Black Monolith or Energy Black Hole?

Remember the famous scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when the monolith first appears? The proto-humans all gather round and practically worship the thing as a god. The same sort of thing is going on in Hawaii as we speak, except the monolith is one giant freaking battery and the worshippers are not ignorant apes, but enviro-nuts, which are pretty much the same thing now that I think about it.

The Kapolei Energy Storage (KES) project is being built on eight acres of land in Kapolei on the island of Oahu. When complete, the giant battery will be capable of storing up to 565 megawatt hours of electricity and dispatching up to 185 megawatts. In other words, it can put 185 megawatts onto the Hawaii grid for up to three hours.

By law, all electricity generated in the state of Hawaii is supposed to be produced using 100 percent renewable fuels by the year 2045. The island’s lone coal-fired power plant, with a rated capacity of 203 MW, is due to be forcibly retired next year. Plus Power, the company developing KES, says the battery will enable the grid to operate reliably once the coal plant goes down for good: “The 2022 completion of the KES project will ensure that the AES coal-fired plant will end operations, supporting the state’s goal of shifting from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy generation.”

Average hourly demand in Hawaii is about 1,000 megawatts. That’s average demand, peak demand – which is what really matters when talking about grid stability – is considerably higher. But, for purposes of this analysis, we’ll use the average, which leads us to an important question: can a battery that can satisfy a little less than 20 percent of demand for a period of three hours replace a coal-fired power plant that has the capacity to satisfy 2- percent of demand more or less continuously?

The answer, which should be obvious to any high-school physics student, is no. A battery does not produce electricity, it’s just a place for electricity produced elsewhere to hang out for a while. In the case of the state of Hawaii, most of that electricity is, has been and will continue to be produced by burning oil. Roughly 65 to 70 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is generated by combustion of petroleum liquids according to data provided by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Funny, it doesn't look like a monolith.

About 17 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources, primarily wind and solar. That’s not bad, but it’s not anything close to the 100 percent goal. Worse, it’s likely that the battery will be primarily charged using electricity produced by burning oil, not by using electricity generated from renewable sources. The problem is the bugaboo that always affects wind and solar: capacity factor.

Capacity factor is a measure of how much electricity a power generation asset produces compared to what it theoretically can produce. If a plant is rated at 100 megawatts, but generates on average 40 megawatts, we say its capacity factor is forty per cent. Most nukes operate at capacity factors in the high nineties. Coal fired base-load plants are generally in the eighties, sometimes the low nineties.

Wind and solar have crappy factors because, even in Hawaii, the sun don’t always shine and the winds don’t always blow. Solar panels don’t have much to do at night and their efficiency drops significantly on cloudy days. Wind turbines can’t operate in calms or near-calms and, perversely, also have to shut down if the wind is too strong.

The Descent of Man: Feeling good about feeling good.

Again using EIA data, we find that last year the combined capacity factor for wind and solar was about 27%. So, while the total capacity of all renewable generation assets on Hawaii, 746 megawatts, sounds impressive compared to average daily demand, those assets will only generate about 200 megawatts on average. And when they are generating electricity it makes a whole lot more sense to pack it on the grid than sending it on a short vacation to the battery. The only time the battery will be charged using renewables is during those rare instances where there is a significant excess of renewable power. Most of the time, it’ll be charged up courtesy of fossil-fuel combustion.

Of course the battery will make a fine story for those who don’t understand how electricity works and allow eco-nuts to feel good about themselves. Will it do much of anything to help Hawaii meet its 100 per cent renewables mandate? Nope.

Canadian 'Conservatives' Offer Carbon Tax

The CBC has gotten their hands on a copy of the Conservative Party of Canada's all new Climate Change plan, and boy are they excited:

After years of criticizing the Liberal carbon tax, the Conservative party is proposing a climate plan that also puts a price on carbon for consumers.... Under [Erin] O'Toole's plan... Canadians would pay a carbon levy, initially amounting to $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, every time they buy hydro-carbon based fuels, such as gas.... The Conservative party's carbon price... would increase over time to reach a maximum of $50 per tonne.

For comparison, Trudeau's carbon tax structure (not counting the Clean Fuel Standard, a second carbon tax in all but name) has the tax increasing $10 each year until it reaches $170 per ton in 2030.

The other notable provision of the plan is, frankly, bizarre. In the Liberal scheme, Canadians can have their carbon tax expenditures (the direct ones, not the indirect, cost of living ones) rebated back to them at tax time (more or less -- what would be the point if some of that money wasn't skimmed off the top?). In O'Toole's plan, tax revenue would be diverted directly into a "personal low carbon savings account" established for every Canadian, which could be accessed for expenditures "that help them live a greener life."

This reminds me of the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. "Personal low carbon savings accounts" are a camel if ever I saw one, and they'd be a nightmare to administer.

But that aside, is the 'Carbon Tax, but cheaper' play a wise one for O'Toole's Conservatives? Some smart politicos think so. Here, for instance, is Matt Gurney arguing that Canadians want to feel like their government is addressing climate change, but don't really want it to affect their lives in any way. In that case, a cheaper carbon tax might do the trick -- assuaging the consciences of enough voters in the eastern half of the country to make Erin O'Toole prime minister.

But I find Dan McTeague more convincing. By McTeague's reckoning, the O'Toole plan wouldn't merely cost the CPC a few  points of support out west, it would decrease their support in Ontario -- the big fish -- by as much as 10 percent! After all, Ontario made Doug Ford premier just three years ago on the strength of his opposition to the carbon tax. For every voter in the Greater Toronto Area who might give the CPC a second thought based on this plan, two or three more in the rest of the province might just stay home, disgusted.

That's just another way of saying 'Trudeau Majority."

Brown Contra Mundum

Last week I wrote about the Canadian Supreme Court's deciding that the carbon tax is constitutional, with particular focus on the majority decision, authored by Chief Justice Wagner. Today I would like to briefly point out the strong dissent by Justice Russell Brown.

In a notable contrast with the majority opinion, which is full of pearl clutching about the "existential threat" of climate change, Justice Brown focuses chiefly on the law itself.

[N]either the Attorney General nor the majority fairly or completely describes what the Act does.... they downplay significantly what [it] actually authorizes the [Federal government] to do, and ignore the detailed regulatory intrusion into matters of provincial jurisdiction [it] authorize[s]... The result is a permanent and significant expansion of federal power at the expense of provincial legislative authority ⸺ unsanctioned by our Constitution , and indeed, as I will explain, expressly precluded by it.

The majority, he avers, misapplies the Peace, Order and Good Government clause of the Constitution, which was intended to govern instances where provincial governments couldn't act because they lacked the jurisdiction. This law, however, "is premised on provincial legislatures having authority" to act, as it sets a minimum carbon pricing standard to which they must conform, or else be subject to a federal tax. This is not at all how Canadian government is supposed to work, and Brown describes it as a “new... supervisory model of Canadian federalism" which "rejects the Constitution and rewrites the rules of Confederation.”

Now, it could be argued that this doesn't matter. Trudeau got his carbon tax, the fight is over. But Brown's dissent is garnering some attention as a rare challenge to Canada's legal monoculture. Sean Speer says that Brown's dissents are becoming "an intellectual beachhead for a nascent conservative legal movement," similar to that which began in America in the 1980s, but which has never migrated north.

One criticism I received about Friday's blog post was that my shot at Stephen Harper's not reorienting Canada's judiciary was unfair, since there simply weren't enough conservative lawyers for him to appoint. Well, to his credit, Harper did appoint Brown, and if Speer is correct, his work is gaining recognition among young lawyers who recognize how shallow their country's constitutional jurisprudence generally is. Rome wasn't built in a day, and countercultural revolutions can take time.

In the meantime, here's hoping that Brown can help nurture the kind of a constitutional revival which Antonin Scalia did in the States. If so, maybe the next carbon tax case will go the other way.

Will the U.N. Security Council Rescue Net-Zero?

Constructing and imposing an international orthodoxy is a never-ending task, especially when the orthodoxy imposes heavy costs on those countries and organizations that support it. That’s more clearly true about the orthodoxy on “climate change”—i.e., it’s an “emergency” that means global “catastrophe” very soon unless we take brave corrective measures to avert it—than about any other global “crisis.”

A quite small number of U.N. official have been the drivers of this diplomatic agitprop since it started at the Rio de Janeiro UN Earth Conference in 1992. Of the UN Secretariat’s estimated 37,000 officials responsible to the Secretary General, only eight enjoy the title of UN Secretary, and a further fifty are Deputy Secretaries. In short fewer than a hundred diplomats and ex-politicians have succeeded in cajoling and corralling most governments into adopting policies that require economic sacrifices on their populations for aims that are at the very least questionable. It’s a astounding achievement of sorts.

A questionable orthodoxy needs to be shored up against questions and costs, however, and plenty of both have been coming home to roost in the last year: questioning books by previous believers in the “climate emergency” such as Michael Shellenberger as well as from established sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg; and soberly realistic estimates of the costs of “Net Zero” by 2050, the main plank of UN climate policy, in terms of both greater pressures on over-burdened government budgets and downward life-style changes for the voters. Shrewd political analysts—and that describes the UN Secretariat very well—know that they need additional measure to sustain a potentially rickety consensus.

The science is settled, comrades.

Until now, the biggest gun in their arsenal has been the notion of “legally binding” climate treaties that will compel governments to stick with the unpopular consequences of “Net-Zero” policies as they become inescapably evident. It’s a confidence trick. Politicians go along with it because it’s also a method diverting blame for Net-Zero away from them onto the treaty with the argument that “we have to accept international law.”

But there are commonsense limits to that. No government will accept massive economic damage and huge political unpopularity simply because it, or more likely one of its predecessors, unwisely signed a “legally binding” but masochistic and unenforceable treaty.

Some governments won’t even sign a treaty with such dire results in the first place. President Obama never submitted the Paris Accords on Net-Zero for Senate ratification because he knew they’d be rejected. President Trump (while delivering a greater reduction in carbon emissions than any signatory nation because “fracking” fueled a switch to cleaner greener natural gas) was therefore able to withdraw America’s signature on it because Obama’s “executive agreement” had no constitutional force.

And if President Biden seriously intends to make his own switch back to supporting the Paris “treaty” effective, he’ll have to submit the Accords for the Senate ratification from which Obama prudently shrank—or risk another withdrawal of the U.S endorsement by another Trump.

I don’t think Biden will take that risk. But if he does, and given his hostility to fracking, it’s possible that he’ll go down in history as the president who both signed the Paris Accords and presided over a large increase in net carbon emissions. Watch this space.

It’s because the "legally enforceable" gambit is not really enforceable on sovereign states, especially those with democratic governments, that the UN bureaucrats have had recourse to a weapon that is more under their control: namely, bringing the UN Security Council into play.

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here.

The UNSC is the single most important and powerful institution in the UN system. According to its own website: “All members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to member states, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that member states are then obligated to implement under the Charter.”

This makes the UNSC a very big deal. Its enforcement powers in dealing with “threats to peace and international security” include economic sanctions, arms embargoes, financial penalties and restrictions, and travel bans; the severance of diplomatic relations; blockade; or even collective military action. And if climate change were to be declared such a threat, that would allow—in theory at least—the Security Council to employ these enforcement mechanisms in dealing with it.

Some governments and international agencies have been arguing that climate change is a threat to international security for some time. My take is a highly skeptical one:

[T]hinking about such matters should not be a priority. In comparison with countering the most advanced weaponry being developed by the Russian and Chinese militaries (and also with subversive methods of asymmetric warfare), holding down carbon emissions is a third-order consideration. Truth be told, climate change is not a question of military security at all unless some other power is weaponizing climate change against NATO. That kind of thing happens a lot in James Bond movies—usually through the agency of a mad billionaire. . .  Not, however, anywhere else.

But the United Nations “Climate Emergency” caravan rumbles on regardless. One month ago the UN Security Council had a debate on whether the Council should treat climate change as a “threat to national security,” and all the international chart-toppers were present to sing along from the alarmist handbook.

The session was opened by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and other speakers included President Macron of France, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, and a large host of prime ministers, foreign ministers, and other “eminent persons” (an actual UN term.) It’s not necessary to plough through the entire debate, however, because all the speeches said much the same thing, which in the case of the BBC’s long-standing television naturalist David Attenborough was: “If we act fast enough we can reach a new stable state” and the UN conference in Glasgow next November “may be our last opportunity to make this step change.”

My suspicion is, however, that Glasgow will only prove to be the next last opportunity to save the world with many more to come along as the conference circuit.

Et tu, Brute?

That suspicion is fueled by the fact that it’s not until paragraph nine of the comprehensive account of the discussion in the UN’s own press release that we come to the speech of the Russian Federation’s representative, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who wondered skeptically if climate change issues were really the “root cause” of the conflicts cited by Kerry, Johnson, Macron, and almost all the other dignitaries.

The connection between the climate and conflicts can be looked at with regard to only certain countries and regions, talking about this in general terms and in a global context has no justification.

He concluded that, for Russia, climate change was an issue to be dealt with not by the Security Council with its array of diplomatic pressures and economic and military sanctions, but by the less powerful specialist UN agencies armed only with scientific and economic expertise.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, after repeating China’s familiar pledge to meet the Net-Zero carbon targets ten years after the West when it would have enjoyed forty years of economic growth built on fossil fuels, said much the same thing:

International climate cooperation should be advanced within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In one of the conference’s most impressive speeches, India’s environment minister, Prakash Javdekar, argued that countries should meet their earlier targets for carbon emission reductions before embarking on ambitious new ones—a criticism that was all the more powerful because India is one of the few countries to have met its targets. But he too went on to express skepticism about the idea that "climate change" was the cause of conflict.

These three speeches amounted to a Niagara of cold water pouring over the argument that an imminent climate emergency is a threat to peace and security requiring the UN Security Council to intervene to force massive carbon reductions on reluctant member-states.

Consider now that China and India are the two most important economies in Asia, and that Russia is an energy superpower as well. Consider also that Russia and China are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power of veto over its decisions, and that India is the Asian country with the best claim to joining them there. When you add up all those facts, the speeches calling for the UNSC to push a reluctant world to implement the hairshirt economic policy of Net-Zero are soon revealed as a dystopian delusion.

To adapt an old gag: the dogs may bark, but the caravan has ground to a halt.

In Canada, Nowhere to Run from Carbon Tax

In a 6-3 split decision issued this week, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the Trudeau government's carbon tax constitutional. The majority decision, written by Chief Justice Richard Wagner, held that Ottawa could legally impose the tax on all provinces because of the Peace, Order and Good Government clause of Canada's constitution, which allows the federal government to legislate on matters of national concern on which provincial governments are unable to act. Justice Wagner assumes that "unable" can also mean "unwilling," and then leans heavily on the "concern." He writes,

This matter is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world.... [Climate change] is a threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed to the world... The undisputed existence of a threat to the future of humanity cannot be ignored.

Faced with this histrionic language, it is worth noting that Wagner was first appointed to the court by Conservative PM Stephen Harper, before he was made chief by Justin Trudeau. Just another example of Harper's failure to tilt the Canadian judiciary in a broadly conservative direction during his nine years in office. Trudeau's government isn't making the same mistake.

The National Post tries to put the majority's thinking in context, explaining that, for the carbon tax to achieve its declared goal of rescuing humanity from anthropogenic climate change, no province may be able to opt out, because of the danger "of carbon leakage, where an industry in a province with carbon pricing might just locate to a neighbouring province without it."

That is, if the tax is imposed only on provinces which support the Liberal government in Ottawa, then businesses hoping to avoid the tax might just move to places like Alberta and Saskatchewan, which don't. But couldn't that reasoning be extended further? Why wouldn't businesses look to relocate out of Canada altogether?

CPC leader Erin O'Toole made just this point, warning of the "same risk of leakage of jobs and investment” to the United States, the great boogie man of Canadian political discourse. But I am thinking of countries like China, which will happily accept the jobs that western virtue signalers no longer want in their own country. Of course, China doesn't have the same concerns about carbon emissions that are so common in the west, but for our environmentalists, "out of sight, out of mind" is a key principle.

In any event, it seems that the only hope that foes of the carbon tax have going forward is for the Conservatives to win an election and repeal the law. And they might soon get their shot. Hopefully they don't screw it up.

The Wearin' of the Green

The Conservative Party of Canada are having their (virtual) policy convention this weekend, and one potential inclusion in their new platform is causing quite a stir in that country's monolithically left-wing media. This CBC headline tells the tale: "Conservatives debate whether to declare that 'climate change is real' at policy convention."

The language recognizing the reality of climate change was put forward by the Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier riding association, which added that, "[w]e believe that Canadian businesses classified as highly polluting need to take more responsibility in implementing measures that will reduce their GHG emissions and need to be accountable for the results."

The CBC's report is hysterically transparent, spending some time gawking at delegates who would dare to oppose this change in the platform -- one attendee said "she couldn't support any green policies until the health and safety concerns of 'industrial wind turbines' are better understood," although the writer assures us that this isn't a real issue.

The story then pivots to a discussion of Conservative leader, Erin O'Toole, who is famous for taking every position on every issue and saying whatever he needs to say to get good press:

O'Toole has promised the party's election platform will contain a climate change plan that could cut greenhouse-gas emissions. To attract new supporters — especially millennials — O'Toole has said he wants a made-in-Canada net zero approach that sees government partnering with and pushing companies to bring their emissions down, and carbon pricing that targets only industries, not individuals. "You're going to see a very detailed plan... that will, I think, make our commitments probably faster than Mr. Trudeau without a running-out-of-control federal carbon tax that he's already promising."

Sounds like witchcraft to me.

It's likely that some kind of green language will ultimately end up in the CPC platform, and it will probably get O'Toole a nice pat on the head for not being as backward as his party's voters. But in the end that will just be used as a pretext for the Liberal's positioning getting even more radical, and it won't help him, or his party, come election time.

Meanwhile, Canadian businesses and Canadian workers will be the ones who suffer.

What's that Carbon Tax Gonna Cost?

Last week the Trudeau Government announced their brand new anti-climate change initiative, which included a significant hike in the carbon tax. As we discussed at the time, the plan is to increase the current tax of $30 per ton by $15 per year until settling (for now) at $170 per ton.

This is a big increase, but to most people those numbers seem entirely theoretical. A ton of carbon emitted sounds like a lot, and the average Canadian probably sees those numbers and figures that, since his car and furnace together don't emit that much, this doesn't affect him. Of course, this is exactly how Trudeau wants people to approach the issue.

But to set the record straight, Kris Sims of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has helpfully scaled those numbers down to the individual level. Here's what she came up with:

Right now, the federal carbon tax is at $30 per tonne, resulting in a tax of 6.6 cents per litre for gasoline and 8 cents per litre for diesel.... At those rates, filling up a minivan costs nearly $5 extra in the carbon tax, filling a light duty pickup truck costs $8 more and a super duty diesel pickup costs $14 more.... So, now that the feds are going to increase the carbon tax to $170 per tonne, what happens to these everyday costs?

This hike will put the carbon tax up to more than 37.5 cents per litre for gasoline, 45 cents per litre for diesel and 32.8 cents per cubic metre for natural gas. That means that very soon it will cost you $27 extra to fill up a minivan, $45 extra for a light duty pickup truck and $204 extra to fill just one diesel fuel cylinder on those big rig trucks that deliver everything from furniture to food across the country. Remember: this is just for the carbon tax. This doesn’t include the cost of the fuel, other taxes, the GST or the incoming second carbon tax that Trudeau’s government is creating. How many people have an easy extra $45 to fill up their trucks to go to work?

What, me worry?

And that's just for your vehicle. What about keeping your house warm? Sims lays that out as well:

When it comes to heating a home with natural gas, the carbon tax often costs more than the actual fuel being used. Homeowners in British Columbia sent the Canadian Taxpayers Federation their natural gas bills to show the costs. One of the bills showed an average-sized home in Gibsons using 466 cubic metres for one winter month last year, resulting in a carbon tax bill of $35. The homeowners had only used $27 worth of natural gas....

With a carbon tax of 32.8 cents per cubic metre of natural gas, it would cost that homeowner in Gibsons $150 extra in the carbon tax for just one winter month’s worth of natural gas. Based on the average annual use of natural gas in new Canadian homes, it would cost homeowners more than $885 extra in the carbon tax.

Canada is, of course, one of the most northerly nations in the world, but Gibsons, B. C., the town she uses as an example, is hardly one of the coldest areas in the country. In places like Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Arnprior, Ontario, those numbers are going to look at lot worse.

Trudeau Announces Massive Carbon-Tax Hike

Back in April we reported on the Trudeau government's odd decision to go ahead with their plan to double the federal tarbon Tax in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic that had wreaked havoc on the Canadian economy. Why, we wondered, would they push forward with a plan that would make the lives of regular Canadians more expensive at a time when so many people were losing their jobs? Why add a further layer of uncertainty to an already unstable market?

Unfortunately the prime minister's instincts haven't improved in the past nine months. While we have a much clearer picture of the virus than we had at the time, and improved treatments as well, the Canadian economy has been slowly strangled by government imposed lockdowns.

Justin Trudeau has attempted to counter this by increasing spending, which he's financed by massively increasing public debt. According to the Fraser Institute's Livio di Matteo, "federal net debt for 2019-20 was close to $800 billion and for 2020-21 will likely exceed $1.1 trillion." Provincial debt too has significantly increased, from $700 billion to over $800 billion, and the two combined are nearing 90 percent of GDP, a level not seen since the debt crisis of the early 1990s. Just as in that crisis, Canada has already seen its credit rating downgraded.

But even as things get increasingly desperate, the Trudeau government has refused to tap the breaks on his disastrous climate agenda even slightly.

Just the opposite, in fact. For the most recent example, today the government released its newest climate plan, entitled "A Healthy Environment and A Healthy Economy." Its goal is "to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030," and it proposes to do this by, first, increasing (debt-financed) spending by $15 billion, and second by dramatically increasing the carbon tax.

The tax had been projected to increase from its current level of $30 per ton to $50 by 2022. According to the new plan, however, that amount will jump by $15 every year until it reaches $170 per ton in 2030, with the object of "wean[ing] consumers off fossil fuels in favour of cleaner energy sources." Of course, those cleaner energy sources don't yet exist, at least not in forms that would allow them to replace fossil fuels. (Also they aren't really cleaner).

It is interesting to note that even the CBC, Trudeau's cheerleading news organization that it is, does mention the impact this will have on Canadian consumers:

The tax hike will result in higher costs for consumers when they buy gasoline. The price at the pump will increase by 37.57 cents a litre by 2030 as a result of this new plan, and the cost of light fuel oil for home heating, natural gas and propane will rise as well.

The current average gas price in Ontario is $1.19 per liter, so a 38-cent increase is massive. And of course the price for heating homes and businesses in one of the most northerly nations in the world will also increase significantly.

Right now Canada is being crushed under the weight of the pandemic and the lockdowns. The Trudeau government is insisting on increasing the load. Will Canadians ever say, enough?

Thanks Again, Fracking!

In a recent article in the Toronto Sun, Lorrie Goldstein comments on a surprising fact: that Justin Trudeau, the dream political leader of the environmental lobby, is going to have to concede that Canada has missed the emissions reduction target it agreed to in 2009, while America -- after four years under Donald J. Trump -- will actually exceed that target. Says Goldstein:

This despite the fact Trump, unlike Trudeau, never imposed a national carbon tax on the U.S. Nor has any American president done so. Also, despite the fact Trump, unlike Trudeau, announced he was withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement in 2017, saying it was contrary to the economic interests of the U.S.

The 2009 targets, negotiated by the prime minister and the president's respective predecessors as part of the Copenhagen Accord, informally committed both nations to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. While America's emissions projections for 2020 are about 20 percent below 2005 levels, Canada's projections are down only 0.14 percent. For Canada to meet its commitments for 2020, Goldstein points out, "we would have to cut our current emissions by 123 million tonnes — the equivalent of the annual emissions from our entire agriculture sector and most of our electricity sector — in less than a month."

How could this be? Well, part of the story of America's success (if you could call it that) is the government imposed Covid-19 lockdowns. Goldstein mentions that U. S. emissions for 2020 are down roughly 10 percent from where they otherwise would have been without the lockdowns, which sounds great until you consider the economic devastation they also wrought. The cure in this case was far worse than the disease.

Of course, Canada also locked down and had an equivalent emissions drop. Which is to say, the pandemic doesn't even begin to tell the full story.

What actually happened is that, while the Trudeau government dove deep into virtue signaling environmentalist rhetoric, the U. S. allowed "market forces, innovation and [smart] energy policy" to do their work. Among other things, the U. S. leaned in hard to hydraulic fracturing, allowing us to gradually transition away from our reliance on coal towards natural gas, which "burns at half the carbon dioxide intensity of coal."

Meanwhile in Canada, Goldstein points out, "several provinces have banned fracking," bowing to anti-fracking sentiment in the green movement, while the Trudeau government has imposed a national carbon tax (and doubled it mid-way through a global pandemic), and put real political capital into transitioning away from oil and natural gas, which accounts for roughly 10 percent of the nation's GDP.

It'd be nice if more environmentalists started recognizing (as Michael Schellenberger has) that their preferred methods of addressing these issues are mostly hokum and started advocating for policies which actually work. Both don't hold your breath. Most of them are just hypocrites who mindlessly condemn President Trump as a Captain Planet-style villain, while lauding all of the Trudeaupian fluff.

Cracks Appear in the Climate Consensus

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

Or so it would appear.

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

As green as they come.

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

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

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

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

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

The whole world is watching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind, concentrated.

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

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

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

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

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

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