If there were any lingering doubt that climate-change policy is empty virtue-signaling, President Joe Biden dispelled it on Wednesday when he called on Congress to lift the federal gasoline tax. This desperate pitch is just the latest move in the White House’s increasingly panicked campaign to lower the cost of tanking up. Biden also asked state officials to pause their own local gasoline taxes.
But if climate change “poses an existential threat”—as a White House press release asserted in April 2021—then high gas prices are a boon, since they discourage, in the most efficient way possible, the consumption of fossil fuels. You don’t reduce demand by lowering the price of a good but by raising it. For decades, the most sophisticated environmentalists have argued for a carbon tax, imposed at the point of extraction and then passed on to the consumer. A carbon tax helps solve the so-called externality problem of carbon consumption, according to which the environmental cost of greenhouse-gas use is not reflected in the price of gas and thus is not borne by the user. Carbon taxes shift some of the costs of carbon use back on to the consumer, mobilizing price signals in the service of environmentalism.
Candidate Joe Biden supported a carbon tax during the 2020 presidential primary. In November 2021, he promised to back a Democratic bill that would impose a rising surcharge on carbon. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called for a carbon tax during her confirmation hearing: “We cannot solve the climate crisis without effective carbon pricing,” she said.
The spiraling price at the pump—brought on by Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, his suspension of new gas and oil leases, his renewable energy mandates, and U.S. sanctions on Russia—is a de facto carbon tax. Allowed to operate unimpeded, this supply-driven price hike would lower the generation of greenhouse gases. Already, American drivers are driving less, compared with the same period in 2021. Even carpooling, that mostly spurned practice beloved of policy wonks, is on the rise, even without additional artificial incentives or HOV lane giveaways. What’s not to like, if you’re a climate-change warrior?
Rising gas prices also serve the cause of switching the economy to so-called renewable energy sources, heretofore wildly uneconomical compared to fossil fuels. If the price at the pump stays high enough for long enough, more drivers may trade in their internal-combustion engine for what remains a luxury toy of the elite—an electric car. (We will leave aside the question of whether battery-powered cars are in fact a net environmental improvement. The chance is significant that they are not.)
And yet Biden, Yellen, and the rest of the administration are working furiously to block this straightforward market mechanism. On Monday, June 20, Yellen observed that consumers “are really hurting from higher gas prices”—just as they would be under the de jure carbon tax that Yellen previously backed. Never mind. A gas-tax holiday would reduce the burden on American households, Yellen said during a press conference in Toronto.
Biden is nothing if not consistent in his climate-change inconsistency. In April 2022, the administration started releasing 1 million barrels daily from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to cushion consumers from gasoline price shocks. Even if the effort to lower the price of gasoline were not a betrayal of Biden’s climate goals, tapping the reserve to placate voters is not why the reserve was created. Next month, Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia to petition the OPEC+ countries (minus Russia, presumably) to bail Americans out of their gasoline woes. Saudi Arabia did not respond favorably to a similar plea last November, prompting Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, another professed climate warrior, to call on oil producers everywhere to shield consumers from high gas prices by stepping up production. Biden apparently regards cheap gas as an American entitlement that other countries must fulfill. At a G-20 meeting in Rome last year, Biden whined about the “idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia and other major producers are not going to pump more oil so people can have gasoline to get to and from work.” It was just “not right!”
The administration has also lifted sanctions barring American involvement in the Venezuelan oil and gas industry. Cozying up to Arab and Latin American petro-states contradicts not only the administration’s professed climate goals but its social justice agenda as well. Good luck holding a Gay Pride march in Riyadh or getting government funding for trans “health care” in Caracas.
Biden, in other words, is profoundly unserious about global warming. His counterparts in Europe are just as frivolous. Germany’s economy minister—hilariously, a Green Party member—announced on Sunday that Germany would be increasing the burning of coal, the fossil fuel with the greatest carbon emissions, in order to offset the rising cost of natural gas. The Dutch climate (yes, climate) minister announced that the nation’s cabinet “has decided to immediately withdraw the restriction on production for coal-fired power stations.” Austria is reopening a coal power station that had been taken offline in the service of the climate agenda.
Of course, Germany still stands by its promise to close all coal power plants by 2030, due to their CO2 emissions—just not yet. “The 2030 coal exit date is not in doubt at all,” an economy ministry spokesman said after Germany’s announcement of the coal reprieve. Ditto all the other climate pledges that gush forth from Western climate-change conferences like the designer mineral water that is transported thousands of miles to the conference site in waste-producing bottles so that the climate bureaucrats don’t have to drink—gasp! —mere tap water. Those pledges, too—such as Biden’s target of halving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and eliminating them altogether by 2050—remain firmly in place while the pledgers put off for another day any actual civic sacrifice that would affect their political futures.
Mocking climate-change warriors for their private jets and yachts, far-flung vacation homes, and chauffeured SUVs has become routine among jaundiced observers of the world’s increasingly numerous environmental conferences. Such mockery hasn’t had the slightest effect on the conferees’ conspicuous consumption of the miraculous products of Western innovation and capitalism. The celebrities and climate ministers continue to enjoy their fabulous lifestyles in plain view, confident in the cardinal rule of all environmentalism: one’s own activities are always important enough to be exempt from any environmental limits. Only the other person should have to sacrifice.
The young people currently professing mental breakdowns about the imminent destruction of the earth spread their trauma to one another through their most up-to-date smartphones—devices that require precious metals extracted from environmentally catastrophic Third World countries and server farms that suck up vast amounts of energy. These climate neurotics expect their meals to be delivered to them in disposable containers, since cooking is too onerous. Whether their delivery man drives a car or rides an energy-consumptive electric bicycle is of no interest. They expect their groceries and their Amazon purchases to be delivered in a matter of minutes, no matter the vast complex of warehouses and trucking routes needed to cater to their ever-rising demands for maximal convenience. They, too, order bottled water by the caseload, since America’s pure tap water—one of the great triumphs of urban planning—is too banal, and besides, who knows what undetected carcinogens may lurk in it? If any one of these hysterical, mostly female activists has ever given up something that she views as even remotely necessary to her comfort, there is no record of such sacrifice. Environmental renunciation is a tautology: one gives up only what one is prepared to give up and nothing more.
But the greatest hypocrisy comes from politicians like Biden, who mouth climate-change platitudes until the moment reality threatens to put those platitudes into practice—with all of their real-world costs. Politicians don’t do real-world costs; they do politics.
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