“Electrification” is the newest green buzzword. According to its proponents, by 2050, all vehicles, furnaces, water heaters, and even cooking stoves will be powered by electricity generated from wind and solar. On December 14, the White House held an “Electrification Summit” to explore “how electrification can help the United States meet its climate and equity goals.” The invited speakers represented a range of green-subsidy causes—automobile manufacturers, electric utilities, labor unions, regulators, and even teachers’ unions. At the same time, climate activists are putting more emphasis on “degrowth,” which, they claim, is the only way to prevent greenhouse gases from causing the earth’s immolation.
Electrification and degrowth are actually complementary strategies. The degrowth movement is a Malthusian concept, popularized in 1972 by the Club of Rome publication, The Limits to Growth, which forecast that the world would run out of resources because of exponential population growth. The claims of impending doom, advanced by Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb, never materialized. Today, the world is wealthier and far cleaner than it was 50 years ago.
For degrowth proponents, the improvement in global living standards is nothing to celebrate. According to a new article in Nature, degrowth requires developed countries to abandon economic expansion as a goal. It means producing and consuming less, abandoning “less necessary” consumption of fossil fuels, meat and dairy products, cars and air travel, and even “fast fashion.” It means less (or no) private ownership and new ways (read: government control) of “provisioning” individuals to meet their needs.
If all this sounds similar to Marx’s slogan, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” that’s because it is.
Speakers at the White House summit claimed that electrification would improve “health, prosperity, and justice for all Americans.” But electrification will require more, well, electricity—lots more. According to the Energy Information Administration, total end-use energy consumption in the United States totaled about 74 quadrillion Btus (or 74 quads). Of that amount, electricity consumption accounted for just under 13 quads, or about one-sixth of total consumption. Fossil fuels provided almost all the remaining energy consumption.
Hence, electrifying virtually everything, as the Biden administration envisions, would require huge investments in new generating capacity. If most of that electricity is to come from wind and solar, as proponents wish, then the government will need to spend huge sums on battery storage and generators that use “green” hydrogen made from supposedly surplus wind and solar generation. None of that is realistic, given today’s technology. And, no, the recent announcement about nuclear fusion does not mean that limitless supplies of electricity are around the corner. (And even if it did, environmentalists and de-growth advocates would oppose it.)
Reality looks far different. Last summer, for example, Cal-ISO, which operates California’s electric grid, asked electric-vehicle owners not to charge their vehicles after 4 p.m. because the additional electricity demand from charging those EVs could lead to blackouts. More recently, Switzerland announced limits on EV use to prevent blackouts this winter. The town council of Oxford plans to divide the English city into zones and will limit travel by private vehicles, starting in 2023. European electricity prices have soared because wind and solar generation aren’t living up to supporters’ wildly optimistic claims.
If Western societies do go the electrification route but not enough electricity exists to meet the increased demand, then someone must restrict electricity use—and what better way to do that than by lowering living standards through degrowth, made possible by government controls on housing, food, and movement? Activists’ zeal for policies to address climate change is becoming harder to distinguish from a movement to enforce a new feudalism, in which most of us live in poverty under the control of elites.