Climate Change as an “Existential Threat” Is So 2021

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President Joe Biden confirmed in his State of the Union address to Congress on March 1 that climate change was last year’s existential threat. In a speech lasting just over an hour, he mentioned climate twice. Here are the two passages:

We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans—modernizing roads, airports, ports, waterways—all across America. And we’ll do it to withstand the devastating effects of climate crisis and promote environmental justice. We’ll build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations.

And later:

And second, let’s cut energy costs for families an average of $500 a year by combatting climate change. Let’s provide an investment and tax credit to weatherize your home and your business to be energy efficient and get a tax credit for it; double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind, and so much more; lower the price of electric vehicles, saving another $80 a month that you’re not going to have to pay at the pump.

That’s it for climate change—just one problem in a long list of problems to be addressed with a few piecemeal programs and a lot more government spending.

Contrast that with Biden’s rhetoric on January 27, 2021, when he signed a massive executive order on tackling climate change:

That’s why I’m signing today an executive order to supercharge our administration ambitious plan to confront the existential threat of climate change. And it is an existential threat.

He went on to explain that:

It’s a whole-of-government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security, and foreign policy. 

President Biden continued to refer to climate change as an existential threat or crisis throughout his first year in office. For instance, in his speech on  November 1 at the opening of COP-26, the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, he said: “This is the challenge of our collective lifetimes. … The existential … threat to human existence as we know it.” And he ended his speech: “God bless you all, and may God save the planet.”

The reasons that climate change has suddenly become the incredible shrinking existential threat are obvious. One year of the Biden administration’s anti-fossil fuel policies has raised the average price of gasoline from $2.24 to $3.60 a gallon. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has analysts predicting $5 within a few weeks and even $7 later in the year.

To be fair to President Biden, he did propose to do something about it in his State of the Union speech:

Tonight, I can announce the United States has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. America will lead that effort, releasing 30 million barrels of our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Global consumption of petroleum is roughly 100 million barrels per day (mbd), and U. S. consumption is roughly 20 million mbd. So adding 60 million barrels to global supply will get the world’s economy through nearly 15 hours of consumption. Russia has been exporting around 7.5 mbd of crude oil and refined products, such as gasoline and diesel. Energy Intelligence estimates since the invasion began last week, Russian exports have already fallen by at least one third, or 2.5 mbd.

What President Biden has not done is reverse the anti-energy policies that have contributed to higher prices for American consumers and helped fund the invasion of Ukraine by increasing Russia’s revenues from its enormous crude oil and natural gas exports. Although immediate and drastic actions are called for, my guess is that the Biden administration—and probably Congress too—will drag their feet at least until high oil prices precipitate a major recession. But history suggests that might not be long.