Driving Towards Utopia, Skidding on ICE

“Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain, O’Sullivan,” my grammar school teacher, quoting Goethe, would say as he handed back my weekly essay with helpful comments. “So what chance do you have against it?”

They said things like that in those days. And I have often wished that Mr. Hughes were both around and in a position to “mark” the policy announcements of various governments painting the glorious future they were shaping. Her Majesty’s Government headed by Boris Johnson especially needs his dry and weary judgmentalism.

Last week I contrasted two things: first, HMG’s apparent decision that, having already announced a ban on the sale of petrol- and diesel-fueled vehicles by 2035, it would bring forward that timescale to 2030; second, the substantial reasons why electric cars might not be the inevitable future—consumer resistance, the vast expense of expanding the electricity network to cope with EVs, and the possibility that a new battery needed to make EVs cheaper and more efficient might not materialize for a future as near as 2030.

That’s a tough contradiction. But it was resolved on the day I wrote it by the adverse reactions of both specialist writers and the market to Elon Musk’s “Battery Day” announcement that Tesla hasn’t come up with that hyped-up battery yet but it will soon.

Here’s the summing up of Tesla’s stock gyrations over the next few days by Market Watch: “Shares fell 22%, as of Thursday’s closing price, as a widely anticipated update on the company’s battery technology failed to wow investors. The decline is worse than Tesla’s 21% drop in March, when the entire market was plummeting because of the coronavirus.”

Even Goethe had his critics.

Now, the market isn’t infallible. Some of the higher share price may have been in response to salesmanship by Musk that now looks over-optimistic.  It’s also likely that research and innovation will develop a lighter and more efficient battery and thus a cheaper EV in time, if not necessarily in line with a politically driven target like 2030.

That said, public policy should not be based on optimistic forecasting of specific innovations in technology. Which means that the U.K. government should not bring forward its ban on selling petrol-fueled cars—ICE cars in the jargon—to 2030 and should even push it forward to beyond 2035. That would give us the time needed to consider a better mix of public policies on carbon emissions and much else.

As it happens there are very solid reasons for doing so, as Professor Gautam Kalghatgi, a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Automotive Engineers, who is currently a visiting professor at Oxford University, argues in his monograph, The Battery Car Delusion:

The first sentence of his summary introduction alone is a stark questioning of current orthodoxy in Whitehall: “Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) do not represent a significant improvement over internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) in terms of their carbon dioxide footprint unless all the energy for their manufacture and use is CO2 -free.”

There’s a huge cost -- as in Pounds and Dollars -- in carbon emissions as well, from building a larger and more robust system of electrification to accommodate BEVs. It’s paid not only by government but also by EV owners who would have to install battery-charging pillars in their garages and driveways in order to avoid long lines and waiting times to refuel their vehicles.

And what are the benefits to set against these extraordinarily heavy costs? Still in his summary, Professor Kalghatgi points out that “Even with a 100-fold increase in the number of BEVs to 10 million, around 85% of transport energy will still be delivered by ICEs. And this large increase will at best save about 4% of the GHGs [Greenhouse Gas Emissions] associated with transport in the UK. ”

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In short the switch to electric vehicles, even if we could be confident that they will be cheaper and more efficient for EV drivers (which we can’t be) would offer an extraordinarily modest benefit to set against heavy costs. It’s a public policy that makes no sense.

Unfortunately, if you want to get a policy changed, it’s not enough to persuade governments that it will have a net negative impact on the country. You also have to convince that them there is a policy that will also meet their aims—here it’s reducing carbon emissions—to compensate them for having to abandon their destructive approach.

In this case there is an alternative policy. It  is to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine so that it releases fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It’s a very simple and practical approach to solving a difficult problem. It does not require the building of any infrastructure, let alone a massive one, in order to work effectively. For that and other reasons, it doesn’t constitute a heavy increase in expenditures by governments and consumers.  It’s already being accomplished by the research departments of automobile companies which have transformed conventional cars to an astounding extent since the 1960s.

How effective might this approach be in reducing carbon emissions? Professor Kalghatgi estimates that a 5 percent reduction in fuel consumption by ICE vehicles would obtain a larger reduction in carbon emissions than the massive switch to electric cars with all its attendant infrastructure costs. That alone would be a massive prize. But he also believes that a reduction much larger than 5 percent in fuel consumption by ICEVs could be obtained through such methods as “better combustion, control and after-treatment systems along with partial electrification and reductions in weight.”

The snag is that though these innovations are being pursued now, how long is that likely to continue if the U.K. government instructs car manufacturers that they must stop selling their product in ten years? What incentive is there for companies to maintain large R&D expenditures when they are officially told that these innovations, even if successful, will reduce  carbon emissions and make other improvements in their automobiles for only a short period before production is halted altogether?

Let's relax and think this through.

Indeed, how long will automobile companies continue to invest at all in products other than those which, unless Musk gets that elusive breakthrough, will be too expensive for most consumers to buy unless the government steps in with subsidies to help them?

It’s policy fueled by the moral vanity that Britain should lead to the world in combatting climate change by destroying a major industry, making a huge dent in the Exchequer, and contributing a reduction in world carbon emission so small that it would not register on any meter.

Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain.

How to Make Poverty Expensive

"Do you not know. my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" That’s a famous remark by a Swedish statesman, Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), one of the most celebrated men of his time who is now largely forgotten except by historians. He gave that advice in a letter to reassure his nervous son that he need not worry about the diplomatic negotiations in which the young man was about to engage because he wouldn’t find them that difficult. Message: Don’t be too impressed by important people, son. They may have no idea of what they’re doing.

Most people recognize the wisdom of this remark on hearing it but they’re not always able to explain why. My own view is that many of us get it wrong. We think Oxenstierna is deploring the low vices—greed, ambition, jealous rivalry, etc.—that lead people in positions of power into corruption and disaster. Such things happen and they produce bad results. But the disaster arising from greed and corruption are fairly minor compared to those produced by great schemes of idealism so virtuous that no one opposed them on grounds of cost for fear of seeming petty. They’re the really big ticket items.

That was brought home to me this week when I came across a televised debate in the U.K. House of Lords in June 2019 in which Viscount Ridley (in private life, Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist and Innovation, and on climate change a “lukewarmer”) was complaining the British government didn’t seem to have conducted a cost/benefit analysis of its decision that the U.K. would eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050.

In fact, when Prime Minister Theresa May announced the decision the previous week, she had said proudly: “This means the U.K. will be the first G7 country to legislate for net-zero emissions.” (Tory cheers!) Ridley was less proud because he thought that spending a vast but unknown sum to reduce U.K. carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 without first discovering what it would cost or what benefits it would deliver suggested a spirit of light-hearted financial abandon.

“We’re faced with a measure,” he declared, “that is likely to cost at least a trillion pounds on top of the 15 billion pounds a year that we’re now spending on subsidies to renewable energy. Let’s remind ourselves for a second just how big a sum a trillion pounds is. If you spent a pound a second, it would take you thirty thousand years to get through one trillion pounds. You’d have to start before the peak of the last Ice Age where woolly mammoths and Neanderthals roamed across a tundra where we now sit.”

Ridley went on to point out that when you added in the costs of other measures to reduce emissions—converting gas-heated homes to electricity, switching to hydrogen-based fuels, etc.—the total costs of U.K. policy came to something like £2.8 trillion. Similarly, writing in the monograph Greenhouse Emissions: the Global Picture, Martin Livermore estimates the various costs of government measures to mitigate climate change as likely to present every family in Britain with a bill for 100,000 pounds.

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These are massive expenditures—so massive that we have no real sense of what the statistics mean until someone like Ridley takes the trouble to express them in an arresting way. That explains why two of the earlier speakers in the Lords debate had dismissed them implausibly as “nickles and dimes” and “manageable.” These Brits had already swallowed Everett Dirksen’s Kool-Aid: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money”—except that a billion’s no longer real money.

And, finally, they are being spent at a time when other vast sums are being allocated both to treat patients suffering from Covid-19 and to sustain the living standards of workers made unemployed by the lockdown even though the expected recession will greatly reduce revenues going to the Treasury.

Burning bread since the 9th century.

A certain giddiness has seized the minds of hitherto sober politicians and officials. If you ask the question: “Is the U.K. taxpayer getting decent value for the expenditures being made on his behalf,” you’re likely to be told that’s not the point. What is the point then?  It’s to save the world by setting a moral example of a mature developed nation making sacrifices for the common good of the world by moving to a net-zero carbon economy.

That arguments falls at more fences than there are in the Grand National. We exaggerate our sacrifice. Much of the fall in Western carbon levels comes from moving our industries overseas to Asia and then importing the goods they produce back to home. Our consumption levels still push up carbon levels. Even if we went without those goods, that would persuade Asians not to cut back on carbon emissions but to look for new markets. They want higher production and higher standards of living which, in the absence of major technological breakthroughs, will require greater use of fossil fuels and higher carbon emissions. And for Western countries to make the deeper emission cuts promised by their leaders, that would mean much higher electricity and other fuel prices and a much reduced standard of living, inflicted on Western voters by their own governments. Even then, in the case of Britain, it would have no impact on global emission levels because the U.K.’s share of them is so small.

As the Brits were making these painful but pointless sacrifices for the common good, China, India, and the former developing countries would be surging ahead and pushing up carbon emission levels ahead of themselves. Indeed, that’s exactly what they are doing and why carbon emissions are not falling but rising. Among other consequences, the shift of economic and financial power (and ultimately of military power too, as we’re starting to realize) from the West to Asia would be greatly accelerated by our own energy policy!

And what makes the position of Western governments still more uncomfortable, as Livermore points out, is (1) that their long-term strategy for getting to net-zero is neither economically nor politically plausible without carbon capture and storage technologies that don’t yet exist, and (2) that they will have to modify it by adopting energy solutions such as nuclear power that they and their peoples have rejected until now. Livermore’s picture of Western policy is like a maze with exits that close as soon as you approach them.

Just whistle a happy tune and it will all turn out right.

No sensible analyst thinks that the plans for net-zero carbon economies by 2050 (let alone 2030) can possibly succeed. They have no justification unless it’s an exercise in multicultural masochism and the politics of sainthood. The voters won’t tolerate them even if small groups of fanatical greens agitate violently to impose them or if the Eurocrats try to close down democratic access to energy policy, which Andrew Willshire recently hinted at in his Spectator piece on the EU’s new energy targets. And their enormous cost will become increasingly burdensome as the bills for so many other better causes fall due.

 

Extinction Rebellion and Tony Abbott: the Climate Changes

As the lockdowns begin to fray around the world, so the pre-lockdown controversies emerge blinking into the light, seemingly unchanged by their experience of hibernation. We’ve just had two resurrections of the climate change debate in London in the last week. And though the arguments heard in them are much the same as before, there are signs of a slight chill in the public’s response, hitherto quite favorable, to them.

The first was the blockade on Friday night/Saturday morning of the printing works that produce most of the Brits’ morning newspapers by Extinction Rebellion protesters. One hundred XR demonstrators, chaining themselves to vehicles, blocked roads to three printing sites from which the great majority of newspapers are transported to homes and newsagents across Britain. Printing then began at other sites, but most people in provincial Britain missed the papers that on a Saturday give them a vast panorama of information and entertainment on news, politics, the economy, real estate, sport, travel, movies, music, theatre, etc., etc.

Much noise was made by XR to the effect that the print works and two papers they print, the Times and the Sun, are owned by Rupert Murdoch who is a hated figure on the Left. But Murdoch’s rivals, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times are also printed at his works. And the FT is editorially friendly to the XR’s claim that climate change now constitutes an emergency.

Talk about an existential threat.

Until this happened, the public had seemed partly sympathetic, partly resigned, to the inevitability of such demonstrations. Very few people had been inconvenienced by earlier blockades, and the costs in delayed journeys or diverted routes to those who had was modest. Being deprived of a long Saturday read over coffee at the breakfast table, however, though hardly a tragedy, was nonetheless very irritating. And irritation is a favorite British emotion.

Then the XR spokesmen made matters worse for themselves by their justifications of the blockade which generally boiled down to claiming that the papers misled their readers on the urgency of dealing with climate change. Here is the choicest argument from activist Gully Bujak (27):

"The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.”

It’s pretty clear that Mr. Bujak wouldn’t make a very good editor, running the same story on every front page every day, but he wouldn’t be a very good reporter either. Almost all the U.K. mainstream media, far from actively sowing seeds of climate denial, are united in their belief that climate change is a major challenge facing humanity and that we should be prepared to cut living standards in order to lower carbon emissions. That’s true not only of the leftish Financial Times but also of the hated (but widely read) Murdoch press. In fact copies of the tabloid Sun diverted or blocked by XR demonstrators were that day carrying an article by Britain’s most celebrated BBC environmentalist, David Attenborough, on how to combat climate change (because readers of the Sun think of little else.)

Occasional op-eds taking a climate-skeptic viewpoint appear in their  pages because newspapers not edited by Gully Bujak have a professional bias in favor of debate and controversy. But the mainstream media are generally careful not to stray too far from officialdom’s climate-change orthodoxy.

XR protesters, however, stray very far from that orthodoxy in the opposite direction, demanding net-zero carbon emissions within five years and more or less eliminating both holiday air travel and meat from peoples’ diets, these changes to be supervised by unelected and unaccountable “citizens’ assemblies.”

Given the puritan authoritarianism of these aims, XR’s assertion of its right to halt the distribution of newspapers because they disagreed with the opinions they expressed on climate change rang a very loud warning bell. Commentators across the spectrum condemned the blockades as attacks on press freedom. Members of the public started to ask why the police had appeared to cooperate with the protesters so that the blockades could be enforced with minimum inconvenience to third parties. Aren’t newspaper readers and printing companies, not just third parties, entitled to go about their business without deliberate let or hindrance too? (Maybe, yes: 72 protesters were eventually arrested.)

Even government ministers, who have been somewhat timid of late, spoke out firmly in defense of “a free press, society and democracy” (Home Secretary Priti Patel) and against this particular attack on the free press (“completely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson.)

In short there was a rare bi-partisan consensus that Extinction Rebellion had laid an egg and that in future it should no longer be allowed to run around bullying people in order to impose a minority opinion that if implemented would have grim consequences in lower living standards for the rest of us. Except, as the Daily Mail’s combative centrist columnist, D.P. Hodges, pointed out mildly, until this weekend almost all the people now fulminating had given the impression of admiring the idealism of XR protesters even if they mildly deprecated their occasional excesses. Was that now changing?

I’ve seen too many false dawns of that kind to believe so without crossing my fingers and hoping to die. But a second event makes me ever-so-slightly more hopeful. In the middle of last week it was leaked in London that the Johnson government would be asking the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to join the Board of Trade as a senior advisor in its forthcoming drive to sign post-Brexit free trade deals with a wide range of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, and, er, Australia.

Abbott: an almost infinitely complex mechanism.

There’s no doubt that was a shrewd and sensible move. Britain badly needs to accelerate its trade diplomacy not only for the sake of future deals but in order to show to Brussels that London has enough good options so as not to need to appease the European Union in the current talks—now at make-or-break time. Abbott has the experience of trade negotiations and a knowledge of the players that would improve the chances of success. As Mark Higgie—a former Aussie ambassador to the EU—pointed out in the Australian Spectator www.spectator.com.au, Abbott as prime minister negotiated free trade deals with China, South Korea, and Japan which between them covered 50 percent of Australia’s trade.

Not everyone in Britain wants its extra-European trade diplomacy to prosper, however, because they hope to limit the country’s global reach and to keep Britain even outside the EU inside the EU’s sphere of influence. That makes them especially wary of the concept of CANZUK which promises to develop a closer trade, security, and migration relationship between four of the five countries in the “Five Eyes” intelligence cooperation agreement. There’s modest but growing support for this concept—which already exists in its subordinate but important parts like security cooperation—and Abbott is sympathetic to it. From some points of view, he’s an obstacle to a closer UK-EU relationship down the road.

That’s not a point of view, however, that can be openly argued with any chance of success. So Abbott was denounced as unsuitable to the Board of Trade role because he was a misogynist, opposed in the past to gay marriage, pro-life, and above all a “climate change denier.”

None of these charges is relevant to the post for which he was being considered. Most of them describe (or caricature) legitimate opinions held by very large groups of voters, most of whom lean to the Tories. And one at least—Abbott’s supposed “misogyny”—is simply false. But the charge of being a “climate change denier,” which was probably the most damaging of the charges, is worth at least unpacking since we have some evidence in relation to it.

The first thing to be said is that “climate change denier” is not a scientific term but a political one intended to silence or blacklist anyone so described. If it is to have any clear meaning, that must be someone who denies that the climate is changing or—to be a little more flexible—that it’s rising so rapidly as to pose a serious threat to humankind that can only be countered by emergency measures of mitigation not far short of those advocated by Extinction Rebellion. Fear of being called a “denier” explains the contradiction, noticed by Hodges above, that many politicians and public figures now denouncing Extinction Rebellion have been very mild in their criticisms of it until now. They don’t want to be accused of backing XR’s aims but refusing their means and thus being a “denier” in practice.

Get thee behind me, Satan.

But this apparent contradiction is a false one and the fear it generates groundless. As the science writer and author (most recently) of “How Innovation Works," Matt Ridley, pointed out a few years ago in Quadrant magazine:

These scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it’s real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it’s not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely.

And the evidence is overwhelming that Tony Abbott belongs to this lukewarmer school because he delivered a  lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2017 on this very topic:

Physics suggests, all other things being equal, that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would indeed warm the planet. Even so, the atmosphere is an almost infinitely complex mechanism that’s far from fully understood.

Palaeontology indicates that over millions of years there have been warmer periods and cooler periods that don’t correlate with carbon dioxide concentrations. The Jurassic warm period and the ice ages occurred without any human contribution at all. The medieval warm period, when crops were grown in Greenland, and the mini-ice age, when the Thames froze over, occurred well before industrial activities added to atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Prudence and respect for the planet would suggest taking care not lightly to increase carbon dioxide emissions; but the evidence suggests that other factors such as sun spot cycles and oscillations in the Earth’s orbit are at least as important for climate change as this trace gas – which, far from being pollution, is actually essential for life to exist.

Certainly, no big change has accompanied the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the past century from roughly 300 to roughly 400 parts per million or from 0.03 to 0.04 per cent.

Well, maybe someone in Downing Street was paying attention, because after a few days of ministers looking like frightened Bambis in the glare of klieg lights amid the thunder of media questioning, Boris Johnson appeared in public to state the obvious: that while he didn’t agree with everything that was said by the government’s many advisors on many topics, Tony Abbott was nonetheless a whiz on trade and that he was happy to have him on board. And as often happens when it’s clear that a prime minister really isn’t going to surrender to a media mob, the storm dispelled—and a much more convenient storm blew up over Extinction Rebellion’s candid attack on press freedom.

My optimism remains provisional, but one thing is clear and another thing is possible. Political and public opinion is growing more hostile to the claims of XR and other alarmists that their belief in climate catastrophe gives them a right to override democracy and free speech; and as more and more scientists, economists, and politicians who aren’t intellectually intimidated by fear and/or alarmism adopt a "lukewarmer" stance, the prospect increases of a more rational policy that treats climate change as a serious problem requiring a prudent mix of mitigation and adaptation in response rather than as an imminent catastrophe calling for sackcloth and ashes.

It won’t happen overnight, and there’ll never be a consensus on it. How could there be? As Matt Ridley wrote in that Quadrant article: You can’t have a scientific consensus about the future.

Marxist Revolution's 'Satanic Mendacity'

The British public intellectual Sir Roger Scruton passed away at the beginning of this year. If you aren't familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and watch this lengthy interview he did with Douglas Murray in 2019 on the nature of conservatism, and make it a point to read a few of his innumerable books or essays.

I've been thinking of one such essay quite often of late, as we've been watching riots and general disorder overtake so many of America's great cities. Specifically his account of the intellectual journey which led him to recognize himself as a conservative.

Scruton begins by explaining that, though roughly half of the Britain of his youth voted for the Tory party, "almost all English intellectuals regarded the term 'conservative' as a term of abuse," and that conservatism wasn't an intellectual path that he or any of his fellows seriously considered. That changed in an instant, however, when he found himself watching the May 1968 riots through an apartment window while visiting Paris. From that vantage point he witnessed Parisians, mostly students like himself, smashing windows, overturning cars, building barricades in the streets, and hurling cobblestones at the police.

That evening he found himself chatting with a friend who had spent her day on the barricades and was elated by the whole thing, which she believed to be "the artistic transfiguration of an absurdity which is the day-to-day meaning of bourgeois life." From her perspective, "The bourgeoisie were on the run and soon the Old Fascist and his régime would be begging for mercy." (The "Old Fascist," it should be noted, was Charles de Gaulle, one of history's great ANTI-Fascists, as demonstrated by his political leadership of la Résistance during World War II.)

Scruton found all of this troubling, and he challenged his friend's embrace of the bedlam in the streets:

What, I asked, do you propose to put in the place of this “bourgeoisie” whom you so despise, and to whom you owe the freedom and prosperity that enable you to play on your toy barricades? What vision of France and its culture compels you? And are you prepared to die for your beliefs, or merely to put others at risk in order to display them? I was obnoxiously pompous: but for the first time in my life I had felt a surge of political anger, finding myself on the other side of the barricades from all the people I knew.

She replied with a book: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses [published in English as "The Order of Things"], the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the “discourses” of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue—by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies—that “truth” requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the “episteme,” imposed by the class which profits from its propagation.

The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window was the translation of that message into deeds.

Scruton goes on to explain that, while his friend is now "a good bourgeoise," like so many of the grown-up '68ers, Foucault's books have come to be enormously influential in the Western academy. "His vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel, to students who have neither the culture nor the religion to resist it." Unsurprisingly, this has inspired what our editor Michael Walsh has called (in his indispensable book The Devil's Pleasure Palace) a "lack of cultural self-confidence" in Western man, leading to

[H]is willingness to open his ears to the siren song of nihilism, a juvenile eagerness to believe the worst about himself and his society and to relish, on some level, his own prospective destruction.

This is, of course, what we are seeing play out in our streets today -- unemployed, but over-educated, young people, having been indoctrinated into the nihilistic belief that there are neither heroes nor principles, and that reason is merely a tool of oppression -- have given themselves over to iconoclasm, howling at anyone who disagrees with them on any point. You would feel bad for them if they weren't attempting to obliterate the memory of better men than themselves.

The Sorbone, '68: lift every voice in song.

True, lockdown fatigue has likely contributed to the protests and riots, but I can't help thinking that a lot of the young rioters who felt the thrill of throwing a brick through a store window or a molotov cocktail at a cop car are going to have trouble going back to living normal lives. Partly, of course, because the lockdowns are technically still in effect, and protests are the only place anyone's allowed to party these days. But also because the resentment and nihilism that animate these events are self-sustaining and self-justifying.

Still, there are reasons for hope. For one thing, there's a real possibility that the pandemic is going to bring about the long-expected destruction of America's education racket. It likely won't take down the Ivy League, unfortunately, (though the Ivyies will have to deal with their own unique challenges), but a lot of mid-tier colleges will probably close. Which means that the young adults who would have given them $80,000 in borrowed money in exchange for worthless degrees in grievance studies will, instead, have to go out and get jobs, make friends, start families, and get involved in their communities. As "bourgeois" as those things might seem, they have provided lives with meaning from time immemorial. And, who knows, maybe they'll even enjoy the occasional good book without having some Marxist professor ruin it for them.

For another, as much as it seems like the world is collapsing right now, there's some evidence that normal people are disturbed by these events. The events of 1968 drove Americans into the arms of Richard Nixon and (after a brief interlude) Ronald Reagan. They also, as noted above, motivated a young Roger Scruton to rebel against their mendacious, destructive spirit. It may well be that many young people out there are similarly disturbed by all of this pandemonium. Perhaps that will ultimately impel them to embrace instead a worldview based on that sentiment which is at the heart of conservatism, namely gratitude.

Here's hoping.

Seriously Kids, Stay in School

A quick follow up on yesterday's post about how Greta Thunberg really needs to chill, Matthew Lynn had a good piece at Britain's The Telegraph entitled Not Now Greta, We Are Trying to Save the Global Economy, in which he comments on this bizarre and misguided Greta tweet:

Here's Lynn:

The impeccably politically correct president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, was probably a little taken aback to find her institution targeted on Twitter last week by the ferocious teenage activist Miss Thunberg.... [Her] complaint? According to an analysis by Greenpeace, from mid-March to mid-May the ECB bought more than €30bn (£27bn) of corporate bonds, of which €7.6bn were issued by oil and energy companies" ....

The Bank of England is in just as much trouble. It turns out that its Covid Corporate Financing Facility, has – surprise, surprise – been accessed by companies that climate change activists don’t exactly approve of. According to Greenpeace UK “airlines have been given … billions in cheap and easy loans to keep them polluting, without any commitments to reduce emissions or even keep workers on the payroll”. Even worse, “cruise lines, pesticides and car companies have received similar largesse”. The Bank is “bailing out climate wreckers,” according to the Green MP Caroline Lucas.

As Lynn points out, these criticisms are just dumb. "The ECB is not giving money to fossil fuel companies. It launched an emergency blast of quantitative easing as the eurozone went into lockdown." Which is to say, it injected cash into a teetering economy by (indiscriminately) purchasing corporate bonds. What's more, those bonds were purchased on the secondary market, so they weren't even bought from oil companies directly. They were attempting to bail out the economy, not particular companies. The same goes for the Bank of England. There are worthwhile criticisms of quantitative easing, but the Greta/Greenpeace suggestion here, that in a time of emergency, these banks should have stopped everything to make sure they weren't buying bonds with the names of oil companies on them, that is nuts.

Honestly, we'd all be much better off if this girl had stayed in school. Maybe she would have learned something.

Some Non-Negotiable Demands for Utopia

Just when you’ve started wondering what topic you should write a column about—an activity that mostly leads to hours of more wondering—a lightning bolt strikes and clarifies your duty. On this occasion the lightning bolt took the friendly form of a left-wing petition urging me to save the world, more or less, by signing a petition making certain demands on . . . well . . . the world.

It’s easy to mock such things, and I shall try to do once or twice here, but the idea of petitioning parliaments, congresses, and governments is an ancient, honorable, and essentially democratic one. As a mode of debate it’s greatly to be preferred to hitting the heads of people with whom you disagree with mallets. And it has sometimes brought about peaceful democratic change—notably in the case of the People’s Charter of 1838 which brought millions onto the streets, made the ruling classes nervous, and persuaded Parliament to introduce most of the essentials of the country’s modern democracy over time.

The petition sent to me was somewhat more ambitious. It was addressed flatteringly to “policy makers” and it bore the grandiose title Covid-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto. It is well-designed, having that look of authentic simplicity that disarms skepticism, and it is indeed short, simple and declarative. Its nine main points begin with the words, “We demand . . .”

Or else.

What’s being demanded we’ll come onto in due course, but the petition varies its demands with assurances that these things are going to happen anyway. Oh yes. This kind of writing is known as the “imperative indicative,” but it’s less imperative than they might wish because the element of threat is so understated. Reading it is rather like being held up by a man wearing a Covid-19 health mask and wielding a banana.

Let’s now come to the content—the weak spot here as in so many left-wing manifestos. The first demand is for “strong, universal health care systems and health care as a basic right for all humans.” Such things would certainly be desirable outcomes, but they cannot be granted as rights because they are unattainable in present circumstances and would impose insupportable burdens on everyone everywhere including those countries which currently have good health systems.

Consider this: even in progressive health care systems in rich countries there’s a constant irresolvable struggle to combine three things: universal access, the full range of (ever-expanding) medical treatments, and cost control. Pick any two. The attempt to have all three results in regular crises in which queues for particular treatments lengthen and expensive treatments cease to be available at all.

That discomfiting reality rests on the truth that the demand for health care is potentially infinite. As the former UK health minister, Enoch Powell, wrote in a 1960s book (I quote from memory): Unrestrained by price, the demand for health care rises until it consumes the entire national income. When I quoted that to a distinguished doctor of firmly liberal views on the faculty of Stanford University, he told me that he hated to agree but that he was reluctantly bound to do so.

The end result of Demand #1, therefore, would be the universalization of health poverty as the fruit of an attempt to equalize health care upwards. So Demand #2—a massive reduction in war, conflict, and defense spending—would fail as well since half of its purpose is to pay for Demand #1 and some of the other causes listed (“housing, childcare, nutrition, education, Internet access, and other social needs.”)

There is only one way the world could afford to pay for this catalogue of costly benefits and that is if we were able to achieve a fantasy of high economic growth without end. Unfortunately, that prospect is scotched by Demand #3 which calls for “the fantasy of endless growth” in unsustainable capitalist economies, “[to] be replaced with cooperatively based economies of care, where human life, biodiversity, and our natural resources are conserved and a universal basic income is guaranteed so that governments can work together to combat the existential threat of climate change.”

And here we come to the nub or gist of the problem. In a way, the petitioners are pointing to something important which they misunderstand: endless growth under capitalism is not a fantasy but the experience of capitalism over more than two hundred years. Such growth has proved to be a fantasy, however, under all other economic systems, notably those “cooperatively based economies of care” which provide their citizens with economic security, but which also restrict them to much lower living standards than their capitalist neighbors. Such economies have delivered economic wastelands despite being given a series of Western loans and investments over the years.

Moreover, the various kinds of communist/socialist economies in the last century that attempted a (more realistic) version of this program did not handicap themselves by swearing off cheap fossil-fuel based energy as the main mover of industrialization and prosperity. Quite the contrary. Lenin defined communism as “Soviet power plus electrification,” and unlike some modern environmentalists, he didn’t think that electricity grew on trees (not without the trees being chopped down, converted to wood chips and then transported thousands of miles to power stations across the world.)

But the signatories of the Covid-19 Global Manifesto want to deliver all the benefits above, including a program of universal income grants, without using cheap fossil fuel energy that underpins prosperity worldwide. Their “fantasies” of electrification provided entirely from renewables like wind and sun were recently diagnosed into oblivion by Professor Michael Kelly of Cambridge University in his monograph Electrifying the UK, in which he cites, with examples, the costs of engineering the delivery of energy—even in the cases where its generation is relatively cheap. They turn out to be enormously expensive.

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For instance:

It is often pointed out that electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines, and this is true; there is a factor of three involved. But the low energy density of batteries means that much of this advantage is lost in having to carry around a heavy battery. The power pack for a Tesla weighs half a tonne and occupies much of the floor pan of the car: for the same 600-km range in a petrol car, you would need 48 litres of petrol, weighing just 36 kg.

And:

The £45 million battery installed by Elon Musk outside Adelaide, South Australia, can power that city for 30 minutes. It would power the emergency wards (20% of total demand) of Addenbrooke‘s Hospital in Cambridge for 24 hours on a single 80–20% discharge. Back-up is currently provided by two 1500- kVA diesel generators, which run for as long as fuel is available and cost £250,000. So if you wanted to be able to cover a 3 week’s power outage after a major storm, it would cost around 1300 times as much using batteries as it would with diesel generators.

I'm not over-confident that you can simply multiply that cost by the number of hours in a day and days in a year to get an accurate estimate of what it would cost to power Adelaide for a year, but if so, the cost would be upwards of a trillion dollars. And there are similar mind-boggling cost overruns attached to almost every Green technical insight. I doubt Adelaide’s city fathers would think that a practicable proposition. Nor would the government of South Australia, nor the Australian federal government in Canberra. Nor other governments not headed, however temporarily, by visionary idealists.

That may not matter a great deal to the authors of the Global Solidarity Manifesto.  Consider the organizations that so far have signed up to the manifesto. Here was the list as of yesterday:

My guess is that unlike the  Chartists of 1838, these bodies are looking to present their reforms to organizations representing the whole of mankind rather than to narrow nationalist democratic governments that have to pay for their policies by taxing their citizens and justifying expenditures to the voters in elections. Insofar as they seek to change the policies of national governments, they do so by  influencing UN and other globalist bodies which then lean on governments to follow them in ways that Hudson Institute scholar John Fonte has called a fantasia of “global governance.”

In other words, it’s the stage army of transnational progressives mounting another membership drive. They have little or no genuine  democratic credentials, and they frequently proclaim that their favored concerns are "too important to be left to democracy—which is all the more reason for the rest of us to apply democratic criteria to their manifestos.

There are about nine billion people in the world. Yesterday the Covid-19 Global Solidarity Manifesto had 1600 signatures. When the figure reaches five billion, call my office.

Spike This

If you haven't yet twigged to the British website Spiked, it's about time you did so. The online publication describes itself as "the magazine that wants to change the world as well as report on it. We are committed to fighting for humanism, democracy and freedom." It expresses that admirable commitment via articles by some of the best young British writers, who daily deconstruct modern shibboleths such as "climate change," the Greenie weenies, and, latterly, the hysteria over the coronavirus. Like us here at The Pipeline, the gang at Spiked clearly sees the link between the overreaction to the virus and the longer-term agenda of the "climate change" privateers, who seek to destroy the Western way of life in the guise of rescuing it. A sample:

Covid-19 is a frightening dress rehearsal of the climate agenda

Months into the pandemic and many unknowns still cloud our understanding of the virus. The basic parameters of its transmission rate are still contested by scientists. Rather than shedding light, experts from prestigious institutions descend into acrimonious, politically charged, point-scoring debates. Even the grim daily ritual of the body count is slated as either an overestimate or a grotesque underestimate. But the biggest unknown yet is the damage the virus and attempts to control it have done to society and the economy, and how we will recover. From this wreckage, the green blob has re-emerged from an all-too-brief period of obscurity with a list of demands that will destroy any hope of recovery.

From the outset, there has been a palpable sense of green jealousy of the virus as it stole attention from the climate fearmongers. For half a century, greens have been prognosticating the imminent collapse of society. Yet with each new generation, deadlines to stop the destruction of the planet pass without event. In reality, the world’s population has become healthier and wealthier, and we live longer lives than ever before. Panic about the virus achieved in days what greens have been demanding for years: grounded planes, empty roads, and a halt in economic growth.

Experience of coronavirus shows that the kind of fear, panic and mistrust ramped up by doom-laden forecasts has had severe consequences for humanity. Fear of the virus has threatened to dissolve the essential relationships of mutual dependence between human beings, almost in an instant – and on a greater scale than anything Gaia can throw at us in her angry revenge. Greta Thunberg’s maxim – ‘I want you to panic’ – should cause environmentalists to pause and consider what they actually want for society.

But such reflection is unlikely to be forthcoming. After all, lockdown gives greens what they have always wanted: the abolition of flight, and of travel deemed ‘unnecessary’ by technocrats; and the prohibition of goods which have been designated ‘non-essential’. Indeed, this is apparently what a green utopia looks like.

Read the whole thing, of course, if only for this line:

Green platitudes are nothing more than a veneer of bullshit for no-mark politicians to hide behind.

The key is that the "green economy" is a malignant fantasy of New Ludditism, a branch of cultural Marxism that openly seeks the destruction of the Western way of life. Its embrace by callow and mendacious politicians the world over is a triumph of stupidty and short-term thinking over reason, facts, and history.

So what if it comes disguised as "environmentalism"? The devil is the devil no matter what he's wearing, even if it's nothing at all.

 

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Old Flames

LONDON -- It didn’t take long before I was bored rigid, doing the things I did in this house in St. John's Wood as a child; stacking magnetic pennies, trying on mummy’s clothes and jewelry, and basically going through all of her neatly-organised treasures. I’d long since given up pinching cigarettes from daddy’s study which is just as well given that he no longer keeps any. I did find piles of my own games that I threw out, as well as notebooks I’d kept for reasons I’ll never understand.  

I guess I thought in time they’d become interesting like the things Mother kept, but of course that wasn’t to be. Judith had all sorts of things like ostrich feathers and faded press cuttings from when her own mother was a debutante—end of an empire she always said, referring to granny's debutante season.  Hers was of course long before the daughters of self-made plutocrats got in line with cash money, and sniping journalists brought it all crashing down; 1958 would be the very last year that a debutante would curtsey before the Queen, thus ending mummy's chance of ever being presented at court, and mine for that matter.  It didn't help that Princess Margaret even more crudely remarked, “We had to put a stop to it, every tart in London was getting in.” Rather rich coming from the very reign that monetised the monarchy like never before. 

“Racket” indeed. It mattered not to me though because in the end, mummy married daddy, and popping me on a horse and asking me not to fall off too often, was the best they could hope for. If I’m honest, I guess I’d kept the notebooks in the event I’d somehow managed to catapult us into a prime position in Debrett’s, but my most recent accomplishment had been getting sacked by a Palm Beach housewife turned bestselling thought leader. For this reason alone I wasn't upset that Judith was in the country. It's one thing to work for a bounder, quite another to be sacked by one, and she'd have driven this point home even if I could do nothing about it. Judith doesn't much approve of my "green distraction" as she calls it. She would have loved to tell me that the very people who employed me, and who make a living off of their own green distraction, are the ones heating and cooling 15,000 square feet.  

Inexplicably, Judith had kept loads of photos of me and Patrick, (good lord!) and even arranged them in an album which is what got me to thinking about the whole hierarchy theme in the first place -- the prospect of which was now literally and figuratively miles from my life in Los Angeles. But it never would have worked with Patrick and me, what with his business interests, and total disregard for our beloved planet. It was at a dinner with his parents that he argued that climate has always changed throughout earth’s 4.5-billion-year history. I mean really how could one be so callous? Of course, I explained, it has always been changing but the really massive changes began 10,000 years ago when humans developed agriculture—only for him to counter that the planet, long before man came to be, had seen both boiling and freezing temperatures.

As I said, it was dinner with his parents so I really couldn’t do as I wished, which would have been to explain that only in the past twenty years or so that had we seen such rapid changes and that previously it had taken hundreds of thousands of years for the same amount of change! But I couldn’t, and so I didn’t, but seemingly he had anticipated what I had wanted to say and insisted an accelerated timeline was “just not accurate”. Honestly, how could he!?

I smiled sweetly over my soup as the real steam poured out of my ears. You see, Patrick had worked with my father in mineral exploration for several years before developing geophysical software to employ in the field. Deep down I knew I was right about the planet but how was I going to argue with that level of rigidity? Outmanned and outgunned, I changed the subject to a recent and rather gruesome equestrian spill in which spectators actually heard the tearing of the tendon fibres as the horse horrifically crawled on his cannons before spinning on his back, like a breakdancer in Trafalgar Square. I still have night terrors when I think of that poor horse but thus ended the dinnertime planet debate.

Back to mummy’s closet: I got to thinking that these days in coronavirus lockdown can really send the mind down a rabbit hole. Luckily, I could hear my father opening a package from Paxton and Whitfield (truly the best cheese on this planet!) and wine was soon to follow. And “soon” couldn’t come soon enough to suit me lately. I don’t ever remember wanting it to be Pimm’s o’ Clock sooner than during these dark days of eternal consignment to Boris Johnson's oubliée.

I’d hoovered my third charcoal and Aldwych goat when father asked, “Is this how it ends?” Which was so like him.

“Fair enough,” I replied. “What shall we talk about then…Boris? Patrick? I mean BORIS! And I added…“I don’t know why I said that.”

Silence from father.

“It’s just that mother's kept…”, I continued.

“Mother kept?” he asked.

“Yes, Mother kept!” I insisted. ”Mother kept some photographs of us that I hadn’t seen…”

“Until… you found them today”

“Yes, not until today when I was going through her things, as I always do.”

“Right.” he said.

“Listen,” I continued, “I know you all think I ran away to California to put this behind me…”

“Surely we don’t all think anything”, he interrupted. And okay, he had a point, I was guilty of a sweeping statement but I know they do think it.

“Right, OK” I said, “So what about Boris?”

“Ah yes” father began, “Boris it seems has found himself fifty pages in which to clarify the newly-adjusted points of lockdown. There is the as-yet elusive, although much anticipated: Step One that will begin on Wednesday. Followed by the equally elusive Step Two—to start on June first. And followed closely… by Step Three. So you see it’s all rather logical. And he continues with what he then calls, and rather aptly I might add…‘further steps. Plus he wants us all to start riding bikes again.”

Just then father got up as though he’d forgotten something and I heard our door chime. I opened the door and even with a mask, it was unmistakably… Patrick.

Frans and the Seven Dwarves

Poor Frans Timmermans. You remember him, the first vice-president of the European Commission? (And yes, the EU does have multiple vice-presidents. Eight to be precise. In America, many of us feel that even one is too many. Even occupants of the office feel this way -- our 32nd VP, John Nance Garner, famously described his office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Something tells me that Dutch doesn't have an equivalent expression, so it has probably never occurred to ol' Frans to talk about his current position that way).

Readers will recall that back in March, First Vice-President Timmermans had gotten himself worked up into a tizzy about the hot topic of the day, namely COVID-19, the 'rona as the kids are calling it, though I much prefer WuFlu. But Timmermans' Tizzy wasn't what you'd expect. He was extremely concerned that this blasted virus would get in the way of his precious European Green Deal, the object of which is to:

[T]ransform Europe's economy, enshrining in law that every EU member nation reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, mandating that a substantial portion of every budget category be dedicated to reaching that goal (for instance, "40% of the budget for the common agricultural policy and 30% of fisheries"), and imposing heavy fines on those nations not on track.

As Timmermans put it at the time:

[C]ontaining the coronavirus and solving it [is] absolutely a priority,” he said. [But] the climate law was “so important”, because “it allows you to focus on other things without losing track of what you need to do to reach climate neutrality”.

That is to say, the European Green Deal needed to be passed immediately so that the European Commission could turn its focus to, you know, dealing with a global pandemic. Well, here we are a month later and Frans, the seven other veeps, and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen appear to have given up the ghost. Or some of it.

The coronavirus crisis is putting Commission staff under unprecedented pressure to deal with “urgent, new and existing COVID-19 related files,” according to a draft document seen by EURACTIV. In order “to free up capacity,” the EU executive is preparing an updated work programme for 2020 which is expected to be published on 29 April.... As part of the review, the Commission’s secretariat general is assessing whether new policy initiatives can afford to be postponed because they are neither directly related to COVID-19 or are considered “less essential for delivery on the absolute key priorities”.

Which is a jargony way of saying We Are Dealing With the Virus, and We Can't Do Everything At Once.

Leaked documents show that the EU Commission has divided its European Green Deal goals into three categories, with a small number of urgent priorities -- such as their 2030 "climate and energy framework" -- which will be implemented no matter what, and a larger wish list which might potentially be delayed. It's the last group which probably keeps Frans up at night, tears streaming down into his enormous beard. That's because they're the goals which will be delayed until at least 2021.

Back in March, Timmermans said that, once the European Green Deal was passed, "the Eye of Sauron" (meaning, strangely, the EU) could turn its attention to "something else for a bit [since] the trajectory to [net zero-carbon emissions by] 2050 will be clear." Now that his deal has been postponed, will Europe's insane devotion to Net-Zero 2050 be put on hold as well? For the sake of our friends on that lovely continent, I certainly hope so. But I'm not holding my breath.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty

Arrived at Annabel’s country house, or should I say estate -- having committed one of the world’s most egregious sins. I was, I admit, drinking from a single-use plastic water bottle I’d purchased after customs. And while I was still being introduced, the bottle made a large plastic crinkling noise—the crinkling noise heard round the world. Every head turned toward me—the girl who was single-handedly going to take down the planet. I waited for someone to shout check her bag for plastic straws but it didn’t happen. Now in full panic mode, I was grateful for the aluminum chlorohydrate in my deodorant. I might die of cancer, but I was going to die hydrated and smelling great.

With barely time to pop into a tub, cocktails were being served in a room filled with animal heads and skins and even a wildebeest rug. I said nothing. Mostly because, well, what does one say? And because surely there was some free pass for things procured prior to 1992. Like my water bottle. Okay, maybe not my water bottle, but you get the idea.

A plain woman with a disapproving face sauntered up to me before I had a chance to get my first gulp of champagne. “How long have you known Annabel?” she snapped. To which I replied, “Since the golden age of aerosol hairspray.” (Jeez, it was a joke!) She wasn’t sure. She didn’t laugh. And three agonising minutes later she was gone but right then I decided we can never be like them, those shrew-faced harpy green police—devoid of humour AND reason. This was going to be a long night! And yes dear reader, I know I have to get to the beauty blog but all of this I have to share.

I’m pretty sure it was no coincidence that I was seated next to Trevor – just starting to grey, totally gorgeous and totally fun. But better than that—his job: he sells rain-forest wood. I thought he was joking or that the joke was on me (Miss BPA) but it really IS his job. Fascinating actually, I’m sure in some way necessary and TOTALLY UN-PC. Freedom at last! Obviously we could (and soon would) talk about ANYTHING. It was kind of like being naked—well you know—the foreplay to being naked.

Soon enough things got trop chaude between us and we realised we needed to rejoin the dinner party, boring as it was, so we decided to count the number of times someone guilted, or expressed guilt, over anything remotely climate-related. Absolute torture. Like counting hats in church and they seemed to want only to find more ways to torment themselves. I wanted to say, you know there’s Catholicism or Judaism for that… but I didn’t, because I’d had quite a lot of wine, and I was already in the plastic doghouse.

But making the guilt comparison got me to thinking: what if? (No I know it’s not even an if) but if we get married in churches and baptise our babies whether or not we believe in an afterlife, then why not take the safe route with the climate? You know, only show up for Palm Sunday and take on a 10 percent commitment to live like it just might happen? I’m not talking about going all Vanessa Branson and living on an island with no cars, no plastic, and with everyone having to drink peaty water from sustainable jugs, I just mean let’s approach this logically.

Stress, ladies, is our biggest beauty concern, and what brings us stress? People forcing their unfounded and illogical demands on us and calling us “deniers” if we don’t comply. So rather than fight, I’m embracing the peace that comes from living in harmony with the disharmony they create. And I’m going to look gorgeous doing it.

So here it is. First and foremost: water. We must have water, when we want it and as much as we want. That’s not negotiable. So if you find yourself arriving at the house of a newly minted green-nik, remember to tear the label off your bottle before you arrive (which suggests you’ve used it more than once) and immediately ask: where can I fill this up? Now you’re part of the solution. Oh, and try to recycle the label—there’s your 10 percent.

Day Two: exfoliation. Pop into your hostess’s kitchen and ask for a potato. Peel just the skin leaving most of the white and place strips on your face for 10-15 minutes or until it gets tingly. Word will get back to your hostess and your response will be, “I can’t see the need for unnecessary products when nature gives us such gifts”. I caught Trevor’s eye when I said this and yes he stifled a laugh. And then complimented me on my dewy skin. I don’t know if one of Annabel’s seven gardeners composted the rest of the potato but I’m just assuming they did. And that they walk to work and use ladybugs as pesticide.

Laters.