There's No Green Way of War

When last heard from, I was pointing out that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, though undoubtedly a monstrous crime by every decent standard, had produced one worthwhile consequence. It had forced the political leaders of the Western world to be much more realistic about their policies on energy. The first expression of this realism was the strategic decision of several European countries, above all Germany, to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.

There’s been more talk than action on this front since February 24, with commitments followed by qualifications, but European governments now seem on the verge of agreeing upon a collective plan to substantially cut their demand for cheap Russian energy. That will have a massive impact on the world’s energy markets with innumerable secondary effects that we can only dimly foresee but which we will shortly be experiencing.

Among them, however, is that this decision will complicate even further what is the invasion’s second major consequence for energy policy—namely, it has made the legally-binding commitment by Western governments to a Net-Zero policy of reducing carbon emissions by 2050 completely unrealistic so that it will have to be substantially re-thought.

Governments aren’t good at rethinking bad policies even when they’re minor policies, and Net-Zero isn’t a minor policy. Once President Biden entered office, every government in the West had committed itself to Net-Zero policies and Boris Johnson had held a vast international conference to make that commitment as dramatic and as unsayable as possible.

In happier times: David Attenborough and Boris Johnson.

You see the problem. If you nail yourself to a sinking ship, you must learn not only how to swim but also how to remove nails from planks. That’s too embarrassing for modern Western governments to admit publicly. They want to combine—and camouflage—these two exercises with lectures on the unchangeable necessity of nails remaining in planks. Accordingly, as the priorities for energy policy change in order to resist Putin’s Russia, all the secondary policies that Net-Zero requires are trundled out to establish the falsehood that energy priorities remain unchanged and unchangeable. The result is what’s known as “cognitive dissonance” or following contradictory policies simultaneously.

Here, for instance, is a recent report from the Guardian via Yahoo News that Northern Irish farmers have been instructed to cull their herds by more than 500,000 cattle and 700,000 sheep to reduce methane emissions (from cow and sheep farts) in order to meet “legally binding climate targets” required for Net-Zero. You may have missed this news. Understandably. But you are more likely to have come across two much bigger current news stories.

The first is that Britain is fighting a major diplomatic war with the European Union over the Northern Ireland protocol that imposes an internal United Kingdom customs barrier in the Irish Sea damaging to, among others, Northern Irish farmers. The second is that the British people are facing a massive “cost of living” crisis as the bills for Covid, lockdown costs, and Net-Zero regulations cascade onto the U.K. Treasury which promptly passes them onto the voters in the form of higher taxes and soaring energy bills. Both these crises will now be made worse for British people, and in particular for the farmers in Northern Ireland, by the need to abide by Net-Zero policies even though they’ve been made irrelevant by the post-Ukraine energy re-think.

The farmers will face serious loss of income, the government will be mired in a political crisis, and the hard-pressed U.K. consumer will have to pay higher prices for beef and lamb—when he or she can find them that is, since the (quietly stated) aim of the policy is to get people to eat less meat by providing less of it in supermarkets. In practice many people will reduce other purchases in order to continue eating the same amounts of meat at considerably higher prices. The cost of living crisis will be aggravated, tax revenues will fall, and market signals will be replaced by administrative commands--with the usual results. A policy of making people poorer turns out to be quite expensive—as the next news story shows in spades.

In happier times: beef on the hoof.

Britain has a National Infrastructure Commission—not many people know that—which is looking at ways to fund the change from heating homes with gas boilers to doing so with ground-based electric heat pumps. It will offer the government its advice next year, but the NIC chairman, former Whitehall mandarin Sir John Armitt, has kindly given us a preview of how its collective mind is working.

He told the Daily Telegraph that a ban on new gas boilers would have to be imposed in order to force consumers to buy heat pumps instead. In his own mellifluous words:

 Why would you move to a heat pump at somewhere between £5-£15,000 as long as you can buy or exchange for a new gas boiler for £1,500? The only way that you can make such a significant shift is by saying, well, ‘from a particular date, you will not be able to buy a new gas boiler’.

Good question—and one that the political class answered some time ago in Whitehall but that the voters are really being asked for the first time. Not unfittingly therefore Sir John replied to himself as follows:.

As long as we hold 2050 net zero targets, close to our hearts, there is going to be a tension. Because to get to that point, it’s going to require very big long-term decisions which will cost money. And then at the same time, no politician wants voters on its back because the price of energy is going up. So yes, there is a tension, which requires a very honest debate and discussion. [My italics]

The most honest response to that is that the only people in Britain who seriously hold Net-Zero targets close to their hearts are senior civil servants and the kind of radical environmentalist protesters who glue themselves to the road and obstruct traffic in preference to rational argument. Government ministers used to be in that category, but the Russo-Ukraine war is forcing them to confront the facts of life and death and of politics too.

In energy policy the facts are that the West can’t afford to sustain Ukraine in its resistance to Russia by relying either on Russian supplies of oil and gas or on renewable energy sources such as wind and sun. Both are inherently unreliable. Inevitably, therefore, we will be later in switching to renewables, using fossil fuels for longer than we had planned, and looking for new sources of fossil fuels and employing new methods such as fracking to do so.

In short we will gradually abandon—or in the softer language of bureaucracy—extend the Net-Zero targets to a later date. That being so, why do we prevent people eating what they wish and force them to spend large sums on expensive heat pumps that—final piece of honesty—don’t actually warm their homes as well as the heaters they already have. It shouldn't cost so much money simply to save a government's face.

'Blue States Are the Problem'

New York Times journalists Johnny Harris and Binyamin Applebaum take a look at the gross and grotesque inequalities in such "progressive" states as California, Illinois, and Connecticut and discover that the problems are coming from inside the house.

Enjoy the schadenfreude, with a heaping side order of hypocrisy, all washed down by the sweet tears of whine. With special guest appearances by Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and other enemies of the people:

The report looks at results in the 18 states where Democrats control all the levers of political power and compares the Democrat national party platform's prescription for things like housing and taxes to the reality on the ground. Spoiler alert: NIMBY!

At least rich liberals have common sense, even if they have no principles.

 

The Green Covid 'Relief' Bill

On Sunday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer announced that they had come to an agreement on the details of a second Covid-19 relief package. There had been a lot of public wrangling over what the bill should look like, with senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling for $1,200 payments to Americans to compensate them for the economic disruption of the government-imposed lockdowns, a provision which President Trump supported but which was ultimately thwarted by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).

There was debate about whether businesses should be granted immunity from Covid-related lawsuits (to which the Democrats objected), and whether state and local governments adversely effected by the pandemic should be bailed out (to which the Republicans objected). In the end, after a number of compromises, senators were left with a neat, tidy bill which they could all be happy with.

Or at least, that was what leadership expected them to say. In fact, the text of the bill was more than 5,000 pages long, and wasn't released until two hours before it was to be voted on. For once, AOC is right:

Not reading it didn't stop Congress from passing the $2.3 trillion legislation by huge margins on Monday. To echo AOC's leader on another massive bill, I guess they had to pass it for us to find out what's in it.

That's exactly what we're finding out now, and there are quite a few howlers, from $10 million for Pakistani "gender programs" to the creation of a committee to combat performance enhancing drug use in horse racing. But the surprising provisions which feature the most prominently in the actual text of the bill are all climate related. This is from an AP report entitled "Congress takes aim at climate change in massive relief bill":

The huge pandemic relief and spending bill includes billions of dollars to promote clean energy such as wind and solar power while sharply reducing over time the use of potent coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators.... The energy and climate provisions, supported by lawmakers from both parties, were hailed as the most significant climate change law in at least a decade. “Republicans and Democrats are working together to protect the environment through innovation,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The sprawling legislation also extends tax credits for solar and wind power that are a key part of President-elect Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to generate 100 percent “clean electricity” by 2035. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware... said the bill would cut pollution from school buses, air conditioners, refrigerators and more, while creating thousands of American jobs and helping “save our planet from the climate crisis.″ “Make no mistake,″ he said, the new legislation “will soon be some of the most significant climate solutions to pass out of Congress to date.″

For all of the hand wringing over this being the second largest bill in American history, as well as attempts by  Johnson and others to trim down benefits to individual Americans, Republicans and Democrats conspired to shower taxpayer dollars on questionable and controversial green priorities which have nothing to do with the virus, without saying a word about it in public.

It's almost as if the pandemic is just an excuse to do whatever they already wanted to do to begin with.