“You live and you learn” is something people often say when they’ve done something foolish, but are able to learn from it and change course.
Unfortunately, when it comes to energy and climate policy, many of the world’s most powerful leaders are refusing to do the “learning” part of that equation.
Across the United States and beyond, governments are deciding to rely solely on renewable energy sources before they have the capability to do so. This flawed thought process has resulted in massive environmental, national security and economic hardships. What’s worse, no one seems to be learning from others’ mistakes.
Last weekend, amid its energy prices doubling in just one year and massive protests across the country, Belgium shut down its first nuclear reactor. Nuclear energy from just two power plants supplies over half of Belgium with clean, affordable and reliable energy. The government’s plan? Moving solely to renewable energy sources.
Belgium may be the most recent example of this trend, but it’s following in the ill-fated footsteps of European neighbors such as Germany and U.S. states like New York and California.
Over the past year, New York and California have pursued their plans to go 100% renewable, shutting down nuclear plants and natural gas in the process. This approach has resulted in a dramatic increase in carbon emissions and energy prices in both states — the complete opposite of what voters were promised. On top of that, both states have increased their reliance on other states and countries for fossil fuel production, including coal plants in Utah and Arizona. California often has moments where far below 10% of its power comes from renewables, while the state imports fossil fuels for the remainder of its power needs.
So while Californians pay astronomical energy prices while being promised that their government-mandated solar rooftop is powering their homes, they’re importing the dirtiest forms of energy from all over the world. But at least Gov. Gavin Newsom’s talking points sound good.
New York and California’s failures shouldn’t be ignored, especially by fellow Americans, but the most significant example of this failed approach is Germany.
A few years ago, the German government also made the decision to disavow all energy sources except wind and solar. The country worked quickly to shut down every natural gas and nuclear plant in the country, which backfired in a very public way with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Today, Germany struggles with an overdependence on Russian natural gas and has been reopening coal plants they had previously shut down. Once again, energy prices have skyrocketed — by nearly 400%, and Germany’s leaders are scrambling to find ways to power their country without relying on Vladimir Putin. Same story, different country.
Despite oversimplified statements by some critics, the problem isn’t the vilification of renewable energy sources. Instead, it’s about politicians having unrealistic timelines and pursuing policies that might help them get elected but which could fail catastrophically in other ways.
It’s the overnight mentality that’s the problem — and it truly hasn’t worked anywhere.
Renewables will play an increasingly important role in our future energy mix, but it’s clear we can’t power our planet cleanly, affordably or reliably without natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and other sources. After all, the United States has taken a more diverse approach with its energy sources and has seen emissions drop more than any other country while prices have stayed relatively stable.
Anyone with a science or engineering background can tell you renewables aren’t ready at the scale demanded by some posturing politicians. While renewables’ scalability could change with emerging technologies, it’s clear that we need a much more diverse energy approach for now. And if we rush to renewables, our economies, our national security and our environment will all continue to suffer — as they have in Belgium, Germany, New York and California.
Energy policy isn’t as simple as buying something on Amazon. We can’t just overnight 100% renewable energy to our cities and countries. As we look to the future, which we all agree needs to be cleaner and more efficient, we must urge our governments to learn from the mistakes of others and pursue real solutions — instead of harmful political posturing.
Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition and a Deseret News contributor.