Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' Pitiable Betrayal 5

National infrastructure projects have a sorry track record.

As we slowly approach the conclusion of our series discussing AOC's areas of what seem to us to be total ignorance, it's good to step back and take a historical perspective.  In a way, this series represents a continuation of our discussion of Baron Macaulay's ideas how to run the Indian education system during the time of British rule of India.

We don't blame AOC for her ignorance, at least not entirely.  We believe that she's been defrauded by the unrealistic nostrums being peddled by our utterly unrealistic K-16 public education system.

There are a great many flat-out lies and fundamental errors promulgated by our debauched educational system, but perhaps the most profound and far reaching are those revolving around "climate change."  In the previous article, we used math to show why AOC's Green New Deal would make no material difference even if it were able to be implemented; in this article, we'll use math to show why most of it can't be implemented at all, making it nothing more than an exercise in surrealism.

Insulating Buildings

According to AOC, her Green New Deal plans to insulate all buildings in the US to meet the highest standards of environmental efficiency.  Any building that could not be upgraded would presumably be torn down, which includes an awful lot of attractive and unique historic homes and other buildings all across the fruited plan many of which have been designated untouchable historic sites.

Fortunately, Britain has traveled far enough down the path of forced environmentalist retrofitting of buildings that facts are available.  Wikipedia says that AOC is correct in wanting to insulate homes first, and the numbers seem to support this: housing accounted for 30% of Britain's CO2 in 2004.

Unfortunately for fervent warmists, indoor average temperatures rose 4.55 °C as efficient central heating systems were installed.  In other words, a large portion of the gains in efficiency came to nothing, as people used most of their savings to keep themselves more comfortable.  Hard-core greenies understand this, which is why they're hoping to "skyrocket" prices as Mr. Obama had promised.

As for the job of insulating all those houses, Energy Post reports that four out of every five homes that British people will be living in in 2050 have already been built.  Therefore, in order to meet Britain's CO2 emission commitments, 26 million retrofits will be needed between now and 2050 – effectively every home in the country, at a rate of around 1.5 homes per minute.  How likely is that?

In case your instintive answer was "It's not!", you should be aware that the Australians have already tried this.  The World Socialist Web Site tells us that the Australian Labor government provided rebates to insulate the ceilings of 2.7 million houses - by no means all, but certainly a fair few.  As well as claiming that the scheme would create jobs, the government sought to boost its “green” credentials, insisting that home energy bills would be cut dramatically.

The program was terminated before half the houses had been insulated.  Why?

Garrett [Australia's Environment Minister] blamed "unscrupulous, sometimes illegal and shonky operators" for the problems in the scheme. However, before the program even got fully operational, the government ignored multiple warnings last April by regulatory agencies that people could die and houses burn down, because the rollout would be effectively unregulated, with no-one to carry out safety or quality inspections.

What a surprise!  Green schemes exploited by "shonky operators!"  Why, that could never happen here, now could it?

... audits had shown a risk of dangerous faults in up to 90,000 homes and that poor quality batts were fitted in 180,000 homes, out of the 1.1 million homes insulated. ...

According to Saturday's Australian editorial, the debacle exposes the dangers of "big-government mindsets."

The Australian government had offered subsidies of up to $1,200 per house for ceiling insulation alone - certainly helpful had it been properly executed, but which would not get a house anywhere close to AOC's "carbon neutral" ideal.  This program proved unworkable even though it was far simpler than AOC's home improvement plan.

Does anyone in AOC's circle know of this "noble" effort which degenerated into boondoggle?

The Washington Times reports that American taxpayers are already on the hook for billions of dollars from our government's $30 billion energy loan programs, and lists the amounts.  How does AOC propose to keep her home insulation program honest?  Has it even occurred to her to wonder about this?

For sure, even thought they refused to vote for the Green New Deal, none of her Democratic colleagues are likely to point its flaws out to her, any more than her leftist economics professors at Boston University did.

Renewables are Expensively Impractical

Engineers and business professors at MIT have been looking at the cost of renewable energy systems for a long time.  MIT recently published a study "Future of Nuclear Energy in a Carbon-Constrained World" which was an update of their 2003 study "Future of Nuclear Power."  The Executive Summary says:

In most regions, serving projected load in 2050 while simultaneously reducing emissions will require a mix of electrical generation assets that is different from the current system. While a variety of low- or zero-carbon technologies can be employed in various combinations, our analysis shows the potential contribution nuclear can make as a dispatchable low-carbon technology. Without that contribution, the cost of achieving deep decarbonization targets increases significantly (see Figure E.1, left column). The least-cost portfolios include an important share for nuclear, the magnitude of which significantly grows as the cost of nuclear drops (Figure E.1, right column).

You'll have to read the report to see the figure they mention - they put in a lot of detail showing how nuclear power is needed to keep overall energy costs down.

Fortunately, as with insulating buildings, our holding back has given us the benefit of learning from others' experience.  Germany went all-in subsidizing renewables and stayed in the Paris Accord after we pulled out.  Forbes pointed out that

America easily leads the world in reducing CO2 output. Our reduction of 794 million tons over the past decade is a 1.4% annual rate of decrease.  ...

Germany has famously managed to be a leader in renewables while failing to lead in emission reductions. Heavy dependence on solar and wind requires baseload electricity generation for when it’s not sunny or windy.

Forbes was too tactful to tell us how much German electricity prices had gone up as they switched to renewables.  The German newspaper Der Spiegel states that German climate change programs have made electricity a "luxury good" whose costs fall disproportionately on the poor.

This year, German consumers will be forced to pay 20 billion euros ($26 billion) for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants -- electricity with a market price of just over 3 billion euros. Even the figure of 20 billion euros is disputable if you include all the unintended costs and collateral damage associated with the project. Solar panels and wind turbines at times generate huge amounts of electricity, and sometimes none at all. Depending on the weather and the time of day, the country can face absurd states of energy surplus or deficit.

In other words, by cloaking themselves in virtue by pushing the switch to renewables, Germans have paid 20 billion for electricity which is worth about 3 billion.  Going to renewables made electricity cost more than 6 times what it cost before.  That's a major reason we refer to the Paris Accord as a hoax.

Is AOC willing to multiply her electric bill by 6?  Well, perhaps she can afford it, but is that what we want?

Renewable energy systems clearly need backup power for when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow.  Unfortunately, storing energy isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Vox tells us:

Energy storage (batteries and other ways of storing electricity, like pumped water, compressed air, or molten salt) has generally been hailed as a “green” technology, key to enabling more renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But energy storage has a dirty secret. The way it’s typically used in the US today, it enables more fossil-fueled energy and higher carbon emissions. Emissions are higher today than they would have been if no storage had ever been deployed in the US.  [emphasis in the original]

Electric cars also require high-energy, portable ways to store the energy needed to make them go.  For now, that means lithium batteries.  Unfortunately for green dreams, Lithium Batteries' Dirty Secret reports:

Once in operation, electric cars certainly reduce your carbon footprint, but making the lithium-ion batteries could emit 74% more CO2 than for conventional cars.

Beneath the hoods of millions of the clean electric cars rolling onto the world's roads in the next few years will be a dirty battery.

"How Green Are Electric Cars" shows that whether operating an electric car is good for the environment or not depends on how the electricity is generated.  The Guardian has a history of agreeing with AOC about the dire necessity of fighting climate change, so their article didn't mention the carbon footprint of making the car batteries.

It's clear that there are few teensy technical details standing between reality and AOC's Green Dream - and we haven't even addressed issues with totally rebuilding our energy grid to handle intermittent generators that come and go when clouds cover the sun or to handle charging all those electric cars!  Our regulatory environment makes adding to our electric grid nearly impossible.  T. Boone Pickens, who earned a fortune in the oil business, spent $100 million leasing land and setting up a wind farm in west Texas to generate 4 terawatts, about what New York City uses.  He planned to spend $10 billion but couldn't get the permits he needed to build transmission lines to get the power to the cities where it was needed and eventually gave up.

Back in 2011, Hydro Quebec proposed a 192-mile transmission line to deliver a terawatt, or roughly 1/4 of the electricity needed by New York City, of carbon-free hydro power across New Hampshire to Massachusetts.  Three different routes have been proposed and each one has aroused fierce opposition at every point along the route.

NPR has a timeline of the major appeals, public hearings, lawsuits, and other roadblocks to getting the new transmission line built; 8 years on, the project hasn't been approved.  There is talk of running through Maine instead of through New Hampshire which will start the entire approval process over from scratch.

8 years is 2/3 of the 12 years we have until AOC says the world will end.  Unless she proposes to totally undo our regulation and permitting environment and put all those ecological consultants and compliance lawyers out of work, we won't get permission to start the Green New Deal before the world ends.

Nobody Knows What Climate Will Do

AOC and the warmists claim that the world will end in 12 years as the climate gets too hot to sustain life.  We're deeply skeptical because we know that our climate was a lot warmer in the past without killing everything.

To name but one example, we know from historical records that the Vikings used to ranch cattle in Greenland - the remains of their barns and other buildings are still there.  Their ships were not big enhough to import enough hay to feed their cows during the winter; they had to grow enough grass in the summer to feed their herds and save up for the winter.  That isn't possible at current Greenland temperatures.

It's obvious from history and from recent analysis of ancient sediment that Greenland was a lot warmer, perhaps 20 or even 30 degrees warmer, during the Viking era than it is now.  People didn't die off there until it got too cold for then to grow enough food.

It is true that increasing temperatures lead to people dying from heat exposure, but those deaths are a lot fewer than deaths from excess cold.  The Vikings died from cold, not from heat.  On the average, we believe that increased temperatures will probably save lives, and increased CO2 helps food plants grow.

To get a bit technical, nobody knows for sure what the climate will do in the future because the future hasn't happened yet.  Climatologists build computer programs which they claim will simulate the effects of CO2 and other changes and predict what will happen in the future.  To be blunt about it, their programs have made too many wrong predictions in the past for us to believe them.

Global climate is an incredibly complex system relative to current modeling technology.  MIT News describes the state of the art:

Today, predicting what the future has in store for Earth’s climate means dealing in uncertainties. For example, the core climate projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has put the global temperature bump from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels — referred to as “climate sensitivity” — anywhere between 1.5 degrees C and 4.5  C. That gap, which has not budged since the first IPCC report in 1990, has profound implications for the type of environmental events humanity may want to prepare for.

Part of the uncertainty arises because of unforced variability — changes that would occur even in the absence of increases in CO2 — but part of it arises because of the need for models to simulate complex processes like clouds and convection. Recently, climate scientists have tried to narrow the ranges of the uncertainty in climate models by using a recent revolution in computer science. Machine learning, which is already being deployed for a host of diverse applications (drug discovery, air traffic control, and voice recognition software, for example), is now expanding into climate research, with the goal of reducing the uncertainty in climate models, specifically as it relates to climate sensitivity and predicting regional trends, two of the greatest culprits of uncertainty.  [emphasis added]

MIT researchers state plainly that there are many uncertainties in predicting the future climate and they say that uncertainties haven't been reduced since 1990!  Part of the problem is that there are simply many unknown unknowns we haven't thought about.  To name but one example, we've discussed a recently-discovered fact that explains why melting ice doesn't raise the sea level as much as Al Gore expected.

What are the modelers doing about all these uncertainties?  They're moving toward the wonderful world of "machine learning."  If you've been following the press about AI, the limitations of machine learning are obvious - facial recognition systems, for example, don't work well on multiple races and fingerprint readers get confused by Chinese women with small fingers.  How well do we think that machine learning will work on climate modeling when we don't even know what all the variables are, never mind how they interact?

Anyone who thinks computer models are infallible enough to justify spending trillions of dollars based on their predictions should ponder the GM ignition switch fiasco and Boeing's problems with software in the 737 Max.

More Unknowns - Methane, Air Pollution, and Greenland

AOC caught a lot of ridicule for claiming that the Green New Deal would eliminate "cow farts."  This is relevant because cows and other biological processes do indeed emit methane which is 20 times more portent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2.  Methane is one of many areas where climate models are "dealing in uncertainties" as the MIT study explained.  The New York Times reports that in addition to being produced by biological processes, a great deal of  "abiotic," that is, non-biological methane, is generated by chemical reactions deep in the earth:

But it doesn't come from the decay of ancient plant, algae or animal life, like fossil fuels. Instead, this gas comes from a chemical reaction inside rocks. And a series of studies published by a group of international scientists known as the Deep Carbon Observatory is showing that this source of gas is more common on our planet than previously known.

"We have discovered these unusual types of methane in many, many sites. It's not a rare phenomenon,[emphasis added]

Non-biological methane is such a new phenomenon that for many years, scientists studying Mars believed that finding methane there would indicate life on Mars.  Alas, we now know that methane is not an infallible indicator of life.

How much non-biological methane is being produced?  Except for finding out that it's more common than we thought and that it's coming from many, many sites and that it's not rare, nobody knows.  We need special instruments to tell whether an individual methane molecule came from a cow or from geological activity.

Not only that, cows aren't the only source of biological methane.  Any decomposition of organic material, which includes all the apple peels and corn cobs we throw away, produces methane.  Decay produces so much methane that some landfills catch fire when escaping methane ignites.

Even if we put afterburners on all the cows and force all compost to decay in sealed containers so we can harvest the methane, there's still an unknown amount of methane being produced by non-biological processes deep underground.  How does AOC propose to keep abiotic methane out of the atmosphere?  Does she even know it exists?

UnDark reported that air samples collected since 1983 showed methane concentrations increasing until 2000, when they leveled off until 2007. 

"This is really an abrupt change in the global methane budget, starting around 2007."

The amount of methane in the atmosphere has been increasing ever since. And nobody really knows why. What's more, no one saw it coming. Methane levels have been climbing more steeply than climate experts anticipated, to a degree "so unexpected that it was not considered in pathway models preparatory to the Paris Agreement," as Dlugokencky and several co-authors noted in a recently published paper.  [emphasis added]

The 2015 Paris Agreement sponsors were selling the view that climate change had to be addressed at any cost.  UnDark notes that the increase in methane concentration, which began 8 years before the agreement, was "not considered" when preparing for the meetings.  The fact that the warmists would overlook evidence that would support their alarmist views is inteeresting - if they'd overlook data favoring their cause, what else would they overlook?

As the MIT report said, climate science is rich in unknowns.  Technology Review states that reducing air pollution will increase the impact of climate change - air pollution has not only moderated the effects of climate change, it has also reduced the impact of drought.  Reducing air pollution makes global warming worse.

We've seen this sort of unexpected effect before.  National Geographic reports that sulfur dioxide, the gas that causes acid rain, has a cooling effect which counters global warming.  Saving forests by reducing acid rain made global warming worse.  One of the best-known ways to reduce global warming would be to increase air pollution and to go back to acid rain.  That would save a lot of money, too.

To get back to Greenland, there has been much gnashing of teeth among warmists because Greenland glaciers have been shrinking.  That, Al Gore told us, would cause sea levels to rise 30 feet or so by 2010.  The BBC published "Jakobshavn Isbrae: Mighty Greenland glacier slams on brakes" which tells us that one of the glaciers suddenly reversed its shrinage and started growing again.

In the 2000s, Jakobshavn Isbrae was the fastest flowing ice stream on the island, travelling at 17km a year.

As it sped to the ocean, its front end also retreated and thinned, dropping in height by as much as 20m year.

But now it's all change [sic]. Jakobshavn is travelling much more slowly, and its trunk has even begun to thicken and lengthen.

"It's a complete reversal in behaviour and it wasn't predicted," said Dr Anna Hogg from Leeds University and the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling (CPOM).  [emphasis added]

It's thought that this glacier produced the iceburg that sank the Titanic 100 years ago, and it's been studied for decades.  Instead of continuing to shrink as warmists have proclaimed for all that time, it reversed its behavior in a manner that wasn't predicted.  If they can't predict what one well-studied glacier will do, how can they say with any confidence that the climnate will change by either a degree or a degree in a half 50 years, or even 12 years from now?  They can't.  As with methane flowing out of the earth or atmospheric methane leveling off and then increasing, nobody saw this coming.  There are simply too many unknowns for anyone to have any faith in climate models.

The Cold Reality

Let's cut to the chase.  Assume for purposes of discussion that the warmists are totally right and that we're headed for disaster in 12 years.  Would you trust OUR government, which couldn't put up a relatively simple web site to sell insurance, enforce the "do not call" list, keep lead out of New York City housing projects and falsified records to claim that the problem had been fixed, or keep the DC metro running, or keep the Chinese out of our government personnel database, or deliver effective health care to our veterans, to do anything constructive about climate?  They'll spend the money, sure, but actually fix anything?

You have GOT to be kidding - the cops stayed outside while the Parkland shooter was active!  Government actors don't even fulfill their sworn duty!  And AOC expects us to turn climate over to them?

Obviously, AOC has not yet lived enough of life as to develop a healthy cynicism about the competency of government.  She ought to have been taught this by her elders, but she wasn't; that isn't her fault.

She's making an honest attempt to meet the desires of her fellow millennials, which as an elected representative is not fundamentally wrong even if those voters' sincere desires are fundamentally mistaken.  It's not possible to deny the fundamental realities of physics, at least not for an extended period of time.  AOC's GND will produce economic disaster, and, as usual, low-income people will be harmed the most.  We're sure that isn't what AOC wants, but that's where her planetary nostrums will take us.

How do we persuade her and her cohort that they're cruisin' for a bruisin' and that we'd rather not let them take our economy down with them?

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments

It is my understanding that AOC got a degree, majoring in international relations and economics from Boston U. If that's the case, then my High School education from the middle 60's should be upgraded to at least a MASTERS DEGREE! How anyone with such a STUNNING lack of knowledge in every field she has opined upon could possibly obtain a college degree is absolutely stunning. It says everything that needs to be said about the current state of our colleges and universities. Hopefully, those in STEM programs are getting a better education. If not, there is no hope for this country.

May 23, 2019 6:28 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...