Net-Zero: Poorer, Meaner, Slower, Dearer

One of the most consistent themes of this occasional column has been the contradiction between the pessimistic analyses of the costs of the Net-Zero policy adopted by the Western world and the optimistic belief of its governments that its overall impact will be positive all round.

Keep in mind that this contradiction is not an argument that global warming or climate change is not happening, or if it is happening, that it’s not damaging. It’s a question directed solely at whether or not Net-Zero—as a solution to climate change—will in fact make life better or worse. Climate change may be a real problem without Net-Zero being a solution to it. And if that’s the case, we should be looking for other solutions.

Realization of that possibility—which was slightly below Net-Zero a year ago—is now breaking rudely in upon the community of public policy intellectuals. Dominic Lawson in the London Sunday Times pointed out that the G7’s proposed reduction in carbon emissions would be swamped by China’s increase in them and thus render the sacrifices made by the West’ populations pointless. Irwin Stelzer in the Washington Examiner demonstrated that the policy was politically unachievable. And Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus, a veteran of the climate wars, recently argued that the contradiction above--he calls it Orwellian “doublethink”—will collapse into itself when predictions of the International Energy Authority come to pass:

By 2050, we will have to live with much lower energy consumption than today. Despite being richer, the average global person will be allowed less energy than today’s average poor. We will all be allowed less energy than the average Albanian used in the 1980s. We will also have to accept shivering in winter at 19°C and sweltering in summer at 26°C, lower highway speeds and fewer people being allowed to fly.

Let me add the conclusion that all three writers make clear. At these prices, Net-Zero simply isn’t going to happen. Almost everywhere it has been offered to the voters, the voters have rejected it—most recently in a Swiss referendum that asked them if they would pay higher taxes in order to meet Net-Zero targets. They voted no.

Such popular resistance is making itself felt before any serious sacrifice has actually been imposed on electorates. Until now, their pain has been purely rhetorical. How will they react when told that they can’t drive fast cars, take plane rides to Sicily, or turn up the heating on winter nights? They’ll vote no.

Would that i'twere so simple.

Since Net-Zero is not a solution, the obvious question arises: is there another solution we haven’t yet considered?

Dominic Lawson rules out the heavy reliance on higher “hypothecated” energy taxes promoted by the G7 on the commonsensical grounds that if U.K. chancellors have fought shy of raising fuel duty for twenty years, they’re not likely to embark on massive new ones in the more straitened circumstances of today. In his Examiner article, Irwin Stelzer proposes among other things that we should concentrate on developing carbon-capture technologies that would allow us to use fossil fuels without adding to carbon emissions. That’s a narrow solution—we shouldn’t rely excessively on single possible innovation--but it makes sense.

And Bjorn Lomborg offers a broader version of the same thing on the basis of a highly topical comparison:

COVID is fixed with vaccines, not unending lockdowns. To tackle climate, we need to ramp up our investments in green energy innovation. Increasing green energy currently requires massive subsidies, but if we could innovate its future price down to below that of fossil fuels, everyone would switch.

What makes all of these proposals more persuasive, however, is an argument advanced in a monograph published by London’s Global Policy Warming Foundation.  In this short analysis, Tim Worstall, a businessman and blogger, begins by establishing that relying on future innovations as a solution to global warming becomes more plausible as the likely crisis looks more manageable.

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Not convinced? Think about it this way. If climate change really is an “emergency” likely to produce prolonged droughts, a rise in the sea level threatening coastal cities, crop failures, starvation, and all the other predictions made by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion—and all by the day after tomorrow—then we probably couldn’t rely on continuous gradual innovation to reduce the price of renewables, the carbon emissions of greener fossil fuels, and the invention of alternative fuels not yet imagined. We would be climbing a very steep hill by baby steps.

As Worstall points out, however, those alarming predictions were rooted in a “worst case” scenario of future trends in carbon emissions that assumed a world in which the consumption of coal  (the “dirtiest” of fuels which is actually declining in use throughout the West) would rise to higher levels than ever before—with the result that there would be a rise in temperature of almost five degrees (over pre-industrial levels) by the end of this century.

As several environmentalists (including Nature magazine) have complained, however, this worst -case scenario has since been treated as “business as usual” in official and unofficial discussions of climate policy. That in turn has led to a massive exaggeration of both global warming and its “emergency” impact.

How can we be sure that this “cooler” prediction is accurate?

Good question. And it has an even better answer. It’s not a prediction. It’s already been happening for some time. The explanation is fracking, which has reduced the use of coal and replaced it with the cleaner greener fuel of natural gas wherever governments and the courts have allowed it to be developed over the protests of , ahem, the Greens.

And yet the solution is right to hand.

The fall in American carbon emissions under the late Obama and Trump administrations occurred almost entirely because of the spread of fracking (which incidentally also fueled a rise in American growth and prosperity.) And if you want a negative example, Angela Merkel’s boneheaded decision to abandon Germany's nuclear power led directly to the greater use of coal and a consequent rise in carbon emissions in a Germany that was meanwhile spending massively on unreliable renewables..

Fracking! It’s the start of the answer—the remainder is innovation—to the problem of halting global warming without closing down the world economy (which is otherwise the respectable establishment strategy.) If you want to be technical about it, fracking has helped to move the world from a Representative Concentration Pathway of 8.5 to an RCP of between 4.5 and 6. And as every schoolboy knows, that makes a helluva difference.

So, following Chancellor Merkel’s example, Boris Johnson has blocked fracking in the UK, and Joe Biden is placing obstacles to it in the U.S.

There’s a horrible sort of inevitability about that, isn’t there?

Sailing Into the Abyss

The year is 2013. I am a passenger on a container ship as it voyages for twenty-seven days from Hong Kong to Southampton. Magellan, the third largest container ship in the world, is powered by a huge engine, equalled in size by only one other in the merchant fleet. For the mechanically minded; it is a marine diesel, fuel-injected, internal combustion, two-stroke engine, generating 109,000 hp. It has fourteen pistons, each almost a metre in diameter. I can vouchsafe that it is very large and loud.

On this voyage, the ship is carrying the equivalent of nearly 10,000 standard-sized containers. Containers, which can be more than double the length and taller than standard-sized, can hold up to about 28 tonnes of cargo.

Why mention any of this? A container ship provides a practical and grounding lesson on the realities of modern economic life that school children might be taught. As distinct, that is, from being brainwashed with fairy tales of sustainable development.

Magellan today: there's a metaphor here somewhere.

The lesson might begin thus: Our way of life, our prosperity, our ability to help those among us in need, are all critically dependent on growing, mining, making, trading and transporting things. Needed are entrepreneurship, business acumen, skill, hard work and, critically, cheap and plentiful supplies of energy.

A series of questions might follow to generate discussion. Apropos: If it takes around 4,700 tonnes of marine diesel fuel at $550 per tonne to shift one-hundred thousand tonnes of cargo from Hong Kong to Southampton, how many batteries charged by wind and solar farms would it take and how much would it cost? For mathematics students this would be an instructive introduction to imaginary numbers.

Another question might go like this. Is it possible for us to enjoy the ownership of cell phones, computers, flat screen TVs, cars, and all of our other modern conveniences without the dirty business of their manufacture and shipment? For students of anthropology, this may throw light on the development of cargo cults among primitive peoples. And talking of cargo cults, adult classes might be held for those who vote for green parties who seem equally prone to thinking that goods simply appear out of thin air.

Other instructive questions could be posed for the tutelage of students and greenies alike. Me, I want to stop there and turn back to the crude diesel which powers large ships. According to those who estimate these things, shipping accounts for around 2.5 percent of man-made CO2 emissions. Twice the emissions of Australia by the way. And as Australia is under pressure by the great and good, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson included, to prostrate itself before the deity of net-zero emissions by 2050, it isn’t surprising that shipping is also in the firing line.

No emissions please, we're Norwegian.

The International Maritime Organisation’s voluntary goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050 compared with 2008. Bear in mind that tonnages shipped are on course to be far higher in 2050 than they are now. The goal might be described as aspirational. Think of the late Soviet Union’s five-year plans. Even so, it is not going to be nearly enough to satisfy the zealots, when net-zero is their goal.

Norway is doing its bit.  Reportedly, as from January 2026, Norway intends to ban cruise ships from sailing through its fjords unless they generate zero emissions. How to bring this about? I don’t know. However, the Norwegian shipping line Hurtigruten announced in 2018 that it would run its ships on dead fish and other rotting matter. Smelly business. Fish at risk. Has limitations.

In an article in Forbes, development economist Nishan Degnarain echoed the UN in calling for shipping to urgently ditch fossil fuels. He claims that shipping is the sixth-largest emitter after China, the U.S., India, Russia and Japan; which, though mixing categories, is about right. What to do?

Degnarain doesn’t mention dead fish. He lists four possible solutions. These come out of a report by the international conservation group Ocean Conservancy. The report was launched at U.N. Climate Week, held virtually in New York in September 2020. Here are the putative solutions:

  1. Electrification, in other words batteries
  2. (Green) Hydrogen fuel cells
  3. Ammonia
  4. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

To take them in reverse order. Environmentalists aren’t keen on LNG. Apparently, it leaks methane in transit. And, anyway, “cleaner” though it is, it is still a foul fossil fuel. Ammonia carries a risk of blowing up and when burnt emits the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Just a guess, but fuel cells powered by green hydrogen might not be quite ready for widespread installation in ships. One solution mooted is the onboard conversion of sea water to hydrogen. I simply assume that’s a joke. And in that same amusing vein, electrification is clearly a risible solution for ocean-going vessels. Consider the magnitude of the problem.

Leave aside the 30 million or so recreational and fishing boats in the world; lots pumping out CO2. As of the beginning of 2020, there were around 56,000 merchant ships trading internationally. This encompasses 5,360 container ships, over 17,000 general cargo ships, more than 12,000 bulk cargo carriers, around 8,000 crude oil tankers, nearly 6,000 chemical tankers, over 5,000 roll-on roll-off ships, and some 2,000 LNG tankers. All running on fossil fuels, overwhelmingly crude diesel, with a bit of LNG thrown into the mix.

Is it possible to get your head around refitting and/orreplacing this fleet so that it's emissions free? Maybe, if you’re an airhead and assume as-yet uninvented technologies will somehow save the day. If burdened with common sense and realism, you will know that it can’t be done. It is Panglossianism on stilts.

This is the situation. Western world leaders, without political opposition, have bought completely into "global warming" alarmism. Extraordinary, but that is the least of it. They are buying into delusional solutions to a non-problem. You’re sane and trying to figure out what the heck’s going on? Forget it. Just cling onto the rails as they do their damnedest to sail us into the abyss.

In London, the G7 vs. Humanity

The assembly of clowns, charlatans, and senile old men pretending to be President of the United States are about to deliver themselves of a malignant mouse and call it progress:

G7 leaders were on Sunday urged to take urgent action to secure the future of the planet, as they finalised new conservation and emissions targets to curb climate change, and wrapped up a three-day summit where revived Western unity has been on show.

Veteran environmentalist and broadcaster David Attenborough told the gathering of the world’s richest nations the natural world was “greatly diminished” and inequality was widespread. “The question science forces us to address specifically in 2021 is whether as a result of these intertwined facts we are on the verge of destabilising the entire planet?” he said.

“If that is so, then the decisions we make this decade — in particular the decisions made by the most economically advanced nations — are the most important in human history.”

With all due respect to Sir David, bunkum.

What's got into Boris Johnson? Apparently his brush with Covid-19 has permanently addled his pate and he is now all but indistinguishable from your average lefty climate nut. And don't be fooled by the "building back greener" trope -- if "green energy" were real, we'd have been using it long since. Instead, it's just more toffish nonsense from the Davos crowd, part of the Great Reset they have in store for us.

Enjoy your friend green cicada and bat-butt soup while you have the chance -- things will get much, much worse.

 

Lunacy in the U.K.

Over at NR's Capital Matters, Andrew Stuttaford has an excellent post about the costs of Net-Zero for the U.K., which should serve as a bit of a warning for the U.S. and any other country that wants to go down that nutty path.

Long story short, Theresa May foolishly committed the country to achieving Net-Zero by 2050 (Stuttaford describes this as "a last desperate, if unnecessary, effort to ensure that she would be remembered as one of Britain’s worst prime ministers), while dismissing out of hand the Chancellor of the Exchequer's concerns "that such a target would cost £1 trillion and could thus require spending cuts to public services."

No Maggie Thatcher, she.

Then the entertaining-but-disinterested-in-the-details Boris Johnson became prime minister, and rather than change course, he doubled down. Presumably he thought that this would help the Conservative Party hold on to educated and affluent Britons even as the party brings more working class voters from Labour's traditional heartlands into the fold.

This is, unfortunately, a short-sighted political calculation. Because once the costs start becoming clear, those new Tories will quickly become ex-Tories, and many of the voters this is designed to appeal to will be a lot less affluent.

To focus on just one aspect of Stuttaford's analysis, to make Net-Zero's math almost work, the Johnson government is calling for a 20-fold increase in the number of heat pumps installed annually by 2028, and this "in a country where less than 1 percent of the homes use the technology." Which is to say, there isn't currently a booming industry for their installation. Heat pumps also cost about three times more than gas boilers, but the Johnson government are going to be pressuring millions of Brits to replace the latter with the former. They also take up a lot more space, are more expensive to operate, and work best in well-insulated houses -- not exactly Britain's strong suit.

Johnson and Co. flirted with the idea of banning gas boilers in all homes by 2035, but they quickly backpedaled, recognizing that forcing millions of voters to spend thousands of dollars to adopt an inferior technology to heat their drafty homes was maybe not the wisest course of action for a party that wants to keep winning elections. They've eased up on that timeline a bit, but have remained firm on keeping gas boilers out of new homes, thus inflating building costs at a time when the U.K.'s chronic housing shortage is looking like it will be one of the hottest political issues of the next decade or more.

BoJo would be better off pivoting in that direction, trying to make Great Britain a place where ordinary people can afford to own a home and raise a family, rather than working so hard to get a pat on the head from the global elite who will never forgive him for Brexit anyway.

Making an End-Run Around Democracy, Part Three

[Third in a series. Parts One and Two at the links.]

I paused my last posting on this topic—let’s call it “Democracy Circumvented”—after a quotation from Dr. Roslyn Fuller, head of a progressive pro-democracy Non-Governmental Organisation, to the effect that many progressive NGOs in networks funded by billionaires were not participating in traditional acts of charity or philanthropic research but rather using their investors’ resources to “flip an entire political culture on to a different track by amplifying some voices and drowning out others.”

That may strike you as sinister. But it’s fine as long as it’s open and above board and not financed by public or tax-exempt money. But what if the NGOs are in fact not engaged in a vigorous public debate between opposing parties but are instead players in a Potemkin play of debate in which the “debaters” on both sides, the expert witnesses they call, the judge who sums up the arguments, and the panel of jurors who determine the result are all on the same side, reciting lines written advance to reach pre-determined conclusions?

When that happens in public, political, commercial, or intellectual life—and it does—the term for it is “astroturfing.” Astroturf was coined by Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate in 1988, and a wit, and it’s defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation.)”

Sharyl Attkinson,  a brave and unbuyable investigative journalist, who has made a special study of astroturfing, explains its general importance and (alas) effectiveness in modern marketing and political campaigning in several appearances across the internet, impressing even skeptical audiences:

Its specific application to progressive networks of NGOs, as outlined in Dr. Fuller’s Spiked article, is that wealthy investors have created a chain of institutions in which each link receives assistance or information from one level which it endorses and then passes onto the next level, and so on and so on, it sometimes feels, ad infinitum.

There are primary research bodies that assemble information on, say, the Green New Deal; secondary research bodies that endorse the “correct” information or point of view (and the think tanks that produce them) and undermine rival ones; motivational research groups that advise on how to tailor their emotional appeal to key constituencies; information technology panels that advise on how to ensure your message is placed before others in internet searches;  media outreach groups that package its messages in easy-to-use op-ed or soundbite forms; political education institutes that recruit potential election candidates to carry the torch in elections; and “activist” organizations that organize public protests, sit-ins, occupations of congressional offices, riots, and other civil disobedience events to suggest that a powerful movement of public opinion is backing the Green New Deal or some other "progressive" cause de jour.

And, yes, even activism can be astroturf activism.

Put so baldly, this argument sounds a little like a conspiracy theory. Well, why not? Bear the following points in mind. First, conspiracies exist, sometimes succeed, and even have serious consequences. The First World War was triggered by a conspiracy of students to murder the heir to the Austrian throne. They succeeded, and one can’t deny that the Great War amounted to serious consequences.

This conspiracy went off like a Clockwork Orange.

Second, claiming that a hostile criticism is no more than a discredited conspiracy theory is Exercise One in the conspirator’s handbook. So please test any such denial against the evidence. Third, Dr. Fuller examines  the evidence about four organizations in the food chain in detail, checking what they do, how they cooperate, and how they’re financed. What she discovered please read for yourself. It’s partly comic and partly sinister, half stage army, half octopus. But it ain’t chopped liver. And, fourthly, the most damaging accusations against the networks of billionaire-financed NGOs is made by those activists and investors who are running them in the form of enthusiastic pep-talks (quoted below).

If it’s a conspiracy, it’s what used to be called “an open conspiracy” which almost anyone can join, read about, or listen in on via the internet. Dr. Fuller listened in on a webinar in which the leaders of two of the organizations discussed here, namely Sunrise and Momentum, which are respectively a movement of young activists and a political training operation, outlined their purposes and activities. She writes:

Speakers stressed the need to become ‘the dominant political alignment’ which ‘defines the common sense of society’ and ‘directs social and economic policy’. Having realized that this would require ‘tak[ing] over the entire United States and all the institutions in it’, they began ‘finding and developing our first leaders’. This involved moving activists into ‘dorm-style Sunrise Movement Houses for three to six months’ in order to create leaders who had a deep level of commitment ‘for everything that would come afterwards’.

Dr. Fuller concedes that some of this training offers advice that is “not bad” but adds that the “entire impression is of a very steered, technocratic process that attempts to achieve theoretical concepts (‘3.5 percent mobilisation’, ‘dominant political alignment’) through a kind of brute-force factory production.” It’s a very well-funded factory production at that. And noting that a disproportionately large number of the activists and of those recruiting the activists are young and inexperienced people, from teens to postgraduates, she offers the following balanced judgment:

On one level, it is great that young people are taking part in politics. But on another level it is incredibly fake. The youthful participants aren’t so much being empowered as instrumentalized. After all, they are part of the portfolio of an investment fund that is using them to ‘shift power’, with part of the strategy being to shame politicians for not being nice enough to hysterical children.

Dr. Fuller doesn’t mention Greta Thunberg here, but for some reason Ms. Thunberg leaps to mind.

Ride of the Valkyrie.

In instrumentalizing the young activists, these well-funded progressive networks are also instrumentalizing democracy. They are seeking to manipulate the usual democratic tools—information, debate, controversy—not to create a national conversation on political goals and methods but to construct a simulacrum of that conversation in which its conclusions are determined in advance. And when those tools break in their hands—as sometimes happens when others intrude into their staged debates—they use “activism” to de-platform the intruders and to close down a debate escaping their control. We are likely to see much more of such extra-democratic politics in the future.

Indeed, just recently,  Time magazine described how such an open conspiracy of corporate executives, labor union leaders, and progressive activists employed some of these methods and some of these troops to “prevent Donald Trump stealing the election” (i.e., to help the Democrats win the election.)

This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. “Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,” says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. “But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.”

That was very much a “macro” operation. And whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t fail.

But how do these tactics work at a “micro” level—at the level of getting a parliamentary bill passed into law, ensuring that a government report conforms to progressive orthodoxies, or manufacturing a “Green” public opinion when most voters are skeptical. Next time I’ll examine a case in which the U.K. parliament found itself playing the role of junior partner to a group of progressive NGOs in manufacturing a large astroturf carpet of public enthusiasm for Net-Zero policy.

Skeptical? It seems to have persuaded Boris Johnson. Don’t miss it!

Net Zero: Cost, Costs, and More Costs

Getting accurate estimates of the costs of going "Net-Zero" from the governments and global institutions that adopted the policy has been a difficult task from the first. That would have been so even if they had been honest and transparent in their accounting. Moving economies from dependence on cheap reliable fossil fuels to reliance on electrification fueled by renewables (i.e. wind and sun) would require massive expenditures on almost every aspect of life.

It also has the potential to be very alarming. If voters learn that the policy will result in higher fuel prices, higher taxes, and the need for them to spend large capital sums to transform their household economies by, for instance, replacing gas-fueled heaters and petrol-driven cars with electricity-fueled ground storage heaters and EVs, they may take fright and decide that the game isn't worth the dim flourescent bulb. Managing voters' opinions has therefore become an important element in the policy. It has to be "sold."

As it happens, the United Kingdom -- which has reduced carbon emissions more substantially than any other country -- has also put together the strongest political coalition in support of the Net-Zero policy. All the political parties represented in Parliament back it. So, overwhelmingly, does the media. So do all the major cultural institutions such as the BBC. Even bodies apparently remote from politics such as the National Trust (which looks after Britain's stately homes) are keen to be seen as relevant to the cause. When the Climate Change Act setting out legally-binding targets for carbon emissions reduction was passed, only five MPs voted against it.

That legislation created a climate change committee, rooted in parliament but independent of the government, and gave it the task of holding ministers to account over whether they have met the carbon reduction targets written into law. Its sixth annual report was issued at the end of last year. And it offers a very useful glimpse into the lifestyle changes and probable costs of the Net-Zero policy which most governments and agencies have been reluctant to publish or discuss in detail.

No, ministers

That's understandable. When wind and sun still contribute only a measly 1.5 percent of global energy consumption, as Matt Ridley pointed out recently, it's hard to estimate the costs of expanding that share to the 94 percent now contributed by fossil fuels of one kind or another. But the costs won't be small. And there will be a great many of them spreading into every area of life since the mere act of living consumes energy and is sensitive to its cost.

To prevent this article becoming an encyclopaedia, I'll examine only three kinds of cost: lifestyle costs, economic costs, and political costs. I have to admit that the committee's report is relatively honest about the lifestyle consequences of net-zero, though it wraps up its admissions in honeyed phrases. Here, for instance, is its cheerful summary of how "we" will reduce demand for carbon-intensive activities:

The U.K. wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods . . . Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20 percent by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.

And here's my grouchy response to it:

But what if our diets don’t change voluntarily? Or consumers don’t actually like the new low carbon foods predicted here? Or they want to use their cars and fly on vacation more often than the planners predict? Those "striking positive benefits for health and well-being" sound alarmingly like the medical authoritarianism currently running our lives in the fight against Covid-19. Will doctors and other planners change their presciptions if we don't like the medicine? Or will they ration the foods, car trips, and vacations that the consumers (who are also voters) are determined to enjoy?

My sarcasm notwithstanding, these recommended (a.k.a. imposed) lifestyle choices imply heavy economic costs as industry and agriculture change what they now produce in response to market demand to quite different goods and activities prescribed by ministers and civil servants. The U.K.'s decision to prohibit the sale of petrol-driven automobiles from 2030 in order to require a switch to electric vehicles will force both the taxpayer to finance the electrification of the entire country and the driver to buy a much more expensive car.

When we see the scale of this economic and industrial transformation, it's plain that it's a very expensive project indeed. As I pointed out last month, even the committee chairman concedes that if it is to make us richer rather than poorer, then "[l]ow carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver Net-Zero." Not to worry, however, because he also assures us that "our central estimate for costs is now below 1 percent of GDP throughout the next 30 years."

But these estimates were  immediately challenged by Dr. John Constable, energy editor of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, as "entirely divorced from reality":

Some of them are out by several hundred percent, meaning that the claim that we can decarbonise painlessly doesn’t stand up to even cursory scrutiny. Offshore wind is twice as expensive to build as the CCC assumes, and two to four times more expensive to operate. The resulting electricity will be many, many times more expensive than they claim, making the use of heat pumps and Electric Vehicles utterly unaffordable.

So the estimate that net-zero costs will be less than 1 percent of GDP annually for the next thirty years is a fanciful one. Almost all other estimates are higher, some several-fold. Net-zero is a plan fueled not by fossil deposits but by optimism.

And that takes us to the third cost: political costs. These are obvious. Everyone has accepted at the back of their minds that there'll be a price to be paid by governments in power when the higher taxes and energy prices fall due. But that won't be tomorrow or, with luck, before the next election. So MPs never seem to have done the calculation of how heavy the political costs might be -- until last week when the Onward think-tank in London produced an analysis of the political impact of net-zero and discovered that it would be formidably high.

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In particular the carbon-intensive industries most reliant on fossil fuels are concentrated in the Midlands and North of England -- the very regions where Boris Johnson broke Labour's "Red Wall" and won a slew of traditionally Labour sets to swell his parliamentary majority to eighty seats. Johnson has since acknowledged that he had only "borrowed" those voters and would have to justify their trust in him by leveling up their economic prosperity to that of Britain's booming South-East.

What the Onward report suggests is that Johnson's green industrial revolution risks pushing the poorer regions further down the prosperity index rather than levelling them up. Boris Johnson's green agenda is completely at variance with its post-Brexit policy of an infrastructure build-up to as well as being economically regressive

Consider, now, the report's analysis of how this will impact the seats won in 2019 as summarized by the Telegraph:

Some of the biggest concentrations of polluting jobs are in Conservative-won seats West Bromwich West, with 59pc, as well as Hyndburn in Lancashire and Stoke-on-Trent North with 55pc each, according to the Road to Zero report.

The East Midlands has the highest share of jobs in high-emitting industries at 42pc compared to London, the lowest, with 23pc.

The research suggests that up to 10m jobs could need to be replaced, or see workers retrained, as the UK aims to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

What makes this report so interesting is that Onward, a progressive Tory think tank, and the GWPF, a Thatcherite one, now agree on at least one aspect of the net zero policy: It's a political suicide note.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Resetting

Paradise at last! I couldn’t take one more day in St John’s Wood as London goes into yet another lockdown and daddy grumbles about Boris. One day leading to another… and all of them leading nowhere.

But I am alive again in Lyford Cay, having arrived late last night—and mask free! I got up rather early today, put on lipstick and perfume, availed myself of a golf cart and got myself down to the club. I was so excited you’d have thought I was sneaking into Buckingham Palace. I wasn’t hungry in the least but wanted to feel part of a living breathing world. Surely my hosts here wouldn’t miss me — I’d  only just met them over Thanksgiving at Annabel’s anyway.

In minutes I was drawn into familiar noises… silverware, and ice being poured from a pitcher… oh it was just like the movies! Or every single day prior to coronavirus.

Now this is what I call green.

Lyford (the former Cay) was hopping! And nearly everyone dressed in white which could only mean they have an all-white rule for tennis or croquet or maybe everything. The substantially older women—the ones who delineated between jewellery and breakfast jewellery, were none of them in white, so it must indeed be a sporting requirement.

I looked around the room like a tourist might do. I felt as though I were looking through a window only because I hadn’t seen humans with coiffed hair or gold sandals or anything even remotely resembling civilisation for so long. I signalled the waiter for more tea, more berries, a paper if possible? Just more of everything because I wanted to bask in the glow of what was officially called… breakfast.

There were no papers but the waiter provided me with a card that allowed me to read several publications on my phone. “Even better!” I squealed. Lyford was green! Peering over my phone so that I could secretly scan the room, I settled on a conversation of a group of businessmen across th way…”the Great Reset”. Whatever could that be?

I googled on my phone to very little success… just links to a conference in Davos with futuristic looking businessmen talking intently. Was it staged? They were yellowish and pocket-sized. I googled and found it’s meant to be a global green push—post Covid. Things really were looking up. But I was very confused about seeing Prince Charles and Yo-Yo Ma in the promo and I was a little iffy on “a brighter, better and more sustainable future" from the ashes of Covid-19.

I texted daddy to ask him about the great reset and he texted back: “A lie.”

Really? A lie? I texted back, “What about financing sustainable recovery?

His response, “A lie.”

I started another text but before I could even finish he texted back -- 

“Also a lie." Followed by, “I can keep this up all day.”

As I made my way to the pool  I got another text from him: “And don’t bother your nice hosts about this unless you are prepared to return via commercial flight. Mummy and I miss you. Take pictures.”

What I know is there is no stopping him when he’s in one of these moods. I know deep down inside he is committed to our planet but no one is willing to do the heavy lifting. I got out my laptop and decided I’d write about this very important opportunity. This may be the biggest pro environmental initiative of my lifetime.

After sketching out my outline, I took a short swim and returned to my notes. Somehow my arguments weren’t so clear. I called father for help. “Hi, so…  I’m a bit wobbly on why the presentation features people like Meghan Markle instead of…”

“An economist with credibility?" he replied. "Because this is not an economic plan, it is just a lie, disguised as an economic plan, disguised as a way to save the planet. But it’s also about demilitarisation, and, independent media… oh and saving the arts. Shall we also throw in the whales?”

“Please just go with me for a minute… the great reset will ensure that every recovery stimulus from now on must include green conditions. To my mind this can’t be bad.”

“But specifically what?” He asked. Green stimulus money… to be spent on what? Tearing down infrastructure and rebuilding it to be more carbon neutral? Poof- our house in an adobe."

“But what about, you know, infrastructure… and trains?”

“You mean a tax! You want to tax everyone to build a train, even if everyone doesn’t ride on this train because it is better for the planet, yes?”

“Yes, but it is better.” I insisted.

“Perhaps but we are talking about things in places where they don’t exist -- take your new hometown. A train in Los Angeles would be prohibitively expensive, and would require a huge tax increase, so really we are talking about a tax.”

“Well, Tesla managed with private money.”

“Tesla sells carbon points, to other polluters, and makes a profit from it, so what have you achieved? It’s a shell game, darling. Listen, you know I’m all for environmentally ethical rules but that is not the role of business, the singular motivation of business is to make a profit, and profits make for better economies, better economies are better caretakers of the land-without exception.”

“And their promise of one hundred new carbon-neutral cities?” I continued.

“Find me the carbon-neutral city that you both want to live in and which respects the environment.”

The carbon-neutral city of the future!

He had me there. And I imagined my life with no luxury, no air travel, no country house, and sharing of all IP. This wasn’t going to work. I’m not giving up on the planet but I’m not giving up thousands of years of progress to these people whose main accomplishment, as far as I can tell… is to hold forums. Something to ponder tomorrow after my morning swim.

Is It Me That's Mad, or the World's Leaders?

Yes, I know that the headline should really read “Is it I who am mad—or the world’s leaders?” but the dubious grammatical form used above is better suited to the populist sentiments of this article. And though populism and populist are words routinely used to mean “insane,” “dangerous,” or worse “problematic,” some kinds of populism are in fact social truths that experience has shown to be accurate and valuable, i.e.,  commonsense.

That applies especially to truths about spending, saving, investment, and borrowing. Copybook maxims on that score go from Thomas Jefferson’s “Never spend your money before you have it,” to Shakespeare’s “Neither a borrower nor a lender be/For loan oft loses both itself and friend/And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

With that prudent advice ringing in our minds, let’s look at how prudently our political masters are handling our collective expenditures, revenues, borrowings, and investments. The first thing to notice (though few do) is just how massive the sums involved are.

Estimates differ but in the U.S., apparent president-elect Joe Biden is proposing a budget of $5.4 trillion equal to 24 percent of America’s GDP. He’s also proposing a smaller (but still massive) tax increase that would leave a gap of $2 trillion dollars for the U.S. Treasury to borrow. But cheer up—it’s bipartisan. President Trump’s budget estimates for 2021 weren’t much lower at 4.8 trillion equal to 21 percent of GDP and a deficit of $966 billion.

Now, expenditures to cope with the pandemic and lockdowns are emergency spending that almost everyone agrees is justified or, to be more precise, inevitable. That’s why the Trump budget rose to an annualized rate of 30 percent of GDP at the height of the pandemic this year. But a cool $700 billion is accounted for by Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda that would increase spending on infrastructure, the environment, and the Green New Deal. That's equal to one-eighth of Biden's projected total spending for 2021 and one-third of the likely deficit.

The picture is the same in Britain where Boris Johnson’s government, as well as spending vast sums to ameliorate the pandemic and concomitant recession, is embarking on a green industrial revolution and unrelated (even contradictory) infrastructure spending. There too the Labour, Lib-Dem, and Green opposition parties attack these plans as too little, too late. In both countries the general attitude has been Spend! Spend! Spend!

Well, it is -- right?

After all, everyone knows that Tomorrow Is Another Day!

Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With The Wind’s heroine, may be out of fashion in racial politics, but financially she’s never been so enchanting to so many powerful people.

That may be because we simply can’t get our minds or even our imaginations around the figures when they rise from million to billions to trillions. To help us do that, here’s David Schwartz, the science writer and a brilliant popularizer, explaining them to NPR listeners:

The difference between a million, a billion and a trillion is like the difference between eleven and a half days, 32 years and 32,000 years.” Do the sums: a $2 trillion dollar deficit the equivalent of 64,000 years in time measurements.

And an $5.4 trillion dollar total annual budget... or a $23 trillion accumulated national debt... is equal to... but I see the audience’s eyes glazing over... No -- they’re crying.

Now, it’s certainly true that borrowing is economically justifiable and potentially profitable if it’s likely to produce a stream of income or equivalent benefit that over time more than equals the cost of the capital borrowed. A home mortgage is a humble example.

It’s also the case that government investment can be economically worthwhile if it creates an economic environment that hikes productivity, spurs general economic growth, and thereby increases tax revenue for the Treasury. Some state investment meets those criteria, but by no means all. So we should apply certain tests to proposals such as the green industrial revolution and the Green New Deal?

The test that governments seem to like most at the moment is the question:

Can we borrow at a low interest rate?

It’s a fair question but it should be a secondary one. A low interest rate means it’s cheaper to borrow, but that’s a modest benefit at the best of times and no benefit at all if the investment produces less wealth than the cost of borrowing. And if interest rates rise as they tend to in periods of inflation produced by government over-spending, then the modest benefit becomes a horrendous cost, especially when your accumulated borrowing has reached $23 trillion. So the next—or rather, prior—question becomes:

Can we make sure the investment pays off?

To which the honest answer is, No. As the distinguished political theorist, James Burnham, author of The Managerial Revolution, used to say in his rules on life: You can’t invest in retrospect. Some of the visionary Green schemes proposed by Joe and Boris, such as electric airplanes and cheap hydrogen cars, can’t be  invented simply because we establish a state fund to invent them, any more than the flying cars and personal jetpacks of Matt Ridley’s youthful imagination exist today because we wanted them, as he noted in a column on the ten big things wrong with the green industrial revolution.

I quoted the column last week, but it can’t be quoted too often because to judge from government policy no one in Whitehall or the Beltway has read it. It should be especially worrying that many of the schemes for transitioning from fossil fuels to “renewables” all cost more than the cheap fuels they are meant to replace and need state subsidies for longer than their advocates claim in advance. Demands for extended government subsidies should be a warning. Innovations will occur, of course, because a free economy is an innovation machine. We simply don’t know what they’ll be, and if we concentrate state funding on bright ideas too early, we risk being unable to fund the good ones that survive the sorting out process.

But they lift productivity and economic growth, surely?

Again, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but the signs don’t look that good. What economic benefit is likely to arise from the total electrification of Britain electric cars require that would match both its cost and the cost of forcing motorists to give up petrol-driven cars from 2030 onwards? If the answer is that we will benefit from the technological innovations that British and American auto manufacturers make in the course of developing cheaper and more efficient EV’S, we could have those benefits anyway by allowing them to make the cars that the motorists want at a price they can afford and at a pace that would allow government and industry to transition in line with market demand changes. Then we might get technical innovations in both EVs and petrol-driven cars.

But, Miss Scarlett, do you really need an electric car?

We don’t do that because the real aim of policy is not technical innovation—that’s a by-product at best—but a reduction in carbon emissions, or net-zero in short. That’s why everyone concedes that electricity prices will rise for industry as well as for consumers, putting the industries in countries with green hairshirt economic policies at a serious disadvantage with their foreign competitors. How will that kind of enforced economic primitivism help us either to raise productivity or to pay back the money we’re now borrowing? It won’t.

Since this is a global problem, though, surely, our competitors like China are making the same sacrifice?

Well, no they’re not, as a matter of fact, and when they say they will, they usually ask “the West” to give them subsidies to do so. In the meantime, the Chinese Communist Party—no idealistic Greens in that Politburo—is bringing new coal-fired power stations on line with emission levels greater than the U.K.’s entire carbon output.

So why are we doing this?

That’s a bigger question to which I’ll return next week. But it certainly requires explanation because unless the laws of economics have been repealed, the policy of spending and borrowing massively in order to make our economies less productive and efficient can only have one result. It was forecast most eloquently by Rudyard Kipling in his once-familiar poem "The Gods of the Copybook Headings":

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Something to think about.

BoJo's Bizarre Climate Scheme

Boris Johnson's Tories won the 2019 British election in a landslide on the strength of their promise to "Get Brexit Done," but for most of the time since they've been distracted by Covid-19 and by Boris's odd dalliance with climate hysteria. On the latter point, he seems to believe that expending political capital on building wind farms and mandating electric cars will help him maintain his hold on those working class, traditional Labour voters whose support he promised not to take for granted on election night.

This seems a bizarre play, as polling suggests that climate issues are fairly low priority to Brits in those former "Red Wall" seats in the North and the Midlands. Throughout Britain healthcare, the economy, and Brexit remain people's top concerns. A recent survey has what is referred to as the "climate emergency" prioritized by just 23 percent of the populace, and less than that (unsurprisingly) in those working class outposts which the P.M. is targeting.

Nevertheless, Johnson is determined to go full speed ahead with what he's calling Britain's "green industrial revolution." He recently released a 10-point plan, which includes pledges to ban the sale of combustion engine automobiles by 2030, quadruple offshore wind farms by the same year, invest heavily in the development of various "green" technologies, and to transform London into “the global centre of green finance.” This plan, BoJo assures us, will generate "up to 250,000 jobs," and all for the low, low cost of £12 billion!

In response, Matt Ridley has put forward a 10-point demolition in the Telegraph. First off, he points out, that jobs-for-pounds ratio isn't actually that impressive.

£48,000 per job is a lot. Cheaper... to create the same employment erecting a statue of Boris in every town. Anyway, it’s backwards: it’s not jobs in the generating of energy that count, but jobs that use it. Providing cheap, reliable energy enables the private sector to create jobs for free as far as the taxpayer is concerned.

Then there's the fact that Johnson is "hugely underestimating the cost." Among other things, he's relying on the wind industry's own claim that their costs are coming down, when the actual "accounts of wind energy companies show that both capital and operating expenditures of offshore wind farms continue to rise." Should wind energy be mandated, Britain's already high electricity prices will actually increase, which "will kill a lot more than 250,000 jobs."

Ridley makes several more important points, including that the prime minister "misreads how innovation works," and thus foolishly assumes that pumping money into the problem will necessarily generate new technology required to make his plan work. It won't. He concludes,

My fear is that we will carry out Boris’s promised 10-point plan, cripple our economy, ruin our seascapes and landscapes, and then half way through the 2030s along will come cheap, small, safe fusion reactors. The offshore wind industry, by then so stuffed with subsidies they can afford to lobby politicians and journalists even more than they do to today, will suck their teeth and say: “no, no, no – ignore the fusion crowd. We’re on the brink of solving the reliability issue, and don’t worry, the cost will come down eventually. Promise!”

Fingers crossed, no doubt.

Cracks Appear in the Climate Consensus

On the face of it, international progress towards a global consensus on reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 in order to restrain the rise in world temperature to between 1.5 and 2.00 degrees above pre-industrial levels is about to be resumed after a four-year interruption. When President-Elect Biden overcomes the remaining legal hiccups to take office on January the 20, 2021—as I am assuming he will —his first acts will include returning America to its observance of the Paris climate accords. Since 195 other nations have already signed on to the Accords (and everyone has agreed to treat them as a treaty, even if a non-binding one), it’s full speed ahead to a net-zero carbon world.

Or so it would appear.

This global pact rests on strong support from the world‘s governments which in turn rest on a firm consensus of political parties, scientists, officials, “Green” activists, and the media that a net-zero carbon policy is essential in order to avert a global climate catastrophe. This consensus is so universal that anyone who dissents from it, even a distinguished scientist or a Nobel Prize winner, risks being treated as a dangerous eccentric and finds it hard to get a hearing in respectable forums. Demands are sometimes heard that such people be kept off the airwaves altogether or even prosecuted for “climate denialism.” Fortunately, there are very few such eccentrics.

As green as they come.

Not that those within the consensus deny that the net-zero policy has problems. On the contrary everyone acknowledges that it will require quite heavy sacrifices from the ordinary citizens in their countries in the form of higher taxes, higher energy prices, and lower living standards. But these sacrifices will be worth it not only because they will avert a global catastrophe but also because Boris Johnson’s “green industrial revolution” or (according to taste) Joe Biden’s “Green New Deal” will create well-paying jobs in cleaner green industries such as windfarms.  And the last obstacle to this green utopia in the form of President Trump has now been removed.

Thus ends my rather bland outline of the Authorized Version of climate change politics. If we examine it critically, it surely becomes clear very quickly that it rests on two unsteady supports: the strength of the establishment consensus and the electoral popularity of a policy of transitioning to a net-zero carbon economy. Both seem strong at present. As climate skeptics such as Allister Heath in the London Daily Telegraph have conceded, the elites on both sides of the Atlantic have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the consensus; and a poll taken before the recent U.S. election showed that America voters were greener than ever before:

Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years.

In both cases, however, there are grounds for predicting that trouble lies ahead. Take, first, the establishment consensus. That is far from being a spontaneous embrace by almost all scientists and economists (climate policy being a blend of both disciplines) of manifest truths. Nor could it be, for a variety of reasons: science itself offers only provisional truths; climate science alone covers a wide range of scientific disciplines; and even the U.N. IPCC reports offer a range of possible outcomes with varying degrees of probability attached to each.

When its tentative and uncertain conclusions disappear and re-emerge as government policy, they have become firm doctrines (e.g., outlawing the U.K. sale of petrol-driven cars after 2030) enforced by quite strong sanctions: the granting or withholding of official contracts; appointments to official boards, university posts, and the civil service; publication in scientific journals; threats to employment and promotion; and even a de facto censorship of heretics in mainstream and official media. It’s hardly surprising that few people contest the establishment consensus when there are serious risks and no practical benefits in doing so. What’s surprising is that some do.

The whole world is watching.

Who are they? Usually, the first critics of the consensus are natural heretics who look at any powerful structure of ideas maintained by force and try to find cracks in it. Others join them because they may have either economic or intellectual interests in doing so—a naturalist opposes windfarms because they kill birds, for instance.

Some people working to advance the policy discover flaws or scandals in its operations and resign to oppose it from outside. Then there are journalists, natural heretics often, but looking for a good story always. Finally, there are critics who are simply very clever people who notice things and realize they don’t add up. And when all these “types” start examining climate policy and how it’s going, they find all kinds of risks being taken and mistakes being made.

Of course, there have been sharp-eyed critics of  “climate change” alarmism—and of the policies intended to ameliorate it—from the first: former U.K. finance minister Nigel Lawson who founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg who founded the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, and the late Nobel Laureate Freeman Dyson, who thought for Princeton.

But their numbers have been growing in the last year. The American environmentalist, Michael Shellenberger, announced his de facto resignation as a leading environmentalist by writing his book,  Apocalypse Never. Its theme, echoing Lomborg's, is that climate change is a serious problem but not a looming catastrophe requiring drastic emergency measures.

Dieter Helm, the Oxford professor who was commissioned by the U.K. government to report on British energy supply chains and climate change, has now written a new book, Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change that challenges the central orthodoxies of the Western establishment’s climate policy. In a review on the U.K .Reaction website, Jack Dickens writes:

Two fatal flaws in the current global approach are emphasized in Helm’s book – the focus on reaching Net Zero carbon emissions while maintaining high levels of carbon consumption, mostly through off-shoring carbon-intensive activities, and the faith in a symbolic but ineffectual top-down approach to solving the climate conundrum, as exemplified by grand United Nations summits in Paris and Tokyo. The result, he argues, has been the creation of an illusion that something is being done while individuals and governments are consistently failing to take decisive measures.

And the U.K.’s main conservative papers in the Telegraph group—papers read by Tory activists and thus important to Tory politicians—have started to take a more skeptical view of Boris Johnson’s boasted “green industrial revolution” in op-eds by three of its star columnists—former editor Charles Moore, Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath, and columnist Matt Ridley. It doesn’t amount to a complete conversion; the Telegraph’s formidable financial columnist, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, remains on Boris’s side. Still, all three have written strong criticisms of the government's net-zero policy recently, and Ridley offered an especially scathing critique of ten reasons why it’s a mistake.

Ridley, who moonlights as a member of the House of Lords, is the author of several well-regarded books on science of which the latest, How Innovation Works, is highly relevant to the climate debate. He takes aim at Boris’s ideas on  innovation in climate policy with a double-barreled shotgun. The first barrel demolishes the Prime Minister’s own proposed innovations:

Innovation will create marvelous, unexpected things in the next 10 years. But if you could summon up innovations to order in any sector you want, such as electric planes and cheap ways of making hydrogen, just by spending money, then the promises of my childhood would have come true: routine space travel, personal jetpacks and flying cars. Instead, we flew in 747s for more than 50 years.

The second barrel aims at Whitehall’s neglect of more realistic innovations that get no money or attention in the green industrial revolution:

My fear is that we will carry out Boris’s promised 10-point plan, cripple our economy, ruin our seascapes and landscapes, and then half way through the 2030s along will come cheap, small, safe fusion reactors.

It’s a bracing attack from a government supporter, friendly fire in fact, and taken together with the other skeptics, it’s a sign that the establishment consensus is showing some cracks. In part, these criticisms are a reaction to the fact that policies like net-zero carbon are ceasing to be distant possibilities and becoming real prospects. No sale of petrol-driven cars is only nine years away. And as Dr. Johnson wrote two centuries ago, when a man knows he will be hanged in the morning, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Mind, concentrated.

But surely these policies are popular with the voters? Wasn’t that the story of the U.S. opinion poll quoted above? How can a popular policy be reasonably compared to being hanged in the morning?

The answer to that objection is a rule that I’m thinking of calling O’Sullivan’s Second Law. It goes as follows: The popularity of a policy is less important than the popularity of its consequences.

How popular are the consequences of a policy of net-zero carbon by 2050 likely to be? It is hard to estimate that because governments constantly evade answering the prior question of what will be the costs of going net-zero in terms of higher taxes, higher energy prices, and a lower standard of living. They concede in a vague and slightly noble way that people will simply have to make heavy sacrifices, but they don’t want to put a figure on it.

That’s not surprising. When the New Zealand government did just that, it discovered, according to Lomborg, that getting to carbon neutrality would “cost more than NZ$85 billion annually, or 16% of projected GDP, by 2050. That is more than last year’s entire national budget for social security, welfare, health, education, police, courts, defense, environment, and every other part of government combined.”

Sixteen percent of projected GDP annually. That’s what you call political suicide. No policy that requires it will remain popular. It runs up against Stein’s Law formulated by the late Herb Stein, a distinguished American economist: ““If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

It can’t go on. Long before 2050, the net-zero policy will have to be abandoned. And the longer that political establishments cling to its defense, the worse the resulting crash will be.