The Energy Elephant

According to a recent article [paywalled; excerpts in link] in the South China Morning Post, China is “at risk of missing its [climate] goals” unless it reins in its ambitious coal-fired power plant building program.

This assumes, of course, that China was sincere when it promised to scale back it’s carbon output. Color me dubious.

Its pledge to the Paris accords in 2016 was that it would merely double its carbon output by 2030. India pledged to limit its output to triple its output over the 2015 value. The US, by contrast, pledged to reduce its CO2 output by 40 percent over that same period.

China emits more CO2 than the rest of the world combined, an amount that rises sharply year after year. The source of this carbon is, overwhelmingly, coal-fired power plants, which that nation is building or approving at a rate of about two a week. This isn’t a new thing. It’s been happening for years.

Why coal?

Because it’s cheap and reliable and plentiful, and because China needs the power if it wants to be the world’s dominant economic and manufacturing power. Which it very much does.

The reaction of the rest of the world?


So you can interpret this non-reaction a few different ways.

One, people just don’t know about it. But it’s been common knowledge for years. Policy-makers certainly know it. But the legacy media, mainstream press–call it what you will–hasn’t shown much interest in the subject because it muddies the simplistic West-as-villain narrative.

Two, people don’t care. They want their cheap stuff, and they want it NOW.


Three, they aren’t convinced there really is a problem. Which would be understandable, if accurate, because by and large life is pretty good. Despite all the talk of gloom and doom and crisis and impending Armageddon, things are rocking along pretty much as they always have. Nothin’ but blue skies. Oh sure, folks give lip service to climate concerns, but if you really pin them down, they’ll tell you they’re just not feeling it. Which of course frustrates the activist class to no end. But they’re never satisfied anyway.

So what’s the point, Scott?

The point is this: It doesn’t matter what we do. The West could reduce its carbon output to zero and it would barely budge the needle. If CO2 really is a problem, China alone will ensure that it will continue to be one. People get this and act accordingly.

Here’s the thing: Energy is life. Like it or not, carbon-based fuels allow us the luxury of cheap, abundant energy, which we have harnessed to build bustling, prosperous, safe, comfortable, extraordinarily advanced societies.

Take away that energy and it all collapses in about a week.

Our society derives roughly 80 percent of its energy needs from fossil fuels. This is actually on the low end for industrial economies. Green energy policies assume that this energy may be entirely replaced by diffuse, intermittent, mostly weather-dependent sources, at acceptable economic and environmental cost. That’s a mighty big “if” that seems increasingly unlikely, if not impossible, once you start running the numbers. And that, my friends, is the elephant in the room.

© 2024 by Scott P. Snell

Right of reuse is freely granted with proper attribution.

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