Global warming is back on the agenda, with the Biden administration promising to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 50-52 percent below their 2005 levels over the next decade.
According to the president, it’s all a part of saving the planet. And bolstering labor unions:
Climate change poses an existential threat, but responding to this threat offers an opportunity to support good-paying, union jobs, strengthen America’s working communities, protect public health, and advance environmental justice. Creating jobs and tackling climate change go hand in hand – empowering the U.S. to build more resilient infrastructure, expand access to clean air and drinking water, spur American technological innovations, and create good-paying, union jobs along the way.
How do we go about cutting emissions in order to meet the president’s 2030 target date?
University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. parses some figures. He notes that getting from 4.6 billion metric tons (2020) to 3 billion metric tons would require emission reductions of more than 4 percent annually. Since 1991, he notes, “The only annual reductions > ~3% occurred during global financial crisis and COVID-19, but some other years have been close, sustained annual reductions have not yet occurred.”
There’s one option: a years-long global economic crisis. That’s…not an optimal solution (particularly for all those union jobs the White House wants to create).
To make cuts of this magnitude, Pielke points out, would require annually retiring and replacing 3 to 5 percent of coal- and natural gas-fired electric power generation plants, 3 to 5 percent of fossil-fueled transportation, including cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships; and 3 to 5 percent of industrial emissions from sources such as concrete, petrochemical, and steel plants. Since 80 percent of future global warming is projected to result from carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels, Pielke cautioned against “accounting games” that include reductions attributed to land use and other offsets.
A not-impossible goal to reach. But hardly a painless or inexpensive one, either. And as for the good union jobs? The economic disruption such a shift would involve has unions skittish about the whole idea:
Labor groups, echoed by Republicans in Congress, are cautioning that Biden’s plan to hitch the jobs recovery to massive green energy investment could backfire because of the quality of employment it will create and the economic devastation it could cause on rural communities.
We also have to ignore what is already happening in the green energy sector:
Power generation jobs have declined 50 percent in the last 20 years, as renewable technologies have taken hold, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Renewable power in that time rose to 18 percent of the energy mix from 6 percent, while labor-intensive coal generation went from half of all generation to 18 percent, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.
“Right now, if you’re looking at traditional renewables, you know, it hasn’t historically been a hopeful place for American workers to go into these sectors of the economy to work, to have family-sustaining jobs,” said Roxanne Brown, international vice president for the United Steelworkers. “That has not been the American story — yet.”
The Biden administration has chosen a government-centric approach to a greener economy. That all but guarantees it will be more costly, less efficient, and prone to cronyism than a market-based approach that rewards results, and punishes failure.