Backpedaling on energy is politically inevitable – even Biden will embrace hydrocarbons if in power, there is no other choice
A politician on the campaign trail is not really a human. A free-wheeling brain is a recipe for disaster, when every second is documented and critiqued. If humanity isn’t dialed out, the politician might go rogue and offend someone, and hooo boy are there a lot of sensitive people out there these days. There is no room for a slip up; some mustard on the nose or a bad joke and the campaign will be over in one tweet storm. Years of image building can be undone in seconds as though exposing one’s self on the subway. No one is watching for random acts of brilliance, they’re looking fo reasons to execute campaigns. (Donald Trump does break these rules, but he’s not a politician. He’s…Trump. The same guy that wrote The Art of the Deal. His blueprint has been public for decades, and he lives it, and no one should be surprised.)
As a result of this mandatory plasticity, campaign promises are about as solid as a house build of chicken bones. The only thing interesting about them is how they often morph from fiery to feeble to non-existent, if/when power is achieved.
Take Joe Biden’s energy plank. When he was fighting Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, Sanders backed him into a corner during a debate about fracking. Sanders said he would ban all fracking, and Biden said, “Me too.” Sanders then said that essentially he didn’t believe Biden, challenging Biden to “correct me if I’m wrong.” Biden replied, “No more – no new fracking.” Biden also embraced the core principles of the Green New Deal, which, as you may imagine, feels about fracking as tornadoes feel about trailer parks.
In subsequent dialogue, Biden moved the goal posts, saying that he would only ban fracking on federal lands. This was understandable; Biden’s campaign was “trying to reconcile a combination of demands that no political candidate for president to date has been able to successfully navigate,” said one policy analyst in respect of Biden’s tap dancing.
Just wait though, it’s going to get a lot more interesting should Biden actually get into power. We’ve seen this play in Canada a few times.
In Alberta, Rachel Notley guided the NDP to power in Alberta, no easy task, particularly as she’d been notably anti-oil previously, for example taking part in a Greenpeace/Sierra Club protest bearing signs such as “No Tarsands No Tankers No Pipelines No Problem”. Once in power, she quickly learned to love oil and pipelines, and even engineered the province’s purchase of rail cars to help get bitumen to market in a severely transportation-constrained period.
Further up the political food chain, Prime Minister Trudeau’s brain, Gerald Butts, a former WWF executive and mega-climate hawk, engineered a green revolution in Ontario that hammered the province economically with much higher power prices (and marginal gains in emissions), and led to the ouster of the Liberal government (voters were so fed up they rushed to embrace one of the Ford brothers, the other of which had been filmed smoking crack (and Doug has turned out to be a good leader)). Butts escaped the carnage like a rat leaving a burning building, and brought his talents to Ottawa. He guided Trudeau to power, and masterminded Trudeau’s gargantuan green plans. Yet, through all this, Trudeau wound up not just buying the Trans Mountain pipeline, but is now the “boss” of its expansion. And yes, that expansion is largely to move the detested oil sands bitumen to foreign markets. Such is life in the big chair, when empty promises become bill paying realities.
It happens elsewhere too. Germany has spent some real money, over half a trillion dollars, on renewable energy over the past 20 years, and they just opened a new coal fired power plant.
Even further up the food chain, China is softly back pedaling too. A few years ago, global headlines blared that China was looking to ban internal combustion vehicles. This week, the tune had changed: “The country shouldn’t set a firm timetable for phasing out fossil-fuel vehicles… Some countries have a policy banning fuel cars and we are against such moves,” said a panel advising the government. And so it goes, when reality interferes with daydreaming.
All the chirping on the campaign trail means nothing once in the drivers’ seat. Biden can say all he wants about banning fracking on federal lands. In 2017, US federal lands (onshore and offshore) accounted for 13 percent of US natural gas production and 24 percent of US crude oil production. Now, imagine letting that production evaporate at the same time that US shale production is shrinking and facing a bleak future.
Biden will be no different than Notley or Trudeau if he gets the big chair; he’ll turn his back on the ultra-activists he had to placate on the election trail because, well, he won’t have any choice. Should he get into power, the US will by then have a debt problem of monumental proportions, will be facing unprecedented bankruptcies as coronavirus chickens come home to roost, and he’ll have a thousand problems to deal with without creating a huge new one. He’ll tune out the Green New Deal advocates just as if he was tuning out Republicans. Then hopefully attention will turn to worrying about the environment, and not the politics of climate change. The two, once related, are now, at a minimum, feudin’ cousins.
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