By Marita Noon
With 9-11 nearly upon us, ISIS is brazenly beheading American journalists-with a promise of more to come; Christian congregations have been bombed during worship, churches have been destroyed, monasteries attacked, entire cities purged, hundreds of thousands have fled, while others have been slaughtered; and cities, weapons, banks, and key infrastructures are being captured. Surely, with all of these horrors playing out before our eyes, the crisis in Syria and Iraq is the "most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face." No, the quote above was made about climate change by Hillary Clinton-the heavy favorite for the Democratic 2016 presidential nomination-before a standing-room-only crowd at Senator Harry Reid's seventh National Clean Energy Summit (NCES 7.0) held in Las Vegas on Thursday, September 4.
We could almost forgive Secretary of State John Kerry for his similar statement made in Jakarta, Indonesia, on February 16, when he referred to climate change as: "perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction." ISIS hadn't yet erupted onto the international stage. But now we know better. We know that the world isn't less violent than it has ever been. We know that it isn't more tolerant than it has ever been.
Apparently, Clinton hasn't been following the news. Or, as Senator Rand Paul pointed out: she's "battling climate change instead of terrorism."
Clinton's speech on Thursday was presented to a "friendly crowd," who cheered her on. In his introduction, Reid declared that Clinton is: "able to explain things in a way we all understand" and said that she was: "the first to identify the fact that there is something called climate change." Her spot on the program has been referenced as: "her first energy and climate speech of a publicity tour that many believe is the springboard to a presidential campaign."
While no one in the Mandalay Bay ballroom questioned the validity of her statements-and the Q & A session led by White House Senior Advisor John Podesta resembled a lovefest-there was more than her misperception about "the challenges we face as a nation and a world" to question.
For example, when addressing "unpredictable" subsidies for green energy projects, she claimed that $500 billion is spent every year subsidizing fossil fuels. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2012, global fossil fuel subsidies did, in fact, total $544 billion, however, citing that figure in the same breath as U.S. tax incentives for renewable energy is deceptive at best.
The Institute for Energy Research (IER) did a study on global energy subsidies that revealed: "Fossil fuel consumption subsidies are most prevalent in the Middle East and in North Africa." The IER report states: "On a per-person basis, fossil fuel consumption subsidies are highest for the United Arab Emirates at $4,172 per person, Kuwait at $3,729 per person and Saudi Arabia at $2,291 per person." It concludes: "Many Americans are confused by the large amount of global fossil fuel consumption subsidies that the IEA calculates, not realizing that these subsidies have nothing to do with tax policy, research and development or loan guarantees, where most U.S. programs are directed."
A white paper from the Independent Petroleum Association of America offered the following insights culled from a Congressional Research Service Memo titled Energy Production by Source and Energy Tax Incentives. "While fossil fuels (including oil, natural gas, and coal) accounted for 78 percent of domestic energy production, they received just 13 percent of energy related 'tax incentives' in 2009. Meanwhile, renewables accounted for more than 77 percent of the roughly $20 billion in 'tax incentives' that went to energy, but generated less than 11 percent of domestic energy production. Renewables have received additional boosts as part of Federal spending packages enacted under the banner of economic recovery."
Let's look at those "incentives" for renewables and why they are "unpredictable." Germany and Spain led the world in green energy subsidies but have since considerably dialed back on them.
In Germany, after more than a decade of green-energy subsidies, its electricity rates and carbon-dioxide emissions have gone up. According to a September 4 Reuter's report, Germany's reliance on coal has gone up each of the past four years. Germany is looking at levies for residential photo-voltaic system owners-something also being considered (and, in some cases, implemented) in the U.S.
After nearly 100 billion of U.S. taxpayer dollars have gone to green-energy projects, the stimulus-funded program has been plagued with failure, corruption, and illegal activity-though the Department of Energy recently announced a new round of loan guarantees for green-energy projects. Meanwhile-as has happened in Germany-utility bills have gone up and public support for subsidies has declined. After more than twenty years, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy finally expired on December 31, 2013-though forces that benefit from it are still hoping to extend it retroactively. (Clinton did point out that wind energy is a very big part of farmers' income in New York.) The PTC is "unpredictable" at best.
In her Q & A session, Clinton said: "One day last summer, Germany got 74 percent of its energy from renewables." Like the comment about $500 billion in global subsidies for fossil fuels, her speech writers did their homework-but they plucked data without looking deeper and as a result made her look foolish. The 74 percent figure is fact. But it represents a fraction of only one day, not recent history, or even a pattern. One month later, Germany got 50 percent of its electricity demand from solar-but six months earlier, in the January cold, it got only 0.1 percent. In his post in the Energy Collective, Robert Wilson, a PhD Student in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde, calls Germany's situation: "more of a coal lock-in than a solar revolution," as the need for electricity, especially in the cold, grey days of January, requires the steady supply of coal-fueled electricity.
One other item to question: Clinton clearly collaborates with her former boss on his Clean Power Plan, which has a growing coalition of opponents as diverse as the Exotic Wildlife Association, the Foundry Association of Michigan, California Cotton Growers Association, Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association, The Fertilizer Institute, Georgia Railroad Association, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, electric utilities and co-ops, and city and state Chambers of Commerce from coast-to-coast.
The Clean Power Plan is about reducing carbon-dioxide emission from existing power plants. In her speech, Clinton repeated a falsehood Obama likes to reference: reducing CO2 emissions will improve children's' respiratory health.
"Hillary apparently doesn't know the difference between soot and CO2," quipped Jane Orient, MD, and president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. She continued: "And the American Lung Association pretends it doesn't. No one can claim that the tiny increase in CO2 from coal-fueled generating stations increases asthma-just being indoors with other breathing humans increases CO2 much more and doesn't cause asthma."
Orient went on to explain: "Some very bad studies of associations between high air pollution days and 'premature' deaths are used to extrapolate as with the liner no-threshold radiation hypothesis-lots of diesel exhaust may provoke an asthma attack, therefore a vanishingly small increase in soot affecting many people will cause some asthma. Some dust is soot, which is carbon, quod erat demonstratum." She added: "Unemployment, poverty, high electricity bills don't figure into the calculation."
Dr. Charles Battig, a board certified anesthesiologist, told me: "asthma sufferers, just like individuals without any respiratory disease, have 4 to 5 percent CO2 in their lungs as a normal component of their exhaled air. The CO2 levels will vary during an asthma attack. The presence of CO2 in expired air is normal for all humans, and ambient CO2 is not a trigger for an asthmatic attack. CO2 is not a pathological pollutant per se at levels 100 times that of ambient (inspired air); 400ppm ambient vs. 40,000 ppm in expired air."
As Reid announced, Clinton may be able to "able to explain things in a way we all understand," but she is creative with the data-using it to make the points she needed to curry favor with the NCES 7.0 audience.
In its review of her speech, the National Journal pointed out: "As expected, Clinton's keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit didn't wade into much controversial territory." She never touched on the Keystone pipeline that the State Department positively reviewed under her watch and which, in 2010, she stated that she was "inclined to approve."
Clinton did, however, take a couple risks for which she deserves some credit. She strayed from the safe turf, when she admitted that Obama's trajectory on climate change policy hit "a brick wall of opposition" at the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen. She also acknowledged: "Energy is a major part of our foreign policy." As such, she supports development of American natural gas and oil, calling it an example "of American innovation changing the game."
Addressing the benefits of producing and exporting natural gas and oil, she said: "Assuming that our production stays at the levels, or even as some predict, goes higher, I do think there's a play there." Noting it could help Europe and Asia, she added: "This is a great economic advantage, a competitive advantage, for us. ...We don't want to give that up."
America does have an energy advantage-and Clinton is correct: "We don't want to give that up." Why then, does she (and President Obama) support policies that would take that away-or at least, not encourage our energy growth?
That fact that Clinton chose to start her publicity tour, the perceived springboard to her presidential campaign, with a speech on energy should signal to all of America how important the topic truly is. Energy makes America great!
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations' combined efforts serve as America's voice for energy.