Abandon Hope or Abandon Net Zero
This commentary was originally published in Real Clear Energy.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” reads an inscription at the gate to Hell in Dante’s “Inferno,” but in the modern world, Dante might as well be referring to the gates of Net Zero. After walking through those gates for a few days—maybe just a few minutes—most people would recoil at the effects of Net Zero: higher prices for everything, unreliable electricity, and a plunge into poverty. But as in “Inferno,” there is hope: you just have to abandon Net Zero. Cases-in-point include San Antonio, Texas; Huntington Beach, California; and Orange County, California.
For the past four years, San Antonio has been, by some metrics, the most-impoverished large metro area in the United States, surpassing Detroit. Despite its community’s pressing needs, San Antonio enacted a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) in 2019, with a vote of 10-1, to focus on “reducing the carbon intensity” of San Antonio’s electric generation instead of reducing the city’s poverty by providing more affordable and reliable energy.
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At the time, more than half of San Antonians polled said they were not willing to pay a single dime more for climate change programs. And yet, the city’s misguided climate plan was going to lead to higher utility bills by at least $1,000 a year per household.
That was in 2019. Regardless of whether San Antonians and Americans-at-large were willing to pay more for energy, inflation and the Biden administration’s war on fossil fuels has now caused energy prices to soar. A nationwide survey released in October 2022 said that “32% of Americans have paid a bill late in the past six months — and 61% of them say it’s because they didn’t have enough money to cover the costs.” A $1,000 a year increase—at least—with a net-zero campaign is not sustainable for a city already overrun by poverty and hurting from inflation and soaring energy prices.
In recent months, the city’s electric utility management and its rate advisory committee adopted a plan that will have the utility invest in significant new natural gas generation, eschewing calls from environmental groups to adopt a more wind and solar heavy mix. On Jan. 17, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg threw his support behind the proposal, noting that “People want to make sure that we can affordably keep the lights on in San Antonio,” and “In this scenario, we are owning more of that ability [to generate power] ourselves.” While not formally abandoning the city’s Net Zero by 2050 plan, the change is a tacit acknowledgement that the city’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, its electric utility, cannot affordably meet that goal.
Similarly, the Huntington Beach City Council just voted to pull out of its plan for 100% renewable energy with the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA). Like San Antonio, Huntington Beach has concerns for its residents, including the increasing homelessness in the community. Orange County had already bailed on the plan, claiming that “the authority failed to inform the public that their electricity bills were increasing.”
While citizens of San Antonio, Huntington Beach, and Orange County have averted the left’s woke Green New Deal for now, many cities and countries are still headed down the path of decarbonization to the detriment of their citizens’ livelihoods. Think about the countries that actually live at Net Zero. Malawi’s life expectancy is a full 20 years less than developed countries; a man can’t expect to live past 57. In Ethiopia, many girls walk more than three miles daily, spending eight hours walking to collect water, instead of attending school. Sri Lanka went from economic growth to plunging its people into hunger because of the (now former) president’s policies as the first ever Net Zero chief executive. He banned the use and importation of nitrogen-based fertilizer. Food production dropped 40% and prices rose 80%.
That’s the impact of Net Zero that the US will not have to feel if its cities and states continue to come to their senses about the impossibility of such a goal. Expensive energy hurts the poor; affordable and reliable energy has the power to lift millions out of poverty.
It's time to abandon Net Zero.