The Hill

Slow and Steady Wins the Climate Race

Brigham McCown
Brigham McCown
Senior Fellow and Director, Initiative on American Energy Security
Joe Biden being welcomed by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Alsalam Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on July 15, 2022. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

When it comes to low-carbon energy, slow and steady will win the race. For climate activists, pushing too quickly today comes with unintended consequences tomorrow, like higher prices. Unfortunately, it also means the administration embraces fossil fuel producers with spotty human rights and environmental records like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.    

Renewable energy production in the U.S. has increased by 90 percent during the last two decades, a remarkable feat. Even so, these lower carbon energy alternatives are responsible for producing a mere 4 percent of transportation fuels. We need only look to Europe to see that renewables are simply not ready to pick up the tab when oil and gas are cut off. Those that are blind to this should at least recognize the consequences of an abrupt energy shift: Biden extending one hand to green energy in the U.S. while the other grasps oil from dictators and despots abroad. After all, he needs to keep the lights on somehow.

Since World War II, the U.S. has been regarded as the Arsenal of Democracy. While most of us recognize the economic and manufacturing strength that led the fight against anti-democratic regimes, we were also responsible for providing the raw materials that literally powered the war effort. In World War I, 80 percent of Allied fuel consumption came from the United States; in World War II, the U.S. supplied six of every seven barrels of oil consumed by the Allied powers.   

The same is now true for Europe’s latest war. In 2022 the U.S. surpassed Qatar and Australia to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, 74 percent of which went to Europe. The European Union (EU) suffered no major outages and shortages after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in part due to the United States’ energy industry.    

At a time when American energy powers our allies’ economies, why are policymakers whittling away at one of America’s greatest strengths, even though they clearly recognize the need for hydrocarbons?

The answer lies in the disconnect between ideology and reality. It is easy to embrace an artificial timeline for a carbon-neutral world — creating the technology and physical infrastructure necessary to drive that change is much harder. Despite all the advances, renewables remain constrained by their intermittent ability to provide constant energy and the very real problem of scalability. Even if production could overcome these hurdles, the U.S. power grid is incapable of handling an all-electric society.    

These inconvenient truths require environmentalists to acknowledge that hydrocarbons will be required for much of this century. Such an admission would be, to them, a betrayal of their own convictions. Yet moving forward like lemmings could cause catastrophic consequences for American energy security and economic prosperity.

The solution is to keep pressing for innovation while acknowledging that domestic energy production is an American strength. Doing so will help ensure a seamless transition toward lower carbon fuels here at home while simultaneously supporting our allies.

Since the oil embargo of the 1970s, each successive presidential administration’s stated goal has been to make the U.S. energy independent. Democrats and Republicans alike also understood that a steady and seamless transition was necessary to avoid economic downturns that would follow incoherent energy policies. The U.S. experienced an energy renaissance beginning under President George W. Bush that continued through the Obama and Trump administrations, only to have significantly deteriorated under President Biden.   

Today’s irony is that hostility to oil and gas in the U.S. doesn’t extend to countries without democracy or environmental protection. Based on the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration numbers, the Biden administration has reversed a ten-year-long trend of decreasing crude oil imports from OPEC countries. Under his tenure, monthly imported barrels from those countries have risen from 14 million to 40 million.

After finally banning Russian oil and gas imports due to urging by a bipartisan Congress, Mr. Biden went in search of oil elsewhere. First, he eased sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, and then he was seen fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pleading for increased OPEC production. It’s safe to assume the name Jamal Khashoggi didn’t come up in their talks.