Describing the mission of his National Review magazine in its inaugural edition of on Nov. 19, 1955, the then not-yet 30 year-old conservative icon William F. Buckley wrote that his new magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
Rishi Sunak, Britain’s Tory prime minister, seems to have bravely adopted at least some of that mission by challenging Britain’s radical climate agenda. It is a lesson for the United States.
Addressing Britain’s sanguine climate policy Sunak said, “there’s nothing ambitious about simply asserting a goal for a short-term headline without being honest with the public about the tough choices and sacrifices involved and without any meaningful democratic debate about how we get there.”
Mind you, Mr. Sunak is not what the climate cult types calls a “climate change denier”; far from it. But he understands that aspirations without means are merely pipe dreams. And he also understands that imposing climate mandates without public discourse or debate is antithetical to the democratic principles that underlies his republic, as it does ours.
What Are We Doing?
Unfortunately, the mismatch between means and aspirations, as well as the disregard for democratic principles, characterizes much of what passes for the national climate policies of both the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated that automobiles in the Model Year 2026 CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards at 55 miles per gallon for sedans and 39 mpg for trucks and light duty trucks/SUVs. Those are enormous increases of 25 percent and 28 percent, respectively, just since 2020.
(Source: Environmental Protection Agency/CAFE Standards by Year 1978–2025)
The clear intention in raising the CAFE standards so quickly is to force consumers into buying new cars that are either fully or partially electric, hybrids, or fully electric. But there is clear resistance, as reflected in this comment even from Kyle Bass, an avid environmentalist and chief investment officer of Conservation Equity Management, a private equity fund focused on “facilitating conservation investment.
The advertised ranges of EVs have turned out to be pure fantasy (we own two Teslas). After a couple of years, the batteries degrade even more (think about your iPhone). I will never give up my combustion engine.
— 🇺🇸 Kyle Bass 🇹🇼 (@Jkylebass) September 19, 2023
State and local governments in so-called “blue” states have been even more aggressive in forcing radical lifestyle changes on the people in their jurisdiction. In New York, for example, it is something of a race to “make history,” with elected officials lauding the city’s status as “the first city in America to [insert costly, new, crackpot, “green” energy notion here]. See this example lauding an expensive “congestion pricing” tax scheme the city will impose next year, whereby drivers who go below 6oth Street in Manhattan will have to pay a congestion pricing toll of $26 to “reduce fuel consumed and pollutant emissions.”
NEW: New York City is leading the nation by becoming the first city in America with a congestion pricing program — setting the standard in the fight for cleaner air, better transit, and less traffic.
As we so often do here in New York, today, we’re making history.
— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) June 27, 2023
Another “green” initiative bans new construction in New York City from having natural gas hookups, even though natural gas reserves are estimated at 300 years and natural gas burns far cleaner than many alternatives. New York’s legendary pizzerias, some serving pizza from coal-fired ovens for more than a century will likely be forced to adopt to electric pizza ovens. Another initiative will force New Yorkers to hold onto their garbage for up to a week for mandatory composting of organic waste, since the city’s plan only allows for compost pick-ups just once a week. Imagine the smell. And the vermin!
At least two council members are starting to pay attention to the mismatch between means and ends, and the enormous costs of compliance to their constituents, but they are well in the minority in the council.
Prime Minister Sunak stated, simply, that “it cannot be right … to impose such significant costs on working people, especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet, and to interfere so much in people’s way of life without a properly informed national debate.”
We should all cheer, “Hear! Hear!”
These new CAFE standards and other climate-related mandates weren’t decisions arrived at by referendum or consensus; they were decreed by bureaucrats. In New York, the City Council imposing mandate after mandate is dominated overwhelmingly by Democrats, and most of those are “woke” progressives whose principal life experience is working in politics or at not-for-profits funded by the city. Their inexperience and inability to see anything beyond their altruistic objective personify the kind of thinking that overstates aspirations without regard to means—exactly as Prime Minister Sunak described in his talk.
The Means to Ends
So let’s look at means.
Few would argue that it is better to reduce hydrocarbon emissions, if we can, for the general health of the people, if not to achieve climate goals. But we also need to maintain an economy to feed, clothe, and house hundreds of millions of people and ensure our national security.
We cannot do those things if we overburden the nation’s electric grid. We cannot do those things relying on “renewables” like wind and solar power—not even with the best of those technologies we have available today. And we cannot do that with Americans abandoning their gasoline-powered internal combustion engines in favor of electric vehicles (EVs) that most of them cannot afford and that require a charge from an overburdened electrical grid. We might be able generate all the required electricity the climate cult demands with nuclear energy and a massive investment in the electrical grid, but progressive abhor the former and have made no provisions at all to pay for the latter.
At an average cost of $64,000, the cost of EVs the climate cult would have us all adopt are now, and will likely continue to be, well beyond the financial means of most Americans. They’re also extraordinarily heavy, going from hundreds to thousands of pounds more than gasoline-powered cars. That makes EV crashes far less survivable than their gas-powered counterparts, and raises concerns about the structural integrity of roads, bridges, and vertical parking garages.
That’s to say nothing of how vulnerable an “all EV” economy would make us. First, the inputs necessary to make EVs are at risk as they come largely from a geopolitical adversary, China. Other EV inputs depend on mining in countries in the Third World where China is aggressively developing geostrategic advantage, but where we have no other interest except for EV inputs. The United States simply cannot rely on that supply chain. Nor can we afford to further exacerbate our balance of payments deficit with China by buying their batteries or to go tit-for-tat with China for aid and investments in countries where we have no other geopolitical interests. Challenging China for these EV supplies could present grievous fiscal, geopolitical, and geostrategic challenges, even war. And for what? EVs?
Prime Minister Sunak, who accepts the hypothesis that human activity is responsible for climate change, may not be yelling “Stop!” in the manner Mr. Buckley described; he may simply be saying “slow down.” And reasonably so. For now, though, it is enough.
We need to ensure that the technology we have to fulfill the climate cult’s ambitious agenda is viable, affordable, and secure from a geostrategic perspective. Major elements of the “green” supply chain cannot be in the hands of those who would use it to force their political ends upon us. We learned that lesson with OPEC oil shock in the 1970s.
But we are just starting to do that. NASA has developed a prototype for a light battery for use in aircraft. Small modular reactors—technological cousins of the type we use in our nuclear navy that have been used safely for nearly 70 years—are less costly, more efficient, and more easily deployed—as well as arguably safer—than their large counterparts.
But bringing those and other technologies to bear to power cities, factories, and, yes, EVs, will require another 30–50 years. In the meantime, we will have wasted trillions on technology that is effectively obsolescent the moment it comes online.
Listen to William F. Buckley: “Stop!”