In 2021, John Kerry was appointed to a position no American had ever before held: U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. The job came with an office in the White House, a staff of 45, and plentiful funds for jetting around the world to palaver with elected leaders, dictators, diplomats, and activists.
In line with President Biden's National Security Strategy, Mr. Kerry believes that climate change is "the existential challenge of our time."
He believes the solution is to eliminate fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
He believes that a government-engineered transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar power will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that he further believes are causing the atmosphere to retain dangerous amounts of heat.
I'll have a few comments about those beliefs in a moment but first let's focus on some pertinent facts: China is responsible for a third of global CO2 emissions – more than twice what the U.S. emits, indeed, more than all other developed nations combined.
From 2015 to 2022 China's emissions grew about 12 percent while the U.S. cut emissions by about 5 percent. China is building roughly two new coal power plants every week which guarantees that its emissions will continue to rise.
How much? So much that even if Americans achieved zero emissions tomorrow, no net global reduction in CO2 would result.
All this should make clear that Mr. Kerry had one essential mission: to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to see climate change as the Biden administration does.
News bulletin: Mr. Kerry's one essential mission has failed.
That became obvious last week when Mr. Kerry visited Beijing. Mr. Xi did not deign to give him an audience.
Mr. Kerry's visit coincided with China's two-day "national conference on ecological and environmental protection." Mr. Kerry was not invited.
Had he been, he would have heard Mr. Xi's keynote speech stressing that China's decisions on climate change will never be made "under the sway of others." Mr. Xi has said in the past that he won't "discard the old" (fossil fuels) until the "new" (renewables) are sufficiently developed to meet his nation's rising demand for energy.
Mr. Kerry came away with no agreements – none, zilch, nada, bupkis.
"It is clear that we are going to need a little more work," Mr. Kerry cheerily told reporters.
So, this is catastrophic for the planet, right? Not really, as Mr. Xi knows if he's following the science. The Earth's temperature has warmed about 1 degree Celsius since the late 1880s. Note: This climate change coincides with the greatest improvements in human welfare in all history.
How much warming is ahead? Most likely about another 1.5 degrees by the end of this century – not enough that Floridians should pack up and move to Greenland where, by the way, Viking farmers grazed cattle, sheep, and goats in verdant meadows from about 900 to 1300. That "Medieval Warm Period" probably wasn't caused by American soccer moms driving SUVs.
Couldn't global warming over the next few years – in part due to those mobile mothers – be much higher than 1.5 degrees? Based on the currently available evidence, that's an extremely low-probability scenario. Even the most recent report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) doesn't use such phrases as "existential threat," "climate catastrophe," or "climate disaster."
You may wonder: Why is China today the world leader in manufacturing the hardware for wind and solar power? 1) Because it's a lucrative business (using coal as the primary energy source) and 2) because an all-of-the-above energy mix provides the energy abundance, reliability, and affordability necessary for economic growth.
Cunningly, China has achieved market dominance in the batteries used to propel electric vehicles. China also controls most of the mines that produce the strategic minerals used to make those batteries. That means that the energy transition the Biden administration is forcing – with mandates, subsidies, regulations, and prohibitions – is likely to make America even more dependent on China.
But wait, there's more! Much of the mining is taking place in Africa and other regions of the Global South. Many local miners are being brutally exploited. And the methods being used to extract the minerals are causing massive environmental damage.
In other words, electric vehicles are not really "green" or "clean." And the Manhattan Institute's Mark P. Mills has crunched the numbers and found that a transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles would not achieve significant reductions of CO2.
If only there were an alternative – a way to reduce CO2, bolster America's energy security, and not lower the living standards of average Americans or, by the way, perpetuate the poverty of billions of energy-starved people in the Global South!
Come to think of it, there is.
For example, Mr. Mills notes that "the Earth right now reflects about 30 percent of the sunlight. If it were 31 percent, it would counteract almost all the warming effect of greenhouse gases produced by humans that we've seen so far. And there are schemes to do that."
Substituting natural gas for coal would halve CO2 emissions. The U.S. is the world's leading producer of natural gas and could produce more.
Trees suck up carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Hundreds of millions could be planted.
Over the longer term, think small modular nuclear reactors (zero emissions), next-generation batteries, and maybe fusion.
I predict Mr. Kerry will ignore these and other out-of-the-ideological-box ideas and continue circling the globe telling people he knows best how to "save the planet."
I further predict that Mr. Xi will remain unconvinced. And – a sentence I'm shocked to find myself writing – the Chinese Communist Party leader will be right.