President-elect Barack Obama wants to phase out coal-based electricity generation, switch to renewable energy and follow Europe’s lead on climate change. That could prove difficult.

Coal generates half of all U.S. electricity. Wind provides less than 2 percent of all electricity and cannot be relied on when it’s needed. Europe’s lead can’t even be defined, much less followed.

Nearly all EU countries signed the Kyoto Protocol and agreed to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. As of 2008, however, many of their emissions are well above their Kyoto targets. Italy’s were 14 percent above, Portugal’s 17 percent, Denmark’s 19 percent, Austria’s 30 percent, Spain’s 37 percent. Whose “environmentally responsible” lead should we follow?

By comparison, U.S. emissions are some 23 percent above target levels we would have agreed to, had we signed Kyoto. But America’s carbon dioxide emission growth rate has been just 0.2 percent per year since 2000, notes University of Colorado climatologist Richard Keen.

Last year, the European Union solved its predicament by agreeing to slash emissions 20 percent by 2020. Now, because of the financial crisis, many EU countries and industries want to back away from even that. Perhaps they will agree to 30 percent by 2030 (or 40 percent by 2040). Should America follow this elastic example?

In 2006, Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to eliminate coal and nuclear power in Germany. Today she wants to keep nuclear power, build new coal-fired plants, and shield chemical, steel, manufacturing, cement and auto industries, by reducing emission goals or providing free cap-and-trade permits.

Austria and Italy also want EU climate restrictions eased to help industries that are struggling with high energy prices, the economic crisis, and competition from less regulated overseas competitors that rely on coal for power generation and easily undercut European production costs.

Italian ministers have called the EU climate action plan “politically correct garbage” that “would kill any economic improvement” and “achieve very modest environmental benefits” – on the order of reducing projected global warming by 0.1 degrees or less. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insists any EU climate deal be revisited in late 2009, after its real economic and employment costs have been fully analyzed.

Poland and other former Eastern Bloc nations strongly oppose any EU climate change plan that doesn’t exempt them, because they depend on coal for up to 90 percent of their electricity and on Russia for up to 97 percent of their natural gas. They were held back for 50 years under Communist dictators – and now are loathe to let Brussels dictate future economic development.

Britain is likewise re-examining its commitments, because punitive climate taxes and energy prices have forced 5.5 million households to live in “fuel poverty” – and factory managers say they may have to close their doors and furlough workers all winter, because of high fuel prices.

Following these examples makes sense. But that’s probably not what Mr. Obama or environmentalists have in mind.

Meanwhile, China and India are building new coal-fired power plants every month. They put reducing rampant poverty ahead of speculative effects of future climate change – and say they will be better able to adapt to climate changes (natural or human) if they are rich and technologically advanced.

Impoverished African nations also want abundant, reliable, affordable energy, to ensure safe water, refrigeration and modern hospitals, and reduce lung and intestinal disease and death. But U.S. and EU greens say they must be satisfied with pitiful amounts of intermittent energy from “sustainable” sources such as wind and solar.

Al Gore prophesies ecological doom – but flies only private jets, owns a fancy houseboat, and uses more electricity in a week than 28 million Ugandans together use in a year. NASA climate alarmist James Hansen wants to squelch debate on global warming science, and compares coal trains to Nazi death camp trains.

In the midst of all this, some Democrats are promoting new cap-and-trade legislation that could be more damaging than Warner-Lieberman, which even sponsors admitted would have cost nearly $7 trillion. They oppose oil and gas drilling, and new coal, nuclear and hydroelectric plants.

Many want to “transform” our energy and economic system – from one that works to one based on heavily subsidized “renewable” technologies that aren’t ready for prime time, and likely won’t make a significant contribution for decades.

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing regulations that would micromanage every aspect of our energy system and economy.

Whose policies are more responsible, humanitarian, ethical and sustainable?

Hydrocarbons provide 85 percent of all U.S. energy. They are the foundation of an economy that has brought us health and prosperity, but has been shaken to its core. Wind and solar represent less than 1 percent – and provide only intermittent auxiliary power.

The new “Lights out in 2009?” study warns that the United States “faces potentially crippling brownouts and blackouts.” Regions that experience prolonged hot spells during summer months are especially vulnerable, because many have minimal excess generation and transmission capacity.

We need to protect our economies, jobs, poor families and planet. We need conservation and all forms of energy: whatever works best, at lowest cost, for particular cities, states, regions and nations.

We can’t afford policies that roll back economic and civil rights gains – or reflect the “leadership” of increasingly isolated EU commissioners who insist that punitive climate policies must be adhered to, for tiny environmental gains, even in the midst of a near recession.

The incoming Obama administration should keep this in mind as it seeks to forge bipartisan energy and economic policies.

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Congress of Racial Equality and its Stop the War on the Poor campaign, and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.”


  • Christina Norman

    Christina Norman serves as the Director of Development for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. She is also responsible for CFACT’s website building, web maintenance, and graphic design. Christina holds a BA from the University of MN-Duluth and is a graduate of the Koch Associate Program. Christina is passionate about the environment and outdoors, particularly our lakes and rivers in Minnesota. She and her husband live in Lake Elmo, and have 3 beautiful children.