Volume 21

Climate Realism and a Positive Vision for American Energy

by C. Boyden Gray

Everything that is grown, made, used, or moved needs energy. We want our energy to be affordable, available, secure, and sustainable. Twentieth century America is largely a story of achieving the first three qualities, and the last fifty years has been an attempt to achieve the fourth. To that end, climate idealists have presented data on the unsustainability of oil, gas, coal, and nuclear to justify climate and energy policies that categorically reject these disfavored forms of energy while subsidizing favored forms: wind, solar, and batteries. But cli-mate idealists have failed to appreciate the full benefits of fossil fuels: how fossil fuels have been critical to powering industry, producing modern materials, and securing the United States’ geopolitical position. At the same time, they exaggerate the unsustainability of fossil fuels, ignoring the strides we have al-ready made in pollution reduction and conflating the reality of climate change with evidence of an imminent apocalypse. Such an approach is myopic and thus fails to see the costs of the energy transition, not just to the affordability of energy, but to its availability, security, and even sustainability. 

 This article argues that technological prescriptivism is not the most efficient way to accomplish our energy or climate goals. The United States’ greatest cli-mate successes have come from setting aggressive goals and allowing them to be reached through technology-neutral and market-based means. Our energy policy should focus on setting realistic goals for energy availability, security, and sustainability and allow American ingenuity to find the most affordable path forward. In this way, the United States can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions while providing for American workers and families. Four pillars support a positive and realistic energy policy. The first is setting availability, security, and sustainability objectives directly rather than with prescriptive command-and-control regulation or subsidization of specific technologies. The second is lowering other regulatory barriers to speed new development of next-generation energy technology. The third is modernizing other non-carbon emission regulations to account for the changing technological and increasingly international landscape. The fourth is investing directly in the protection and improvement of our domestic natural resources. This positive approach will give America and Americans the energy needed to build a better, more sustainable future. 


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