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.

God Save the Queen

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Testing

Greetings again from Lyford Cay. I’m here at the house of some lovely friends I met at Annabel’s “Thanksgiving” party. I put Thanksgiving in quotes because it was an accommodation for me… a reasonably recent resident of Los Angeles who got quite used to the tradition in just a few short years, and Annabel being my dearest friend-and rather eager hostess, jumped at the chance to out-hostess everyone else.

I’d been holed up in London, in my childhood home, as Covid started cutting into my peripatetic life, and now found myself in Lyford, happily sunning and meeting other wonderful people. There was a bit of a flap over “some Americans” from New York who had a large party and one (yes, one) hostess tested positive. Other Lyfordians were purportedly “furious” but that’s mostly bluster since Americans are always assailed wherever they go. Luckily I can rely on my very posh British accent even if Judith (mummy) says I shouldn’t use the word posh anymore.

No Reset necessary here.

Over cocktails last night I’d met a lovely gay couple from France, by way of California, by way of London who like myself, take a huge interest in the health of our planet. They also live very near where I am staying and are purported to have a pool and ballroom to die for.

I’m looking forward to seeing it and discussing the intersections of our interests, even if I was confused as to why they claimed they’d had to relocate to France just to get married when California had been issuing licenses some five years prior.

They returned today for Christmas brunch and didn’t seem as eager to talk to me as I’d hoped, but I made my way over to them anyway. I was interested to hear their take on the Great Reset, as all I had was one Google search and daddy’s ever-informed dismantling of my shaky facts. They were less passionate about the environment than I’d understood—it was as if last night’s conversation didn’t happen and they seemed only to want to talk about how Covid had marginalised the LGBTQ community. Intrigued I listened. Apparently the Coronavirus had led to “a loss of safe spaces and the gay community was hardest hit”. Or so said Stephen, as his partner ditched us both.

At the risk of sounding like Daddy, I was beginning to think he was right and that the Great Reset affected every agenda the most. Meaning… if it mattered to you, you were affected.

“HOW?” I asked. And Stephen responded,

“Legal rights of trans people have eroded, and young LGBTQ are further harmed by the closure of safe spaces.”

“I see.” I said. Even though I really didn’t. I only knew that Japanese women had succumbed to suicide under Covid-19 in numbers greater than all of Japan’s other Covid deaths combined. I hadn’t heard this happening to any other bastion of society but I asked:

“Could safe spaces not migrate online as others have done?” I asked.

“Online are not safe spaces to be,” he said, “This is where they can face abuse, or get outed.”

And at which point I decided this conversation was nuts, in person-safe, yet online was a risk of being outed? And although supported by the World Economic Forum as fuel for the Great Reset, I wasn’t having it. Clearly NO ONE cares about the planet, least of all the man with the fabulous pool; and his London accent was sounding a bit more Lambeth if you asked me. 

Just then I overheard another conversation about the Great Reset and I nearly flew to their side. It was coming from a tall and very good-looking South African-accented gentleman named Galen. Never mind the sticky Rum Dum Sour dripping down my wrist.

“Hello I’m Jenny and…”

No sooner did I arrive when Galen said, “In the post-Covid Era…”

“Excuse me? I lobbed. “It’s now it’s own era?”

“Well there is no arguing that the Great Reset needs to happen and that capitalism has empirically failed.”

“Well, I believe there is such an argument.” I said,  "and might I present Exhibit A: Lyford Cay.”

“What I am TRYING to say…, he began, “is we envision a better, fairer world, integrating the next generation to be in harmony with nature again.”

“What you are SAYING…is Marxism.” I insisted.

Galen gave me the why don’t you go back to the nursery look which was not going to work on me.  I brushed my voluminous curls to one side and looked at him with fresh eyes. He was trying to convince himself as much as me, and having taken this moment I could see that.

“What I’m saying IS…” He began again, “is we can take the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution and provide everyone with better lives.”

I could hear Daddy shouting in my ear or maybe it was just blood welling in my temples. Better lives? He was just parroting the ridiculous stuff I’d heard from that very mixed- up fellow, Klaus Schwab.

“Fascinating” was all I replied, and before I could take my leave he asked,

“What is it you do?”

“DO???” I responded. “Surely you remember from the pre-Covid era… one does not just ask what one does at a social gathering.”

Happy happy, merry merry.

His eyes steeled against mine and now it was me panicking. I was just not going to tell him I was a life coach… he would never understand the importance.

“My family is in oil exploration. I declared. And speaking of a commitment to making things once again in harmony with nature… fracking.”

I could smell a bit of Rum Dum Sour I’d transferred from my hand into my hair, but of course he couldn’t.

“Anyway… Happy Christmas!” I added. And split.

Toyota Chief on Electric Cars: Slow Down!

The Observer reports on some very striking comments by Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda, on the topic of Electric Vehicles. EVs are hot right now, with the automotive industry investing heavily in them, and governments throughout the world (prominently, as The Observer mentions, those of Great Britain and California) looking to aid their development by banning the sale of gasoline and diesel engines in the not-too-distant future.

But Mr. Toyoda is not convinced that they are the answer. At a recent press conference, he pointed out a few problems with the projected shift to EVs. First, he claimed that “the current business model of the car industry is going to collapse" if the industry shifts to EVs too quickly. No word on whether he thinks that the oft-discussed 10-15 year timeline put forward by activists in and out of government falls into that category, but it wouldn't be surprising if that is exactly what he had in mind.

Next, he pointed out that "Japan [for one] would run out of electricity in the summer if all cars were running on electric power." There just isn't enough electricity to go around, especially with battery technology being what it is. He estimated that "the infrastructure needed to support a 100 percent EV fleet would cost Japan between 14 trillion and 37 trillion yen ($135 billion to $358 billion)," a hefty percentage of GDP for a famously stagnant economy like Japan's.

Worth noting that it is a lot cheaper to generate the electricity a given vehicle needs on site -- that is, within the vehicle itself, as a gasoline powered combustion engine does -- than producing it elsewhere and transporting to the car.

And, following up on that point, he called attention to the fact that "most of the country’s electricity is generated by burning coal and natural gas, anyway," so the stated goal of leaving fossil fuels behind by shifting to EVs isn't going to happen. In his words:

The more EVs we build, the worse carbon dioxide gets… When politicians are out there saying, ‘Let’s get rid of all cars using gasoline,’ do they understand this?

Unfortunately the answer to that question is probably "No," both for the politicians and the propagandists in the media.

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.

A Test Drive for Net-Zero

Proposals for going green and hiking taxes—they seem to go together—rain down as gently upon us as leaves in Autumn. In Britain, as I mentioned last week, the Finance Minister, Rishi Sunak, is looking at new ideas to charge motorists for—wait for it—driving on the roads.

There will soon be s a $50 billion tax hole in his budget as a result of the government-mandated switch from gas-powered cars to electric ones by 2030. That date was moved forward from 2035 in a speech this week from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his “green industrial revolution,” i.e., the U.K. equivalent of America’s Green New Deal that Joe Biden has been promising.

Boris’s speech unveiled a whole armory of exciting new green measures—summarized coolly in the London Sunday Telegraph by "lukewarmer" Matt Ridley as “all Britons driving electric cars powered by North Sea wind turbines and giving up their gas boilers to heat their homes with ground-source heat pumps. [Plus] He will invent zero-emission planes and ships.”

Are having fun yet?

Viscount Ridley suspects that not all the prime minister's hoped-for innovations will come to pass. As a strong believer in the importance of innovation himself -- his latest book is on that topic -- he thinks that we'll be happily surprised by some innovations by 2030, and we shouldn't take rash and expensive decisions that will foreclose those possibilities now. Equally, however, we shouldn't bet the bank on innovations that may never pan out despite our best efforts.

That's one cautionary truth. Another is that we can be pretty certain that these exciting new green measures Boris announced will likely bring forth a lot of exciting new green problems. Among them is that drivers won’t be paying the fuel taxes they pay now if they’re driving electric vehicles. That's why, to fill that budgetary hole, the finance minister is thinking to tax road use.

There must have been a hostile reaction to this leak because the next day the Times published a nervous follow-up:

Drivers would support a national road-charging system providing that it was not simply used as a “cash cow” by the Treasury, ministers have been told.

Of course, any new tax would be used by the Treasury as a “cash cow” if only because the U.K. is going to have to finance the economic effects of the lockdown one way or another. That’s a given. Also, governments like green taxes because they attract almost automatic support from green parties, pressure groups, and public opinion.

Road pricing has both green and attractive economic features as an alternative to other forms of taxation. As Dr. John Walker argues in his RAC Foundation study, On the Acceptability of Road Pricing:  It’s “technically successful; meets objectives ranging from managing congestion to raising revenue to fund road improvement; need not be prohibitively costly; and once in place, tends to gain public acceptance”

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As that guarded last comment suggests, however, it’s got some difficult features too. Switching from fuel taxes to road pricing is a problem in itself. Fuel taxes are simple to pay and to collect. Road pricing means that both government and the motorist have to install equipment to record the costs of journeys and to charge for them. It’s a more visible cost than when it’s paid as part of a price for petrol at the pump.

If the road pricing system is variable, moreover, imposing higher costs on cars sitting in traffic and lower ones on cars going along empty roads at off-peak periods, it will be more efficient, but it will also be more unpopular with the general public. Differential pricing of that kind makes economic sense because it discourages congestion and makes for more pleasant driving and less wasted time. But the public sees it as unfair because it penalizes those drivers who have to work regular hours and travel at peak hours, and they are often the poorer members of society.

And it’s being proposed at the wrong time. Motorists already feel under threat as many of the costs of Boris’s green industrial revolution end up being paid by them. If gas-fueled cars won’t be available from 2030 onwards, those owning such cars will find spare parts more expensive, gas stations fewer in number (and more distant), and gas prices higher. In the end they’ll have to purchase an electric vehicle if they want to continue driving.

Many of them—I’ve seen estimates as high as one-third of U.K. current drivers—will find buying an EV requires a serious financial sacrifice. Those who are unable to get a decent price for the resale of their petrol-driven cars will be in even worse financial straits. On top of these shock demands on their wallets, they will see the addition of road pricing as an intolerable extra.

It’s bound to provoke resentment among those financially hard-pressed drivers who find themselves paying heavy bills to use the roads that their taxes have already built in order to keep the economy moving today. That’s not entirely speculation. As the Times recalled late in the story: “The Labour government ditched similar plans for road charges 13 years ago after a petition attracted 1.8 million signatures.” Bringing in road pricing in such circumstances would risk a British version of the gilet jaunes suburban and provincial riots that have now lasted almost two years in France.

Coming soon to a country like yours.

Road pricing is not the villain in this mystery, however, though it may be the victim (murdered by numerous Acts of Government.)  The main super-villain, lurking in the background, is the decision taken with all-party support in Britain, echoed in similar decisions taken in Brussels and (shortly) in Washington, to aim for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 which is both unachievable and certain to reduce living standards brutally. The lesser villain which is Son of the First is the decision taken by fiat of the present British government to switch to all-electric cars from 2030 onwards.

It is frivolity on stilts and bound to have terrible results: a hugely expensive electrification of Britain, power supplies nonetheless inadequate to cope with additional demand from EVs nationwide, electricity blackouts on a regular basis, increases in both taxes and electricity prices to pay for this transition, the spread of job losses in the industries that use power, etc., etc., in addition to the problems for motorists and taxpayers described above.

There is only one silver lining to this thunderstorm of clouds: when the policy of forced sales of EVs crashes into reality, it might compel the  Johnson government to reconsider not only that policy but also the larger futility of dragging down the U.K. economy and standard of living by depriving it of the cheap energy that most of the world will still be using.

Switching to EVs is a kind of test drive for the new kind of economic policy: not the betterment of the people but the moral preening of the elites. We'll see if the net-zero carbon economy has survived its first run round the track by, say, January the 1st 2031.

Utopian Ambitions, Hideous Costs

One of the features of the modern world is that as the ambitions of governments expand, their performance deteriorates, and to cope with the hostile reactions that generates, they grow increasingly tyrannical.

Initially, they divert resources from the everyday tasks of government—building roads, stopping crime, defending the country—to pursuing grand projects such as “building Europe” or “saving the world.” Over time their rhetoric catches up with their performance and they claim credit in elections for what they promise to achieve while ignoring or covering up or distracting from their failure to perform government’s essential duties, let alone their lofty ambitions, at all well.

The final stage of this rake’s progress is that they try to suppress information and even debate about the costs and failures of their most cherished policies and condemn their critics for “social” crimes like “ignoring” science or “spreading hate.” Here are a few examples, from several countries, to make the general point:

Take, first, crime. Crime figures always need some interpretation; for instance, this year U.K. statistics have been distorted by the coronavirus pandemic. In Britain there have been fewer home burglaries since the residents have been living at home most of the time. Until this year, however, there have been sharp rises in crimes of violence, including rape, and moderate rises in thefts and burglaries.

The real enemy is the citizenry.

These patterns do not seem to be reflected in increased police concern: residents increasingly complain that the police respond slowly or not at all to notifications of theft and burglary on the grounds that they are “swamped.” On the other hand the police have expanded their interventions in cases of bias expressed on the internet even when they are not crimes (in which cases they have still recorded them as bias “incidents"), and they run campaigns inviting complaints about “hate.”

In addition, legal reforms proposed—in Scotland by the Scottish government, in England by the official Law Commission—will, if enacted into law, criminalize expressions of racial and other prejudice spoken at home around the kitchen table. Earlier generations of Britons would have seen this an unacceptable intrusion of tyranny into the home in pursuit of the mirage of a multi-cultural society without tensions.

In the United States, state and city authorities in those jurisdictions with left-wing Democrat majorities have instructed their police forces not to intervene to protect people and property against attacks by left-wing mobs of social justice warriors. In Britain the police have shown a similar bias in taking the knee during “Black Lives Matter” protests and dancing in the streets with Extinction Rebellion protesters while cracking down on demonstrations against government-imposed coronavirus lockdowns.

All these things show a trashing of the impartiality of law and hint that the police and legal authorities now see their role as regulating the behavior of respectable citizens and their opinions rather than apprehending and punishing criminals.

It’s as if the real threats to freedom and democracy come from ordinary citizens using free speech and the vote to promote their opinions and interests rather than people who believe their ideas are so right and necessary that they can impose them on the rest of us—and that institutions controlled by the latter are maneuvering to find ways of skirting the law to do so.

A related idea in the sphere of economics is the Great Reset advanced by the World Economic Forum, aka Davos Man, which proposes to exploit the Coronavirus Pandemic to usher in a new age of . . .  well, of what exactly? Its proposals (or some of them) were outlined in a video  that predicts our lives will be better in almost every way except that we’ll “own nothing” but also hints heavily that we won’t be choosing this future democratically but will have to adapt to what the World Economic Forum thinks is necessary.

I remember that it asked whether or not the Davos people in the WEF would own anything like the rest of us. And if the reply came that of course they wouldn’t own anything, as I suspected, I would then ask if they would enjoy the traditional perquisites of ownership such as being able to use the property as they wished.

That kind of thing makes a difference to the abolition of private property. Communist apparatchiks and their apparatchiks did not own their dachas, etc., in the early days of social justice, which is why you discover from books such as Milovan Djilas’s New Class that they ensured their children would inherit their jobs in order to get the privileges that went with them.

And about those privileges: as a result of the Great Reset we’re told we won’t be eating much meat, or traveling very far, or keeping “billions” of migrants out of our nations or cities—the prohibition on traveling  apparently doesn’t apply to them—and that we’ll nonetheless be as happy as clams in a plastic-free sea.

Everything clear now?

So much for the future that Davos offers you. Let’s now look at how that kind of utopianism works in practice. Earlier this week the London Times had a bold headlined story announcing that Ministers in the Tory government, notably Chancellor Rishi Sunak, were considering making people pay for using the roads. It was strong stuff:

Rishi Sunak is considering plans to charge motorists for using Britain’s roads amid concerns over a £40 billion tax shortfall created by the switch to electric cars.

A Treasury paper on a new national road pricing scheme has been presented to the chancellor. The government will announce this week that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, which forms part of the prime minister’s ten-point plan on climate change, will be brought forward to 2030.

Downing Street wants to seize the initiative after days of damaging briefings between allies of Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings and his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

Let me first indulge in a little interpretation of how an ambitious editorial writer on The Sun—a job for which Ms. Symonds once applied—might write up this story in a column. How about:

PM’s sweetie tells Boris: Pay! Pay! Pay! “Make Motorists Pay for New Electric Cars, Pay Higher Electricity Prices, And Pay to Drive.”

Unfair? To Ms. Symonds, undoubtedly unfair. She is a devout environmentalist, apparently an eloquent advocate, and the future Mrs. Johnson. Of course, she has some influence on Boris. But she couldn’t prevail against the Treasury, the Cabinet, all the opposition parties, the BBC, the rest of the media, and the pipes and drums of “Not an Energy Company—BP.”

Then again, she wouldn’t have to do so. They’re on her side. All of those powerful bodies have committed themselves strongly to the policy of making the British economy a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050 and thus also to the major step towards it (to be announced, as the Times predicted, this week) of making it illegal to purchase a car driven by the internal combustion engine after 2030.

Well, I’ll leave it there except to point out that this is merely the latest example of what happens when governments declare utopian ambitions and only consider the costs of them as they start coming in. And they have only just started coming in--see my earlier column on the costs of electrifying the whole of Britain to make it hospitable to electric cars.

Electrifying? It will make your hair stand on end.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Distancing

Oh, Boris, you have got to be kidding me! I thought we went over this… herd immunity only comes if we have exposure. I don’t understand how he thinks it’s OK to shut us down again. The small businesses that managed to survive will surely perish in an additional lockdown.

Now what? No restaurants, no gyms, and no chance I can return to California any time soon. Worse yet, this means daddy is having one of his crusty old MP friends round -- to discuss god knows what… probably the 2008 Climate Change Act,  which apparently never changes. And Judith (mummy) is headed to a friend’s house for a socially-distanced coffee; and to avoid getting the dreaded Covid from daddy’s MP friend.

And that’s the thing Boris doesn’t understand… the behaviours of a virus, and the behaviours of a people. Let alone the fact that he wasn’t elected Prime Socialist. But with daddy’s meeting now moved here, I’ll just stay up in my childhood room and avoid all of it.

I want you... to stay at home and cower in the face of the dreaded Covid!

I don’t know how long daddy’s friend was downstairs but I woke up with my legs over the exercise ball and a crick in my neck. Is this what you wanted Boris? I decided to head downstairs and see what we were doing about dinner. Judith’s coffee must have turned into a gin and tonic. She’s nowhere to be found and daddy reported we have frozen steaks and fish fingers, but he’s sure everyone that was open yesterday is doing delivery today. He clicked off the radio and announced,

“We had to know we couldn’t trust a fat man who bicycled around London to be a true conservative.”

“Daddy!”

“Have you seen his bum on a bike or one rational decision since he caught the dreaded Covid? No, you have not.”

I hadn’t. And I knew the £800m cycling initiatives were mostly Sadiq Khan and not Boris but daddy would make the point that the invading cycle lanes had ruined London, and he would be right.

“Well, we know what we are getting with Biden at least” I beamed, “…and it will be fantastic for the environment.”

“Yes, fantastic”, he scoffed. “He promised to decimate the energy industry and I’m sure he’ll do damage enough. Unlike your boyfriend Trudeau… who promised legalised pot and Canada was too stoned to realise that when Alberta goes, so too goes Canada.”

... to ride a bicycle in the dark and the rain.

I knew on this point he was right. I’d heard he and Patrick discussing the death of so many pipeline projects in Canada compared to the very real gains in the US, better for the economy and the environment.

“Well, be that as it may”, I began, “having a green president in the White House has got to be a good thing at the end of the day.

“Got to be?”

“Yes!” I said emphatically.

“Yes, indeed. Let’s look at… you, shall we? You’re a U.S. taxpayer now, and forgetting that your energy-efficient flat and car were provided by the money your dear father earned as a geophysical engineer and responsible oil executive… what will be the really big gains? Top three…”

I ran through a million things in my head, knowing that they all led to higher taxes, lower profits, and business busting results. But I wasn’t giving up on my beloved planet that quickly.

“ Well… upgrades to infrastructure, and a carbon tax, and jobs guarantees…”

“That’s three taxes actually. But the point is I want you to think about the consequence of your passions. The consequence of a carbon tax will mean higher airline fares and might mean fewer seminars for your clients, fewer clients, less income… you see the result, yes?”

"Yes, of course but what’s the alternative?”

“The alternative to what? Socialism?”

“Daddy, it’s not the planet or socialism -

“No, but everything you suggested is,” he said, with a sad finish.

Forward, into the glorious energy future of a carbon tax!

I can’t talk to him when he’s like this. And also I didn’t have any good argument. I went back up to my childhood room to change for dinner and decided to find some evidence in my favour before I let it rest.

My search just kept taking me to coal vs natural gas, and although I already knew that some radical environmentalists despised natural gas, I also  knew their argument was indefensible.

I had covered all this with my father years ago, lest I continue to go on making unfounded arguments. Truth was, that by every metric natural gas is cleaner than coal, it emits 40X less sulphur dioxide, a fraction of the nitrous oxide, almost no mercury, less water, and it’s why carbon emissions from energy declined. Perhaps I’m not in the mood to be right.

Just then I noticed a text from a client asking how I was, and if it was true that Christmas was cancelled in England? Boy, she had some nerve! I had half a mind to write back and ask if it was true that Thanksgiving was cancelled in New York or only moved outside? But I realised that would be as tough to swallow as dry turkey. And mean.

Lockdown redux was getting to me. But apparently not to Judith who I heard coming in downstairs, and by the sound of it had many bags with her. I scrolled past another article entitled How Greed, not Greenpeace Saved the Whales. OMG enough for tonight. I hope she bought cake.