Vermont’s ability to affect climate change is a mirage


By Milton Eaton
A recent Rutland Herald editorial certainly celebrated the success of the Vermont activist group 350.org to sell a lot of our fellow Vermonters on the various benefits and demands to achieve the mirage of former Governor Peter Shumlin’s goal of 90-percent renewable energy.
No one I know denies that there is climate change. We just do not have the conceit to believe a few Vermonters, or the growing population of the world, can realize this mirage, even if endorsed by politicians. Many facts make stopping climate change as impossible as stopping the tides.
Let me just give you a few numbers to think about when you talk about a sustainable environment. Just-released figures, with all the subsidies, credits, mandates, and extended tariff guarantees, are replacing the equivalent of 0.5 MBPD (million barrels per day) of oil with renewable energy. That is with a daily fossil fuel consumption of more than 100 MBPD. A 0.005-percent substitution is just a rounding error in the world picture.
Fossil fuels continue to supply a massive portion of total energy needs. Significant substitution to date has been caused by economics, local environment pollution and mandate politics. In 2017, use of electric/hybrid light vehicles (EV) grew 45 percent, crossing the 1 million mark. Total new light vehicles (LV) sales grew a mere 1 percent. But the global EV fleet still stands at only 2.8 million, as opposed to 1,300 million oil-powered LVs. So EV growth is not even gaining on the total LV population.
Population today is roughly 7,500 million people, with 1,400 million of them living without electricity. Add to that number the 2,500 million expected population increase, and you have a total increase in the users of energy of — again — roughly 60 percent. Then add the world moving toward a higher standard of living, which will require even more energy.
There are things we can all do to retain and improve our environment.
1. Efficiently conserve and research to minimize supply costs and pollution for energy needs.
2. Prioritize to get the greatest benefits by using net present value analysis of short 10-year with high discount rates to compare different investment opportunities to encourage the greatest effect for our money. This method also avoids blue-sky assumptions of long horizons.
3. Encourage investment in basic and industrial research to find more-effective, less-polluting, and inexpensive solutions using all energy resources for the world’s energy needs.
4. Conserve funds by stopping subsidies, tariff guarantees, and mandates.
With sufficient energy available at reasonable costs, we can adapt to any changing environment, whether warming or cooling. So, please: stop wasting money chasing the mirage of Vermont changing climate.
Milt Eaton is a former senior official for the U.S. Department of Energy, former Vermont secretary of Economic Development and Community Affairs, and a member of the Ethan Allen Institute board of directors.

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