Four Reasons – Beyond the Obvious – Why Bill McKibben’s “Keep-It-In-The-Ground” World War II Analogy is Ridiculous
Climate activist Bill McKibben has officially jumped the shark, penning a cover article for New Republic this week that claims ending all fossil fuels is the equivalent of what the Greatest Generation did when they stormed the beaches of Normandy:
“We’re under attack from climate change and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.”
“It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing.”
The “mobilization plan” the leader of the “Keep it in the Ground” (KIITG) movement speaks of is an immediate conversion to 100 percent renewable energy — which is essentially a declaration of war on reality, as a pair of prominent Democrats have recently pointed out.
Obama Science Advisor John Holdren has said, “The notion that we’re going to keep it all in the ground is unrealistic,” while Clinton campaign chair John Podesta has called the KIITG agenda McKibben is pushing “completely impractical.”
And as EID has noted numerous times, even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — which activists including McKibben have long called the “gold standard” for understanding climate change — has stated fracking brings down greenhouse gases.
So beyond the fact that McKibben continues to deny the science and push absurdities (yes, he likens fossil fuels to Hitler) here’s a closer look at the four reasons why McKibben’s plan is as impractical as it is ridiculous.
Reason #1: McKibben wants to end the one fuel responsible for significant decreases in GHG emissions
McKibben and the KIITG movement continue to ignore the fact that the U.S. energy-related CO2 emission are at their lowest levels in nearly a quarter century. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has projected that domestic CO2 emissions will drop to their lowest levels since 1992 this year. Any objective observer would have to agree the fact that natural gas is now the U.S.’s top source of electricity generation has everything to do with that trend.
In fact — thanks to fracking — electrical generation is no longer the top industrial source of CO2 emissions, as conversion to natural gas for electrical generation has accounted for 68 percent of the 14 percent total reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions during last decade. This has all happened at the same time the economy has grown 15 percent, reversing a trend in which economic growth has been coupled with emission increases.
McKibben certainly would have applauded these trends back in 2009, when he was standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol demanding power plants switch to clean-burning natural gas. McKibben was so cognizant of natural gas’ climate benefits that he was even willing to get himself arrested in efforts to get power plants switched to natural gas, as he said in the build up to the protest:
“There are moments in a nation’s — and a planet’s — history when it may be necessary for some to break the law … We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested.”
McKibben even said a conversion to natural gas would be good for the economy, which, of course, has proven to be a spot-on assessment.
Flash forward seven years, and McKibben’s tone is much the same, but with a few notable caveats: Natural gas is now the enemy even though it reducing GHG emissions — which is ironically the No. 1 goal of the KIITG movement. Furthermore, there are huge doubts about the economic and logistic feasibility of the alternative McKibben is pushing, which brings us to the next two reasons his New Republic article is ridiculous.
Reason #2: Study McKibben cites as evidence of renewable energy’s economic viability shows 100 percent conversion would yield millions of job losses
Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson’s research has long been used by greens to try to sell their 100 percent renewable ideology as being economically feasible, and McKibben’s New Republic piece is just the latest example, as he claims:
“For starters, it’s important to remember that a truly global mobilization to defeat climate change wouldn’t wreck our economy or throw coal miners out of work. … It would produce an awful lot of jobs. (An estimated net gain of roughly two million in the United States alone.)”
But a recent EID review of Jacobson’s plan found his own data showed a 100 percent renewable conversion would actually destroy nearly four million long-term jobs nationwide with a net loss of 1.2 million jobs.
Those figures were buried on an Excel sheet from Jacobson’s website under a tab titled “Total Job Loss.” Jacobson’s own data showed that a complete conversion to renewables would yield the elimination of 2.4 million transportation jobs, 800,000 oil and gas production jobs and 90,000 coal mining related jobs — a grand total of 3.8 million jobs lost, compared to the 2.6 million long-term jobs Jacobson claims his plan would create.
Not surprisingly, after EID brought this information to light, Jacobson claimed these numbers were not “real” and “test” numbers. He subsequently deleted the “Total Job Loss” tab on excel sheet from his website.
Jacobson also originally touted that his plan would result in a net gain of four million jobs. However, we would be remiss not to note the latter was based on his projection of 5.3 million construction jobs being created — the kind of “temporary” jobs greens have long criticized as not being “real” jobs. Interestingly, McKibben has now halved Jacobson’s original claim to two million net jobs created, which may or may not have something to do with EID highlighting the original inclusion of these “temporary” jobs. But bottom line: both of his figures are wrong.
Reason #3: Experts agrees a conversion to 100 percent renewables is impractical
Even before EID shed some much-needed light on what Jacobson’s data really forecasted on the jobs lost/jobs created front, his rosy plan for a 100 percent renewable energy conversion was highly criticized for being completely impractical from a basic functionality standpoint.
Roger Pielke, a professor in the environmental studies program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has called Jacobson’s 100 percent renewables plan for New York a “fantasy” and “magic thinking.”
Dr. James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world’s most famous climate scientists, says that believing in the feasibility of a rapid transition to renewables is more of a mythical belief than a reality-based argument, stating:
“Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.” (emphasis added)
Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute — whom TIME Magazine has declared a “hero of the environment — similarly critiqued Jacobson’s plan for 100 percent renewables, specifically Jacobson’s decision to rule out nuclear power, which produces no carbon dioxide emissions. Shellenberger also notes “solar and wind are totally different than [fossil fuels] and inferior in that they’re intermittent.”
Even a Daily Kos blogger, who allowed Jacobson a forum to respond to EID’s findings, criticized his 100 percent renewables plan as impractical. In a comment posted to the article including Dr. Jacobson’s interview, the environmental blogger said that “no electric utility is ever going to adopt Jacobson’s plan” because, among other things, the “wind power component of Jacobson’s plan cannot be relied upon for reliable electric power generation and supply.”
The latter facts were recently highlighted in a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which brings us to our next example of why McKibben’s piece essentially declared war on reality.
Reason #4: Renewables need natural gas like a fish needs water
McKibben notes in the New Republic piece that retired engineer Tom Solomon has calculated that the 100 percent conversion to renewables mapped out in Jacobson’s plan would require “about 6,448 gigawatts of clean energy to replace fossil fuels — or the equivalent of 295 solar factories the size of Elon Musk’s SolarCity Gigafactory under construction in Buffalo, N.Y.”
Considering this would equate to the construction of six such factories per state over that timespan, even Solomon admits this is a very tall task. And, ironically, it would require a whole lot of natural gas to execute.
What McKibben, Jacobson and other KIITG supporters always fail to mention is — due to the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine —all the new wind and solar infrastructure would be required to have backup generation options due to their status as intermittent sources of energy. And that backup source will likely be natural gas, due to all the economic and environmental factors we have already discussed.
As the National Bureau of Economic research study notes, eight megawatts of back-up capacity are required for any 10 megawatts of wind capacity added to the grid. Again, this is required.
That study also makes reference to research suggesting that in order for photovoltaic power to be a viable base-load resource, it must have the ability to store solar electricity for 20 hours. Problem is, no such massive storage technology currently exists, which is why rapid-fire fossil fuel backup power (i.e. natural gas) is necessary to “spot” solar power, so to speak.
These realities considered, the study points out that renewable conversion is much more expensive than its proponents are leading on, and that usually means the added cost will be passed along to customers.
“… the estimated indirect costs of renewables are at least an order of magnitude greater than those associated with dispatchable fossil-fuel technologies. For the latter, system costs are relatively modest, generally estimated below USD 3 per MWh (megawatt-hour) in OECD countries. For the formers, such costs are as high as USD 40 per MWh for onshore wind, USD 45 per MWh for offshore wind and USD 80 per MWh for solar. These high estimates are the direct results of the need for additional system reserves and back-up generation to ensure system reliability. Renewable energy system costs will also increase over-proportionally with the amount of variable electricity in the system, with far-fetching [reaching] implications for the energy markets and security of supply. Ignoring them can thus lead to a severe underestimation of the social and private costs of any energy transition.”
It is important to note that this study was not the product of an industry source or so-called “climate deniers.” And independent experts such as Christopher Knittel, who directs the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at MIT, largely agree with the conclusions, as Knittel made the following comment to the Washington Post.
“It’s a reality check now,” said Knittel of the study’s insights on the practicality and financial issues regarding conversion to renewables. “I think it’s potentially bad news as we start to get higher and higher penetration levels of renewables.”
That McKibben choses to compare the incredible sacrifices of the Greatest Generation to the KIITG movement is bad enough.
Making matters worse, McKibben’s piece ignores the fact that a fuel he advocates eliminating is achieving his movement’s stated goal — reduced GHG emissions — while the alternative he’s proposing has been unequivocally deemed economically and functionally impractical.
Throw in the strange irony that McKibben has declared war on a fuel that he was willing to go to jail for just seven years ago, and it’s no wonder mainstream Democrats simply don’t agree with McKibben and the extreme “Keep-it-in-the-Ground” movement he represents. U.S. Interior Secretary and former National Parks Conservation Association board member Sally Jewell pretty much summed it up when she said:
“It’s going to take a very long time before we can wean ourselves from fossil fuels, so I think that to keep it in the ground is naïve, to say we could shift to 100 percent renewables is naïve.”