levels have already risen about a foot … in much of the southeast, which means that Matthew’s storm surge was higher, and the flooding was worse.” The naval base at Norfolk, Virginia is frequently flooded, she said, due to rising sea levels.

But this is misleading. There are other contributors to sea level rise relative to a particular coastline, such as land subsidence due to groundwater extraction or sediment compaction, and the overall rise or fall of continental plates. And a 2013 study from the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that for the southern Chesapeake Bay region (i.e., the Norfolk area), “land subsidence has been responsible for more than half the relative sea level rise measured in the region.”

The overall pace of sea level change has been pretty slow, anyway. According to EPA’s data, the global average absolute sea level has taken about 140 years to rise 9 inches. And 2011 research based on U.S. tide gauges concluded that sea level rise was likely to decelerate, rather than accelerate.

The most sensible course of action is to increase our ability to adapt to sea level change and any other environmental change. And that is where economic progress is essential.

The Best Response: Economic Progress

In a 2011 Reason study, Indur Goklany found that “aggregate mortality attributed to all extreme weather events globally has declined by more than 90% since the 1920s, in spite of a four-fold rise in population and much more complete reporting of such events.” Deaths from droughts dropped by 99.9% since the ’20s, deaths from floods by over 98% since the ’30s, and deaths from storms by more than 55% since the ’70s. Goklany pointed out that these dramatic declines in weather-induced mortality “reflect a remarkable improvement in society’s adaptive capacity, likely due to greater wealth and better technology, enabled in part by use of hydrocarbon fuels.”

Hydrocarbons, of course, are anathema to Clinton and Gore. In her speech, Clinton touted “renewable energy.” Predictably, Clinton treats renewable energy as equivalent to clean energy, though around two billion people in the world cook food and heat their homes with wood, charcoal, and dried animal dung — all renewable, and all major contributors to health-destroying indoor air pollution.

Research shows that if countries can make use of free markets and grow economically, they will pass the higher-pollution phases of development, and enjoy both an escape from poverty and improved environmental quality. Children — and Clinton mentioned children seven times in her speech — around the world need protection from disease and other risks associated with poverty.

But instead of pursuing economic growth, Clinton jets to international conferences to push agreements that limit growth and prolong the period of time these two billion people will inhale the smoke of their biomass fires. Full implementation of the Paris Agreement from last December, which Clinton called “our last best chance to solve the global climate crisis,” would cost over $1 trillion a year from 2030 to the end of the century, and would reduce global average temperatures by at most 0.3ºF.

Much of Clinton’s speech was spent pushing energy subsidies that waste billions of dollars chasing after impractical boondoggles. A 2011 Institute for Energy Research study found that the subsidy per megawatt-hour for fossil fuels is about $0.64, while for wind it’s $56.29, and for solar, a massive $775.64. Gordon Hughes, former senior adviser on energy and environmental policy at the World Bank, found that the cumulative impact of government support of renewable energy projects could mean the loss of 2 to 3 percent of GDP (around $30 to $45 billion) every year for 20 years or more.

Not only are solar and wind much more expensive than fossil fuels and nuclear power, but their environmental benefits are questionable. Clean-energy jobs — mentioned multiple times in Clinton’s speech — are not as helpful in avoiding carbon dioxide emissions as her supporters might expect.

Since the wind doesn’t blow all the time, and the sun doesn’t always shine, the electrical grid depends on backup power capacity. Some of those power stations use natural gas and must be kept on a relatively inefficient “spinning reserve,” meaning that they are creating CO2. Energy expert Robert Bryce, a self-described “agnostic” on the role of CO2 on climate change, pointed out in 2010 that after Denmark poured huge amounts of money into wind energy, the country’s CO2 emissions remained about the same as they were in the 1980s. And its electricity and motor vehicle fuel — larger parts of the budget of poorer households — are now among the most expensive in the world.

Neither are these “good jobs” in solar and wind power likely to boost the economy. A 2009 study by scholars at Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University found that the U.S. should expect a loss of at least 2.2 jobs for every “green job” created, and that “each ‘green’ megawatt installed destroys 5.28 jobs on average elsewhere in the economy: 8.99 by photovoltaics [solar], 4.27 by wind energy, 5.05 by mini-hydro.”

None of this will dampen the enthusiasm of Clinton’s supporters. Catastrophic, human-induced climate change has become a profitable crisis for all those who seek research funding, solar panel subsidies or federal dollars for “green” infrastructure. It has become a powerful recruitment tool for environmental organizations, a jobs program for environmental studies majors, and a public-interest veneer for regulation that enriches the politically well-connected.

Those who challenge the climate change orthodoxy, or question the policy responses, endanger the flow of dollars and must be marginalized or shamed into silence. So they are derided as “science deniers” or “climate deniers,” in the same vein, of course, as Holocaust deniers.

In last week’s speech, Clinton again embraced the climate change political machine, its dissent-suppressing rhetoric, and its most revered spokesman, Al Gore. Rather than pursuing economic growth that reduces poverty and helps the environment, Clinton has chosen government policies that offer few solutions and high costs. This is a path we can’t afford.

 

Timothy D. Terrell, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Economics at Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C., and a Senior Fellow of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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