My story in the magazine describes how political pressure and technological innovation are feeding into each other, producing a virtuous cycle of affordable green energy and stronger willpower to reduce emissions.
As always, Chait’s climate change story is peppered with factual inaccuracies. For example, writes Chait:
[I]n 2010, President Obama, temporarily enjoying swollen Democratic majorities in both houses, tried to pass a cap-and-trade law that would bring the U.S. into compliance with the reductions it had pledged in Copenhagen. A handful of Democrats from fossil-fuel states joined with nearly every Republican to filibuster it.
For starters, President Obama did not “try to pass a cap-and-trade law.” In fact, the “cap-and-trade” in question never made it out of the democrat party caucus in the Senate. More to the point, the President effectively killed the effort by punting on a meeting about the measure with Senate democrat leadership. Also, while it’s true that opposition to the bill was bipartisan, there was never a filibuster. Again, the bill never made it out of the democrat Senate caucus, due to intra-party opposition. Republicans didn’t have to lift a finger. So Chait’s history is totally wrong (again).
Of course, there are more mistakes in the piece, but the two most prominent errors undercut his thesis altogether. Chait’s argument is that we should be optimistic because green energy is taking off, and also because China is fervently doing everything it can to reduce emissions. As fate would have it, both of Chait’s primary talking points were refuted by events in only the 17 days since he published his ill-destined article.
Regarding green energy, Chait claims:
The energy revolution has rippled widely through the economy. In the sunniest locations in the world, building a new solar-power plant now costs less than coal or natural gas, even without subsidies, and within six years, this will be true of places with average sunlight, too. Taller turbines, with longer and more powerful blades, have made wind power competitive in a growing swath of the country (the windy parts). By 2023, new wind power is expected to cost less than new power plants burning natural gas.
Sounds rosy, no? Per Jonathan Chait, wind and solar are vibrant industries, on the cusp of competing and beating conventional energy production on the open market, without the aid of taxpayer handouts or mandates.
Chait’s article was published on September 7th. In the time since, the wind and solar industries have been singing a diametrically different tune. For example, in a report released mid-September, the wind lobby says that the industry it represents will face a sharp decline without the extension of a single federal subsidy by the end of this year. A week after the wind lobby report, a study was published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (and condoned by the top solar lobby with a press release) warning that the industry will nose dive in 2017, if congress fails to extend a single subsidy by the end of 2016. To Chait, I ask: how can green energy industries be even close to market readiness, if they crash absent a single subsidy (and despite soviet-style production quotas in 30 States)? The obvious answer is that they can’t. (Moreover, they won’t, ever).
Regarding Chait’s second primary point, about a supposed green energy revolution in China (one that’s allegedly taking place at the same time as the fictitious green energy revolution in this country), here’s his big evidence:
But in the past year, something amazing has taken place. In 2014, China’s coal production and its consumption both fell, and the drop appears to be continuing, or even accelerating, this year.
As noted above, Chait’s cover story was published on September 7th. What poor timing for him that in mid-September, Reuters reported that Chinese emissions in 2014 did not “decouple” from economic growth, as claimed by Chait.
I have one concluding note, which is more an exercise in armchair psychology than it is a fact check. In an early August blog post, Chait wrote of his affinity for air conditioning. Perhaps his energy hog ways explain his mistaken perception of global energy markets. Like most everyone, he has no interest in sacrificing any of his material well-being on behalf of climate change mitigation. He wants to “do something” about climate, but he doesn’t want to give anything up. I suspect that the only way to square this circle in his conscience is to imagine that green energy can power all his material wants, if only those rascally, meanie republicans would get out of the way.