Oxymorons and Morbid Attachments

Peter Smith03 Feb, 2022 5 Min Read
Things that go bump in the night while you freeze to death.

It’s approaching breakfast time in Australia on 25 January. Avid wind-watcher Rafe Champion reporting:

Wind addicted South Australia is importing half of its power from Victoria and 94 percent of the local generation is gas. Wind turbines are running at 2 percent of capacity and providing 5 percent of demand. Victoria is generating a small excess of power [mainly from coal] but not enough to prop up South Australia without help from Tasmania and New South Wales. Across the national electricity network wind is delivering 3.7 percent of consumption, fossil fuels are delivering 83 percent (coal 75 percent).

Close your eyes and imagine the entire world without coal, gas and oil. If you imagine in their stead thousands of modular nuclear power stations dotted around the globe, relax. While you probably need counselling on the practicalities of supplying affordable and reliable energy in the immediate decades ahead, you don’t have acute symptoms of a novel psychological affliction. To wit, a morbid fear of cheap dispatchable power and, its mirror image, a morbid attachment to rude living.

We had it coming.

To the afflicted, cheap dispatchable power means travel and gadgets galore for humans to enjoy. This isn’t the world they envision. To them it’s a dystopian nightmare. Hence their understandable terror at the prospect of its metastasising. Correspondingly, it’s no wonder that they’re smitten by unaffordable and unreliable energy. Out of the resulting deprivation, they see the noble savage emerging ready to live parsimoniously in harmony with nature.

Ask almost anyone in the street. Ordinary people. Normal people. None will like the idea of living parsimoniously. Certainly, when it’s explained to them.

When I was a boy, me mum used to wash our clothes, bedsheets and towels by hand in the bath; mangle them, then hang them on the clothesline outside even in the deepest English winter. Electricity usage zero. Mind you, mum used hot water heated in a boiler next to our coal fire or by gas on the stove top. Carbon footprint there, I suppose. Vandalism. She should have used cold water to be absolutely green-minded and parsimonious.

Today all kinds of labour-saving, communication and entertainment gadgets abound. They will be prised only out of cold dead hands. And not just gnarled hands. Make no mistake, those jet-setting climate-warrior hypocrites and their handmaidens are not about to forsake a smidgeon of indulgence.

How in the world do they get away with it? That is the question. Why isn’t net-zero laughed off the stage? Smoke and mirrors. That’s why. The truth is hidden. It’s hidden by baseless claims of green nirvanas. Job creation is the poster child.

Angus Taylor is Australia’s federal government “minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction.” His job description is a double-barrelled contradiction in terms. But all of those propagating the received wisdom are intent on the populace seeing them as oxymorons. Even among those who’ve never heard of Shakespeare’s sweet sorrow; who wouldn’t know an oxymoron from a contradiction in terms; and, incidentally, who might benefit from Danny DeVito’s masterly teaching.

Oxy this, you moron.

To expand. Juxtaposing both industry (the thriving thereof) and energy (the affordability and reliability thereof) with emissions reduction is meant to instill confidence that all is well with the world. Thus, effectively, we are meant to view "carbonless energy" and "carbonless industry" as oxymorons. That is to say, thunderous silence is more silent than plain silent. So, carbonless energy is cheaper and more abundant than just plain old energy. Carbonless industry is more competitive and job creating than just plain old industry. Grammar and propaganda working in sync to underpin the big sell.

Other countries have different set ups. But, within western governments these days; as, for example, in the U.K. and in the U.S., energy, industry and climate-change policy are caught under one broad umbrella, as though they are mutually supportive with no hint of conflict. And who’s to gainsay? No one of note at a political level. They’re predominantly likeminded.

It’s the real plague of our age. Political opposition has withered. Combatting climate change is a shared hysteria across the political aisles. It’s exactly the same thing with combatting the Wuhan virus. There’s no mainstream opposition. For the most part in Australia at a state and federal level, the usual charge against governments is that they’re not being hysterical enough. If you get the occasional reservation, it’s at the margin or from powerless mavericks.

Our system of government depends upon there being robustly opposing political forces. In Australia, Canada and the U.K., Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, puts the imperative into words. They’re not idle words.

Two things thrive in the absence of opposition. Foolishness and despotism. We are seeing both in full bloom in the response to Covid. So far climate policy is simply replete with foolishness. Watch out for despotism when people refuse to follow the parsimonious script, grids collapse and blackouts ensue.

Not hysterical enough.

Back to Angus Taylor. He recently took delight in a ship leaving port for Japan carrying hydrogen made using brown coal. Reportedly, the CO2 was captured and stored in a reservoir. No comment on the extent of capture, how leaky, how expensive, how scalable. What he said is that “clean hydrogen is a fuel of the future [and] the government is investing more than $1.3 billion to accelerate the development of our local hydrogen industry.” And did he promise jobs? Needless to ask, “over 16,000 jobs by 2050 plus a further 13,000 jobs from the construction of related renewable energy infrastructure.”

Notice something across jurisdictions. Renewable energy creates job galore. No mention of jobs lost. It’s all gain and no pain in the imaginary renewable energy world. This is the way hearts and minds are lulled. But real life is confronting and salutary. As my opening shows, unlike Esteban in Kill Bill II, wind is not susceptible to flattery. Neither will clean hydrogen become cheap and abundant on the wish and prayer of governments.

We are told by Taylor that “the government is determined to supercharge the [hydrogen] industry even further to support our plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.” There you have it. Nothing is impossible for a determined government armed with taxpayer dollars. Didn’t Barack Obama promise to quell the rise of the oceans among other wonderous feats and derring-dos? Job all done then, surely?

After a career in economics, banking and payment-systems management, Peter Smith now blogs on the topics of the day. He writes for Quadrant, Australia’s leading conservative online site and magazine. He has written Bad Economics, of which, he notes, there is much.

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One comment on “Oxymorons and Morbid Attachments”

  1. On the topic of confusing roadside signs, when i was very young we drove along a road in Eastern Tasmania with precipitous cliffs on one side and frequent signs saying Falling Stones Travel Slowly. I wanted to know why stones fell slowly in that part of the state but i was too afraid to ask.

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