In announcing the United State’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last year, President Donald Trump declared, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
A company called RadicalMedia and Bloomberg Philanthropies attempted to counter the president this week with the release of a documentary titled “Paris to Pittsburgh” on the National Geographic Channel.
Taking incredible liberty with the facts and playing on fears and false hopes, the documentary casts a cataclysmic vision of extreme weather, blaming it on fossil energy all along the way.
This is a sad reminder of how ill-informed the national energy debate has become. It spreads alarmist propaganda and promotes a junk science proposition that the world would somehow be better off without fossil energy, while never disclosing how that same energy has made our world more climate resilient.
Worst of all, the film completely ignores the tragic continuation of energy poverty that myopic, renewable-centric policies inflict on the billions of humans on this planet. They are being deprived of affordable electricity because environmental zealots advocate restricting new fossil energy projects in nations that simply cannot afford to electrify their nations at scale with anything else.
The movie also couldn’t be more ill-timed or poorly titled.
Invoking Paris as some kind of beacon of smart energy policy is beyond ironic — given that Paris is currently burning at the hands of working-class protesters opposed to climate change policies that intentionally increase fuel prices.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s Democratic mayor, in politically motivated sound bites, claims that Paris-like policies are the reason Pittsburgh has cleaned up its act. But the facts on the ground tell a very different story.
Pittsburgh is a beacon of how the environment can be cleaned up with fossil energy, not despite it. Anyone who visited Pittsburgh decades ago can’t fail to note how much clearer its skies are now, and the data backs up that observation. But those gains did not come from myopic anti-fossil energy policies.
Quite the contrary, like many great American cities, Pittsburgh’s environment improved because of technology, not ideology. Despite implications from the film, coal miners, oil and gas drillers, and steelworkers are still around in Pennsylvania. They are just doing their work cleaner and leaner than ever before.
The 90-percent reduction in air and water pollution in Pittsburgh occurred because we found a cleaner way to harness fossil energy through high-efficiency power plants and improved steel manufacturing technologies like Electric Arc Furnaces (EAFs).
One need only track the dramatic drop in air pollution across the country throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s to see that the deployment of these and other pollution control technologies brought about cleaner air, not some anti-fossil fuel ideology or marginal increase in renewable energy.
Aside from the irony of its title, the “Paris to Pittsburgh” film represents the worst kind of junk science and fear mongering.
The fundamental premise of the film is: unless the United States takes aggressive steps to reduce CO2 emissions, we’ll see disastrous impacts from sea level rise on the order of three, six, and even 20 feet. But once the real facts are disclosed, the film’s premise is ridiculous.
Here are the facts: If U.S. emissions were completely eliminated by 2020, the standard RCP4.5 model from the IPCC — which is deserving of criticism in its own right — predicts that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 would be 2.1-percent lower in 2050. An immediate shift to 100-percent renewable electricity (which is the primary topic of the film), even if it were achieved as soon as next year, would reduce 2050 CO2 levels by a mere 0.7 percent.
So the climate zealots’ own data show that eliminating, let alone reducing emissions from the United States will contribute little to nothing to prevent the supposed catastrophic consequences the film uses as the call for the United States to stop using fossil fuels.
The sponsors of this film should spend less time playing games with climate science models and more time practicing basic math.
Meanwhile, the policies required to reduce CO2 emissions in any significant way would do real damage to this country and societies all over the world. The latest IPCC report calls for carbon taxes that would increase fuel anywhere from $1.20 to as much as $49 per gallon by 2030. Parisians are rioting over an increase of just 25 cents-per-gallon, imagine the potential for chaos created by a $49 per gallon increase.
The energy cost explosion from these policies would cripple most economies, including our own. Not to mention what life without access to reliable, abundant energy will continue to look like for billions of global citizens in the developing world who have bigger problems than feeling guilty about how they charge their iPhone.
Weather changes. Climate changes. The real story about weather and climate of the last 100 years is how incredibly resilient humans have become because of access to affordable and reliable fossil energy.
Pittsburgh and America have proven that you can harness fossil energy, make the building blocks of modern society, and clean the environment.
And, no, you don’t need billions of dollars in renewable subsidies to make it happen. You just need science, technology, and economic freedom.
That’s the foundation on which our country was built.
Mike Nasi is the executive director of Life: Powered, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and a partner at Jackson Walker LLP. Mike has 25 years of environmental and energy regulatory experience.
This commentary was originally published in the Daily Caller on January 3, 2019.