President Joe Biden followed his raft of heavy-handed climate executive orders by announcing his loftiest goal yet: slashing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in half by the end of the decade.
The best solution for preserving the natural beauty of our nation, contrary to the president’s pontificating, is to fully embrace domestically produced energy. Long-term environmental quality is a product not of big-government mandates, but of freedom and economic prosperity.
Biden’s plan is hopeless because modern life depends intrinsically on electricity. We need only recall the blackouts that plagued Texas last month, California last year, and New York City the year before that to see how quickly society grinds to a halt without power. The basic necessities such as cooking, finding water, and sanitation become all-consuming labor without the power-dependent conveniences we so often take for granted.
It’s more than just the convenience of lights, air conditioning, and internet access, although those things are nice. At least 80 people died in the Texas blackouts, including an 11-year-old boy who froze to death in his bed. A woman in Venezuela described the weeks-long power outage that plagued her country in 2019 as “a return to the Middle Ages.”
Energy is a necessity, not a luxury; because of this, even the most draconian federal emissions rules won’t exterminate fossil fuels. The American people won’t stop using the resources that give us 80 percent of our energy. They’ll just be forced to import more from overseas, ceding economic and political power to unstable nations instead of supporting responsible American energy producers.
Ironically, this means Biden’s emission mandate will actually increase, not decrease, global carbon dioxide emissions. American energy companies have developed such rigorous emission controls that natural gas shipped to Europe from the United States produces far less greenhouse gas emissions (pdf) than gas imported half the distance from Russia—or even a quarter of the distance from North Africa. (Ultimately, however, neither result will have any meaningful impact on global temperatures, according to the same climate data models used by the U.N.)
More importantly, shifting energy production overseas will also increase emissions of pollutants that actually cause human harm. Though you wouldn’t know it from most of the media’s apocalyptic headlines, the United States is a world leader in environmental quality, number one in the world for access to clean drinking water, and far outranks other developed nations in clean air (pdf). We are the only highly populated nation to meet the World Health Organization’s safe air standards for particulate matter and have reduced the six main air pollutants by 77 percent in the last 50 years—all while significantly growing our economy, population, and energy consumption.
The foreign companies providing the energy we need won’t be held to our rigorous environmental standards. Biden’s plan would allow Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia to pollute with abandon while responsible American energy producers are penalized and driven out of business.
If Biden really wanted to protect our environment—plus fight poverty and boost our economy—he would embrace, not penalize, American produced fossil fuels.
When I visited Egypt with a delegation of young political leaders in 2012, I was shocked by how many times I saw people deliberately pushing piles of trash into the canals that feed the Nile River. Yet for much of the world, this is the norm. In impoverished communities where food and water are scarce and people have to spend their days focused on survival, it’s no wonder there’s little regard for the environment. People simply have more pressing needs.
That’s why highly developed countries around the world have the strongest commitments to environmental protection, from robust park systems to the air quality standards that have made America’s air so clean it’s near natural levels. The more communities flourish, the more time and energy they have to devote to causes like protecting the environment. And the strongest catalyst for human flourishing is affordable, reliable energy, the force that makes nearly everything else in our lives possible.
America isn’t leading the world in environmental quality despite our use of fossil fuels—we’re leading because of them. Biden could uphold his promises to “Build Back Better” by unleashing the power of the reliable fuels that have catapulted our nation into 21st-century prosperity—and have unmatched potential to share that prosperity with the rest of the world.
The Honorable Jason Isaac is director of Life:Powered, a national initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation to raise America’s energy IQ. He previously served four terms in the Texas House of Representatives.