Carbon Neutrality Is a Pipe Dream

Utopian policies die slow. However unfeasible they are, their proponents push them along until they grind to an inevitable halt. 

That is happening now with carbon neutrality, a goal adopted by both the U.S. and the EU for 2050. Unsurprisingly, they’re already behind schedule. This month, it was reported that 40 U.S. coal plants that were scheduled to be shut down will be kept online — some of them for as long as five years. And last month, some European nations ordered energy providers to resume energy production using fossil fuels. Leaders call their return to coal and oil “headwinds” — nothing more than a temporary setback to climate goals— and blame the sanctions that followed Putin’s attack on Ukraine. But Western energy policies are deeply flawed. It is time to abandon carbon neutrality regulations. We were never really going to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 — at least not through government regulation. 

There’s nothing inherently bad about the goal of carbon neutrality. But the current means by which the U.S. and the EU are trying to achieve that goal — namely by enforcing lower emissions by regulating the energy market — are destructive and frankly untenable. It’s no wonder we see so much backpedaling and blame-shifting.

Blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin is irresponsible. It makes Russia appear more powerful than it is, undermining popular support for Ukraine in Western countries. People are led to believe that if only the West would sacrifice Ukraine, they could get their cheap fuel and energy back. This is wrong, and it gives Russia a free propaganda boost.

But blaming Putin allows Western politicians to distract from their own catastrophic energy policies, claiming that the resulting problems of inflation and increasing poverty are temporary. After Ukraine wins, we will soon be back on track to the wonderland of a post-carbon economy. So their narrative goes.

In fact, their own energy policies are more to blame. The Biden administration slowed down drilling permits on federal land in January 2021, and even suspended them totally in February 2022. The president effectively ended attempts to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge through a suspension of all permits on June 1, 2021. In January he had already stopped the planned extension of the Keystone Pipeline. Similarly, the German government shut down 14 coal power plants between 2019 and 2021 as part of a plan to phase out coal use entirely by 2038 – a scheme that also resulted in the cancellation of plans to extend brown coal open pit mines. 

Renewable energy could not offer the promised substitution. Now they have no choice but to turn back to coal and oil. Fracking is back on the table in Europe, as is the Mountain Valley Pipeline in the U.S.

Such backpedaling is typical for proponents of utopian policies, and their tendency to deny reality is especially destructive in geopolitics.  The EU, notably Germany, made itself dependent on Russian natural gas because it emits less carbon than other fossil fuels. Russia’s attack on Ukraine exposed that folly. Similarly, carbon neutrality plans in the U.S. and EU depend on rare earths from China, which are required both for wind turbines and electric cars. Here we should remember that China could attack Taiwan, exposing the West to troubles similar to those it faces regarding Russia. Realistic projections for possible emission reductions would account for this huge supply uncertainty.  But instead of tempering reduction goals to avoid harmful geopolitical dependencies, politicians plow ahead, as though China offered a free supply of the needed materials. 

Carbon neutrality policies should not be allowed to grind to a slow halt over the course of a few decades — they should be abandoned right now before the real damage gets done. Poor geopolitical strategies risk lives and livelihoods. Such suffering is too much to pay for useless, symbolic measures that will inevitably be rescinded piecemeal. 

Torben Halbe is a contributor for Young Voices, non-fiction author, and liberty activist based in Berlin, Germany. He holds an MSc in Biology from ETH Zurich. Follow him on Twitter: The views expressed are the author's own.

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