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Mona Charen: President Obama and the Future Fallacy

He ignores the warnings and pushes full-speed ahead with green technologies as other nations are pulling back

Speaking to students at a Maryland community college, President Barack Obama indulged one of the left’s favorite vanities — the claim to represent “the future.” His topic was energy. The president warned against Republicans who want “an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past.” He compared today’s Republicans, who are less enthusiastic than he about government subsidies for “wind, solar and biofuels,” to the “flat earth society” and to President Rutherford Hayes, who supposedly disdained the telephone.

President Obama had those students chuckling and grinning and feeling smugly superior to benighted Republicans who are so stuck in the past. They always were; look at Hayes!

You’d think that by now Obama might have been chastened about historical claims. He’s the one who told us that America invented the automobile and that President John F. Kennedy had met with Nikita Khrushchev when we were on the brink of nuclear war. Actually, Kennedy met Khrushchev a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the car was invented in Germany. And far from dismissing the telephone, Hayes embraced the new technology and was the first president to have one installed at the White House.

If Obama had a better command of history, he’d be embarrassed to persist in the forwards/backwards, past/future meme for which he has such a weakness. He’d know, for example, that the story of Lincoln Steffens visiting the Soviet Union in 1919 and proclaiming, “I have seen the future and it works” is remembered now ironically — for its obtuseness.

Similarly, Democrats were certain during the Cold War that if we didn’t want to be on the “wrong side of history,” in Sen. Christopher Dodd’s words, we’d stop opposing the communist insurgencies.

Now the president would like to persuade us that the fuels of the future are “green” sources such as solar, wind, biomass and so forth. On multiple occasions, the president has warned that other nations are racing ahead of us to develop green technologies and green energy sources. The stimulus bill contained $2.3 billion in tax credits for “green” manufacturers. But Obama wants us to join just as the others are coming to their senses.

Kenneth Green, writing at The American, notes that Obama pin-up Spain (lauded by Obama as a “worldwide leader in renewable energy”) is in “full retreat” from its solar subsidies. A 2009 study found that since 2000, Spain has spent 571,138 euros for each green job created. The same study estimates that Spain lost 2.2 private-sector jobs for every one of those so-called green jobs. Since then, Spain has been backing away from this debacle.

According to Bloomberg News: “Spain halted subsidies for renewable energy projects to help curb its budget deficit and rein in power-system borrowings backed by the state that reached 24 billion euros ($31 billion) at the end of 2011. ‘What is today an energy problem could become a financial problem,’ Industry Minister Jose Manuel Soria said in Madrid.”

Across Europe, the Washington Post reports, governments are cutting way back on subsidies to solar energy. “German policymakers indicated last week that they planned to cut once-generous subsidies as much as 29 percent. ... Britain and Italy have made similar moves, and in January, Spain abandoned its subsidies altogether.”

Remember Obama’s invocation of Chinese progress on solar technologies in his bid for subsidies to Solyndra and the rest? It seems the Chinese were grinding out those solar panels mostly in response to European demand — an artificial demand that relied almost entirely on the subsidies of European governments. David Baldock of the Institute for European Environmental Policy told the Post, “Governments aren’t always good at knowing how to profile their subsidies against market conditions.” Hmm. Remove the “always” from that sentence, and you’re getting somewhere.

Europe is backing away from green energy subsidies because they are a waste of precious resources. The Europeans are also aware, though no one discusses it much, that all of their subsidies haven’t reduced Europe’s production of CO2 one whit. Because of the EU-wide system of emissions trading, the emissions credits earned by solar and wind plants in Germany and elsewhere have simply gone to older, dirtier plants in Eastern Europe.

Facing devastating deficits and shrinking populations, Europe is rethinking its embrace of the green energy “future.” As Miranda Schreurs, director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the Free University of Berlin told the Post, “Everybody knows we can’t go the way we’ve been going. ... It’ll break the bank.”

Well, not “everybody.” Not President Obama.

Mona Charen of National Review magazine writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information or to contact her. Follow Mona Charen on Twitter: @mcharen.

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