Driving Towards Utopia, Skidding on ICE

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

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

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

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

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

Even Goethe had his critics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's relax and think this through.

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

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

Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain.

How to Make Poverty Expensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burning bread since the 9th century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conservative Energy, or Canada at the Crossroads

Now that scandal-prone Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval rating has taken something of a hit, placing the Conservatives at least potentially within striking distance of forming the next government, the question that confronts Canada is whether a Conservative administration could honestly face the shambles that the Liberal government has made of Canada’s most important resource industry, energy production. Would it rescue the energy sector, located primarily in the province of Alberta, from its dormant condition and, at the same time, render unnecessary the budding secessionist, or Wexit, movement in a justifiably resentful Alberta, thus saving Confederation? 

The platform of the newly-elected leader of the Party, Erin O’Toole, seems at first blush encouraging for the energy sector and Alberta’s future prospects, but O’Toole is a noted flip-flopper—not particularly good news for either energy or Alberta. As John O’Sullivan writes in The Pipeline:

O'Toole has been all over the place on the resource sector, initially calling for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies…before backing away from that pledge.

How O’Toole can claim in his platform that “Climate Change is a global problem, that requires a global solution,” while at the same time stating that “Domestic energy production – including oil and gas – is an important part of making our country more self-reliant and more resilient in future” remains a conundrum. Which is noise and which is information? In other respects, his platform seems promising, but the jury will be out for some time. 

A pumpjack in a canola field keeps the lights on.

Leslyn Lewis, whose strong finish in the leadership sweepstakes may earn her a shadow cabinet position, has a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto—one of the country’s notoriously woke institutions with little professional stature—where actual climate science yields to a highfalutin iteration of cultural studies. It is, according to its mission statement, “a community that respects and values insight, creativity, justice, and diversity,” but leaves real science at a discount. Although lauded for her environmental expertise, Lewis, as a graduate of Environmental Studies, is a mere dilettante in the field. She has taken many principled social and political stands, but regrettably understands neither energy nor economics.

With the exception of failed leadership candidate Derek Sloan, who is pro-life, a believer in family and parental rights, emphatically anti-socialist, and a muscular supporter of the energy industry—and who is in danger of being expelled from the Caucus on the ludicrous grounds of  “racism, misogyny, and bigotry”—the Conservative Party as a whole, to this point in time, has been more or less devoid of positive initiatives.

Indeed, it appears to have forgotten its founding principles, as adumbrated by Canada’s great conservative thinker George Grant in Lament for a Nation: love of country, the rule of law, civil responsibility, an enduring moral order, freedom of speech, economic prudence, and restraint upon the sweeping exercise of government authority. Unfortunately, conservatism and the Conservative Party in its current incarnation do not always speak the same language. Whether O'Toole represents an answer to the Party’s dilemma remains to be seen.  

Erin, go bragh.

Meanwhile, Alberta is still holding the short end of the stick. It is for the first time in living memory a have-not province. After sending $630 billion in transfer payments to Quebec and the other provinces since 1961, it has received a federal transfer supplement (or so-called equalization payment) of $22 billion for 2020, misnamed as a “net gain.” This is total nonsense.

To begin with, in the current economic context $22 billion is a mere sop; moreover, the supplement is borrowed money that will have to be repaid with interest as part of the $350 billion Canada is borrowing for this year.

Ottawa is not re-distributing domestic wealth to disadvantaged provinces, as envisioned in the national Equalization Formula, but transferring borrowed wealth. Things need to be called by their proper names. Alberta’s $22 billion does not qualify as a “net gain” but a net liability. Wexit does seem to be the only hope for Alberta, whether as a bargaining chip or a realized outcome, but the trouble is that there are too many Canadians and not enough Albertans in the province. 

A sane reclamation of the energy sector will be a difficult slog—not least because an acceptable conservative in leftist Canada, as geologist John Weissenberger writes in The Laurentian ‘Elite’: Canada’s Ruling Class, is “one who can be counted on to lose gracefully”—but Canada will reap the whirlwind in scuppering the energy industry and bankrupting Alberta in the process. Energy is gold and it resides mainly in Canada’s west. 

It will take a surge of conservative energy to restore the country to its former viability. If Erin O’Toole remains true to his commitment to revive domestic energy production, without equivocation, the future may not be entirely dismal. Perhaps we will see a strong pushback by patriotic organizations intent on restoring the energy sector. The threat of Wexit may help to awaken a sleepy Canadian electorate, who may also be galvanized by mounting unemployment, rocketing prices, extortionate taxes, social anarchy and a failing power grid. But by then it may well be too late.

May on Venus: Portrait of a Canadian Climate Zealot

As in many other countries, climate science in Canada has become both heavily politicized and cognitively polluted. Our government, like our science community, has grown thoroughly infected with faddish assumptions about climate change, the nature of greenhouse gasses, the presumed disaster of energy extraction and delivery, and the impending fate of the planet.

Though not alone in the propagation of error and pro-forma panic, former leader of the Green Party and still parliamentary leader of a caucus of two MPs, Elizabeth May has become Canada’s most prominent doomsayer. She is not only a climate zealot but a typically aspiring political autocrat who, according to CBC News, has been accused “of consolidating her power within the party through her position as parliamentary leader, and through her husband's new position on the party's federal council.” But as her husband suggests, nothing to see here, move on.

May seems to act with a self-assurance bordering on sanctimonious disregard. She had no compunction about violating a court order against blocking access to a pipeline site, for which she was charged with criminal contempt. Equally, her kookiness seems to have no bounds. May tweeted warnings about the possible dangers of WiFi which, she alleged, might be related to the “disappearance of pollinating insects.”

Venus: surface temperature 932 Fahrenheit.

With a degree in law and studies in theology, May has a provocative knack for the lectern and the pulpit, lecturing the lost and the fallen with pontifical fervor, whether in speech or screed. Writing in Policy: Canadian Politics and Public Policy under the rubric “Climate Apocalypse Now: Venus, Anyone?” May informs us that “The alarm bells are ringing ever more loudly: We are in a climate emergency.” A brief overview of her sources and authorities will help us put her deposition in a wider, evidentiary perspective.

May relies on what she dubs “a clear and compelling warning from the world’s largest peer-reviewed science process,” the United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and summons the prestige of the UN’s General Secretary Antonio Guterres, who claims that “we are running out of time” to address an imminent climate cataclysm by reducing carbon emissions. 

Following Guterres, she worries about the “low-lying island states for whom failing to meet that goal is an existential threat”—a charge that has been thoroughly rumbled, although neither Guterres nor May seem to know that—or if they do, they’re not letting on. Even the pro-warmist site ResearchGate (Global and Planetary Change) admits to the contrary that “the average change in island land area has so far been positive.”

Coming in for an underwater landing at Malé.

The presumably sinking Maldives have just built four new airports and propose to build even more to accommodate the expanding tourist trade and the presumptively sinking atolls and reef islands of Tuvalu are actually growing larger. As Energy Research Institute founder and CEO Rob Bradley Jr. writes, “[The alarmist temperature and sea-level predictions] constitute yet another exaggerated Malthusian scare.” We recall the Club of Rome’s prediction of resource exhaustion, Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb and M. King Hubbert’s Peak Oil scare.

All in all, I’m not sure Guterres is the best advocate to call upon. There’s enough wind in the man to power a wind turbine all by his lonesome. Guterres, who gives the impression of believing in “climate change” with holy zeal, is a Davos stalwart, an apologist for the corrupt, China-friendly W.H.O., and a China hack to boot.

Investigative journalist Matthew Russell Lee points to China Energy's proven bribery at the UN, and bid to buy an oil company linked to Guterres through the Gulbenkian Foundation.Indeed, Guterres' 2016 online disclosure “omits… his listed role through 2018 in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.” The arrangement is being concluded via Partex Oil and Gas, of which the Foundation holds 100 percent of the share capital. Despite his melodramatic public pronouncements, Guterres is clearly untroubled by the (ostensible) impact of oil extraction on the environment. 

As for May’s beloved IPCC, it is another apocryphal gospel. In The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert, Donna Laframboise shows that the IPCC “has been recruiting 20-something graduate students” as lead authors, many of whom had not even earned their degrees and some of whom were majoring in non-climate disciplines. The IPCC relies heavily on non-peer reviewed material (so much for May’s erroneous contention regarding IPCC peer-reviewed authenticity), including newspaper items, press releases, magazine articles, unpublished graduate theses and Green activist sources. It is nothing less than a privileged lobbying organization for vested financial interests, and anyone who consults its findings for fiscal or ideological purposes is either venal or ignorant.

Elizabeth May is a member in high standing of this troupe of contemporary climate fanatics. But she has good company in our deeply uneducated prime minister Justin Trudeau and our new finance minister, the incompetent Chrystia Freeland, who argues that “the restart of our economy has to be green”—no surprise from the political maladroit and “social justice” evangelist who bungled our NAFTA negotiations with the U.S.

Many of the major figures in the Conservative Party are also Green missionaries. They may be her competitors but they are also Elizabeth’s children, all playing the dangerous game of climate politics. As Charles Rotter writes introducing the new documentary film Global Warning, “Canada is fast becoming the leading global example for what can happen when climate politics meet traditional energy industry. It has the third largest known reserves of oil and gas on the planet and could provide affordable, reliable energy to many parts of the world… It is a country living a potentially tragic story of climate politics.”  

May is far from finished in her climate scaremongering. She next informs us, parroting a host of predictions, that 2020 “is on track to be the hottest year on record.” The hottest year on record was, it appears, 1934—although the inevitable margin of error renders such predictions suspect. 

May is also, as expected, a big fan of wind farms, urging the country to “accelerate the rapid deployment of wind turbines.” She would be better advised to consult the Members of the Ohio General Assembly, who have thoroughly exploded the wind turbine scam. After having reviewed the Icebreaker wind turbine project, placed before the Ohio Power Sitting Board, with a view to its costs, massive job losses and multiple negative environmental effects, they affirm that they “do not want this project to move forward in any form.” To mention some of their concerns: The leakage of industrial lubricants from the 404 gallons per gearbox, the tendency to catch fire, the absence of full Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) (which neither government nor industry is keen to furnish), and the inability to provide permanent jobs.

May’s glib deceptions, appeal to authority, and cynical indifference to indisputable facts is scrupulously anatomized in an email exchange with a knowledgeable opponent on the health problems associated with turbines, including sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, exhaustion and various forms of “sick building.” May, of course, does not live in the vicinity of a wind farm and need not worry about this Aeolic species of neurological radiation.

In her conclusion, May insists that “We cannot cave into [sic] Alberta and the oil sands” but must instead follow “the brilliant lead of TransAlta’s new solar investments using Tesla batteries. We have a sustainable future within our grasp.” Here May’s ignorance is truly staggering. As The Manhattan Institute’s senior fellow Mark Mills enlightens us, “the annual output of Tesla’s Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory, could store three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. It would require 1,000 years of production to make enough batteries for two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand. Meanwhile, 50–100 pounds of materials are mined, moved, and processed for every pound of battery produced.” The ground contamination is off the charts.

Nonetheless, we are apprised that CO2 must be dramatically reduced before Armageddon strikes. Perhaps this is not such a great idea. In Oh, Oh, Canada, William Gairdner, basing his estimates on the scientific research conducted by the Fraser Institute’s 1997 publication Global Warming: The Science and the Politics, reminds us that CO2 levels during the Ordovician Age of 440 million years ago were ten times higher than they are at present. And that the Ordovician happened to coincide with an ice age. Princeton physicist William Happer also highlights the fact that “Life on earth flourished for hundreds of million years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today.” CO2, he writes, “will be a major benefit to the Earth.” Something to ponder.

As Laframboise writes in Into the Dustbin: Rajendra Pachauri, the Climate Report & the Nobel Peace Prize, “The climate world is one in which kernels of truth are routinely magnified, amplified, and distorted—by scientists, activists, public relations specialists, and reporters—until they bear almost no resemblance to empirical reality.”

A perfect example of this strategy is May’s rhetorical question, “Venus anyone?” The surface temperature of Venus is more than 900 degrees Fahrenheit; on Earth it is approximately 58 degrees. The atmospheric mantle of Venus consists of approximately 97 percent carbon dioxide, Earth’s approximately 0.4 percent, lower by a factor of around 245.

But then, who knows what may happen in another trillion years or so. Elizabeth May and her ideological cronies might well be vindicated.

Getting to Net-Zero: Is It Worth It?

At the end of last week two men were selected as the leaders of the main opposition parties in North America—Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate in the U.S. and Erin O’Toole as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. They’re very different people with very different ideas, but if both of them are elected, each is likely to exert a decisive influence on the other on the central political issue of energy policy and climate change.

But look, first, at who they are and what they’ve done. Biden has been a professional politician for almost all his adult life. After graduation and four years of lawyering, he became a U.S. senator in 1973 and has since remained in Washington for seven senatorial terms and two terms as U.S. vice-president. He is usually defined as a moderate Democrat, which in practice means he has an acute sensitivity to the shifts of opinion in his party and an unrivaled ability to adapt to them without apparently moving his feet.

That means at present he is being dragged leftwards by a Democratic party that is rapidly moving from liberalism to a more radical progressivism. Thus, when his party’s radicals demand to “defund the police,” he is described by an AP as wanting “some of the funding for police [to] be redirected into different programs, such as mental health counseling” which might or might not be a difference depending on the amount re-directed.

Joe and Jill.

O’Toole had a more varied career as first an officer in the Royal Canadian air force and then as a corporate lawyer until he was elected to Parliament in Ottawa eight years ago. Because he served in the RCAF sea rescue missions, he’s one of the few politicians anywhere who, like lifeguard Ronald Reagan, can claim to have saved lives. He’s a moderate conservative in an avowedly conservative party, but one who wants to broaden its base without throwing principles overboard. That’s a risky game to play, as Biden’s zig-zagging career illustrates, but O’Toole has found two ways to play it.

The first is to make policy into a balancing act. As a Catholic who supports choice on abortion, he also defends a conscience clause that would enable health professionals to refuse to assist in abortions if they have moral/religious reasons for doing so—and respecting conscience is an important principle. The second is to look for and elevate new issues that attract new supporters without alienating old ones. He was an early supporter of the idea of CANZUK—warmer and better trade and migration relationships between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.—which seems to be an increasingly realistic policy now that the U.K. is making trade deals with CANZUK members.

It isn’t hard to tell Biden and O’Toole apart, and if it were, the policy packages that appear in their manifestos would make it very clear. They are separated by a vast ideological gulf—except in one key respect. Both men and their parties have committed themselves very firmly to one particular extreme policy outcome: they are both committed to the principle of making their economies “carbon neutral” by 2050—indeed, Biden has upped the ante on this with a revamped plan to spend two trillion dollars in making all of electricity production carbon-neutral by 2035. (I think that looks like this: $2,000,000,000,000—its cost to you we’ll come to in a moment.)

Now, no one thinks of this policy as extreme because it’s supported overwhelmingly by most Western governments, most mainstream political parties (and, as it happens, most “populist” parties too), most of the media, most cultural institutions, the United Nations, and all the great and good around the globe. When a bill reflecting an earlier version of this was passed in the U.K. Parliament, only five MPs voted against it.

There’s been a slight down-tick in popular support for the policy since the policy response to Covid-19 both imposed heavy costs on ordinary people—with the prospect of many more to come—and weakened the credibility of scientists and computer modelling. A recent opinion poll showed that it ranked only fifth in the table of national problems facing the voters.

That will have little effect on elite opinion unless it takes the form of voting out MPs and Congresspersons respectively. As yet we’re quite far from that. Because its costs are in the future, a policy of saving the world is bound to be popular. And so, for the moment, making their economies “carbon neutral” by a given date is supported by both leaders.

But there is a vital distinction that politicians repeatedly ignore—and that I have repeatedly stressed in vain—between the popularity of a policy and the popularity of the consequences of a policy. The classic example is government control of prices and incomes which is always popular because it seems “fair” and advantageous to the poor, but which always becomes extremely unpopular because it leads to shortages of goods with controlled prices, black markets with much higher “real” prices, and exemptions for key workers who multiply in numbers the longer the policy lasts.

Carbon neutrality has enormous costs—so enormous that governments do their best to suppress their own estimates of what they are likely to be.  Only New Zealand has been honest or rash enough to do so. As the Danish economist and head of the Copenhagen Consensus, Bjorn Lomborg, pointed out recently in a New York Post oped, adapted from his new book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet:

It will cost 16 percent of its GDP each and every year by 2050, making it more costly than the entire New Zealand public expenditures for education, health, environment, police, defense, social protection, etc. (My italics.) 

New Zealand, however, is an energy superpower only in hydro- and thermal power. Both the U.S. and Canada, however, are at present energy superpowers across the board—in oil, gas, hydro, and nuclear power since they have both fossil fuels and uranium galore and in recent years they have invented ways of accessing them more economically, such as fracking. The impact of carbon neutral policies would be far more damaging to Canada and the U.S. than to any other countries in the world except Australia and the Middle East for that reason—far more damaging, that is, than a 16 percent annual fall in GDP.

Erin O'Toole and American friend.

Biden and O’Toole have faced this dilemma—choosing a popular policy that has catastrophic economic consequences—in somewhat different ways. Biden, “an old man in a hurry,” has gone for broke. He’s adopted the most extreme version of an extreme policy and hoped that its dire results would not be noticed or, if noticed, not believed by most voters in the heat of an election campaign.

That’s certainly a risk. Already, a Trump campaign spokesman, Hogan Gidley, has described the policy as "like a socialist manifesto that promises to massively raise taxes, eliminate jobs in the coal, oil or natural gas industries, and crush the middle class. There is no way he can sell this radical agenda to union workers in energy-producing, manufacturing, or auto industry states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, or Wisconsin.”

In this election, however, maybe the policy will sneak through under the smokescreen of all the rest of the hellzapoppin shenanigans in both campaigns.

O’Toole is taking no such risks. True to his strategy of balancing, he opposes a federal carbon tax—carbon taxes are the main unpopular element in the carbon-neutral strategy—but will assist the Canadian provinces if they adopt such taxes on their own.  Along the same lines, he promises “a plan to get to net-zero emissions in the oil and gas industry through the use of technologies like electrification generated from sources such as nuclear and wind and carbon capture, with the government providing incentives similar to those that were used to stimulate the early development of the oilsands.”

In other words he’s hoping to be able to save Canada’s energy industries—and his own political prospects if he becomes prime minister—by relying on technical breakthroughs like “carbon capture” that would allow oil and gas (and presumably coal) to continue to be the basis for electricity generation. That’s not unreasonable as a political strategy—it’s traditionally known as “waiting for something to turn up”—but technical breakthroughs can’t be guaranteed to arrive on time. What about the interim?

Well, O’Toole may be helped by a deus ex machina in the modest form of Joe Biden. He is facing an election in just ten weeks on November the 3rd whereas the date of O’Toole’s rendezvous with destiny is more uncertain. Canada’s election must be held no later than October the 19th, 2023, but Canada’s scandal-hit minority Liberal government could fall at any time.

If Biden were to be elected in November, he would be unrolling his energy policy in early 2021 and its economic and industrial costs would begin to be apparent no later than Spring 2022. (Its benefits, being invisible, will never be apparent.) If they are as disastrous as the policies are bold, Biden will be a marvelous negative example of the economic consequences of courageous carbon neutrality.

On the other hand Trump may win—in which case Biden will provide a marvelous negative example of the political consequences of courageous carbon neutrality.

I don’t see how O’Toole can’t not enjoy the 2020 US presidential election.

Down Under, What Price Virtue?

The drive to turn the world -- particularly, the Anglosphere -- Green is international, much like Communism. And the desire to virtue-signal seems equally strong, no matter what the cost. As Australia is now learning:

On average, Australia is spending $13 billion trying to get rid of coal and trying to interject renewable energy in the electricity market, according to economist Alan Moran. The Australian Energy Market Commission puts the cost of environmental policies on the consumer at around $90 per year, or 6.5 per cent of the household electricity bill.

But wait -- it gets worse.

However, Dr Moran said this estimate only covers around one sixth of the potential cost. The effect renewables have on the market, as well as the government loans and subsidies, among other costs brings the actual cost to the consumer to around $536 per year, or 39 per cent of the electricity bill. He said the total cost to the economy coming just from the consumer – which he said amounts to just under 50 per cent of the costs – would climb to $6.5 billion.

"Every year we’re spending $13 billion in trying to get rid of coal and trying to inject renewable energy in a system which is actually inherently making it much more expensive. Thirteen billion dollars is a huge albatross around the neck of the Australian public and Australian economy.”

Ah, but that's a small price to pay to Save the Planet and feel good about yourself at the same time. Even -- perhaps especially -- when it hardly makes a damn bit of difference.

Beware the Environmentalists' False Flags

You're probably familiar with the phrase "false flag operation." Referring originally to a ship's flying the flag of a different nation than that with which it was aligned in order to deceive the enemy, it has come to refer to any such misrepresentation, particularly those with the intent of casting one's opponents in a negative light.

The thing that makes false flag operations so effective is that it is often impossible to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one has actually taken place. Absent an admission of guilt, all one can do when investigating the circumstances is to lay out the facts and let the jury decide.

I bring this up because I've recently stumbled upon two stories which have the appearance of false flag operations. The first is by Jazz Shaw, who reports on the attempt to build what's being billed as the next generation of nuclear power plant in Idaho. The plant would serve roughly 720,000 homes in that state and in neighboring Utah. Communities in both states which would benefit from this project have already signed on, but one group of activists have made it their mission to convince all involved that it's a bad deal.

The group is called the Utah Taxpayer Association, and their principal argument is that the project is a waste of taxpayer money and (because the technology is still being developed) is likely to fail and lead to higher electricity prices.

Well, as a conservative, fiscal responsibility arguments always get my attention. But Shaw points out that there is something fishy about the organization making the argument:

As to the “fiscal conservative” group trying to get municipalities to pull out of the project, the Utah Taxpayer Association is being fronted by The Hastings Group. One look at their client list at that link will give you an idea of their general ideological makeup. They include:

Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists
Green America
National Resources Defense Council
Renewable Nation
Union Of Concerned Scientists

The Utah Taxpayer Association has also enlisted anti-nuclear power advocate Peter Bradford as a spokesperson. The list of their association with green energy and environmentalist groups goes on.

Shaw doesn't mention this, but along those same lines, the website of The Hastings Group is full of boasts about their "18-month push" to pressure the Trump administration to stop off-shore drilling and their "12-year campaign to shift media attitudes about socially responsible/sustainable investing," the latter being code for divesting from fossil fuels.

Judging by these relationships, it seems unlikely that the Utah Taxpayer Association is the confederation of Goldwater Republicans that its name and rhetoric would lead you to surmise. It's rather more likely that some textbook Greenies, aware that their normal pitch would have less purchase in rural mountain states, decided to attack the problem from a different angle, hoping that cost-conscious conservatives would miss the lefty agenda behind the scenes.

And what is that agenda exactly? After all, as Shaw notes, nuclear power is effectively zero carbon, so you'd think that anti-carbon emissions activists would be on board with this project. Their opposition reveals their true colors -- for a lot of them, at least, it isn't the carbon they care about so much as limiting the competition for their so-called renewable energy projects.

The second potential false flag is rather more complicated, and has to do with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a planned project which was principally owned by Richmond, Va., based Dominion Energy. It was meant to move natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in West Virginia through Virginia and then down to North Carolina. Had the pipeline gone through, it is probable that Dominion would have built a second natural gas liquefaction terminal, likely in the Newport area, to complement the one it already owns in Cove Point, Md., creating lots of well-paying jobs for Virginians and allowing the company to export significantly more natural gas overseas.

"Was" is the operative word here, however, because in July it was announced that Dominion is cutting its losses and pulling out of the $8 billion project, citing "the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States." This is being spoken of principally as a victory for the environmentalist groups which have been trying to kill the project since it was launched, with Michael Brune of the Sierra Club crowing,

Dominion did not decide to cancel the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—the people and frontline organizations that led this fight for years forced [it] into walking away.

However, journalist and Virginia native Arthur Bloom is skeptical. As he put it in a recent podcast appearance, "the death of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has sort of been heralded by activists as this big win, this is the new Virginia, pushing back on decades of probably-racist Republican rule. Virtually none of that is true."

Bloom has written a detailed piece at The American Conservative in which he attempts to connect the dots to discern what really happened here. The thing is, Dominion is not only pulling out of the Atlantic Pipeline, it is, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "selling the rest of its natural-gas transmission and storage network to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for $9.7 billion," a deal which includes a 25 percent stake in its Cove Point liquefaction facility. As he investigated the "various interests that were publicly opposed to the construction of the pipeline," Bloom was struck "quite forcefully [by] how many of them were connected to Berkshire Hathaway."

One of those interested parties was Michael Bills, a Virginia billionaire and chairman of the board of environmental lobbying group Clean Virginia, who has waged a war against Dominion for the past several years, even offering to max out donations to any political candidate in the state who pledged not to accept any money from the company. Bloom points out that Bills is the former business partner of Berkshire Hathaway executive Ted Weschler, who is frequently mentioned as a potential replacement for Warren Buffet, as Berkshire's CEO. That doesn't prove anything, but it is a connection, and a high level one at that.

Bloom also details the political opposition to Dominion from the state's ascendant Democrats, a more important part of the story than the legal and regulatory hurdles to the project. (Indeed, the project had recently won big at the Supreme Court). Of course the state Democratic ascent has been funded in large part by Berkshire money too. Bloom notes that "the largest single donor to the Democratic Party of Virginia in 2015 was the son of Buffett partner Charles Munger, Jr, whose money supplied more than half of their funds for statehouse races that year."

And then there's the fact that, in Bloom's words,

Berkshire also owned most of the newspapers in western and central Virginia until March, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Free Lance-Star, the Culpeper Times-Exponent, the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, the News Virginian in Waynesboro, and the Roanoke Times, giving them almost complete control of the pipeline narrative in the parts of the state where it mattered.

Be sure to read the whole piece to get into the real nitty-gritty of the thing, but Bloom makes a compelling case that everything is not as it seems. As he makes clear in the interview cited above, there is something a little too convenient about the fact that Dominion was the focal point of so much environmental activism, which had the effect of depressing the stock price of the company, allowing a massive financial firm -- which had deep ties to the environmental activists -- to swoop in "and [scoop] up their assets on the cheap." Meanwhile the environmentalists are able to claim the scalp of a major pipeline project while ignoring Berkshire Hathaway, this despite the fact that the company's anti-union history makes it likely that the unionized workers in Dominion's natural gas sector might soon be out of a job. Unions are less important to the left these days than wealthy environmentalists.

False flag operations are difficult to prove, but Shaw and Bloom argue persuasively that alliances and the money trail constitute a preponderance of evidence in their respective cases pointing to real deception on the part of the interested parties. Read and judge for yourself.

What’s Behind The Green Door?

Looking up environmental sources under the variable heading “Green,” I came across a reference to a 1956 pop tune, “Green Door,” which had soared to the top of the hit parade charts. The question it posed was, “what’s behind the green door” and the answer it gave was a boisterous group of party animals who “laugh a lot” and whom the singer wished desperately to join: “All I want to do is join the happy crowd behind the green door.” The song’s open sesame “Joe sent me” didn’t cut any ice since “hospitality’s thin there.” The correct password, proleptically speaking, would have been “Al sent me.” After all, Al Gore has sent so many people through the green door that a vast new edifice has become necessary to house the “happy crowd” that grows by the day.

True, the Greenies by and large cannot be portrayed as a merry band of revelers. They are generally earnest and forbidding to a fault, self-righteous and censorious. They don’t laugh a lot and are certainly not a perky, convivial crowd. They are proud of their ostensible bona fides and redemptive proclivities as Mother Nature’s savior and mankind’s conscience. Many of the Greenies are academics draped in diplomas which they take as an infallible sign of prescient wisdom, but are really of no more value than ink stamps that allow them into the club.

Still, this is not the issue. The issue is that, competent or incompetent, charlatans or believers, they find the party too good to pass up. They want in and they want to stay in, even at the risk of eventually bringing their credentials into disrepute. The perks, awards, government subsidies, academic fellowships, scientific laurels, corporate subventions, endowments and research grants just keep rolling in to keep the party going. And the green door has swung wide open to welcome the climate beneficiaries while it remains shut tight to the uninvited. Hospitality’s thin there.

As the song puts it, “they play it hot behind the green door.” According to Green lore, the earth is warming catastrophically. Oceans will rise. Polar bears will soon become extinct. Snow will cease to fall. Greenland will melt. The Himalayas are puddle-bound. Land and sea will be despoiled by pipeline spills. Whole populations will starve. The world will come to an end if we don’t change our habits of consumption and our expectations for a viable and prosperous future. Only wind and solar can save us from the looming eco-apocalypse.

Get mean, think Green.

That’s the party mantra. If we ignore the portents, then one thing is certain. The end is nigh!

Predictive failure does not deter ideological zealots. A disaster must arrive someday to confirm their forecast and justify their program for salvation. It matters little if their timetable is off by ten, twenty, or a thousand years since, under the aspect of eternity, a cataclysm is bound to happen in seculae seculorum. The mathematics can always be redone in the light of a grisly but accommodating future to which only they have privileged access. It is they who stand before the burning bush of the world and hear the voice of the Lord. For this pixilated mentality, being wrong over and over is a sure sign that they will be right once. The end-of-the-world fanatics merely keep revising their calculations, relying on a new revelation to perfect their reckoning and reinforce their delusion. They have managed to turn science into divination.

The problem is that wind and solar don’t work as they should or are projected to. The reason for many of the failures in green energy-production companies—Spectrawatt, Ener 1, Abound Solar, Solyndra,  etc.—is simple. As noted environmental consultant, author, and Pipeline contributor Rich Trzupek, author of How the EPAs Green Tyranny is Stifling America, explains, the energy density of convertible wind and solar is risibly low and dispersed, which renders green, electricity-generating power plants, whether large or small, “the most inefficient, least reliable, and expensive form of power we have.” As Trzupek jestingly remarks, “‘climate change’ is a figment of a computer’s imagination.” 

But this has not prevented the climate models from becoming the Authorized Version. The Global Warming meme continues to circulate in defiance of accumulating evidence to the contrary, which leads one to wonder who the real “deniers” are. “Warmist” foundations and nonprofits are determined to continue issuing environmental fatwas, in particular to tie up state-of-the-art, economically productive oil pipelines in endless litigation, impacting national revenues and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as innumerable spin-off markets and enterprises. 

Unsightly government approved wind farms are killing birds in hecatombs, disfiguring the landscape, leading to wildlife habitat loss, polluting the soil and ground water, adding steeply to electricity bills and literally driving people crazy (Wind turbine Syndrome). Government and industry supporters of solar panels base their projections on the presumed success of the German solar model. But the German wind and solar experiment is tanking fast. It may soon become obsolete and is gradually being wound down.

With respect to solar, researchers at Utah State University have found that solar power “cannot sustain itself in the energy market… it is intermittent, inefficient and cannot meet demand,” as is also the case with wind. Mandates and subsidies cannot save these faltering industries. Pipedreams are no substitute for pipelines. Solar alchemy is as embarrassing as breaking wind.

None of the renewable proposals are feasible. The physics limit for wind turbines (the Betz limit) is too puny for anything but computer games. The same is true of the physics limit for solar cells (the Shockley-Queisser limit). Moreover, wind and solar function only when nature permits, which renders them unreliable. Even lobbying sites like iea wind (the Internet is awash with viridian proclamations) cannot hide the variability factor in wind and solar production. As Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute concludes, “[T]he physics and economics of energy combined with scale realities make it clear that there is no possibility of anything resembling a radically ‘new energy economy’ in the foreseeable future.”

It’s time to face the truth. The global warning refrain is now a tiresome tune being played on an “old piano,” though they’re still “playing it hot.” The song concludes with the question: “Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?”

The secret is that demonizing traditional forms of energy extraction and application has become a recipe for economic debacle. The secret is that carbon is not a malefic agent but a chemical miracle that actually greens the world. Finally, the secret behind the green door is that some of the party-goers are surely aware that their testimony is spurious, but the party is just too good to leave. That’s a secret that must remain secret. 

Total's Grade-A Corporate Slacktivism

Woke Capital is very "on trend" at the moment, with major corporations (once considered, if not always accurately, natural allies of the political right) pumping money and influence into fashionable social causes. As John O'Sullivan has pointed out (a few times actually), it is sometimes the case that signing on to such causes actually runs counter to the interests of these corporations. When that happens it is both an attempt to achieve a gold medal in virtue signalling as well as act of dishonesty that violates the trust between shareholders and management, the latter having been entrusted with the former's money.

It should be noted, however, that quite a lot of corporate virtue signalling is of the "slacktivist" variety, where nothing is actually risked in supporting some elite-approved cause, as the proffered support requires no actual commitments or policy changes. Often it even serves as rhetorical cover for a move which the company was planning on making anyway.

For just one example of this, the French oil and gas giant Total recently announced that, "consistent with [its] Climate Ambition" plan, "which aims at carbon neutrality," it would be withdrawing from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) because of a "misalignment between their public positions and the Group’s," and would be stranding its Canadian oil sands assets at Fort Hills and Surmont in Alberta, meaning that the "overall reserves [at those sites] may therefore not be produced by 2050."

Now, even within the press release linked above, Total acknowledges that this decision is at least partly financial. In response to the pummeling oil prices have taken in the wake of COVID-19, they have revised their oil price projection for the years to come, and now believe that those projects won't be profitable enough to justify their financial outlay. Fair enough -- while I might question the wisdom of the decision and worry about what it means for Canadian workers, that's the kind of calculation a company is supposed to be making on behalf of its shareholders.

But the multiple references to their Climate Ambition plan and to "carbon neutrality" are rather strange. Particularly since, in 2019, Total was involved in the effort to lobby the Trudeau government over the implementation of Bill C-69, dubbed the “No More Pipelines Bill” by Alberta premier Jason Kenney. Bill C-69 expanded Ottawa's involvement in the review process for oil and gas projects, did away with hard caps on project review timelines, and required regulators to take into account climate change and public health when assessing all major infrastructure projects. In CAPP's write-up on the bill, they laid out their concern that its main effect would be "driving away investment into Canada by making it extremely difficult to approve major projects like pipelines in the future."

Total's own lobbying record specifies their interest in ensuring "consequential amendments... focusing on ensuring certainty of timelines" are made to Bill C-69 and, after an obligatory reference to "environmental stewardship" (something which everyone supports), mentions the necessity of "encouraging foreign investment and ensuring Canadian energy exports are competitive and reach global markets."

Much to the disappointment of Conservatives, the majority of amendments to Bill C-69 were defeated by the Liberal majority, and it became law in June of last year. Of course, a lot has happened in the industry and the world since then. But is it crazy to think that Total's removing itself from Canada is an example of exactly what it, and CAPP, warned the Trudeau government about, with red tape and regulatory uncertainty making the country a less attractive place to do business, and driving companies out of the Canadian market?

So ignore the media and activist class parroting Total's environmentalist bromides, and proclaiming that this is the beginning of the end for Canada's oil sands. That is just Grade A slacktivism on Total's part, meant to score some brownie points with the media while obscuring what this really is -- a dollars and cents decision based on the present state of the market and the regulatory reality in Canada.

Atop the Magic Mountain, 'The Great Reset'

In case you're curious about what the international Left has in store for you, and just how much they despise you, freedom, personal liberty, capitalism (even though, like George Soros, they're all "capitalists"), you could do worse than to cast your eyes in the direction of the little town of Davos, high in the Swiss Alps. For a century, it was famous as the sanatorium of choice for Europe's consumptives -- sick, neurasthenic victims immortalized in Thomas Mann's masterpiece, Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain).

Here, in the translation of H.T. Lowe-Porter, is how The Magic Mountain begins:

An unassuming young man was travelling, in midsummer, from his native city of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the Canton of the Grisons, on a three weeks’ visit.

From Hamburg to Davos is a long journey — too long, indeed, for so brief a stay. It crosses all sorts of country; goes up hill and down dale, descends from the plateau of Southern Germany to the shore of Lake Constance, over its bounding waves and on across marshes once thought to be bottomless.

At this point the route, which has been so far over trunk-lines, gets cut up. There are stops and formalities. At Rorschach, in Swiss territory, you take train again, but only as far as Landquart, a small Alpine station, where you have to change. Here, after a long and windy wait in a spot devoid of charm, you mount a narrow-gauge train; and as the small but very powerful engine gets under way, there begins the thrilling part of the journey, a steep and steady climb that seems never to come to an end. For the station of Landquart lies at a relatively low altitude, but now the wild and rocky route pushes grimly onward into the Alps themselves.

Hans Castorp — such was the young man’s name — sat alone in his little grey-upholstered compartment, with his alligator-skin hand-bag, a present from his uncle and guardian, Consul Tienappel — let us get the introductions over with at once — his travelling- rug, and his winter overcoat swinging on its hook. The window was down, the afternoon grew cool, and he, a tender product of the sheltered life, had turned up the collar of his fashionably cut, silk-lined summer overcoat. Near him on the seat lay a paper-bound volume entitled Ocean Steamships; earlier in the journey he had studied it off and on, but now it lay neglected, and the breath of the panting engine, streaming in, defiled its cover with particles of soot.

Once in the sanatorium, Hans becomes the ideological captive of two memorable fellow-sufferers: the Jew-turned Jesuit, Leo Naphta, and the Italian secular humanist, Ludovico Settembrini. Their prolonged battle for Castorp's soul as Europe awaits the Guns of August occupies much of the novel. And that global conflict resulted in not only World War II but the Cold War as well. Indeed, we're still dealing with its disastrous legacy.

The Left, it seems, is always itching for a fight, during which it can impose its noxious brand of vicious conformity. In the last century, it went by such names as Marxism, Communism, and National Socialism. Here's its latest incarnation:

A disciplined, well-regulated, orderly society in which all men are brothers and everybody knows his place in the Matrix, er... the system. Perhaps we now have a notion of why such ostensibly "conservative" publications such as the zombie shell of National Review have long reported -- in a very flattering way! -- about the goings-on at Davos. There's just something so darn fascinating about watching our betters disport themselves like Clavdia Chauchat and Mynheer Peeperkorn in the snows of a yesteryear that never quite was. Especially when we know the sequel.

Here's a sample

Davos, Switzerland — A pleasure it is to write to you from the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, high up here in the Alps. As you may know, this meeting takes place every January, in Davos, Switzerland — home of the Magic Mountain, site of the revered Thomas Mann novel. (And someday I’ll get through it — right after Bleak House.)

In years past, I have described Davos as a fairytale setting, or a shakeup globe. It looks this way more than ever now. When I pulled in, it was snowing, and I saw a horse-drawn sleigh. It seemed almost too ideal to be real. But real it was, and is. The pine trees (or whatever one is supposed to call them) are groaning with snow, looking like umbrellas, being folded down.

That the writer could so blithely toss off both Der Zauberberg and Dickens' Bleak House -- two of the greatest novels ever written -- says something about both the publication and the writer. If you want to try something that's hard to get through, try anything by Nobel Prize-wining author and progressive favorite Toni Morrison. How bad is she? This bad:

Don’t be afraid. My telling can’t hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark -- weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more -- but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. I explain. You can think what I tell you a confession, if you like, but one full of curiosities familiar only in dreams and during those moments when a dog’s profile plays on the steam of a kettle. Or when a corn-husk doll sitting on a shelf is soon splaying in the corner of a room and the wicked of how it got there is plain. Stranger things happen all the time everywhere. You know. I know you know.

By contrast, here is the arresting opening of Bleak House:

London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

And the beginning of The Magic Mountain -- which won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929 -- you can read above.

Imagine there's no countries;
It isn't hard to do.

Which brings us back to Davos and to the World Economic Forum and its plans for the peons of the world, whom they very much don't want to unite [Marxist language in bold]:

The Covid-19 crisis, and the political, economic and social disruptions it has caused, is fundamentally changing the traditional context for decision-making. The inconsistencies, inadequacies and contradictions of multiple systems –from health and financial to energy and education – are more exposed than ever amidst a global context of concern for lives, livelihoods and the planet. Leaders find themselves at a historic crossroads, managing short-term pressures against medium- and long-term uncertainties.

As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery, this initiative will offer insights to help inform all those determining the future state of global relations, the direction of national economies, the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons. Drawing from the vision and vast expertise of the leaders engaged across the Forum’s communities, the Great Reset initiative has a set of dimensions to build a new social contract that honours the dignity of every human being.

Unsurprisingly, they're ready to start right away:

Is this what you want? Is this what you voted for? Is this the life you desire? To be an admiring plaything of the Davos elite, caught like poor Hans Castorp in zugzwang at the Berghof clinic?  We've been having this same discussion for more than a century, and it always ends up in the same place. A velvet prison with plays, music, even opera. Where absolutely everyone is well treated. And where all the best people go.