• One of Gov. Cooper’s reasons for seeking to build 8 GW of offshore wind near our beaches is to fight climate change by reducing North Carolina’s energy emissions
  • Let alone making a marginal change, even if North Carolina stopped all its CO2 emissions it would make no change to the climate
  • This vain pursuit can still lead to costly, damaging policies against North Carolinians

Gov. Roy Cooper, following Pres. Joe Biden‘s lead, wants to construct a great deal (8 gigawatts) of offshore wind capacity near North Carolina beaches. Both politicians proclaimed that it would fight climate change, create jobs, and grow the economy. But those claims are disconnected from reality.

With respect to jobs and the economy, a new study presented before the North Carolina Energy Policy Council May 18 estimated devastating economic effects for North Carolina’s people, economy, and marine and avian wildlife — including the loss of 45,000 to 67,000 jobs. A new study from the Center for Food, Power, and Life at the John Locke Foundation, “Big Blow: Offshore Wind Power’s Devastating Costs and Impacts on North Carolina,” estimated large electricity price hikes from 8 GW of offshore wind (residential bills would increase by $400–$500 per year) as well as worsening energy poverty in North Carolina and harming the coastal fishing and tourism industries.

Already the governor and president’s implied benefit/cost calculus is off-base. But what about climate emissions? Would the deep costs and greater burdens on the poor of 8 GW of offshore wind all be worth it if North Carolina could fight climate change with more reduced CO2 emissions? 

No. As discussed below and in the “Big Blow” report, whatever North Carolina does can’t change the world one bit. So in a benefit/cost analysis, the balance for 8 GW of offshore wind is way off, with the impacts falling almost exclusively on the cost side of the ledger on North Carolinians.

How much climate change reduction could we expect?

Cooper and others understand that any climate effects from CO2 emissions originating from North Carolina would be worldwide. What they don’t understand is the practical immeasurability of those effects. Nor do they see the greater implication — the other side of the equation — that any climate effects from CO2 emissions originating worldwide would affect North Carolina

Here especially is what Cooper and others are missing: their implicit equation is enormously unbalanced. North Carolina is infinitesimal in comparison with the rest of the world. Our effects would likewise be infinitesimal by comparison.

Even if all productive activity and emissions from North Carolina ceased, we could make no measurable impact on the planet’s climate.

As the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) acknowledged, “GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions spread out and mix within the troposphere,” meaning that “the climatic impact of GHG emissions does not depend on the source location. Therefore, regional climatic impacts are a function of global emissions” (emphasis added). 

(Aside: BOEM’s acknowledgment was intended, ironically, to downplay expected emissions from offshore wind projects. BOEM wrote, “Development of offshore wind projects and the construction, implementation, operation, maintenance, and the eventual decommissioning activities would cause some GHG emissions increases primarily through emissions of CO2.” BOEM therefore anticipated “no collective impact on global warming as a result of offshore wind projects.”)

The key is that “regional climatic impacts are a function of global emissions.” Emissions are fungible; a region cannot therefore expect to receive climatological reward or punishment from making marginal changes in emissions relative to the rest of the world. What emissions North Carolina generates add to global emissions. What reductions in emissions North Carolina makes is subtracted from the amount North Carolina adds to global emissions while the rest of the world adds to global emissions. Whatever emissions-driven climate effects North Carolina experiences (i.e., regional climatic impacts) are a function of the sum of global emissions irrespective of North Carolina’s contribution.

The point: the State of North Carolina comprises just 53,819 square miles on the surface of a planet encompassing 196.9 million square miles. In other words, North Carolina occupies an area that amounts to about 27 one-hundred-thousandths (0.00027) of the surface of the Earth. By implication, even if all productive activity and emissions from North Carolina ceased, we could make no measurable impact on the planet’s climate. All of North Carolina could disappear like the Lost Colony, and the global climate wouldn’t change a bit.

If that sounds provocative, realize that this idea is contained within comments by John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, which he made before the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2014.

Kerry said:

Even if every single American biked to work or carpooled to school or used only solar panels to power their homes – if we reduced our emissions to zero, if we planted each of us in America a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what? That still wouldn’t be enough to counteract the carbon pollution coming from China and the rest of the world.

If America eliminated all of its climate emissions but still couldn’t counteract CO2 increases from China and elsewhere, North Carolina doesn’t stand a chance.

But in this vain pursuit our leaders can still implement costly, damaging policies against North Carolinians.

The next research brief will continue this discussion of the changing CO2 emissions of North Carolina, the United States, China, and others. It will also look into the costs to North Carolina electricity consumers of using Cooper’s 8 GW of offshore wind to reduce CO2 emissions even using the questionable “Social Cost of Carbon” metrics.