Review of

PragerU Video: What's the Deal with the Green New Deal?

Our summary: Alex Epstein argues that the Green New Deal, by aiming to prohibit affordable, reliable fossil fuels, itself poses an existential threat. Solar and wind energy is not viable. The UN's past, wild predictions of mass destruction and death have not come true, throwing doubt upon claims that we have 12 years to save the planet from rising CO2 levels. Much larger climate temperature swings have occurred in the past.

A grab-bag of strange and irrelevant arguments

David Foster Durham, NC Published 21 Apr 2020

Aside from a few strange arguments, you will not learn anything about the Green New Deal from Alex Epstein’s video… not even the most basic reason that a New Green Deal has been proposed: namely, that preventing an acceleration of climate change will require attention to economic and social issues. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” required a large-scale effort to combat the Great Depression, likewise a large-scale effort is needed for today’s challenge.

The Green New Deal has had several incarnations in the last 10-20 years. The most recent was a Democratic-led proposal in early 2019 which was preemptively rejected by Senate Republicans without allowing discussion or expert testimony. It is fair to say that Green New Deal legislation will not happen during the current administration.

Oil Field

So, on to Alex Epstein, a non-scientist who has made a career of glorifying fossil fuels. Epstein’s tactics in this video include caricaturing Green New Deal proponents, as well as offering weird and specious arguments.

As an example of the first: according to Epstein, Green New Deal proponents “say that we have 12 years to save the planet from rising CO2 levels”. This is a popular oversimplification, stemming from a 2018 UN report that discussed what it would take to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century. Achieving this goal would require significant progress during the coming decade; it cannot be accomplished if we wait until mid-century to act. Climate action proponents are not suggesting that the apocalypse will occur in 12 years, as Epstein implies.

Epstein ridicules the inaccuracy in past predictions about climate change. His best example is:

In 1989, the Associated Press reported a United Nations prediction that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” We’re now two decades past 2000, we’re not missing any nations…

There are two things wrong here. First is a mischaracterization of what was said. The Associated Press article in question reported:

As the warming melts polar icecaps, ocean levels will rise by up to three feet, enough to cover the Maldives and other flat island nations, [UN official Noel] Brown told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Brown only said this about flat-island nations, and he did not specify a timetable for when this would occur. Second—and more importantly—Epstein seems to be suggesting, “A climate expert’s predictions were inaccurate in 1989, therefore we should not trust what they are saying today.”

A similarly disingenuous argument is made when Epstein criticizes the idea of switching to solar and wind technologies:

Today, 80% of the energy Americans use to heat their homes, farm their land, run their factories, and drive their cars comes from fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. Only 3.4% comes from solar and wind—despite decades of government subsidies and mandates to encourage their use.

Ok, but, so what? Solar, wind, and storage technologies (in many circumstances) aren’t yet cost effective. Who is saying otherwise? More to the point, though, with the rapid technological improvements we’ve seen in the past two decades, why couldn’t they eventually become cost effective?

Speaking of technology, Epstein argues that deaths from natural events have been decreasing, thanks to

…the fossil fuel energy that emitted the CO2, which has empowered us to climate-proof our environment with heating, air-conditioning, sturdy buildings, mass irrigation, and weather warning systems.

Is this serious? “We may be wreaking havoc on our climate, but we can now build better fortresses to withstand the increasing hurricanes/fires/etc. that we ourselves are causing” ?

Finally, Epstein attempts to pooh-pooh the whole topic by characterizing recent global warming as unremarkable:

All of this is far from unprecedented territory for our planet, which has existed with at least 10 times today’s CO2 levels and a 25-degree warmer average temperature.

Granted, the Earth has seen large temperature swings during the past 500 million years. But during the most recent 10 thousand of those years, temperatures have been very stable. Why are large swings hundreds of millions of years ago relevant to this discussion?

In summary, does this sound like someone who is interested in the truth? Who is interested in playing fair? Even if climate change worries were excessive, would a responsible public figure use lazy arguments and tactics like these?

Anyway, Epstein may not care much what you and I think. Look at the frightening call-to-arms at the beginning of his presentation:

“We face an existential threat. Life as we know it is on the line. We have 12 short years to change everything or it’s game over.”
This is the terrifying scenario that’s used by many leading politicians to justify a “Green New Deal”: an unprecedented increase in government power focused on the energy industry.

Notice who Epstein identifies as the prospective loser. It appears that his target audience isn’t us citizens, but rather is the oil and gas industry. Perhaps this video will help ensure the continued funding of his crusade by that industry.

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