America Is Joining Its Frenemies Back in the Fossil Fuel Club

Geography, it’s often said, is destiny.

The paths nations follow though history are written like a script on the patterns of their rocks, rivers, plains and coasts, in ways that often confound the views of the people who inhabit them. It’s rare for a country to escape that geological fate.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen dramatic examples of this happening in five countries covering more than a third of the planet’s land mass.

Most notable has been President Joe Biden’s brutal round of tariffs against Chinese clean technology imports. At a time when core inflation in the US is at its highest level in nearly 30 years and disposable income growth is sputtering, pushing up the cost of consumer goods such as solar panels and electric vehicles seems perverse.1 It makes more sense when you look at the other side of the energy picture. In December, US crude oil output reached 13.3 million daily barrels, the highest level of any country in history. Natural gas hit a similar global record of 106.5 billion cubic feet per day.

Biden’s justification for the tariffs is that they’re a pro-climate initiative, which will buy the US time to scale up and compete with China’s formidable clean-technology industry. You should take that with a pinch of salt, given how Washington’s wavering commitment to clean technology has seen it squander early leads in solar panels and EVs. It’s America’s strength as a fossil fuel producer that allows it to be so lackadaisical about cleaning up its act — and so willing, now, to suppress alternative technologies.