Last week, within the space of three days, we learned that Gov. Jerry Brown is considering phasing out fossil-fuel powered automobiles in about 10 years, then we found out that Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, is planning to introduce legislation that would outlaw the sale of new cars with internal-combustion engines after 2040.
We wish this were fake news. But it’s not. It’s real news about elected officials engaging in virtue-signaling that will affect people’s lives. But this is California, which continues to veer left, and Brown, whose moonbeam illuminates some odd corners of the universe. We should have seen it coming about a thousand miles of bad California road ago.
There are many unanswered questions about how a no-gasoline, no-diesel regime would work. We have asked those elsewhere. So for this post, we want to focus on just one: Will a California ban on internal-combustion engines beat back climate change?
Of course it won’t.
“Shutting down California’s fossil-fuel usage totally will still do nothing measurable to global climate,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Richard Lindzen recently told us when asked what would happen if every fossil-fuel burning machine in the state were turned off tomorrow.
As for Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon’s proposal to require all electric power sold in the state to be generated by renewable sources by 2045, Lindzen called it “hubris of a particularly stupid sort.”
“As Google has discovered, the replacements haven’t yet been discovered,” he said. “I suppose that even in California, it is possible to carry ‘make believe’ too far.”
So to summarize: Forcing every Californian to give up their fossil-fuel-driven automobile and replace it with an electric car will have no effect on the climate. Neither will putting the power supply on a renewables-only diet have.
Yet here we are, waiting on Sacramento to once again dictate our choices, and for no benefits in return.
Loss of choice is not the sole issue, either.There are bound to be enormous costs brought by both ideas. But the costs of their schemes rarely if ever give California policymakers cause to consider the burdens they continually force on us. If it feels good to them, they just do it. They might not get everything they want exactly when they want it — though de Leon’s proposal was never voted on in the just-finished session, it will return — they still know that in this single-party state they will eventually get their way.
While it’s possible that one day electric vehicles will be the only automobiles on U.S. roads, the conversion has to be left to the market — or if that word offends, the consumers. Sending directives from on high, like slinging lightning bolts from Olympus, is abusive and autocratic, especially when the directives are entirely symbolic.
The bet here, though, is that a majority of California voters will meekly follow their orders. In fact, many will even celebrate them. They’ll show the pros in Sacramento that amateurs can virtue-signal, too.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.