Construction projects are notorious for their endless delays and cost overruns.  But this isn’t a new phenomenon, in 2600 B.C.E, Egyptian pharaoh Khufu built the Great Pyramid at Giza, then thirty-two hundred years later King Louis XIV of France built a residence as monumental as his ego erecting the sprawling, ornate Palace of Versailles, both had one overriding commonality these projects nearly bankrupted their respective treasuries.

History is replete with grandiose projects that turned into money pits; from airports and stadiums to tunnels and water dams.  These white elephants always have several things in common: unrealistic projections, failure to fully understanding the task, mismanagement, fraud, miscalculations, and good old-fashioned corruption; and more modern examples included

  • The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China’s Hubei province.The enormous flood control project was projected to cost $8.5 billion, but the Chinese government had to build a virtual city to house the 1.3 million people were displaced when the builders flooded their towns and villages.  Additionally, the project created a floating layer of algae and garbage in that landlocked reservoir along with frequent landslides.  Final cost – 400% over budget.
  • The construction of the Montreal-Mirabel Airport forced nearly 2,000 residents from their homes and acquiring the acreage cost eight times its original projection.When finally completed, air travelers chose not to use the new facility handling only 2.5 million passengers per year, a mere fraction of the 50 million annual patrons once envisioned.  After completion the Canadian government realized it would cost $28 million/year just to maintain so instead, chose to demolish it.
  • In the early 1990s the traffic on Boston’s Central Artery, the main highway through the city would back up 10 hours a day and cost the local economy $500 million annually.In response, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, or Big Dig as it came to be known was launched to replace the six-lane highway with an underground road of 10 lanes.  Originally projected to be completed by 1998 for $2.6 billion the price tag soon ballooned to $14.8 billion, but with the interest due on borrowed funds, it is now estimated to cost $22 billion, 850% over budget.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the challenges the world faces in its conversion to ‘clean energy,’ in what would be the most expensive undertaking in human history.  But such a changeover won’t cost millions or even billions of dollars—we’re talking trillions and even at that, using history as our guide, we can expect delays, shortages, and huge cost overruns, begging the question, do nations such as Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Eritrea have the resources to ‘go green?’

The world’s population is projected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that the world would need to produce 70% more food than we do today.  Coincidentally, 2050 is the same year President Biden told us we will be net carbon neutral.  So, does anyone believe governments such as Guinea, Mali, Chad, or any of the other 150 or so genuinely poor nations of the world will focus on carbon emissions rather than feeding its citizens?

One can find support on the Internet and social media for almost any climate position, so I try to cite only “peer reviewed” assessments or quote the individuals who were part of the peer review, such as former Obama administration Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science, Steven Koonin, who’s American Physical Society team concluded that the current state of climate science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change in the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.

Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science, but as the team discovered, at this point in time the science is replete with uncertainties, and considering the astronomical costs, any undertaking to revamp a part of the nation’s, much less the world’s energy sector should proceed fully mindful of that fact.   As the team’s leader Koonin added, “When we fail to do this, we usurp the public’s right make informed choices and undermine their confidence in the entire scientific enterprise.”

Quote of the day: “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model (i.e., capitalism) that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,”– Christiana Figueres, Executive secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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