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A Plan

Aug 10, 2022

Gary Smith

           We’ve always heard, “You need a plan to get anything done.” That is taught in all business schools and recognized by people who don’t manage anything other than their own lives. My favorite quote about “plans” is from the noted philosopher and past World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”

          Most of us in following our plans have found Mike is right. We start with a plan, something goes sideways, and we find ourselves adrift.

           Climate movement plans — whether the Paris Accord, Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050, elimination of all fossil fuels, the immediate mandate of electric vehicles, or others — are really all different concepts promoted by different people and groups with various motives. For instance, some groups feel nuclear power is a great substitute for fossil fuels because it is carbon-free. Other groups totally reject nuclear power as too dangerous or too expensive, or those groups are concerned about nuclear waste.

          In addition to already disjointed directions and inconsistency of climate plans, the entire climate movement was punched in the mouth by Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Serious people are now questioning how the most basic concepts of climate plans can be achieved.      

            I commented in an earlier article about Biden Climate Czar, John Kerry, and his comments regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how he hoped the invasion didn’t result in lost focus on climate change actions. The comment (while just silly as thousands of people were being killed in an invasion) demonstrates a lack of understanding of energy basics and how energy is used. For instance, how effective will an electric tank be? How could you recharge it in the middle of a battle? Gasoline or diesel fuel are much better wartime solutions. Equally so, how about electric helicopters or airplanes? And you can’t rely on systems only developed for wartime.  Supply chains and delivery systems must be developed and maintained for normal commerce – not during times of war.

          A plan to reduce carbon emissions must meet certain parameters and have specific economic attributes to succeed against punches in the mouth from Russia, the weather, or the economy.

          A successful plan must recognize that success and wealth are built on readily available and affordable energy. This country was built on cheap energy, and its success will always depend on cheap energy. Some in the climate movement feel cheap energy is ruining the world and that energy must be restricted for the good of humanity. That philosophy is counter to global development and prosperity, and it will never be embraced by the people of the world.

          A successful plan must also include provisions to bring affordable energy to third world countries and emerging nations. Denying developing nations access to affordable energy by restricting energy growth to only renewable sources is morally wrong. As one African leader recently said, “No country has been built on solar and wind energy.”

          A successful plan also must recognize the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It merely changes form. And each time energy changes form, some of it is lost and cannot be converted to electric energy. Current plans naively demand for curtailment of fossil fuels by a certain date not too far into the future and a switch to renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The facts of energy are enough to show that the world will never be completely powered by renewable energy. It is too intermittent. Unlike fossil-fuel fired generators, solar and wind do not have the rotating mass needed to support the stability of the electric grid. Too many in the climate movement think setting certain dates to eliminate fossil fuel use will somehow drive new technology and result in a seamless transition. That is just not the case. There needs to be a serious plan for a successful transition.

Any viable path to a carbon constrained future will require “investable” technology. Business always drives transitions, and it requires long horizons to recover research and development costs and capital. Constantly changing plans and directions will not attract the long-term investments necessary to accomplish the goal.

Successful plans will also have to bridge political lines and be acceptable to Democrats and Republicans. Both parties must step back from radical positions to find workable, affordable and practical compromises. The extreme “shut it down now” or “we will never change” positions will only lead to further polarization and no viable solutions. Success will never be found behind sidewalk bullhorn politics.

The climate change movement has met its Mike Tyson moment. How plans are developed in the future will dictate the direction and success of global energy policy. How the movements and the counter-movements react will decide if any de-carbonization plan will be successful.

The Ukraine war presents an opportunity to redesign the global energy future, but I am not optimistic. I expect most everyone will continue to double down on silly and impossible plans that keep getting hit in the mouth.    

I hope you have a good month.  

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