If we were to believe the opponents of fossil fuels, the Messiah will be just around the corner once the world frees itself of its dependence on oil and gas. Climate change will be reversed. The earth will be saved. Dependence on dictators who preside over energy resources will end.
If only it were so simple. Start with the dictators. The world in general and Europe in particular have been jolted into action by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Faster than anyone could have predicted even during the early days of the invasion, let alone before it, most of Europe is moving every mountain to free itself of dependence on Russian oil and gas. This is long overdue and all to the good. Europe had endangered its security by overlooking the nature of Russia’s leader with whom it cut all those oil and gas deals.
But freedom from the grip of Putin is not freedom from the grip of dictators. For what happens when the world needs oil no longer? What happens when “clean energy” kicks in? When happens when everyone is driving an electric car? Here is what happens: dependence on the dictator of China.
As noted in the Wall Street Journal, China is the world’s leading processor of copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and rare earth elements, all of which are needed for electric vehicles and some of which are needed for wind turbines and solar panels. If China invades Taiwan, President Biden has warned China that it, like Russia, will have its two main markets — the US and Europe — punished with the same harsh sanctions now imposed on Russia. However, unlike the current dictator in Russia — whose threat of a cutoff of Russian oil and gas exports is now being neutralized (albeit painfully) by most of Europe — a Chinese dictator’s threat to cut off its processing of minerals would leave us virtually helpless in a fossil fuel free world.
Climate activists rejoice over the coming end of Putin’s oil-extortion stranglehold over Europe, and we rejoice with them. There will be no rejoicing by climate activists preaching the panacea of the electric vehicle over a Chinese threat to end its processing of items that make the electric vehicle possible.
This is not an argument for fossil fuels. It is a reality check. Short of the end of the communist party’s hold on China —hardly likely — there is no risk free path to a clean energy economy. It is geopolitical blindness to think that if only Putin were gone and if only dependence on oil and gas were ended, the future of clean energy is guaranteed.
We start with the challenge to clean energy posed by dictators, but we do not end with them. Clean energy also is challenged by environmentalists. Yes, the development of the alternatives to oil and gas do not necessarily find favor in the eyes of the environmentalists. China processes the minerals; other countries possess them. As noted in the WSJ, one of the world’s largest deposits of lithium, a key component of the batteries essential to clean energy, is in Thacker Pass, Nevada. You would think that environmentalists would rejoice over their extraction. You would be wrong.The idea that the pursuit of clean energy is synonymous with its wholehearted embrace by environmentalists is wrong. Among their objections to the extraction of lithium in Nevada is the claim that it would release carbon dioxide into the air.
Milton Friedman the economist observed that there is no free lunch. There is also no obstacle-free pursuit of clean energy, even if energy-pivotal dictators never resort to blackmail.
The final challenge in the pursuit of clean energy is the economy. Get used to the “T” word — for trillion. It is not just that it will take untold dollars to free ourselves of China’s dominance of the clean energy process.
It takes the same in the ironic, short-term development of additional fossil fuels to tide us over until worldwide clean energy is available. It would be doubly ironic not to develop them here in the US in favor of becoming dependent on those who would develop them elsewhere.
In our view, the real error in this hugely complex, hugely expensive energy revolution is shutting down nuclear energy.
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