Politics & Policy

Numbers Don’t Lie

The global energy story of today is coal, which dwarfs the output of solar and wind.

Rasheed Wallace gained notoriety during his 16-season NBA career for being a hot-headed power forward. If called for a foul (or, as was often the case with him, a technical foul) that he thought was undeserved, and the opposing team missed the ensuing free-throw attempts, Wallace would often holler, “ball don’t lie,” as if the basketball itself was pronouncing judgment on the ref’s call.

The “ball don’t lie” expression has gained fame and is even the title of a popular basketball blog.

I’d be inclined to adopt a variation on Wallace’s catchphrase for whenever energy use or energy policy is being discussed: Numbers don’t lie.

Indeed, on Monday, BP released the latest edition of its BP Statistical Review of World Energy, and that document shows that once again, the global energy story of today isn’t wind, solar, or “clean energy,” it is coal. The numbers put the lie to the ongoing story being pushed by the Obama administration, the Sierra Club, and their many allies on the green Left.

Earlier this month, the EPA released its new Clean Power Plan, a 645-page set of regulations that aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the domestic electricity-generation sector by 30 percent by 2030 when compared with 2005 levels. The EPA claims that the new rules are needed because greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide threaten “the American public by leading to potentially rapid, damaging and long-lasting changes in our climate that can have a range of severe negative effects on human health and the environment.”

Let’s look at the numbers. As I wrote in these pages on June 3, the EPA’s proposal aims to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by about 720 million tons over the next 16 years. But that reduction will amount to a drop in the global carbon dioxide bucket. According to the new BP numbers, in 2013 alone, global CO2 emission rose by 630 million tons. In other words, in one year, global CO2 emissions rose by nearly 90 percent of the reductions being proposed by the EPA.

Why are emissions rising so quickly? We can find the answer largely in the coal numbers. Last year, global coal use grew by about 2 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. Let’s compare that soaring coal use with what’s happening with the political darlings of the moment: wind and solar energy. According to the BP data, global wind-energy production grew by about 500,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day and solar grew by about 150,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Thus, in 2013, global coal use grew at a rate that was roughly four times that of wind and 13 times that of solar.

But we needn’t look only at the coal numbers. Last year, according to the BP report, global oil use grew by about 900,000 barrels per day and natural-gas use by about 700,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. Thus, in one year, global hydrocarbon consumption increased by about 3.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. Let’s compare that to the contribution of all global wind energy, which provided roughly 2.9 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in 2013, and all global solar, which contributed about 600,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Looking at the numbers shows that in 2013, just the increase in hydrocarbon use was greater than the contribution of all global wind energy and all global solar energy combined.  

The green Left continues to push the claim that the reason there’s been no major action to cut carbon dioxide emissions is that some evil cabal — quarterbacked by climate “denialists” who have a “hostility to science” — has been blocking change. (By the way, that’s exactly what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman claimed on June 9.) 

The reality — as shown by the numbers — is far different. Coal, oil, and natural gas continue to supply about 87 percent of all global energy because those sources are able to provide the vast amounts of energy the world needs at prices consumers can afford. And for developing countries in particular, coal remains the fuel of choice because it is cheap and abundant, deposits are geographically widespread, and its price is not influenced by an OPEC-style cartel.

We can discuss the need for more action on climate change. But in doing so, we must also recognize that the U.S. has been leading the world in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions. Between 2005 and 2013, according to the BP numbers, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions fell by 8.7 percent. For comparison, emissions in Germany, which has spent about $100 billion on subsidies for renewables, have fallen by 4.6 percent. But the numbers in absolute terms are even starker. Since 2005, U.S. emissions have fallen by 563 million tons. That’s 17 times the reduction seen in Germany, where emissions have fallen by 40 million tons since 2005.

Meanwhile, since 2005, China’s emissions have grown by 71 percent, or about 3.9 billion tons, which is about six times the total reductions achieved in the U.S. and Germany. In the Middle East, emissions have jumped by about 600 million tons, an increase that effectively cancels out the combined reductions achieved in both the U.S. and Germany since 2005.

The punch line here is obvious: Numbers don’t lie. And when it comes to discussions about energy and climate change, we need a lot more numbers and a lot less hyperbole and wishful thinking.

— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His fifth book, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong, was published May 13.


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