California’s green conundrum
In 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the landmark AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act.” Determined to leave a legacy that would ensure he remained welcome among the glitterati of Hollywood and Manhattan, Schwarzenegger may not have fully comprehended the forces he unleashed.
Under AB 32, California was required to “reduce its [greenhouse gas] emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.” Now, according to the “scoping plan” updated in 2017, California must “further reduce its GHG emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.”
The problem with such an ambitious plan is that achieving it will preclude ordinary Californians ever enjoying the lifestyle that people living in developed nations have earned and have come to expect. It will condemn Californians to chronic scarcity of energy, with repercussions that remain poorly understood by voters.
It isn’t merely that Californians will experience unreliable energy, as the percentage of energy generated from “renewable” sources continues to increase. That will eventually get sorted out, although at a stupendous cost. Battery farms will replace natural gas plants to fill in those times of day when there is no sun and insufficient wind, and over time, the entire solar, wind, battery, and “smart grid” infrastructure will get overbuilt enough to cope even with those months in the year when days are short and there isn’t much wind. It will cost trillions and despoil thousands of square miles of supposedly sacred open space, but it will get done.
The bigger problem is that this whole scheme is too space-intensive and too expensive to ever be scaled up to the level of abundance. To close the loop, “negawatts” will be required. That is, extreme conservation of energy solutions will become mandatory. This will affect every household, imposing LED lights, “smart” thermostats, “energy sipping” appliances, lights that turn themselves off when the sensors determine a room is empty. Every manner of intrusive, surveilled, algorithmic management of our lives will become mandatory. But it doesn’t end there.
Energy isn’t just required to run a household. It’s also necessary to run an economy. This is immediately obvious with respect to the future of California’s water infrastructure. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “overall, water use accounts for about 20 percent of California’s electricity use and 30 percent of natural gas used by businesses and homes. This energy is used to supply, convey, treat, and heat water.”
Meanwhile, a rarely acknowledged fact about California is that, despite “green” ideology dominating public policy for decades, over 80 percent of California’s total energy consumption relies on fossil fuel.
This is the conundrum. California’s policymakers know that in order to fulfill their climate goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act, they cannot permit the growth of industry or infrastructure that may consume more energy.
The effect on water use is profound. Want to increase interbasin transfers, to deliver water from regions where water is abundant to regions where water is scarce? That, after all, was the realized intent of the California Water Project, one of the civil engineering marvels of the world. But why fix the collapsing aqueducts, or build additional pipelines and aqueducts, when that would require more pumping, and more pumping requires more energy? Why build desalination plants, when it takes a megawatt-year of electricity to desalinate every 2,000 acre feet of seawater? Why upgrade water treatment plants, when treating wastewater requires energy?
California’s green solution is to ration water consumption instead of generating more energy to produce more water. This priority is felt everywhere. Neglect the agricultural canals and let more runoff flow into the ocean. Decimate California’s once legendary agricultural sector. Squeeze the small farming operations into insolvency, and allow hedge funds to buy their land for pennies on the dollar. Replace a farming economy that delivers a diversity of row crops to the entire world with a few commodity monocrops that don’t require as much water, or turn the farmland into solar farms and nature preserves.
The impact on household water consumption is set to become equally severe. The state wants to reduce indoor water consumption to 55 gallons per person per day, then to 50 gallons per person per day, and eventually to 40 gallons per person per day. Ban virtually all use of outdoor water for landscaping. Promote, then mandate, “xeriscaping”—because it’s fun and responsible to send children out to play in the rocks. And hold on, anyway, isn’t having a private home with a private yard exclusionary and unsustainable and racist? Don’t laugh. They’re coming for you.
Californians, even during prolonged droughts, could invest in water infrastructure and maintain an abundant supply of water for farms and cities. But abundant water policies collide with the conundrum. To supply more water requires more energy. To supply more anything requires more energy. It won’t happen.
To implement California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, the state has raised an army of “carbon accountants.” They are charged with determining the carbon impact of everything. Want to bring back the timber industry in California? After all, there’s no better way to sequester carbon than to cut down trees and mill lumber. But wait. First the carbon accountants will have to calculate the net benefit. How much energy will the lumber trucks and the chainsaws require? What about the mills? What about the carbon absorption potential of the trees if they’re left standing? Blah blah blah. To be sure, this level of analysis can’t be done on a spreadsheet. Bring out the parametric database. Bring out the black box. Make sure you include a plethora of regression analyses. To do the “work,” hire PhDs by the dozens. Spend millions. Spend years.
Or never mind.
With a Sierra Club litigator looking over their shoulder, don’t expect carbon accountants to ever greenlight an industrial endeavor in California, unless it’s a solar farm, a wind farm, or a battery farm. And never mind the collateral damage of those projects. So let the forests burn. God forbid the timber companies might come in and clear out around the power lines, maintain the fire roads and fire breaks, and thin the undergrowth, all for free in exchange for the right to log again. That’s what they did up until the 1990s. Today? Not a chance. So burn baby, burn.
One way to address California’s green conundrum would be to embrace nuclear and hydroelectric sources of energy. After all, these power sources do not create any emissions. Keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open. Raise the height of the Shasta Dam and immediately have more water and more electricity. But these solutions are anathema to California’s green elite. But why? Is there a “climate crisis” or isn’t there?
Of course, if the goal of green policy in California is to reduce the standard of living of normal residents, implement draconian controls over their lives, and move people out of spacious detached homes and into energy efficient apartments, this is not a conundrum at all.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Recognize that fossil fuel cannot be phased out precipitously and set an example to the world of how to, for example, use clean natural gas in a manner that is as efficient and sustainable as possible. Pioneer new designs for nuclear power stations. Build water infrastructure that guarantees more water for everything—not only the farms and cities, but the streams and rivers. Stop using visions of an apocalypse to limit our lives and line the pockets of environmentalist litigants. Proclaim abundance in all things to be achievable and desirable, and refuse to compromise. There is no conundrum. It is a self-inflicted lie.
As America’s dissident reformers focus on confirming election integrity, maintaining medical freedom, and countering the woke mob—as if that weren’t enough—the agenda of the environmentalist extremists moves relentlessly forward. What’s happening in California is moving East, crossing the Sierras and the Rockies, traversing the plains, and infiltrating every state house and county seat and city council in the nation. Propelled by fantasy and panic in equal measure, and manipulated by fanatics and shameful opportunists, the extreme green agenda must be recognized for what it is: a highly contagious misanthropic pathology that afflicts the young, the impressionable, the uninformed, the well-intentioned but misguided, the profiteers and the tyrants. Beware of them all.
This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor for the California Policy Center.