Big Brother's Heating & Cooling Service

As the global energy crisis drags on, the responses to it are going to get more authoritarian. Here's an example: the government of Japan are looking into the possibility of remotely adjusting the temperature in private homes which are deemed too warm or cool. From Japan Today:

[I]n a meeting on Nov 2, the Energy Conservation Subcommittee of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry resolved to begin working group discussions with the aim of gaining the ability to remotely turn down privately owned air conditioner/heater units. The goal would be to decrease energy usage during expected power shortages, which the committee feels are a growing concern as Japan attempts to shift towards renewable energy sources such as solar power, where the amount generated can be affected by day-to-day climate, making it difficult to stabilize the amount of total power available. The ministry says that AC unit usage accounts for roughly 30 percent of household electricity consumption in Japan.

Japan, as the article notes, is hot and humid in the summer and can be chilly in the winter. The idea of an "Energy Conservation Subcommittee" huddled in a government building in Tokyo somewhere deciding on the optimal temperature of every home in a country of 125 million people should make the citizenry sweat. Or give them chills, as the case may be.

Now, one might say, Japan has an entirely different culture than we do. It has long had an authoritarian streak, but there's no way that we in the West would stand for anything like this, right?

Well, the general acquiescence to Covid outrages would suggest otherwise, but remaining in the realm of climate hysteria, how about this: Switzerland is considering throwing people in jail for the crime of "excessively" heating their homes. The Toronto Sun reports:

Switzerland is considering putting anyone who heats their rooms above 19C [66.2 Fahrenheit] in jail for up to three years, according to Blick.... Fines could also be handed out for violators. Markus Sporndli, a spokesman for the Federal Department of Finance, told Block that the rate for fines on a daily basis could start at 30 Swiss Francs (about $40 Canadian). He added that the maximum fine could be up to 3,000 Swiss Francs (over $4,000).

Advocates of these measures have blamed the war in Ukraine -- the Swiss government has suggested that it would only go through with this plan if the war continues through the winter. But the energy crisis predated the war, though it was certainly exacerbated by it. It cannot, therefore, be blamed entirely on Vladimir Putin. It is, in large part, the result of our gullible (or malevolent) governing class who promised that, if we would just abolish fossil fuels and nuclear power plants, "renewable energy" would step in and fill the void. Now they're talking about throwing you into the void. Typical.

Concerning the Great Elec-Trick

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

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

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

Halfway there.

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

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

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

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

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

Gonna need a lot more of these things.

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

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

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

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

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

The Coming Struggle to Stay Warm

One of the first columns I wrote for The Pipeline almost three years ago employed the metaphor of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object to forecast the likely consequences of Green politics. The irresistible force was the imposition of a policy of Net-Zero carbon emissions upon the populations of the West, in particular those of Anglosphere, and the immovable object was the democratic electorates of these countries.

It might take time, I argued, but when the voters found that Green Deals and such meant higher energy prices, higher taxes, immiseration of the less well-off, and harshly puritan lifestyles for the rest of us, an almighty smash-up would ensue.

And so it has. Indeed, the smash-up has come sooner than I expected, namely this year, and it will almost certainly be harsher because the negative impact of Net-Zero has been aggravated by the Russo-Ukraine war and sanctions adopted by the U.S. and the E.U. in response to it.

To stop train, pull handle. But think first.

What I didn’t expect, however, is that the smash-up would take place in slow-motion. But that is what’s happening.

Almost wherever you look, there’s some not-very-important story that tips you off to a subterranean explosion whose full impact won’t be properly felt for a while. The effect is something like the delayed impact of depth charges or deadpan jokes.

Here, for instance, is the London Daily Telegraph telling us that the Brits will be wearing new styles of underwear this winter—and not because they’re hoping for a more exotic sex-life:

Households are stockpiling thermal underwear to avoid turning on the heating this winter as energy bills spiral. John Lewis, Britain’s biggest department store chain, said shoppers had rushed to buy warmer clothes in recent weeks, with sales of winter thermals having doubled last week compared to a week earlier. Sales of dressing gowns are up 76pc compared to last year.

That’s the precautionary principle reduced to the bare essentials. Like everyone else in the northern hemisphere, ordinary Brits are expecting a chilly winter this year because of the following factors (which didn't start with Mr. Putin’s war); Like most Western governments, the U.K. powers-that-be have neglected to invest enough in energy security because they quite consciously preferred to invest in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy. That is the orthodoxy of Net-Zero (sometimes enforced by treaties) in E.U. countries such as Germany, non-E.U. countries like Britain, and the U.S.

It’s a massive enterprise because until recently fossil fuels provided more than 85 percent of total energy to even the most technically advanced economies. In pursuit of this vision of a future of all-renewable energy, Germany has shut down almost all its nuclear power stations, keeps equivocating over whether the shut down the few remaining ones, and ends up relying on “dirty coal” now that cheap Russian energy is as unreliable as "renewables."

California, dreaming...

Over the Pond the Biden administration has been refusing to license oil-and-gas explorations on federal land with the embarrassing result that it has to import oil from Venezuela. And the U.K. government too has banned “fracking” that would exploit the nation's plentiful reserves of natural gas. As a result almost all of these countries are facing the risk of energy shortfalls to the point at which energy “blackouts” and rationing are seriously entertained by utilities and regulators if the winter is severe. California too.

Moreover, the costs of transitioning to renewables are not only high, they are rising. The International Energy Agency has just revised its estimate of the investment needed to limit global temperatures to meet the Net-Zero target under the Paris Accords upwards. That will now rise from the 390 billion dollars annually today to 1.3 trillion dollars a year between now and 2030. If met, those targets would eliminate emissions from the energy sector by 2035 in the advanced world and by 2040 in developing countries. But they are unlikely to be met. On present trends Net-Zero won’t be achieved until 2060—and present trends look too optimistic in the light of the present energy crisis.

The upshot of which is that almost all the West’s governments face slightly different versions of two serious problems: uncertain energy supplies, and existing high indebtedness.

Take energy supplies first. Germany is facing a serious crisis of its fundamental economic model in the post-Ukraine world, Its two foundations were exporting cars to China and importing cheap energy from Russia. For the foreseeable future, neither now looks like a reliable prospect or even a possible one. Berlin must now struggle to replace the Russian energy half-forbidden by the sanctions it supports diplomatically.

Artifacts of an ancient civilization, if Greens get their way.

Similarly, because Britain neglected nuclear investment—its target of 25 percent of energy from nuclear power stations will be reached in 2050!—the country is heavily dependent on imported natural gas which it needs to solve the renewables’ “intermittency problem”: there are days when the wind doesn’t blow nor the sun shine. As Andrew Stuttaford points out, that makes the earlier decision of the U.K. government to close down its biggest natural gas storage capacity an especially shortsighted one. Even the French, who sensibly went nuclear in a big way in the 1970s, now have to spend on repairs and modernization.

What of the second aspect of the crisis: overspending? Two sorts of spending need to be financed here—that for Net-Zero, and that to finance the energy security national governments have neglected. Unfortunately, however necessary they are, they come on top of the massive sums of money that the same governments have already spent during the Covid-19 pandemic on locking down their economies and paying their people to stay at home. That backlog of indebtedness explains why the financial markets are becoming nervous of lending money to governments that don’t make financial responsibility their top priority. Interest rates are rising again in response to rising inflation, and that's a problem for governments that want to borrow money.

We saw that very recently when the British government fell because the markets thought it was adopting a cavalier attitude to debt. That impression was both exaggerated--the U.K.’s national debt as a percentage of GDP is one of the lowest in Europe--and largely the result of rash but trivial political misjudgments by ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. All the same, the market brought them down because they were planning to add to an already high total of government spending.

Long johns, here we come.

When that happens, every spending program becomes the enemy of every other program. If restoring energy security becomes a priority for governments, then spending on Net-Zero will—and should—come under pressure. After all, Britain's short financial crisis became a political one in part because it was leading to a rise in mortgage payments. Like rising sales of warm thermal underwear, rising mortgage payments are another symptom of the price that the Brits will be paying for ill-judged energy policies. Voters' shoes are beginning to pinch; the immovable object is beginning to stiffen.

Of course, the irresistible force (in the form of support for Net-Zero from an alliance of the establishment and radical Green anarchists) has neither vanished nor much diminished. At almost every stage it has objected to policies that looked likely to prioritize energy security over the transition to renewables. With the arrival of a new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, it has been flexing its muscles to warn him that it will tolerate no lifting of the ban on fracking that the doomed Liz Truss tried to bring about. Net-Zero is an obstruction to restoring the energy security that it undermined in the first place. The circle closes.

My impression is that Sunak is taking his time to assess what Leonid Brezhnev used to call “the correlation of forces.” On the one hand, he has said that he will keep the ban on fracking unless evidence appears that suggests it is not dangerous to the environment; on the other, he has decided not to attend the U.N.’s COP 27 Climate Summit on the grounds that, in effect, he’s got more important things to do in London. My translation: he doesn’t want to attend and be trapped into making commitments on Net-Zero that might later be inconvenient to his overall energy and budgetary policies.

He may also think that Winter when the snow falls and Britain’s bedrooms freeze will be time also when the irresistible force of Net-Zero becomes much less irresistible and the immovable object of voter resistance much more resistant. And irremovable.

New Nukes, More Nukes, not No Nukes

The war in Ukraine created a new energy reality. Russian petrochemicals, including natural gas once bound for Europe, are now being sold to India, China and other customers in Asia. Offering discounts out of necessity, Russia has displaced 'gray market' Iranian and even Gulf oil in Asian countries. The distribution has rearranged the map of buyers and sellers, but there is little doubt that the market for petrochemicals has shrunk for a long time to come.

The world is reeling from the economic impact of steeply rising fuel costs but bureaucrats at the International Energy Agency (IEA) can scarcely contain their delight at the shortage of 'fossil fuels.' They hope to avoid any further investment in petroleum and meet the entire energy shortfall through increases in renewables. "Global fossil fuel use has grown alongside GDP since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century: putting this rise into reverse will be a pivotal moment in energy history... Today’s growth rates for deployment of solar PV, wind, EVs and batteries, if maintained, would lead to a much faster transformation than projected in the Stated Policies Scenario, although this would require supportive policies not just in the early leading markets for these technologies but across the world." In other words subsidies and incentives for renewables will still be needed to save the day.

First World problems.

Prominently missing from the IEA's list of preferred energy technologies is nuclear power, which despite a high regulatory cost burden that must be capitalized is nevertheless "cost competitive with renewable generation when capital cost is in the region of 2000-3000 ($/KW)." It is extremely reliable and insensitive to fluctuations in fuel costs because the fissile material is replenished so infrequently. Moreover the big reactors -- unlike renewables -- are 'load following', that is to say able to increase or decrease their output in response to the demands of the grid. Because they are so useful, planned nuclear power capacity worldwide will increase steadily with about 55 reactors under construction, mostly in the Asian region.

Nuclear power technology is also advancing steadily. "More than a dozen advanced reactor designs are in various stages of development." The most mainstream of the new designs are the Generation IVs. The Generation IV International Forum (GIF), initiated by the US Department of Energy in 2000, has 13 member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Switzerland, China, Russia, Australia, U.K., U.S.A.) plus Euratom jointly developing next generation nuclear technology. Six designs have been readied so far. They feature:

Perhaps the most exciting development is the availability of commercial small nuclear reactors, which are perhaps the most tested kind of all. Many hundreds of smaller power reactors have been built for naval use accumulating over 12,000 reactor years of experience. They are inherently safer. "This is largely due to their higher surface area to volume (and core heat) ratio compared with large units. It means that a lot of the engineering for safety including heat removal in large reactors is not needed in the small reactors." But their biggest advantage is they can be located—even airlifted—anywhere, even where the local grid is limited or nonexistent.

By contrast solar PV, wind, EVs and batteries require a smart grid to smooth out supply and demand. Solar farms built in North Africa, for example, need huge, kilometers-long undersea power cables to send electricity to overcast Europe. Called the EuroAfrica Interconnector, it will have 1000 MW capacity in the first stage, only equal to an average nuclear power plant. But unlike a nuclear power plant, which can be securely located near the user, a solar array in North Africa has to be secured along a long, vulnerable line of communications across national boundaries.

Given these factors, why aren't Green activists turning more to nuclear power to redress the energy crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine war? The counterintuitive reason is that cheap and reliable nuclear power would enable wasteful capitalist consumption and undo the Green agenda. Environmentalist Paul Ehrlich said in 1975:

In fact, giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. With cheap, abundant energy, the attempt clearly would be made to pave, develop, industrialize, and exploit every last bit of the planet—a trend that would inevitably lead to a collapse of the life-support systems upon which civilization depends.

Cheap nuclear power would allow ordinary people, even in the Third World, to afford big screen TVs, game consoles, electric vehicles, lights, air conditioning, etc., all of which in the Leftist view would spell disaster.

The Catch-22 is that hardcore Greens prefers power to be expensive in order to cut consumption. As an op-ed in the Seattle Times put it: "High gas prices? They’re just what we need." The Green nightmare is billions of Africans living like Americans. The advantage of solar and wind over nuclear is it sets a hard limit on the lifestyle it will support. In that way Americans would live like Africans. As filmmaker Robert Stone put it: "as you provide societies with more energy it enables them to do more environmental destruction. The idea of tying us to the natural forces the wind and the sun was very appealing in that it would limit and constrain human development."

For the radical Greens, that's a good thing.

From Hearings to Hogwash

With gas prices now broadly lower than a few months ago, and believing it is tactically valuable with mid-terms just over fifty days out, Democrats have resumed their attacks against the oil and gas industry. Apparently believing that Americans are thirsting for the unimaginative narrative that oil and gas industry greed is responsible for creating higher gas prices and concomitant economic malaise, they are heading for a mighty miscalculation. They prefer to ignore the plainly failed Biden policies that are creating the current market conditions responsible for record inflation and higher prices for everything from gasoline to Gatorade, and instead toreturn to tactics that offer symbolism over substance.

We've just witnessed two days of hearings by two separate committees eager to get back to the boring bloviations by politicians and academics. Together, the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations offered feigned outrage about oil and gas producers, and misstated facts and re-framed realities. The strategy of each committee was slightly different, but the tactics and overarching objective remained the same. Use whatever means necessary to hamper, intimidate, denigrate, and dismantle the most important sector of the U.S. economy—energy—to destroy the economy and force a change of behavior by the American people that would never be possible if the Democrats' political ideas were taking the country in a positive direction.

Acknowledged by leaders of both parties prior to January 2020 as the most important driver of economic vitality, inexpensive and abundant energy has now become a whipping boy for Leftists. Extracted using low-impact techniques, innovative processes, advanced technological engineering and a well-paid workforce, the American oil and gas industry delivers the safest and most cleanly produced oil and gas in the history of the world. But from the start, Biden has issued a steady stream of executive orders intended to hamstring the industry, limit supply so as to drive prices up, and give broad regulatory authority to agencies to investigate and in some cases arbitrarily punish those who ignore his demands to produce energy from "renewable" energy sources. All in complete denial of reality: that alternative energy sources such as  wind and solar are neither reliable, nor capable of meeting the energy needs of this country. 

America held hostage: Congress suspected.

Since Biden entered office, there has been an orchestrated effort by the president’s advocates, agency leadership, and committees on the Hill to denigrate, and if necessary, delegitimize opposing political views, industries, and economic activity. Agencies have been granted unprecedented investigatory powers through executive orders at the Security and Exchange Commission, the Energy Department, and Department of Justice through their "environmental justice"  initiatives, while congressional committees issue a blizzard of subpoenas. Legal energy-related businesses and even truth itself have come under the scrutiny of hostile officials who forget they work for American taxpayers.

During this week’s hearings by the Committee on Oversight and Reform, chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asserted that oil companies should somehow not be in the business of oil and gas production. Instead, they should direct their oil and gas revenue toward alternative power generation activities… which do not create sufficient revenue to keep the companies viable. By her lights, Exxon should be using investor capital to not maximize revenue from its core business activity. All while ignoring legal obligations Exxon has to investors and while ignoring the role the administration has had in obliterating America’s energy production capabilities through deliberately destructive policy prescriptions. 

Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations was continuing with its ongoing investigation of public relations firms’ role in "spreading climate change denial.” According to reports, chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and subcommittee chair Katie Porter (D-CA) have been seeking documents from several private companies detailing their work for oil and gas producers and industry trade associations. These are legal companies being told they need to turn over their client documents to the government for partisan political reasons. This is intended to have a chilling effect on professional-services providers who work in the oil and gas industry, and is a tactic intended to promote fear and to coerce participation in inane hearings like these. To their credit, the companies declined the request to participate in the charade.

Don't forget unicorn farts.

While the committees are using their tactics of coercion, so too is the administration. The director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, is a former BlackRock executive who enthusiastically embraces the dubious environmental, social and governance (ESG) construct which intendeds to re-orient investor capital toward what are described as “global goals” that include the funding of businesses and industries that align with BlackRock’s economic interest and political worldview, even if in defiance of the best interest of their clients. Like committees’ subpoena threats against private citizens running their private companies, the ESG concept is similarly intended to change corporate behavior. If the corporations have the acceptable ESG score, determined by their political adversaries, they get the capital they need to run their companies, If not, as is happening with the oil and gas industry, the companies have difficulty accessing the capital these ESG advocates control.

As the energy industry goes, so goes American capitalism. You've been warned.

THE COLUMN: Virtue Über Alles

For first time since the end of the Second World War, continental Europe is facing shortages: of food and, crucially, of energy. During the war, as the tide inexorably turned against National Socialist Germany after the disastrous battle of Stalingrad in 1943, the Third Reich was ground to powder by the Stalinist U.S.S.R. and the Western allies, principally the United States, with some help from a reeling Great Britain. The brutal winter of 1944-45 saw the Germans reduced to salvaging firewood from the wreckage of their principal cities and eating the animals in the zoos in order to survive.

Germany and Britain now face another tough winter, but this time the crisis is of their own making. Deluded by their Leftist parties, including the so-called "Greens" (like watermelons, green on the outside, communist red on the inside), and frivolously stampeded by a cataclysmic earthquake/tsunami in a country 5,600 miles away, the panicked Europeans suddenly abandoned their nuclear facilities while simultaneous pivoting away from reliable sources of energy in order to pursue quixotic fantasies of "renewable" energy that will never come true. What did socialists use before candles? Electricity.

Atomische Narrheit.

Europe is in the middle of an energy crisis. Uncertainty over the flow of natural gas owing to Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused a spike in prices. The price of natural gas has soared to as much as $500 per barrel of oil equivalent, 10 times the normal average, fueling fears of winter shortages and cold homes.

Key commodities have already been affected. Fertilizer production, which requires large inputs of natural gas, is being shut down due to high prices. Manufacturers are hoarding glass in anticipation of future shortages. Climate change has made the situation worse, as a historic drought is drying up Europe’s rivers and cutting into hydroelectric capacity. The rising cost of energy has driven a spike in inflation in the United Kingdom, while Germany has suffered the worst inflation since the 1970s energy crisis.

What happened? The quote above from Foreign Policy partially explains how they got here (and, if things continue, the U.S. will not be far behind), but the real reason is: prosperity, combined with virtue-signaling neo-Luddism. The dreadful toll of death and destruction of the war, combined with the success of European reconstruction under the Marshall Plan, which saved the devastated economies of western Europe, left Europe with two debilitating by-products: the rise of pacifism as an anti-nationalist force and the abjuration of war as a means of foreign policy; and a false sense of economic security, under which they were free to chase their own chimeras of "soft power" and "progressive" living without any heed to reality.

The Europeans should have learned from their own history, but of course they never do. The Oxford Union's "King and Country" debate of 1933, a fateful year in European history, turned out to be one of the high points of British pacifism. Having been bled dry by the Somme and other horrific battles in World War I, and also having lost the cream of their manhood in the process, the Union passed the motion that "this House would not in any circumstances fight for King and Country." Winston Churchill who never saw a war he didn't want to fight, knew that war with Hitler was unavoidable, and was aghast at the surviving, whinging chaff of England's crop, the sons of the cowards, conscientious objectors, and those otherwise unfit to serve. Six years later, however, they were doing exactly that.

26th June 1945: perfidious Albion.

After the war, with Germany in ruins and Britain fully emasculated, the kinder, gentler, socialist side of the European character immediately came to the fore. Churchill was chucked out of office just a few months after VE Day. Pulverized and bifurcated, Germany abandoned militarism and undertook its Wirtschaftswunderor "Economic Miracle." (Now foolishly replaced by the Energiewende, or Energy Turning Point.) France, under de Gaulle, went its own idiosyncratic, Gallic way. Nobody wanted to fight any more: it was cheaper and easier to let Uncle Sam, in the form of NATO, to guarantee the defense of Europe against the emerging Soviet bear. 

As Europe rebuilt it found itself with serendipitous upgrades in its 19th-century infrastructure, including modern electrical grids, fossil-fuel home heating, widespread adoption of automobiles (called PKWs in German, for Personenkraftwagen). Within a span of less than three decades, Western Europe was probably the nicest place to live on the planet, with modern conveniences nestling side-by-side with ancient monuments, high culture available to all thanks to government subsidiaries, and food prepared by the great chefs of the old Continent. In such a lotus land, there were no consequences to living as if there were no consequences.

Meanwhile, the U.S. had become bogged down in Lyndon Johnson's War in Vietnam, race relations steadily worsened, crucial provisions of the American constitution were abrogated by an act of Congress, blacks rioted anyway, cities burned, whites fled, unprivileged boys died in rice paddies, prominent political figures were assassinated, the borders were thrown open, and the feminist movement—in its deleterious sociological and economic effects, the American equivalent of the Euro-pacifist movement—took firm hold both of the workplace and the ballot box. Thus were the consequences of living as if there were no consequences from fundamentally transforming the country from the victor in World War II into a pitiful, helpless giant.

As America foundered, Europe prospered. But now that the Rev. Wright's chickens have come home to roost, the great Republic is now just a shadow of its formerly muscular and confident self, brought low by the cultural sappers of the Frankfurt School and the winds of social change from the backsides of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Some may, and do, see this as a good thing (and indeed the Obama/Biden administrations have been predicated on it). Others, now being demonized by an increasingly demonic Robinette, do not. Those people, in case you haven't noticed, are now enemies of the state.

And as in Europe, those opposed, Iago-like, to safe, secure, ever-cleaner, cheap, and reliable energy are striving for the upper hand in the U.S.A. They know it's the death blow against the hated enemy: the land of their birth, the land that gave them shelter from Hitler, the land that opposed both national and international socialism. So watch your food prices soar, watch them outlaw your private gasoline-fueled cars and mandate electric vehicles with a limited cruising range that can be circumscribed by the flip of a switch at Government Central, and which can't be powered at all when the grid fails. Watch them herd you into high-rise ant-farm collectives, into which you can be confined at Washington's whim, and where ants are very much on the menu. Watch them laugh as you forage for roots and berries and bust up your pianos to burn in your fireplaces, should you be allowed to have a fireplace. Welcome to the Great Reset, comrade!

And watch yourself voting for them, again and again and again until they don't need you to vote anymore. Sure, it makes you feel good. But it makes them feel even better, and that's all you really need to know. Credo in un dio crudel. You've been warned. 

Liz Makes Britons an Offer They Can't Afford or Refuse

The U.K.'s new prime minister, Liz Truss, finds herself in an unenviable position. Britain -- along with the rest of Europe -- is facing out-of-control energy prices with winter fast approaching. Her predecessor, Boris Johnson, by unreservedly embraced his wife's net-zero enthusiasms, left the country's domestic energy industry in a parlous and perilous state. And the Labour Party has risen in the polls in part by proposing a massive windfall tax on what they suggest are the "excess profits" energy companies are pulling in due to the rise in oil and gas prices that have followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and using it to fund a "price freeze" on British energy bills.

Hoping to stall Labour's rise, the Johnson government enacted its own (smaller) windfall tax, but Truss has announced her intention to scrap it immediately, arguing that it amounts to a punishment for firms that invest in Britain. Instead she has proposed a plan which might be even more radical -- a "price freeze" funded by all British tax payers. Starting October 1st, British households will pay no more than £2,500 per annum for the next two years.

(Labour's plan, it is worth noting, would also have been largely funded by the taxpayer, because their windfall tax wouldn't have come close to paying for their pricing plan. But it sounds better to say that greedy oil companies are footing the bill.)

Of course, in reality there is no such thing as a "price freeze." What the plan actually amounts to is the government paying the bills that aren't covered by that £2,500 per household. Which is estimated to amount to a lot of money. How much exactly is unclear -- we don't yet know how real energy rates will go this winter or how cold it will get. Though, as Kate Andrews says at The Spectator, "a less generous package... was estimated earlier this week to be approaching £200 billion." It would be surprising to see this proposal cost less than that. Andrews points out one of the great dangers of this plan -- that it makes winter blackouts more likely:

We have a global shortage of energy – an ugly reality that domestic governments can do nothing about overnight. Truss’s decision to lift the fracking moratorium signals that the government wants to increase domestic energy production, but the policy change is unlikely to produce any quick or meaningful uptick in supply as local areas – which get the final say on whether fracking goes ahead – remain deeply opposed. So, we all need to use less energy this winter.... But by covering so much of the cost, Truss’s government has removed a lot of the incentive to cut back energy usage. Indeed, some people will probably increase their energy usage as bills will be so heavily subsidised by the state.

Economics 101 tells us that price increases are, in essence, a response to scarcity. By picking up consumers energy bills beyond a fixed point, said consumers are shielded from the reality of scarcity and consequently have no reason to consume less. This is especially true, Andrews argues, for wealthy Brits, whose bills will be capped at the same semi-arbitrary amount as the poor, despite their being better able to afford higher rates while also having bigger houses to heat and power. Instead of turning down the heat, they and their countrymen are just as likely to turn it up.

Truss's counter to these objections would no doubt be that there are really no good options, which is often the case in a crisis. Her hope is that keeping energy prices lower at the point of consumption will help get inflation under control, off-setting a new round of massive debt accumulation (and so soon after Covid lockdowns necessitated record borrowing of its own), while giving her other pro-energy, pro-free market policies a chance to beef up domestic production and turn the economy around. And, hopefully for her, just in time for the next general election, to be held no later than January, 2025.

Maybe it will work. But it's a hell of an expensive bet.

 

Boris Gives an Energized Curtain Speech

Yesterday Boris Johnson ceased to be the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister. A few days beforehand, in the dying days of his power, as the curtains swayed above the stage, about to descend and extinguish his premiership, the Old Pretender staged one last show of defiance and self-justification. And to the shock of the commentariat, it wasn’t the exercise in empty rhetoric and jokey bonhomie they were expecting.

Quite the contrary, Johnson announced an $800 million energy investment by the government in nuclear power; mildly rubbished the reintroduction of “fracking” for natural gas that his successor, Liz Truss, has promised; and strongly defended his “Deep Green” record of transitioning from fossil fuels to “renewables” like wind and sun in pursuit of the goal of Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It didn’t sound like the speech of a man who was bowing out of public life. More than that, Boris was defending the record of his premiership on the very energy and environmental issues on which he’s accused by many Tories of betraying his and their conservatism. He was painting his record red-white-and blue, running it up the mast, and betting that in the end they would salute it.

Why didn't I think of this before?

In other words he’s not given up all hope of returning to Downing Street. Maybe not today, maybe not until the Tories have suffered an election defeat under its new leadership in two years, but not too long after that when he calculates the Tories will have abandoned their recent but growing opposition to Net Zero austerity.

Consider the real meaning of his three main points above:

First,  some critics see his decision to invest $800 million in nuclear power and his praise of the Sizewell C nuclear plant as a renunciation of his “Green” switch to renewables. That’s not entirely true. Unlike the Greens or even Labour and European social democrats, the U.K. Tories have no ideological objection to nuclear power as such. It simply wasn’t a priority in the fight against global warming, and besides it was horrendously expensive. So it became the neglected child of their family of energy policies.

They did little or nothing about it until the combination of rising inflation, higher energy prices, and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine changed the cost calculations and made energy security a much more important element in the total policy blend. But since no other party had done much about nuclear power since the early 2000s, that let Boris off the hook. His embrace of nuclear power now means that he can add an extra strand to the U.K.’s energy mix and so reduce the risk of blackouts and rationing as it transitions to Net-Zero. Plus, hyping his commitment to nuclear power means he can’t be accused of being a fanatical Greenie. Altogether, a clever mix, but maybe too clever.

Second, Boris criticized “fracking” of natural gas that the new prime minister, Liz Truss, proposes to introduce. That’s a natural headline story in the Guardian where it can be translated as “New Tory PM attacked by old Tory PM.” But there’s less in it than meets the eye. According to the Daily Telegraph, Treasury officials, in expectation of the new PM, have already started work on a program of encouraging the production of oil and gas in Britain that will include lifting the ban on fracking.

Given the current world energy shortage, that policy is likely to go ahead—especially since one company has told the Treasury that it believes it can deliver “fracked” gas to the market as early as next year. Until now, however, fracking has been unpopular in the areas where companies were proposing to do it. Environmentalist groups are strongly opposed to it. Long term, it’s not a political certainty.

Farewell but not goodbye?

So Boris (who has been on both sides of this issue) criticized it in a very tentative way: ““If we could frack effectively and cheaply in this country, that would be possibly a very beneficial thing. I’m just, I have to say, slightly dubious that it will prove to be a panacea.” This statement is almost a definition of hedging your bets. In three year’s time, he can jump either way on fracking. If fracking seems to work, he says: “All I said was that it isn’t a panacea.” (And it isn’t, by the way, since a panacea is cure-all.) If it fails, he’ll shake his head and say: “Well, I always had my doubts.”

Third, Boris said: :

Tell everybody who thinks hydrocarbons are the only answer and we should get fracking and all that: offshore wind is now the cheapest form of electricity in this country… Of course it’s entirely clean and green.

That’s the moment when Boris threw aside caution and declared that his embrace of Net-Zero policies to defeat global warming will prove to be correct. Politically speaking, it may be a fair bet. The political and cultural establishments will welcome it and congratulate themselves on bringing the populist to heel.

But what will be the effect of his approach in the real world? Wind and sun are cheap forms of energy if you ignore the costs of investing in technologies that capture them and if you dismiss the costs of building the stand-by power stations they require when the wind fails and sun doesn’t shine. And if you do that, then you will produce blackouts and create a need for rationing.

Boris’s speech was sharply criticized by the man who resigned from his government last December because of its “direction of travel” (i.e., stationary) and who is now rumored to be a candidate for Liz Truss’s Cabinet in charge of deregulating the over-regulated U.K. economy: (Lord) David Frost. In his weekly Telegraph column, Frost made the point that Boris’s approach (and indeed, Boris’s personality) are rooted in an avoidance of dealing in advance with the inevitable trade-offs that good policy-making needs. Boris even gave a name to this approach: cakeism, when he said during the Brexit negotiations: “My policy is to have my cake and eat it." And though written before Boris spoke, Frost’s article reads like a reply to it:

For example, on energy, the underlying problem is not Vladimir Putin (though he’s made it worse) but poor policy giving us a grid that can’t reliably supply enough power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun shine, leaving us exposed to very high spot prices for gas and the kindness of (semi-)friends for power through the interconnectors. The basic trade-off is that if we want more renewables, we will have a more unreliable and expensive grid, and probably rationing; if we want security of supply, we need more, and more modern, gas power stations and probably some coal ones, but this will affect the path to net zero. It won’t do to say we can have both – that net zero remains the goal but there will be no rationing.

Boris's curtain speech shows he has grown a little more prudent--but only a little. Today, he declares he will eat his cake now and hope to still have it in three years. But if he returns to Downing Street on that manifesto, he'll soon be eating his cake in the cold and the dark.

In Britain, the Time Bell Rings

Observing the United Kingdom sailing headlong into a sea of troubles over energy and inflation, a cynic might well say: “Lucky Boris Johnson—he was forced out of power at exactly the right moment. Someone else will now have to carry the can.” It’s true that Britain’s economic troubles, which were already growing, have metastasized dramatically in the last few months, two in particular—a general rise in all-round inflation to 10 percent and a still sharper rise in regulated gas and electricity prices from $2,331 now to $4,237 in October and $5,026 in January.

Together they add up to a massive “cost of living crisis.” And because they grow out of deeply-rooted problems and self-destructive policies in the U.K.’s long-term economic strategy, it will take time and tough remedies to eradicate them.

As always, however, there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of people lining up to carry the can. About a dozen senior Tories put forward their names to succeed Boris at the start of the Tory leadership election. They were whittled down to two of Boris’s ministers—former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss—who are fighting a battle of debates on economic policy across the country in front of Tory voters and activists. We’ll know the result by September 5, with Truss now the favorite.

Truss: ready to lead?

[My own snapshot take: she’s the better bet on supply-side and de-regulation policies to improve productivity and revive British industry; he’s the safer pair of hands on financial and budgetary policies to restore a stable financial framework that would help the economy to expand without overheating. But both should be more prepared to cut state spending and borrowing.]

Whoever wins the premiership then, however, will have to face a general election within about 28 months. Given the severity of Britain’s problems, the Tories will undoubtedly face an uphill battle. That means Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, must now be taken seriously as a potential prime minister.

And indeed Sir Keir, a progressive left-wing lawyer before entering politics, whose usual pained expression is that of a man who has just swallowed a live fish out of politeness at a diplomatic dinner, and who has been struggling to make an impact on the electorate, has been given a shot in the arm and buoyancy in his step by the crisis.

Labour is demanding the recall of Parliament to debate the “cost of living crisis.” That’s quite a shrewd demand since Johnson is now a “caretaker” Prime Minister who constitutionally has to leave all major decisions to September the 5th and his successor. Starmer's attack on the Tories as a “do nothing” government in the face of the cost of living crisis then carries more weight. By contrast, he was able to step up to the plate with his own remedies in a speech that was better received than any earlier efforts and proposed solutions that according to opinion polls are in tune with the popular mood.

Those solutions—an energy price “freeze” paid for by the $34 billion proceeds of a higher windfall tax on oil and gas producers— are not new. They have been kicking around the Labour party’s thinking on energy since two leaders ago. And when Rishi Sunak himself was chancellor only a few months back, he introduced a much milder $6 billion version of the same thing which he delicately called a “temporary, targeted energy profits levy” of 25 percent. (It came accompanied by a 90 percent tax relief for firms that invest in oil and gas extraction in the U.K.)

Starmer: I can see No. 10 from here.

The problem with such “concessions” to opposition attacks and the popular mood is that they concede the principle without satisfying the demand. Worse, they make Labour’s proposals look like common sense to which the Tories are offering only a miserly response.

Commonsense is a rare and valuable commodity in public life, but economics is one of the very few areas where it can’t be applied wholesale. Commonsense suggests that we should charge lower fares for railway journeys at rush hours when the trains are crowded and uncomfortable. Economists respond that we should charge higher fares then and lower fares at off-peak times to encourage people to travel in less crowded and more comfortable conditions at all times. If we ignore them, commonsense ensures that we end up strap-hanging for hours in cattle cars.

In the same way the economically sensible response to higher energy prices is to devote state assistance to cash subsidies to the consumer—with larger subsidies going to poorer people for whom energy is a bigger proportion of their total spending. People then get to decide whether to devote this increase in their income to energy, to food, or to their other household needs. They know those needs better than “the Man in Whitehall.”

Given this full responsibility over how to spend their total income, they would be free to change their behavior by, for instance, using less power than usual. Moreover, high electricity prices, for instance, would give them further encouragement to do so, thus reducing demand for electricity, oil, and making a gradual start to solving the energy crisis in general.

O, lucky man!

So much for the demand side. On the supply side, as long as prices remain high—and any decline would likely be gradual—energy companies would have the incentive of high profits to search for new oil and gas fields and to re-open old ones closed in response to regulation. (We already see that happening.) Even as demand was being moderated by high prices, supplies of energy would be encouraged and increased by them. The energy market would come into balance, and other things being equal, prices would fall.

Which is why a windfall-profits tax is both mistaken economically and unjust ethically. A bold claim, I hear you say. But as it happens, with help from an old friend and colleague, Philip Lawler, I wrote a classic article on the Case against a Windfall Profits Tax thirty-three years ago. Originally I “ghosted it” for the U.S. Treasury Secretary, William Simon, who a few years later gave me permission to publish it under my own name which I have now done in National Review and the Spectator Online.

Immediately on entering office in 1981, Ronald Reagan blew away a  ramshackle maze of overlapping agencies and bureaucratic bafflegab; de-controlled energy prices and production; and led the world into a sustained three-decade boom floating on a sea of cheap oil and gas. It looks as if the Brits have decided to go in the opposite direction—and if Labour wins in 2024, with their foot on the accelerator.

THE COLUMN: 'Alea Iacta Est'

In early 49 B.C., fresh from his conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar and his Thirteenth Legion approached a small river that separated the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul from the Roman Republic's heartland. This stream, called the Rubicon, marked the political boundary of Rome's military might: no Roman general could bring men under arms into Italy. But Caesar, politically ambitious, was under threat. His eight-year campaign in Gaul had been deemed illegal by many in the Senate and there were calls for his head.

Further, one of his fellow members of the First Triumvirate, Crassus, had  been killed in a foolish, vanity fueled misadventure against the Parthians at Carrhae in 53 B.C., while Caesar's alliance with his  other triumvir, Pompey, had been shattered irreparably when his daughter Julia, Pompey's wife, had died in childbirth the year before. Although he was a hero to the people of Rome, Caesar knew his enemies in the Senate, led by Cicero, were plotting his downfall. What to do?

The only solution was to march on Rome and fight for power. Alea iacta est, he was supposed to have said as he led his troops across the muddy stream: "the die is cast." Thus began the civil war that destroyed the Republic and led to Caesar's own assassination in 44 B.C., paving the way for the rise of his grand-nephew, Octavius, to become Augustus, Rome's first emperor (he called himself, modestly, Princeps, or First Citizen), and thus establish the Roman Empire. Ever since, to "cross the Rubicon" has come to mean taking an irrevocable step, a daring gamble either to win or lose with the highest stakes depending on one throw of the dice.

Show me the man and I'll show you the crime.

With the raid on former president Donald Trump's private residence at Mar-a-Lago in Florida last week, that's exactly what the Democrats have done.

The Democrats, a criminal organization masquerading as a political party, love to boast about their "firsts," and they are indeed impressive. Aaron Burr, effectively the party's first vice president, rose to political prominence via his control of Tammany Hall, the gold standard of American political corruption. He shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, and was later involved in a trial for treason, but of course skated, as Democrats are wont to do under our system of "justice."

A mere half a century later, Democrats had become the full-throated party of slavery. After their loss in the presidential election of 1860 to the new Republican Party under Abraham Lincoln, they reacted with typical class by declaring Lincoln an illegitimate president, seceding from the Union, and firing the first shots of the American Civil War at Fort Sumter in 1861. In the 1864 election campaign, in which the Confederate states did not take part, the remaining "peace" or "Copperhead"  Democrats ran one of Lincoln's own, failed generals (George McClellan) against him. And when that failed, they assassinated Lincoln a week after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. 

That's quite a record, and yet today's Democrats seem hell-bound to top it. Under the demented, corrupt hulk of non compos mentis called Joe Biden, they've destroyed the booming Trump economy, humiliated their own country with the summary abandonment of the Afghanistan war, turned loose the nation's criminals on a legally defenseless population, let loose the dogs of debt, inflation and commodity scarcity, blown up the supply chain, solidified the power of the Praetorian Deep State, weaponized the intelligence community and the FBI in the service of the Party, terrified the gullible via their reprehensible Covid scare tactics, crippled the domestic energy industry, injected the poison of Critical Theory into the national bloodstream, and castrated much of the Bill of Rights, including the first, second, fourth, fifth, ninth, and tenth amendments. As soon as they can figure out a way to quarter soldiers in your homes and apartments, you can bet they will.

For "our democracy," by any means necessary.

Now in the vengeful attorney general Merrick Garland—whose nomination to the Supreme Court by Barack Obama luckily died in the Senate in 2017 with the arrival of the Trump administration— we have the second coming of Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the secret police under Josef Stalin in the country Democrats long most admired, Soviet Russia. (They've since transferred their affections to Communist China.) Never before in the history of our Republic—a phrase conservatives ought to be using as a counterweight to the Democrats' deceitful "our democracy"—has the nation's chief legal officer ordered an armed raid on a former president, in this case on Biden's immediate predecessor and the leading contender for the GOP nomination in 2024. 

It's step of breathtaking audacity, but hardly surprising. Not for nothing is the Democrats' unofficial motto "by any means necessary." Since the days of Burr and Jefferson Davis and John Wilkes Booth, violence has always lurked just below the surface of their "higher" patriotism. Indeed, as the Sixties exemplified, it's part of their appeal. "The worst are full of passionate intensity," wrote William Butler Years in his widely quoted poem, The Second Coming, written in 1919. "Surely, the Second Coming is at hand."

A century on, it's still an apt image. The contemporary America Left, a strange hybrid of Protestant evangelism and Marxist atheist millenarianism, is fueled by the red-diaper-babyism that is the Frankfurt School's primary contribution to the realm of American arts, letters, philosophy, and mores. They're getting old now (Biden is 79, Garland is 69), and time is running out. Eternally marching under the banner of "progress" to a Promised Land that doesn't exist and will never arrive, the Left is in the midst of a long-planned (see Marcuse, Herbert, et al.) and daringly executed assault on the foundations of the United States, which latterly includes even a frontal attack on the Constitution itself. They were perfectly happy to enjoy the protections of that document when they needed them, but now that they don't, the hell with it. 

The key to understand the Left, pretty much from Rousseau on, is that they believe in an "arc of history," which amazingly bends toward their preferred transient policy prescriptions in the here and now. It's a kind of misplaced messianism, with an imminent savior ready to descend to earth to establish a new kingdom of heaven, one in which they will witness the destruction of their enemies, and over which they will rule for ever and ever, amen. "The country is on fire," Trump reportedly wrote to Garland in a message sent after the raid. "What can I do to reduce the heat?"

Agog at Gog and Magog.

The answer, of course, is: nothing. Their belief in the righteousness of their destructive cause is practically biblical, as is their hatred for the Gog and Magog of this story, Donald Trump, his benighted supporters, and his MAGA country, who stand in the way of Progress and therefore must be liquidated. Trump's surprise election in 2016 caught them with their pants comfortably down around their ankles, Clinton-style, but they instantly mounted a counter-counter-revolution via the "Russian collusion" hoax, the Ukrainian impeachment fracas, and their nimble corruption of the January 6 protests in the aftermath of the "fortified" Biden election. And yet they know their fingernail-hold on power can all disappear this fall, and the specter of an enraged Trumpzilla returning to stomp them into matchsticks in 2024 absolutely terrifies them. As it should.

Like Caesar, they're playing for keeps now. Either they complete their overthrow of the Republic or, in Ben Franklin's memorable phrase, they'll all hang together. The die is cast: "by any means necessary"? You ain't seen nothing yet.