Concerning the Great Elec-Trick

The next time you hear about a proposed measure that promises to lower greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tons per year, consider the following response: “so what?” Many of us grow up thinking that “millions” represents a massive amount of whatever it is we’re counting. The tyranny of millions is a powerful tool when placed in the hands of the PR professionals who push climate change and other environmentally driven agendas.

Replacing incandescent lightbulbs in the United States with LEDs and other technologies that were more energy efficient was supposed to fight climate change by reducing electrical consumption and thus reducing the amount of fossil-fuel electricity generated and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel combustion. I doubt the actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions associated with this program was in the millions on a net basis, since incandescent bulbs generated measurable and useful heat the LEDs do not. But it really doesn’t matter, because when you’re dealing with emissions in the billions of tons per year, a million tons here or there is hardly a blip on the radar.

We’re at the same point with the latest panacea: electric vehicles. Like LED light-bulbs, electrics will save the planet, at least according to dopey reporters and politicians. It’s a toss up whether electric vehicles are a net environmental benefit, however one feels about the "climate change" issue. You have to draw some pretty small boxes in order to make the case.  One box must encompass the electric vehicle alone, specifically its lack of a tailpipe. Without a tailpipe environmentalists can congratulate themselves for not directly introducing any air pollutants into the environment whilst cruising about town. The fact that the ultimate source of the energy involves a lot of fossil fuel combustion seems not to matter, or at least not nearly so much as it mattered during the Great Light Bulb Reformation.

Halfway there.

Nor does the tiny box consider all of the other environmental consequences associate with going electric. This includes items such as the cost of mining and refining the metals needed to make high capacity batteries, the amount of energy needed to do so, and the difficulty of disposing of the batteries when they reach the end of their useful life.

Embracing electric vehicles also necessitates a fanatical belief that unilateral action by America can significantly influence the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We cannot. Moving to electric vehicles, as it appears we are determined to do, will have no measurable effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve reduced so much that further reductions hardly matter. The future use of fossil fuels and the effect of their use on the environment is a discussion that involves China and India alone. Everyone else is merely a bystander.

For example, the once sane state of California recently passed a law that will ban the sale of gasoline powered vehicles within its borders starting in 2035. The California Air Resources Board praised the measure, saying “the proposal will substantially reduce air pollutants that threaten public health and cause climate change.” What exactly constitutes “substantial” reductions? After poking about the Energy Information Administration (EIA) a bit, it appears that making California all electric is pretty inconsequential from an environmental point of view, even if it can be done, which is very doubtful.

The law does not outlaw driving gasoline powered vehicles in the state, it merely bans their sales within the state. Like most draconian measures it’s unlikely that the ban will do much to change the mix of vehicles on the road, it will merely shift where people who chose to drive gasoline powered vehicles purchase them. Automobile dealerships in Oregon, Nevada and Arizona ought to send thank you notes to Sacramento.

While recognizing the implausibility of eliminating use of the internal combustion engine in California, it’s interesting to examine what would happen if such a thing were possible. First of all, California would need to come up with more power – a lot more power. According to EIA data the state consumes about 2,625 trillion Btu of energy annually producing electricity. Motor vehicles consume an additional 1,465 trillion Btu of energy from gasoline. If one is not using gasoline, the energy has to come from somewhere. The 1,465 trillion Btu represents around 21,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity that would have to be added to the grid. That’s about as much energy as a mid-sized state like Illinois requires on a typical summer day.

Gonna need a lot more of these things.

Currently, wind and solar power represent about 20 percent of California’s energy portfolio, generating about 7,000 megawatts on average. If all the additional electrical demand is to be met by wind and solar, they would have to quadruple that portion of their portfolio. Possible? Maybe. Expensive? More and more eyesores? More and more bird strikes? More and more rolling blackouts? You bet.

Would the woke "sustainable" fantasy save planet Earth? Ignoring the fact that building and operating all those windmills and solar farms involves the use of fossil fuels, and also ignoring the fact that you’d have to have fossil-fired backup power because neither wind nor sunlight are reliable energy sources, you get a theoretical carbon dioxide emissions reduction of about 24 million tons per year.

Sure, 24 million tons sounds like a big number, but it’s really not. That’s about as much China emits every 12 hours. Or to look at it another way, given that global carbon dioxide emissions are about 36 billion tons per year, California’s fantasy would reduce that number by about 0.03 percent.

The simple fact is that if you really think we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it’s all about China. America could reduce her greenhouse gas emissions to zero and the amount of carbon dioxide would still continue to increase based on China’s past and projected rate of growth. Did you know, for example, that last year world wide coal consumption hit an all-time high? That didn’t happen because of coal-fired power plants in the United States. Our coal fired generation capacity continues to dwindle. The bulk of the coal is going to China and, to a lesser extent, India.

But we are talking California, so solving a make-believe problem using a pretend solution shouldn’t surprise anyone. As far as environmental policies go, California remains Fantasyland, and Tinkerbell rules.

Is Water Racist? Isn't Everything?

It is not news that California has a severe water shortage, and in fact “shortage” is too mild a term, as the once golden state has been under an official “state of emergency” for the last several years, which enables the government to impose strict rationing on water use. California’s water shortage is a combination of several drought years, along with a deliberate disinvestment in water infrastructure over the last several decades. California hasn’t built any significant new water projects or a single dam in more than 40 years, even as the state’s population has nearly doubled. In other words, California’s water problems are more artificial—that is, political—than natural.

The best example of the political distortion of California’s water supply can be seen in the fact that despite officially declaring water to be a “fundamental human right,” human access to water has taken a back seat to the Delta Smelt, a tiny fish whose endangered status has led to court rulings that the fish has greater claim on California’s water supplies than humans do. Trillions of gallons of fresh water have been diverted from human use to save the Delta Smelt over the last few years, making a mockery of the “human right” to water.

Who smelt'd it, Delta'd it.

So what is California’s extensive water bureaucracy most worried about right now? Racism and “equity,” of course.

Last year California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), explicitly responding to the suddenly discovered legacy of “white supremacy” and “the national and worldwide backlash against racism toward Black people and related Black Lives Matter protests of 2020,” passed a nine-page resolution (accompanied by 47 pages of “reference literature”), headlined “Condemning Racism, Xenophobia, Bigotry, and Racial Injustice and Strengthening Commitment to Racial Equality, Diversity, Inclusion, Access, and Anti-Racism.” One might have thought “inclusion” would have involved mentioning homophobia and Islamophobia, too, except that Black Lives Matter and their supporters get very angry when you mention the importance of any non-black group.

This cliché-ridden piece of predictable performance posturing is a case study of several intertwined traits of progressive governance today. California’s State Water Resources Control Board (and nine regional subordinate water boards) dates back to the 1960s, and was initially charged with monitoring the state’s water with an eye to detecting and remediating pollution from major sources such as industrial production, agricultural runoff, wastewater, and natural sources of unhealthy water. Surface and subsurface water quality is one of the more challenging environmental problems the nation faces because of the wide variety of ways water quality can be degraded, so it is not surprising that water monitors and regulators have a large range of factors to manage, from underground storage tanks to—in California’s case—the effects of specialized industries such as winemaking to, more recently, cannabis cultivation.

But as with all bureaucracies, mission creep and the political imperative of ever larger budgets and staff always leads to inexorable growth of power and reach, even as its primary original mission remains unfulfilled. Naturally the Board now includes "climate change" as one of its primary concerns, and “public outreach” and education—essentially propaganda and self-congratulation—as key functions. It is not surprising that it would jump on the anti-racist bandwagon along with everyone else in Leftist government.

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It almost doesn’t matter whether the issue is water, air pollution, or access to food stores (the “food desert” argument). The by-the-numbers racism-all-the-way-down playbook is essentially the same. Any statistical disparity between races on any measure is taken as proof of racist intent and latent “white supremacy.” The state board's resolution declares as a matter of fact:

Historically, decision-makers representing government agencies used race to establish structures and systems that continue to deliver disparate outcomes, including wealth, health, educational, and environmental inequities.

No proof is offered for this sweeping statement, but in typical fashion the resolution attempts to overwhelm readers with a pile of “reference literature,” no doubt compiled by a university “racial justice studies” department, all detailing statistical disparities unfavorable to minorities, as though this proves racist intent. It leads to the resolution’s conclusion: “In fact, race is the strongest predictor of water and sanitation access.”

It sounds persuasive until you notice what is missing from this body of “evidence”—income correlation and time. If you ask about poverty rather than race, you find virtually the same result. In other words, race is really a proxy for poverty, especially in California, which has the highest poverty rate in the nation thanks to “progressive” economic policies that throttle economic growth and opportunity especially for low-income minorities. But even the race or poverty measurements often don’t hold up under close scrutiny. A good example elsewhere is coal ash tailings. Environmental justice warriors have long alleged that hazardous coal ash tailings are disproportionately located near minority populations, though an EPA study found that most coal ash tailings are located in majority white areas.

To the extent that minorities live near chemical plants, refineries, landfills, or poor public infrastructure, it is usually for the simple reason that the cost of living is cheaper there, and the record shows that low-income people settle in such areas for that very reason. From the environmental justice rhetoric, you’d think oil refineries were built next to low-income minorities on purpose, when the reverse is nearly always the case in California: the refinery or chemical factory preceded local neighborhood settlement. (Most or all of these towns and neighborhoods have long been run by Democrats, it should be noted.)

Maybe a few more of these would help.

The SWRCB resolution is long on the typical critical race theory language of pervasive racism, but remarkably short on remedies, beyond more funding—always more funding. But also more “empowerment” of marginalized voices, which means de facto quotas (though this is now called “diversity”), as this passage makes clear:

The Water Boards’ workforce does not reflect the racial composition of the state. United States Census Bureau data collected via the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) show that 37 percent of California’s population is white, yet the Water Boards’ workforce census data from 2020 show that 57 percent of the Water Boards’ workforce and 69 percent of the Water Boards’ management is white... The Water Boards’ plan directs hiring managers and supervisors to take specific short-term actions to improve workforce diversity while a more holistic plan is being developed.

One statistical disparity none of these reports and studies ever address is whether higher minority representation leads to lower disparities of outcomes. Last week the EPA finally determined that the water in Jackson, Mississippi, was safe to drink again, after several months of a public emergency because Jackson’s water treatment facilities were in disarray. Water treatment is a local government responsibility, and Jackson’s African-America mayor and city council were clearly negligent in their management of their water infrastructure. Mere “equity” in representation doesn’t assure better outcomes for the very people the environmental justice warriors claim to care about.

And if Democrat-run California really wants to supply more abundant, high-quality water for everyone, is should start building dams and water projects again, as California Democrats used to do on a large scale before “progress” became the perverse creed it is today.

California's Slow-Speed Train to Fiscal Oblivion

Late last week came news that even California progressives recognized as a sign of peak nonsense in the Golden State’s gold-plated misgovernment: San Francisco was beginning the planning process to build a single-toilet public restroom at a cost of... $1.7 million. Even Gov. Gavin Newsom, embarrassed by the publicity for this absurdity, has demanded the state funding be revoked. The toilet debacle is routine in today’s California, where in urban areas it now costs over $1 million to build an apartment unit, if you can get a building permit at all.

But all of these egregious examples of misgovernment pale before the greatest flushing of taxpayer cash of all time: California’s high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. After years of cheerleading from former governor and perpetual public employee Jerry Brown among others, the proposal to link California’s two major metropolitan areas with high-speed rail was finally launched in 2008 with a ballot initiative providing an initial $9.9 billion in bonds for the project that ludicrously claimed would only cost around $33 billion to complete.

No one under the age of reason believed that cost estimate, for the simple reason that virtually every rail transit project in America over the last 50 years has typically cost at least twice initial estimates, with ridership levels often less than half of forecast while operating costs inevitably balloon. Yet somehow the rail-consultant-engineering complex proceeds from boondoggle to boondoggle without embarrassment or consequence.

By 2012 the estimated cost of the project had doubled, and suddenly the “bullet” train that initially promised to whisk people between L.A. and the Bay Area at 220 miles per hour would be slowed down to an average speed closer to 150 miles an hour, as the route would employ some conventional tracking to save costs. And because of local opposition especially in the Bay Area that produced the predictable environmental lawsuits, the route began construction of a tiny portion of the line in a sparsely settled portion of the central valley, with the final route through geologically and seismically challenging mountains at both ends to be determined later. Meanwhile, ticket prices initially promised at $50 would now be about $125.

Now flash forward another decade, and the cost has nearly doubled again, to $113 billion—if the project is ever completed at all, which is now unlikely. It has become such a conspicuous disaster that even the New York Times finally took notice, with a long feature article recently about how California’s high-speed but low-intelligence project “went off the rails” and became “a nightmare.” The most shocking part of the Times takedown was not its recounting of the soaring costs, the appalling bureaucracy, and the petty corruption—facts that have been well known and widely reported in California from the beginning—but the comments of experienced foreign high-speed rail operators from Japan and France, who pulled out of collaborating with California early when it became obvious that the project was going to be comically inept:

“There were so many things that went wrong,” Mr. [SNCF’s Dan] McNamara said. “SNCF was very angry. They told the state they were leaving for North Africa [in 2011], which was less politically dysfunctional. They went to Morocco and helped them build a rail system.” Morocco’s bullet train started service in 2018.

You know things have reached peak absurdity when North African countries are more functional than California. Even if the medium-speed rail line could be completed at a reasonable cost, it was never a sensible idea in the first place, at any price.

The left’s fixation with rail transit in general, and high-speed rail in particular, is puzzling. Why a creed that purports to be future-oriented and about “progress” embraces a 19th century technology for 21st century mobility needs—whether intra-urban or intercity—tells us a lot about how progressive ideology consistently trumps facts. Progressives who envy the high-speed rail projects in Japan and Europe ignore one crucial fact about those systems (beyond their heavy ongoing subsidies): they are geographically compact nations with much higher population densities, making rail travel more convenient and cost-effective than air travel in most cases.

All aboard le Train à Grande Vitesse

France is the same size as Texas, and most of its intercity high-speed rail lines are much shorter than the LA-SF trip would be. Japan as a long high-speed line that takes 13 hours from Tokyo to Fukuoka, but unlike California’s line stops along the way at several large population centers, with short-distance riders accounting for most of its passenger traffic.

Even if California’s rail line traveled at 220 miles per hour for its entire route, it would still be much quicker and cheaper to fly from the Southland to the Bay Area. Amtrak’s Acela corridor in the northeast is the only rail route in America than competes effectively with air travel, as the two-hour forty-five minute trip from downtown D.C. to midtown Manhattan or Wall Street is preferable to flying the airline shuttle.

But basic geography along with time-and-distance calculation are lost on dreamy Lotus Land progressives. Think only of the initial version of the “Green New Deal,” where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez envisioned nationwide high-speed rail replacing air travel, which is as impossible as repealing gravity. Very few people are going to take high-speed rail from New York to Chicago, not to mention Los Angeles.

The left’s quest for the holy rail is ultimately of a piece with their love affair with European social democracy, with its more regimented and conformist society. It also likely reflects their hatred of the automobile and the individual autonomy it has enabled in our vast country for a century. “Getting people out of their cars” has been a deranged obsession of the left for decades, made more urgent in recent years by the left’s desire to stop Americans from listening to conservative talk radio. Rail is yet another dead-end, but it will take more than flashing warning lights from the New York Times to get progressives to wake up.

How Do We Stop California from Throwing Its Weight Around?

California is the American Left's biggest asset and its biggest liability. It is a liability because it clearly demonstrates to the world what unfettered "progressive" governance looks like: out-of-control crime, through-the-roof taxation, an inhumane regulatory regime, insane gas prices, the constant threat of blackouts, and a government so divorced from reality that it is unable to actually accomplish anything.

If you need proof on the last point, check out the New York Times' recent deep-dive into the state's "multi-billion-dollar nightmare" of a high-speed rail system, which has seen its cost projections rise from $33 billion to $113 billion, is currently costing $1.8 million a day, and which will almost certainly never be completed. And for all the Left's bellyaching about "income inequality," the Golden State is the poster child for that concept. As Victor Davis Hanson once wrote,

By many criteria, 21st-century California is both the poorest and the richest state in the union. Almost a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Another fifth is categorized as near the poverty level — facts not true during the latter 20th century. A third of the nation’s welfare recipients now live in California. The state has the highest homeless population in the nation (135,000). About 22 percent of the nation’s total homeless population reside in the state — whose economy is the largest in the U.S., fueling the greatest numbers of American billionaires and high-income zip codes.

Unsurprisingly, Californians of all political persuasions have been fleeing in droves, which has led to the state's losing a congressional seat (and therefore a vote in the electoral college) in the wake of the 2020 census. But even with that population shift, California is still the largest state in the union, the 400-poound gorilla of the U.S.A., which is why it remains an asset. It has the ability to throw a lot of weight around.

Sacramento's acting out again.

Case in point: this past August, the California Air Resources Board approved Governor Gavin Newsom's directive banning the sale of carbon-emitting (that is, gasoline- and diesel-driven) vehicles in the Golden State by the year 2035. This will have major repercussions for the automobile industry nationwide. Manufacturers, unwilling to be locked out of the California market and its 39 million perspective customers, will shift their development priorities towards EVs. So if this rule remains in effect, it will be increasingly difficult to purchase a non-E.V. as 2035 draws near.

There's another reason that California's environmental regulations is putting pressure on auto-manufacturers: in 2009 the state was granted a waiver by the Obama administration regarding the Clean Air Act which allows it to set harsher emissions limits than the national standard, an authority the Trump administration attempted to revoke and the Biden White House reestablished. Seventeen states have tied their emissions standards to California's, with New York State recently taking the plunge. New York governor Kathy Hochul said that, in light of government subsidies for charging stations and vehicles themselves, “you will have no more excuses” not to buy an E.V. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board correctly translates this sentiment: "You will have no more choice."

One state, at least, is trying to abstract itself from this scheme. Virginia signed onto Sacramento's emissions standards in 2021, under former governor Ralph Northam. That same year saw the election of Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, whose tenure in office has seen him declare war on the destructive policies of his predecessor. He has signed executive orders banning Critical Race Theory, rescinding the state's school mask mandate, and beginning the process of withdrawing Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (another plot to remove environmental regulation from the realm of democratic oversight). And now he's turned his attention towards bringing emissions standards back home to Richmond.

Youngkin's 2022 state energy plan, released earlier this month, called on state legislators to reverse the alignment with California, and Republicans in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates of delegates are answering the call. Any repeal, however, will have to make it through the state senate, where the Democrats are in the majority.

Still, we wish Governor Youngkin well in his efforts, along with the attorneys general of the seventeen Republican-led states which are currently suing the Environmental Protection Agency in the hopes of getting the Golden State's Clean Air Act waiver revoked. After all, if Leftists are successful in turning the whole country into California, there will be nowhere left to flee to.

Stein's Law Meets 'ESG' Investing

The late conservative economist Herb Stein was the author of a law of economics that says “If something cannot go on forever it will stop.” Pessimists looking at China’s Great Leap Forward or the Soviet Union’s Lysenkoism-induced famine remind us that even if that “something” stops it can often cause immeasurable harm until it finally does.

The California Public Employee’s Retirement System (CALPERS) which controls $444 billion in assets for the benefit of two million state public employees, retirees, and families is certainly putting Stein’s law to the test. For twelve years it has been using those assets contrary to sound fiduciary principles, choosing instead to purchase stocks based on the notion of companies’ ESG (social, environmental and governance ) practices. In 2010, it committed $500 million to such investments.

Oops.

Heather Gilbert in the Wall Street Journal reports the sad state of this new virtue signaling investment policy:

The nation’s largest pension fund got a scathing performance review Monday when its new investment chief highlighted the retirement system’s underperforming returns and estimated it missed out on $11 billion in gains during a “lost decade” for private equity.

The unusually candid presentation to board members of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as Calpers, showed returns lagging behind other large pensions in almost every asset class during the past 10 years, with private equity trailing the most, 1.3 percentage points. ... We underperformed every one of our peers on the upside, all with the promise that when we got to the downside we would be better protected than other funds,” Terry Brennand, director of budget, revenue and pensions for the Service Employees International Union’s branches in California, said during the public comment portion of Monday’s investment committee meeting. Instead, “we continued to underperform our peers.”

As a matter of fact, more than just its private equity portfolio underperformed other large pension funds. Calpers ESG portfolio underperformed other large pension funds in stocks and income. But its officers seem to see no connection between these policies and the fund’s poor performance.

As the Journal’s James Freeman reports, last year Calpers asked one of the most successful firms, Berkshire Hathaway, to provide “more disclosures on climate-related risks and opportunities” and withheld its votes to re-elect members of Berkshire’s audit and governance committees because it was unhappy with their climate risk disclosures.

One can certainly argue that Berkshire’s performance in recent years could have been better, but does anyone think Calpers officials have a better understanding of investment risk than Warren Buffett? Calpers’ disappointing decade is another reminder that taking care of retirees’ investments requires profits, not politics.

Corporate returns are likely to be far worse this year. How long can Calpers continue playing politics with public employees’ money? Alas, Herb Stein is not around to take a guess, but ours is: indefinitely, until it can't.

California's Electric Boogaloo to Nowheresville

No sooner does California move to ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and force everyone to buy electric cars than it announces, oh by the way, please don’t charge your electric cars last weekend because we’re going to be short of power as three-digit temperatures strain the grid. And turn your thermostats up to 78 while you’re at it.

Perhaps California will have figured out a way of expanding its carbon-free electricity sources and grid capacity in the next decade, and the recent week’s lopsided vote in the state legislature to keep open its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which supplies nearly 10 percent of California total electricity at present, is a sign that energy reality is starting to intrude. But even if the dreams of a “carbon-free” California somehow come true over the next two decades, the electric car diktat represents a stark new moment in our green madness.

Gavin Newsom: now hear this, peasants.

Never mind that the electric car mandate was promulgated not by the elected state legislature, but by the eco-crats at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), representing yet another example of the administrative state in action. And never mind that the lifecycle environmental impacts (including carbon emissions) of the vast supply-chain for electric cars and their material-intensive batteries are nearly as large as conventional hydrocarbon vehicle. The strangest aspect of the scene is that the biggest enthusiasts for the electric car mandate are America’s auto manufacturers.

Barron’s magazine reported last month: The Biggest Fans of California’s No-Gas Policy? Ford and GM. “General Motors and California have a shared vision of an all-electric future,” said GM’s spokesperson Elizabeth Winter. “We’re proud of our partnership with California,” Ford’s “chief sustainability officer,” Bob Holycross, said in a statement. In Detroit-speak, “partnership” is today’s patois for “take orders from the government.” It was fashionable after the automakers were bailed out in 2009 to refer to GM as “Government Motors,” but today the label truly fits. The political takeover of the auto industry, long in the making, is now complete.

One way to perceive this slow-motion takeover more clearly is to ask why cars from every automaker now look the same. Most cars models now are squat, with teardrop-shaped bodies, nearly interchangeable with models from other manufacturers. Even high-end SUVs like the Ford Explorer or Range Rover are shorter and rounder than their predecessor models of just a few years ago. This is likely not a response to changing taste in car buyers, like tail fins in the late 1950s. A primary driver of current design are aerodynamic requirements to help meet the government-mandated fleet fuel-economy standards that have been slowly ratcheted up over the last decade.

Some years ago I met in Washington with senior executives from one of the big-three Detroit automakers to talk about energy and environmental policy, and how it affected their industry. They said that their single biggest problem in planning for the future was less the uncertainty of government regulation than wildly fluctuating gasoline prices. If car makers could predict what gasoline prices would be over the next decade, they’d know what kind of cars to build. When gas prices are low, consumers like SUVs; when gas prices are high, they shift on a dime to smaller, higher mileage cars. Car companies may see a shift to an all-electric car fleet as a means to ending the boom-and-bust cycle that has afflicted the industry for decades. Never mind that electricity rates are likely to become more volatile as we “green” the supply, as Europe is learning to its chagrin right now. And Californians already pay twice as much for electricity as the national average.

Pray it keeps working.

Beyond the final submission of the auto companies to our green commissars, there are a number of other ways California’s electric car mandate represents a step increase in the ambition of the climate crusaders. California has long enjoyed the privilege under federal law of setting its own tailpipe emissions standards for autos sold in the state that were tougher than national standards (a power the Trump Administration sought to curtail—and a lawsuit remains in process). Because auto makers didn’t want to manufacture two different kinds of cars (or surrender the California market), the California standard effectively became the national standard.

It’s one thing to impose a product performance standard; it’s another thing to ban a product that would be legal in the other 49 states. This may run afoul of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, especially if California prohibits bringing gasoline-powered cars into the state. One can imagine a market for gasoline-powered cars sold just over state lines, and delivered to California buyers by Carvana or some other enterprise. Will the state attempt to “retire” the existing gasoline-powered vehicles in the state and close down gas stations? Look for a flourishing black market for gas and diesel. And the next wave of demand for H1B visas will be for Cuban auto mechanics, who are skilled in keeping gasoline-powered cars running for decades.

As it did with emissions standards, California likely thinks it can strong-arm other states or Congress to adopt its electric-car mandate. Texas (among other states) might have something to say about that. And what if car companies and consumers don’t go along with this extravagant target? The New York Times reported a crucial caveat:

To enforce its rule . . . California would fine automakers up to $20,000 for every car that falls short of production targets. The state also could propose new amendments revising the sales targets if the market doesn’t react as state leaders hope, said Jennifer Gress, who leads the California air board’s sustainable transportation division. [Emphasis added.]

Cuban mechanics wanted.

That language about “amendments” is the Emily Litella “never mind” clause. It has happened before. In a prequel to the current madness, in the early 1990s California tried to mandate that 5 percent of all new cars sold by the year 2001 be emission-free, which meant electric cars in practice. GM publicized lots of happy talk about its EV-1, a crappy electric car that cost six-figures (though it was “leased” at an implied purchase price of about $35,000), had a pathetically short range (50 miles on a good day), and took several hours to recharge. Not long before the mandate was set to take effect, it was quietly abandoned.

Electric cars have gotten much better in recent years, but in a state where lots of drivers travel well beyond the range of an electric vehicle every day, EVs still won’t meet the needs of a large number of Californians—never mind citizens of rural states that need vehicles that can run all day long. Look for history to repeat itself with the California EV mandate.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Concoursing

Surprisingly I couldn’t get anyone to go join me at this year’s Salon Privé. It’s not a ‘must-do' but I didn’t expect a flat ‘no’ across the board. Daddy and Judith are in Italy, my school chums are everywhere but London, and even my ex, Patrick, is in New York watching tennis. So it will just be me and my Gemma Chan squiggle dress.

I’m hoping the tone will not be dour given the likely end of the fuel-powered car. It’s early days but with California promising to ban this planet-killing transport, the world is likely to follow. And follow they should. I was an early adopter having purchased a Tesla car and solar panels well before Elon Musk bailed on California. As to blaming cars for the demise of our planet… Daddy and I have gone round and round on this subject. He likes to remind me that Britain was once a peninsula of continental Europe until the Channel was flooded by rising sea levels about 8,000 years ago—well before cars. But as I’ve explained to him—we can’t just ignore the science, no matter what history says.

This way to the egress, Boris.

I budgeted two hours drive to Blenheim which should be sufficient except for traffic getting out of London due to all the stupid bike lanes. Of course I’m not saying that bicycling is stupid, only putting so many lanes in an already-congested city has just made for more traffic. And stalled traffic means more CO2. Plus no one is really using the lanes anyway. So was it any wonder Boris got caught cycling outside of his own proscribed covid-zone? It was also his bright idea that bikes become ‘as commonplace as black cabs and red buses’. I mean, really! No one would get anywhere.

It took me a while to find the non-preferential parking, which meant a ten-minute walk to the main entrance on one’s choice of grass or gravel. UGH! Obviously some man with wide feet and a love for sensible shoes had managed this. Making a quick trip to the ladies' I sorted myself out, but I overheard complaints about people having taken the train to Hanborough where there was no taxi rank. Seriously? It was the car event of the season and everyone was walking way more than they wished.

Making my way to the gallery I met an American who introduced himself as ‘Ken’. I was hoping he’d be a candidate to talk about making cars carbon-neutral but he seemed only to want to talk about his ’54 Corvette mule car that he’d shipped over. Oh how he went on about this particular 'vette—and his other 250 cars. I had half a mind to ask if he, like Prince Charles, had any that ran on leftover wine and cheese but thought better of it. My guess of course, was no because he mentioned if you’re lucky you’ll see flames come out of the back end. FLAMES! Not exactly carbon-neutral. I tried easing into a meaningful conversation but it was no use. He didn’t know who I was, he didn’t know who my clients were, and he was impressed by shooting flames.

By contrast the next person I met was Bill Ford, of the Model-T Fords. The Fords didn’t pre-date the Churchills but at an event like this he was no less impressive. Also he knew who I was, and announced that he, too, was an environmentalist. Why had I spent so much time talking to Mr Fire-Butt? Bill had grown up with many thinking his family the enemy. To a lesser degree I had carried the guilt of a father who was the top geophysical engineer in the oil industry. Talk about kismet! I was sure we’d partner in some way to move toward carbon neutrality in the automotive industry. This was exciting. I quickly dazzled him with the work I’d done, and my near-encyclopaedic knowledge of the issue at hand. He didn’t interrupt so I continued on explaining my position and the path we needed to take in order to avoid extinction.

Don't blame me, Greenies.

He led me into the Aviva Pavilion and excused himself briefly. I texted my father to tell him the good news. Daddy texted back ‘Hold your horses’.

What?? ‘THIS IS DIVINE PROVIDENCE!’ I texted back.

‘I doubt it’. Was his response. ‘I’m not saying you can’t find common ground and achieve your end but talk to him about something YOU know. Like traffic jams. And how Boris has it all wrong. Tell him that four billion clean cars is still four billion cars on the road. Tell him that restrictions on movement in the name of global warming is not the answer’.

What? OMG NO! Daddy had it all wrong. When Bill came back I told him I owned one of the first Teslas. Bill beamed and said ‘Then you understand! Clean cars alone are not the solution’.

‘Uhhhhh…correct!’ I said. ‘Four billion clean cars is still four billion cars’.

‘YES!’ He roared.

‘And…restrictions on movement in the name of global warming is not the answer’.

‘THANK YOU!’ He said. ‘You know, the freedom to move about the country is by far the greatest thing my grandfather, Henry, created. I aim to preserve that, so obviously I’m against banning cars, and we both agree that more bikes and more smart cars is just—more. Unfortunately some are trying to ban the very thing my grandfather created—the freedom to move about the country. If we allow this next they’ll be rationing energy. Yet global gridlock will stifle productivity. Maybe we need underground roads.

‘Correct’. I said again, baffled.

'Would you be interested in partnering with me on an interconnected system of intelligent transport?'

’‘I would indeed’, I said. And that is all I said. Because clearly I could not have said it better myself. Wait 'til I tell Daddy...

California's Dreaming

We've all had the experience of scheduling an unpleasant event at a point so far into the future that it feels like it will never actually come. Of course, it always does -- that doctor's appointment you set for dreary February back in sunny June comes round eventually, no matter what you do.

This is a problem the environmentalists have been struggling with of late. First, because they've been making dire (and specific) climatological predictions for decades that never seem to come true. (Remember when New York City was supposed to have been underwater by the year 2015?) But also, because they've been thoughtlessly committing to policies favored by their leftist supporters they can't possible fulfill. Just a few years ago, mandating that transitions to "green" energy sources must happen by 2025 or 2030 felt like a way of doing something without actually doing anything. But today, in 2022, they're just around the corner.

Case in point -- California's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, scheduled since 2016 to close by 2025. In 2016, one might have imagined that within a decade the vast majority of electricity would be produced by wind turbines and solar panels and we'd all get around in Jetsons-style flying cars powered by our sense of self-satisfaction. But in the year of Our Lord 2022 we're in the midst of an energy crisis, with sky-rocketing prices for gasoline and electricity.

Texas, one of America's major energy producers, had a massive power failure less than two years ago, causing hundreds of deaths and billions in damage. And Germany -- possessed by what has been called the "world’s dumbest energy policy" -- is gearing up for winter-long energy shortages because of their own mad plan of unnecessarily decommissioning nuclear power plants even as Russia has been cutting off their flow of natural gas.

Diablo Canyon: the devil is in the details.

Which is to say, this is a terrible time for California to shut down a power plant, especially one that supplies nearly 10 percent of the state's power as Diablo Canyon does, its largest single energy source. Consequently, Gov. Gavin Newsom has spent the past few months calling for the plant's closure to be postponed until 2035. He's even proposed giving Pacific Gas & Electric Co. -- the company that owns and operates the plant -- a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to encourage them to keep the juice flowing, and exempting them from state environmental regulations that the most extreme environmentalists might use to tie up the extension in court.

Newsom's motives aren't pure -- he has his eyes on the White House, maybe as soon as 2024 if the Democrats decide they can't keep up their current Weekend at Bernie's act for another election cycle. That's not happening if the Golden State can't keep its lights on. It would tarnish his reputation, as it did two decades ago when Newsom's predecessor, "Gray-out" Davis, failed to stop California's rolling blackouts, leading to his recall, when he was replaced a Republican.

And it is worth noting that postponing the closure by a decade is just another instance of kicking the can down the road. The bet is -- as it was in 2016 -- that by then wind and solar energy concerns will have solved the intermittency problem (which have been known to cause nighttime rolling blackouts across the state, as solar panels stop contributing to the mix) and developed scalable battery tech which would allow them to pick up the slack from nuclear and traditional energy sources.

They're dreaming. But if they succeed at keeping Diablo Canyon running, it's a dream they can entertain at least for a little while longer.

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Davosing

Hello Davos at long last! It feels a little weird—being here in summer, and also like the prom date who's been stood up four times. but Davos is on, and there are 1,500 private planes here to prove it. I’d hired an assistant named Mila for the conference because I couldn’t very well be seen setting up my own meetings or trying to get myself into parties. I had several invites already but you never really do know which ones will be the hot ticket until you get here.  I’d also set her to the task of sorting out a driver.

A summer conference meant summer clothes, and I refused to be clomping around in wedge-sandals just because modern pavement hadn’t met old Europe. This is among the things Americans find particularly galling and I am starting to agree with them. Hotels never advertise the abysmal water pressure, the inability to use a hairdryer in bathroom, or the two children’s beds shoved together and presented as a king. 

I walked through the Partner’s Lounge after checking in with hospitality and could see there were very few women, in addition to a thousand fewer attendees than in previous years. It was hard to know if the drop-off in attendance was rising anti-elitist sentiment, or Putin's war in Ukraine, but many of the A-listers weren’t coming at all. Not Biden, or Boris, or Macron, or Prince Charles or even Greta. And not even Jamie Dimon, which was a double blow because Jamie’s always liked me, and it meant no JP Morgan Chase-hosted suite. Boo! In its geographic place this year is the Covid testing area, to which we all had to submit upon arrival.

Welcome to the World Environmental Forum.

Mila arrived on foot, and with a local bus map mumbling something about Line 4 (Flüelastrasse). Bus? This wasn’t going well. I was going to have to skip the second half of Xi Jinping to get ready for the India Today party.  It’s just as well, it was hard for me not to focus on the singular-plural mismatch by Xi’s translator. Also I wasn’t happy Klaus opened with Xi. I know we are the World Economic Forum but let’s be honest, the environment is our focus and I won’t give China any credit in that department. Detractors may find us duplicitous (we really should be called the World Environmental Forum) but they don’t grasp how important it is to do our fine work by any means necessary.

India Today went all out for the party, even if it wasn’t terribly exclusive. India itself had the biggest presence at the conference and they wanted to make sure everyone knew it. They had a hundred CEOs and a dozen government leaders. They insist its ‘India’s Century’, that they have the talent pool, and that they played a critical role in vaccinations. Did they? I seem to only remember Donald Trump saying he personally saved two million lives with his vaccine. But tonight I am to accept that India contributed the most. Maybe. But the planet is my passion and as for India… it was #2 on my environmental offender list, and I didn’t have a #3.  

Also missing from this year’s conference were every single one of my clients. It was just as well because the theme seemed to be bullseyes on the billionaires. And I was having a tough time squaring this because everyone that I work with is committed to zero carbon emissions and doing what they can to save our planet.

Day two came both bright and early. Perhaps one too many Mumbai Mules. The last I remembered was a back-and-forth between California’s Darrell Issa and England’s Nick Clegg.  I don’t know anything about Mr Issa but the most interesting thing about Nick is his wife and he turned up without her. Separate from that, I’ll never understand why he thought it smart to tell GQ he had bedded ‘not more than thirty women’ but I think he will always be remembered for his failed attempt to reform the House of Lords. All of this escaped Mr Issa, an American congressman who used to chair something called ‘The Oversight Committee’. That kept me laughing most of the night. 

Klaus Schwab

And the winner is...

Today I get my Schwab Foundation Award! I wanted to wear an asymmetrical Armani knit but I was afraid it wouldn’t photograph well so I opted for a sustainable label. No sooner had I stepped off the stage, I was rushed by a pre-pubescent prat sporting the dreaded orange (press) badge. UGH! He wasn’t here to congratulate me either. He launched into a rant against Barclays (the presenter of the awards). Seriously? How dare you! I’m the bug hostess, and my efforts may just make the difference between saving the planet and not! Plus I was kind of hoping I might parlay this into a stakeholder position with Barclays. ‘By the way, Barclays—you idiot—just set aside £17m for a sustainable impact programme’, I said, moving away from him. ‘…and they provide menopause support to retain their top talent!’

I think the last bit shocked him but he yelled back, ’Barclays' renewable energy banking chief has served on the board of the Sierra Club!’ 

‘Well yay Barclays!’ I retorted, really trying to lose him this time. Why is everybody so cranky post-Covid?

He wouldn't stop. ‘But the Sierra Club has been killing off nuclear plants around the U.S., while taking money from renewable energy companies. Turns out it’s a very lucrative business’. 

UGH! He had me and I knew it. Nuclear is by far the safest way to make reliable electricity and its particulate matter is insignificant compared to the particulate matter from fossil-and biomass-burning homes, cars, and power plants, which kill more than eight million people a year. I said nothing and left the room. It was day three and I was sure to let security know one of the orange tags had slipped through and harassed me. Orange Man Bad! as the saying goes.

I decided to interview a few folks myself, to discuss the things I wished to discuss and was heading straight for Henry Kissinger when Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of UNAIDS thrust herself into my mic. Oh Lord. Keep it light I thought, as she jumped right in. ‘Extreme inequality is out of control, it’s undermining our economies, and fueling crime’, she said. 

‘Thank you’.  I said. I'd heard her speak earlier. She thought if anyone has any more than another, it qualified as inequality and someone was cheating. ‘We don't want countries to simply come to Davos, we want them to put the burden on companies and rich people'. She used the example that in 1970 the top  tax rates were around 62 percent and that today they've been 'negotiated down by rich people’. 

‘Do you know I work with poultry workers in the richest country  in the world?  The United States?  And the poultry worker I spoke to has to wear diapers because she is not allowed to go to the bathroom.  These companies pay their CEOs well and cheat workers down the line’. 

Of course I didn’t know any of this, nor did I believe it,  but she wouldn't shut up so I googled it on my phone to find that the average salary of a poultry worker is $29,000 a year or about $14.10 per hour. No mention if that included diapers. ‘Do you know that $170 billion of profits, every single year, does not  get taxed? Think about that, $170 billion a year that is not given to others to support themselves', she banged on.

No diapers and 14 bucks an hour too!

There was no point explaining to her that all profits were not owed to someone else, and that if every country that came to Davos was forced into 'the burden of high taxation' no one would come here. This she called inequality. And  she went on about how 'jobs were not enough… people need dignified jobs'.  Fascinating really. This woman from Uganda, now making a quarter of a million dollars a year, was telling me that American jobs were not dignified--enough. And failure to hand over profits was stealing.  'Not dignified enough',  she insisted.  

I wanted to ask if she knew there were nearly ten million slaves in Africa but I did not.  But more than that, I wanted her to shut up. Apparently she had checked with the IMF and they told her, companies could afford to pay more. And in her mind that translated to must. This she explained, would fight climate change because apparently with more money, the first thing people  do is become passionate about their carbon footprint.

I tried to interject, and eventually I said:  'As I haven’t the occupational garments of those poultry women… I really must excuse myself.’ Suddenly, I was thankful for Mila and her bus schedule. 

Chasing the Future by Slow Train

San Francisco in recent years has become an advance warning for the collapse of city government, urban life, and even of civilization itself. Now it seems that “a survey of electric vehicle (E.V.) charging stations in the San Francisco area has discovered that about one in four don’t work.” It’s no surprise, of course, that some of the urban infrastructure of San Francisco might not be in the best of shape.

At the same time, California used to think of itself until very recently as the future of America and even of the world—the harbinger of innovative technologies that will transform our lives for the better. It’s also the state that has the deepest-greenest consciousness in the U.S. There’s a “tension” between these two self-perceptions, as we’ll see, but they combine easily enough to make Californians the Americans most likely to lead the switch from petrol-driven to electric vehicles.

And the latest statistics confirm that. With only 10 percent of the nation’s cars, California now accounts for over 40 percent of all zero-emission cars in the U.S. As sales of E.V.s rise, however, there needs to be a matching increase in the number of electric charging stations to give the new model vehicles the juice to keep them on the road.

Gov. Newsom's got things well in hand.

As Yahoo News discovered, when researchers drove their E.V.s to hundreds of public charging stations in nine Bay Area counties, they found that 27.5 percent were unusable for one reason or another. Given the newness of the technology, the list of failings had an oddly familiar, almost domestic ring to it. The most common fault, at 7.2 percent of stations, was a payment system failure. Second was a charge initiation failure, at 6.4 percent, where charging either didn’t start after paying or stopped within two minutes. Around the same number had a problem with the screen — either totally blank, non-responsive or displaying an error message. Almost 5 percent of chargers had cables too short to reach the car, and a few had broken connectors or other trouble connecting with the cars.

Because a full tank of electricity goes less far than one of petrol, E.V. drivers often have to calculate pretty accurately how long a journey they can afford to take in time rather than money. If a quarter of charging stations aren’t working, they can be stranded unexpectedly. Hilly San Francisco has its own kinds of hazards for stranded drivers—ditto California’s endless series of spaghetti junctions—but only very rarely will they include the weather (earthquakes, more so).

What, however, of the great plains? Even for everyday driving tasks, people there are accustomed to going long distances through places where you wouldn’t want to be stranded on a cold day anyway, but in particular if you were driving an E.V. since they don’t work so well on cold days.

Consumer Reports has recently examined the performance of E.V.s in this regard. The experts they asked pointed to two problems: first that an E.V.’s battery power and range declines as the temperature falls, especially when it falls below zero Fahrenheit—not uncommon in large parts of the U.S. during the winter, from the Upper Midwest across to New England; second, even at somewhat warmer temperatures, the car’s internal heating arrangements draw electricity from the battery and decrease its range.

Pro tip: dress warm in the Dakotas!

How severe are these problems? Consumer Reports put two E.V.s through the following test last January in Connecticut: three different journeys, amounting to 64 miles in all, with the E.V.s allowed to cool down after the first two journeys so that they would need to reheat each time. What CR found was as follows:

The Nissan Leaf (with its base 40 kWh battery; a longer range version is set to go on sale later this year, Nissan has said) has an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 151-mile range. At the end of our 64-mile drive, the predicted range left was only 10 miles. Using the advertised range, the car should have traveled 141 miles before it was left with only 10. That’s more than double the anticipated loss in range.

The Tesla Model 3 has an EPA-estimated 310-mile range. At the end of that same 64 mile drive, it indicated there were 189 miles of predicted range. Put another way, the Model 3 used 121 miles worth of range in only 64 miles. That’s almost double the anticipated loss.

Now, these are early days in the development of E.V.s, and their development teams are very confident of finding ways to improve their performance on battery power and distance range as on much else. For the moment, however, EVs can’t travel very far in cold weather, and in wide open spaces they depend upon the availability of a large network charging stations (that actually work). That means the more thinly populated areas of the United States will need to expand their network of E.V. charging stations very considerably to make it worthwhile for local folks to buy E.V.s—which in turn means a vast program of electrification across the fruited plain.

To get some idea of what that means and will cost, let me quote a U.K. study by a distinguished British engineer, Mike Travers, who in The Hidden Costs of Net-Zero estimates that the cost of installing the E.V. charging points alone will be a considerable one—something on the order of £31 billion in the much smaller geographical area of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Travers goes on to estimate the impact not only of switching to electric cars but also of wider policies of decarbonizing, for instance, home heating, and concludes that the extra demand for electricity would overwhelm the existing system of electricity distribution and require massive infrastructure repair and development at a total bill of £410 billion. Adjusted for population and expressed in U.S. dollars, these figures become $201 billion, $2,665 billion, and just short of $20,000 per household. And for what?

These figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, but they give some idea of the magnitude of the costs of switching from petrol-driven cars to E.V.s in a few years—the Brits are being told to do so by 2035. And they don’t include all the government costs of subsidizing the switch over. In California they include grants to low-income families to purchase E.V.s from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Don't worry: the BAAQMD is here to help!

But what these government rules and subsidies are financing is not the switch from petrol to electricity itself—the evolution and spread of EVs is happening anyway—but its acceleration in response not to market forces but to the non-market instructions of the administrative state. Some of the early flaws and drawbacks of E.V.s would be solved and overcome anyway during the process of market expansion—in effect subsidized by the wealthy acting as pioneer consumers of new luxury products as they always have—while the price gradually comes down. Instead, governments are spending a great deal of money—and making us poorer in the process—in order to make something happen more quickly at the cost of making it happen inefficiently and less cheaply.

Do we really want our economic progress pioneered and charted by government which creates a Bay Area Air Quality Management District to finance the purchase of the latest luxury goods by the poor but can’t manage to maintain the charging stations that enable to all drivers to be sure of reaching their destinations?

Look who’s in the White House. Consider Gavin Newsom in the Golden State. Apparently we do.