BARONE: The problems with net zero

Net zero is in trouble. In utterly predictable trouble, in the king’s-wearing-no-clothes trouble 

The signs are all around. Governments from coastal America to Communist China and businesses from automakers to toymakers have promised that they will produce no net carbon emissions by some date conveniently far in the future. But as years have gone on, those dates have come to seem inconveniently near. Something has to give. 

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama has described the process of improving societies — making them more politically democratic, economically advanced and culturally tolerant — as “getting to Denmark.” And in fact, Denmark, though far from perfect, has done a better job of getting there than just about any other country. 

Which makes it interesting that Denmark’s most widely known business, Lego, has thrown in the figurative towel in its effort to manufacture net-zero bricks. It turns out, as The Wall Street Journal’s Dominic Chopping reports, bricks made of corn were “too soft,” bricks made of wheat “didn’t look right” and bricks made of other materials “proved too hard to pull apart or lost their grip.” 

Plus, sad to say, bricks made of recycled bottles would emit more carbon than its current processes. Lacking the power of a government to require consumers, at least outside tiny Denmark, to buy a palpably inferior product, Lego will go on emitting just as much carbon per brick as before. 

Like the Danish King Canute who brushed aside his English courtiers’ urgings that he stop the incoming tide, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delayed from 2030 to 2035 the ban on the sale of gasoline-powered automobiles and also postponed a ban on gas-fired furnaces and water heaters.  

Sunak’s Conservative Party seems unlikely to win the general election, which must be held by January 2025, but he evidently calculated that its chances would be reduced if voters thought his party would within a five-year term force them to buy expensive electric cars that could run out of charge on cold days or expensive heat pumps that produce little heat. 

Similarly, Germany’s socialist-Green coalition government limited its ban on gas heaters, Poland is suing the European Union over its 2035 gas car ban, and Dutch voters gave first place to a new political party protesting limits on the nation’s highly efficient farmers’ nitrogen emissions.  

Of course, imposing such privations on ordinary citizens is just the point for climate activists who combine a penchant for aristocratic private jet travel with a loathing for the plebeian tastes of low- and middle-income consumers. As The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker points out, a British ban on carbon emissions and return to subsistence agriculture “wouldn’t make the slightest difference to the climate.” 

There’s similar resistance in the United States, and not just on the Right. Matt Huber, leftist author of “Climate Change as Class War,” decries net-zero “climate-minded policymakers” who have moved from “policy tools” to discourage driving and meat-eating to “outright coercion: banning fossil-fuel boilers, gas stoves, internal combustion engines …” 

Speaking of which, one reason the United Auto Workers is on strike against the Big Three — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (Chrysler) — is to bolster its current members against the job losses inevitable if the Biden administration’s net zero-inspired electric vehicle policies go into effect. EVs require only 70% as much labor as — and maybe less than — gasoline-powered vehicles. 

Administration policy aims at a 67% sales share for electric vehicles in the 2030s, astronomically higher than the 7% this year. 

Ford announced this week it was “pausing” construction of a battery plant with Chinese technology in Marshall, Michigan, and nonunionized Tesla and foreign-based EV and battery manufacturing is scheduled for nonunionized Sun Belt plants.  

President Joe Biden may have marched briefly on the UAW picket line in Michigan, but, writes Michigan-based auto journalist Dale Buss, he is “no ally” of the strike. The UAW has conspicuously not endorsed Biden for reelection. 

Net-zero policies get good marks from affluent voters in polls, but as American Enterprise Institute’s Ruy Teixeira writes, “The working class did not really sign up for the rapid green transition envisioned by Biden and most Democrats” — what Rep. Nancy Pelosi referred to in 2019 as “the Green Dream or whatever they call it.” 

New York Democrats seeking to phase out gas stoves, California Democrats seeking to ban nonelectric trucks, national Democrats forcing production of electric cars without provision for needed electricity production, transmission lines and charging stations — these are reasons that, to the puzzlement of liberal pundits, more voters see Biden-era Democrats than Trump-era Republicans as “extreme.” 

Net zero helps to explain why noncollege whites are less supportive of liberal economic policies than white college graduates. Working-class voters see Democrats not offering them free stuff but instead piling on costs and preventing them from buying things they want. Net zero indeed. 

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of “The Almanac of American Politics.”