'The Lamps Are Going Out All Over Europe'

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Canada recently begging Justin Trudeau for Liquified Natural Gas. “Canada is our partner of choice,” said Scholz, adding “we hope that Canadian LNG will play a major role” in his country's attempt to wean itself off Russian energy.

Trudeau was characteristically dismissive, saying there has “never been a strong business case” for exporting Canadian LNG to Europe. Of course, he was also letting himself off the hook for his government's entrenched anti-resource-sector policies: Canada currently has not one single LNG active export terminal, and Canada's regulatory framework is responsible for the outright rejection of sixteen of the eighteen proposed terminal construction projects since Trudeau took power. In any event, Scholz had to content himself with a far less value hydrogen trade agreement.

Humiliating, but what else could he do? Beggars can't be choosers, and Germany is very much a beggar. As we've discussed before, Germany's mad environmentalist politicians pushed the country into transitioning to "renewable" energy sources which don't produce anywhere near the amount of power necessary to run a first world country, let alone the largest economy in Europe. The only way to make the transition "work" was to import large amounts of Russian gas to make up the difference. Now they're trying to break their reliance on that so as to comply with Western sanctions imposed in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and it isn't going well.

And Russia knows it -- that's why they've cut down natural gas flows to Germany by 60 percent, blaming mechanical problems while ostentatiously burning $10 million worth of natural gas per day at the mouth of the Nord Stream pipeline rather than sending it to Germany. It's their way of reminding the Germans who really needs whom. Putin can afford to cut them out because western sanctions have contributed to a worldwide energy scarcity, driving up prices significantly to nobody's benefit but Russia's.

The story is much the same throughout the continent -- in Poland people have been lining up in their cars for multiple days in the hopes of buying rationed coal to get them through the next several months (the E.U. has also embargoed Russian coal imports). The manager of Finland's power grid has begun telling the country to "prepare for shortages this winter." The British were recently informed that their heat and energy costs would increase by 80 percent as of October 1, and their national grid managers, too, have begun to talk more about shortages than cost.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo recently said that Europe could be looking at ten years worth of tough winters, as far as heat and power were concerned. Dutch energy prices are currently sitting at "15 times the average for this time of the year," according to Bloomberg. Italy, which is also heavily dependent on Russian energy, is already on the brink of a debt crisis -- what will their economy look like after months of rolling black-outs, frozen pipes, and freezing people?

Sir Edward Grey in 1915: déjà vu vu all over again.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking of the difficult months ahead, asked his countrymen to “accept paying the price for our freedom and our values,” referring to the cost of Europe's unreservedly supporting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Andrew Stuttaford rightly points out that "European voters are... entitled to wonder why they should continue to support politicians who left them so exposed to Russian blackmail in the first place." He's got that right -- this crisis has been brought about almost entirely by a western elite who cared more about rubbing elbows with Greta Thunberg and her comrades than about their national interests or the welfare of their countrymen.

It looks like they're about to get their reward.

Dealing with the Fallout from Putin's Folly

BUDAPEST -- It is impossible to calculate as yet the number of Ukrainian refugees who have been displaced from their homes by the Russian invasion and forced to flee to safety. An estimated 2.7 million Ukrainians have been accepted by Poland and Hungary and now rest in those countries. Others have gone to neighboring countries or farther afield where they have homes, foreign spouses, and family connections—there are large Ukrainian diasporas across the world, especially in the so-called Anglosphere. Finally, an unknown but large number of Ukrainians have left cities like Kiev under attack to stay with family members and other places of refuge across Ukraine.

By the time the killing stops, as many as 4-5 million Ukrainians could be living outside Ukraine and as many more (out of a population of forty million) will have moved into rural areas or regions outside the war zone. This displacement of millions of people by war is a humanitarian disaster, but of what kind we don’t yet know. That will depend in part on the outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian War. If it were to end quickly in a clear victory for either side, the refugees would almost all return to rebuild their homes.

"Russian women: Call your sons and husbands home."

Cities where they used to live are being pulverized into ruins by the Russian invader. Restoring those destroyed cities—as the Poles restored Warsaw after the Nazis leveled the city in World War Two—will be Ukraine’s first task. The country would receive a great deal of European and American help to do so.

But if the refugees are returning to a country under Russian occupation or divided between Western and Russian “sectors”—with or without a peace treaty—many will want to wage a guerrilla war to drive the invader out. That’s the kind of spirit that currently grips Ukrainians everywhere, and it’s likely to grow fiercer while the war persists.

In the first case, the refugee crisis will be short-lived. Ukrainians are not leaving their country now because they want to live somewhere else. They are leaving it to avoid being bombed or shelled by Russian soldiers. Once that’s no longer threatening them (even if Russia has stationed troops there), the great majority of them will return home—and the refugee crisis will cease to exist.

It is the second case—a Ukraine wholly or partly occupied by Russia—that will produce a permanent refugee crisis. Some refugees will return home to fight; most (probably) will want to settle down in the Western country where they find themselves “for the duration” of Russian occupation. That could be a decade or more.

How should these recipient countries handle this longer-term problem? And how are they actually doing so?

The best models for dealing with this kind of semi-permanent refugee problem are how the world handled the outflow of Hungarians fleeing the Russian occupiers in 1956 and how four years later the international community endorsed the proposal for World Refugee Year that—astonishing though that now seems—cleared up the backlog of post-WWII refugees still living in Displaced Persons camps across the continent. Some years ago I wrote about why WRY succeeded:

First, everyone knew that the refugees and DPs were genuine. The Second World War had ended only thirteen years before, and they were its last visible victims. No one thought they were disguised “economic migrants” who anyway in 1958 were welcome in many countries. Second, they were few in number and largely passive. Unless another hot war broke out, there was unlikely to be many more of them. No one imagined that there was a limitless “pool” of refugees who might overwhelm national borders if governments relaxed their entry rules. Third, we had just had the successful experience of resettling the Hungarian émigrés of 1956. All the Western countries had co-operated in an international effort to take in the “Fifty-sixers” in numbers appropriate to the population size of each recipient country. Austria wasn’t left to handle the exodus for itself simply because it bordered Hungary. All these things fostered an international mood that was receptive to the idea.

Flashback to 2015: a different kind of "migrant" crisis.

Very few of these conditions existed in 2015 when the last refugee crisis erupted which, incidentally, Europe as a whole handled badly, taking about two years to reach the commonsense restrictions that Hungary had imposed almost from the first. But the current Ukrainian refugee outflow does resemble the 1956 and 1960 refugee problems and in principle can be successfully handled by European governments, E.U. agencies, and civil society NGOs.

No one doubts they’re genuine refugees, not economic migrants; they enjoy enormous sympathy from people who have watched on the media the destruction of their homes; they’re disproportionately women and children whose men stay to fight (or to be conscripted—though that stirs indignation from an Amherst feminist legal scholar who argues with perverse ingenuity that Ukrainian women are being deprived of their human right to be conscripted equally with men); and almost all of them hope to return to Ukraine before too long and don’t want to put down roots elsewhere.

All of these qualities ensure that as in 1956, the refugees really are welcome. The only thing that makes people nervous about this inflow is the large numbers involved. A few days ago Bloomberg reported that Slovakia, an E.U. border state of 5.5 million, was experiencing the biggest migration crisis in its history, with an influx of more than 176,000. The figure will be larger now.

What has helped Europe to handle the crisis well is that the politicization of refugee policy—indeed, its weaponization by the Left—has been held in check so far by the crisis. The E.U. Summit’s statement on refugees was rooted in cooperation with national governments:

We commend European countries, notably at the borders with Ukraine, for showing immense solidarity in hosting Ukrainian war refugees. The EU and its Member States will continue to show solidarity and provide humanitarian, medical and financial support to all refugees and the countries hosting them.

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A report from Bloomberg Equality—headlined "Ukraine Crisis Highlights Europe's History of Treating Some Refugees Differently"—conceded through gritted teeth that Poland and Hungary, “two of the most unwelcoming countries” in 2015, had stepped up to the plate:

Hungary, which even built a fence to keep people at bay, has been offering a helpful hand as mostly women with children pour across its border with Ukraine. Prime Minister Viktor Orban explained the change last week, telling reporters “we are able to tell the difference between who is a migrant and who is a refugee. Migrants are stopped. Refugees can get all the help.

In a visit to the Ukraine-Hungary border, historian Andrew Roberts reporting in The Spectator on the work of voluntary religious organizations and bodies like the Order of Malta and the Order of St. John in helping refugees to safety, commented:

There has been some panic in the railway stations in the east, especially during Russian shelling, but for the great majority of the two million people who have left, it has been a well- organized evacuation. Ukrainian men bid emotional farewell to their elderly parents, wives and children before turning around and resolutely heading off eastwards to fight, pleased that their families are safe. One is not supposed to praise manliness in modern society, but there is no other word for what is happening here, and it is not ‘toxic’ but uplifting.

In short, whatever the horrors of Putin’s war or the lack of Europe’s military and economic preparedness for it, everyone—the E.U., NGOs, and even “bad boy” governments like Poland and Hungary—was doing the right thing by refugees.

Sometimes toxic masculinity is exactly what's called for.

All of which is very encouraging but probably overstates the willingness of the E.U. and its senior member states such as France and Germany to forget differences over hot-button issues like refugee policy in the common struggle against Putin.

Even as Poland and Hungary were bearing the heaviest burdens of dealing with rising refugee numbers and other consequences of Putin’s war on Ukraine, the European courts, cheered on by the European parliament, were imposing large fines on both countries for their alleged offenses against the "rule of law." The rule under which these fines were levied is itself an offense against the rule of law and opens the way for centralized E.U. institutions in Brussels to use financial blackmail against member states, forcing them to toe the line on issues that are outside the “competences” of Brussels.

For the moment refugee policy is not a matter of dispute, but one of cooperation and sympathy, between Brussels and national parliaments. That, however, is probably the calm before the storm.

'Rumble thy Bellyful! Spit, Fire! Spout, Rain!'

In politics as in markets the tough question is not whether there’s going to be a crisis—believe me, there is—but when. Getting it right too soon or too late is to get it wrong. That remark could be about any kind of crisis, but in what follows I’m discussing the West’s crisis not over global warming but over the energy policies intended to solve it.

For the last two years The Pipeline has been predicting that the drive for a carbon-free world was certain to run into political trouble when the voting public began to realize that it would mean horrendous costs for them in higher taxes, bigger energy bills, electricity blackouts, and unpleasant life-style choices (i.e., no meat, fewer vacations abroad, and colder homes in winter).

What looms ahead, we’ve been warning, is an inevitable clash between the supposedly irresistible force of Net-Zero policies and the immovable object embodied in a democratic political system. It’s taken time for the crisis to arrive, but it began to hit the fan last fall when the wind across Western Europe failed to blow as strongly as its electricity grids needed; continued with the failure of the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow around the same time; and is reaching its climax with the combination of cold weather, rising energy prices, and signs from Russian president Vladimir Putin that he might soon be turning off the gas pipelines which provide Western Europe with half its energy.

Blow winds blow. Or in this case, don't.

Here are two early signs that this is producing political second thoughts about climate change orthodoxy in European government circles:

  1. The European Commission proposes to declare that nuclear power is now a “green” and “sustainable” fuel and therefore eligible for various subsidies and investment incentives across the E.U. The Commission’s own technical experts oppose this judgment; it will be contested by several E.U. governments' and by the Greens in Germany’s new coalition government; but there is a good chance it will get through. That will not end the dispute, however, because the Commission’s proposal is a violation of one of the deepest commitments of both the environmentalist and climate emergency movements which until very recently have been growing in political clout. So watch what happens when the full E.U. council of ministers meets on this.
  2. Tory MPs have been pressing the U.K. Treasury to lighten the consumers’ burden of energy prices swollen by the levies imposed by the government on energy utilities to subsidize their switch from fossil fuels to “renewables” (i.e., wind and solar—neither of which have been very cooperative in Britain lately). In response to this pressure from their colleagues, other Tories (led by a former minister for science and universities) have founded a backbench committee to push the case for Net-Zero. They are likely to have the support of prime minister Boris Johnson who has made Net-Zero a flagship policy of his administration. But that policy is at odds with his other flagship policy of “leveling up” the Northern English constituencies the Tories won from Labour in 2019 with a massive (anti-Green) infrastructure building program. And as I outline in detail in National Review Online Boris is in deep trouble with almost all factions of his party because so many of his policies irritate them, Net Zero especially. A battle royal is looming in the Tory Party on it. It’s hard to forecast which side will come out on top.

That’s a huge change because almost all governments and parties in Europe pledged themselves to support tough carbon emissions reduction twenty years ago. How did they sustain this? In place of a democratic conversation between politicians and the voters in elections, the parties substituted a conversation between themselves, business, and what they called “civil society” which is a nice-sounding name for NGOs, which itself a synonym for pressure groups, usually in this context Green ones.

Ben Pile who’s that rare pollical animal—a climate-skeptical activist on the U.K. Right—points out that this common position deprived the voters of democratic choice over climate policy. But that common front can’t really be sustained when the voters start to get genuinely worried about whether they can pay the bills and taxes that the policy requires. Then you get what the sociologists call a "preference cascade" as the voters wise up and start protesting first the consequences, then the policy, in an impressive cascade as they realize that many others share their opinions.

Let the cascade begin!

That happened with Brexit. It’s happening now. It’s what’s supposed to happen in democracies. And it should logically be followed by a change of policy. Indeed, almost everywhere Net-Zero has been offered to the voters, they have rejected it—most recently in a Swiss referendum that asked them if they would pay higher taxes in order to meet Net-Zero targets. They voted no.

But the powerful economic and ideological interests that support climate alarmism have already set in place barriers to any change of mind by the voters. The first such barrier has been constructed by an alliance of capitalist fund managers and banking regulators—among them former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Bank of England governor Mark Carney—which seeks to compel investors to accept lower rates of return on their savings by, in effect, stopping the flow of funds to fossil-fuel companies. Their argument is that as fiduciary guardians and regulators respectively they have duty to protect these investments from the undue risks that fossil fuels represent. It is a ludicrous argument, exploded on this website a year ago, by among other arguments this knockdown refutation from economist John Cochrane:

Relative market demand for fossil vs. alternative energy is as easy or hard to forecast as anything else in the economy. Exxon bonds are factually safer, financially, than Tesla bonds, and easier to value. The main risk to fossil fuel companies is that regulators will destroy them, as the ECB proposes to do, a risk regulators themselves control. [My italics.]

And indeed, in the months since then, fossil fuels have strongly outperformed the market, owing ironically, at least in part, to the kind of policies that Carney and Bloomberg advocate, which have encouraged the European energy crisis and the corresponding sharp rise in demand for oil, gas, and even coal. It is probably too much to hope that the Green Grandees will now have second thoughts.

At about the same time, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Daily Telegraph, was pointing to the second barrier to democratic re-thinking on climate: legal warriors are busily weaponizing international law, in particular human rights law, to obstruct democratic governments in their pursuit of policies to guarantee cheap and reliable energy supplies:

There has been a cascade of judgments based on the UN Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, or national constitutions. They are compelling governments to act faster than they had planned, or are capable of doing without resorting to revolutionary economic and social measures. [My italics.]

Mr. Evans-Pritchard is sympathetic to the aims of the climate legal warriors on the grounds that they represent the judgment of mankind expressed in the policies of more than a hundred governments. But do they really represent the judgment of mankind?  Or merely the convictions of passionate minorities who exploit the somnolence of most citizens in order to rig the rules of politics and law so that when the majority wakes up, it will be unable to express its conscious and deliberative second thoughts in the voting booth with any practical effect.

We may be about to discover that.

In the meantime, here’s a tip on how to deal with people who tell you that climate change is too important to be left to the voters in democratic elections. Ask this question:

“Okay, I’ll accept that on one condition: Tell me the policy so vital to the world’s well-being that you would accept the decision of a non-democratic junta of experts to carry out the opposite of the policy you want."

E.U. Commission: Nukes and Natural Gas are Now 'Green'

Well this is a pleasant surprise: the European Commission -- the executive committee of the European Union -- has decided to propose a plan reclassifying natural gas and nuclear power as "green energy," at least for the sake of investment. From Reuters:

The Commission's proposal would label nuclear power plant investments as green if the project has a plan, funds and a site to safely dispose of radioactive waste. To be deemed green, new nuclear plants must receive construction permits before 2045. Investments in natural gas power plants would also be deemed green if they produce emissions below 270g of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour (kWh), replace a more polluting fossil fuel plant, receive a construction permit by Dec. 31 2030 and plan to switch to low-carbon gases by the end of 2035.

The background to this is, of course, Europe's ongoing energy crunch, which has seen record prices per megawatt hour in countries throughout the continent, as wind turbines and solar panels have failed to produce enough electricity to meet winter demand. Germany, which famously went all in on its green energy transition known as die Energiewende roughly a decade ago, has been forced to restart some of its closed, carbon intensive coal-fired power plants to keep up.

And it isn't as if they're actually lying about this -- as much as green activists hate to admit it, the United States has led the world in emissions reduction since the year 2000, largely because the fracking revolution has allowed us to increasingly lean on low-carbon natural gas for our heat and energy needs. Nuclear power, meanwhile, is effectively a zero-carbon power source. Consequently, if you're actually concerned about carbon emissions, natural gas and nuclear should be high up in your proposed power mix. They are as "green" as any first world nation's energy is going get.

Even so, it is worth noting the EC tries to stress that they're not proposing a permanent shift -- "[T]he Commission considers there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future," according to their statement. That is to say, they consider natural gas and nuclear as "transitional" energy sources whose role is to bridge the gap to their still-inevitable wind-and-solar powered future! Moreover Germany, which still has the largest economy in the E.U., remains fanatically committed to its Energiewende, to such a degree that they've just closed down three of their remaining six operational nuclear power plants, their soaring energy rates notwithstanding. Theoretically, Germany could lead a charge to kill this sensible proposal in the European Parliament, over the objections of France and other nations who have relied on nuclear for decades.

Still, let's focus on the bright side -- Europe's governing class is cracking under the pressure of sky-high energy rates and are being forced to admit that their current way of doing things just isn't working. If this reclassification actually goes through, activists will have a real fight on their hands when they try to change it back in a few years time. And officially classifying natural gas and nuclear as green energy is likely to take so much wind out of the green movement's turbines that it could eventually cease to exist.

Erin Go Bragh?

For reasons that are mysterious to those who know Irish history, the Irish think of themselves as an almost uniquely virtuous people. That self-appraisal first became evident when Irish nationalist history began presenting the nation as—in the words of skeptical revisionist historian Ruth Dudley Edwards—“the most oppressed people ever” or MOPE. Since the present age is one that worships the cult of victimhood, the most oppressed people ever have morphed easily into the most virtuous people ever. And because today’s dispensers of accolades of virtue are overwhelmingly woke progressives in politics and culture, the most virtuous people ever were soon encouraged to think of themselves as the most progressive people ever. (Those who would like a bracing corrective to this sentimentality with an edge of amnesia are advised to read the columns of Kevin Myers passim).

Currently essential requirements for internationally virtuous progressivism are a patriotic devotion to the European Union and a passionate attachment to all forms of Green politics. The Irish seem to score higher than anyone else by these tests. Indeed, this last week has seen the Irish government—composed as it is of Ireland’s two major “legacy” parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail—demonstrate a bipartisan conversion to the E.U.-backed international consensus that all governments should adopt a minimum corporate tax rate of fifteen percent.

Love it, hate it, tax it.

That conversion represents an astounding reversal of Ireland’s long-term economic strategy of attracting investment from multinational corporations with much lower rates—an economic strategy that has been largely successful and been declared irreversible by both parties many times. Yet it was abandoned with almost no prior debate and almost no subsequent controversy, as Irish Times columnist David Quinn has pointed out.

“Roma locuta, causa finita”—Rome has spoken, the debate is settled—used to be quite literally the motto of Irish governments in the bad old days of De Valera’s Catholic Republic. In the new modern progressive Ireland, however, an almost identically rigid rule—Brussels locuta, causa finita—applies to decisions of the European Union. And that includes decisions that the Brussels bureaucracy has taken but not yet formally managed to get into European law. Why bother when the subject nations prevent their own oppression “by a timely compliance”?

Superficially at least the same seems to be true of Green politics. In the run-up to the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, few peoples are as pleased with their own deep-green commitments as those governed from Dublin. As political editor Pat Leahy reported in the Irish Times: Ireland’s Parliament “has passed legislation requiring the Government to reduce carbon emissions by 7 percent a year, leading to a reduction of 51 per cent by 2030.” That’s a massive commitment—one that would impose real sacrifices on ordinary Irish people—but a massive poll last year showed that the voters thought climate change posed a catastrophic threat to them and their way of life. A massive threat justifies making massive sacrifices to keep it at bay, right?

Well, as it turns out, no.

Mr. Leahy reports that according to a very recent Irish Times poll, when you break down massive sacrifice into specific burdens caused by policies the government may soon introduce, people become much less willing to bear the pains. Its general import can be seen in the following examples. Large majorities opposed higher taxes on energy and fuel (82 to 14 percent), making it more expensive to buy cars (72 to 23 percent), higher property taxes for homes that are not energy efficient (69 to 23 percent), reducing the size of the national cattle herd (60 to 25 percent), and running the risk of interruptions of electricity supply (81 to 13 percent.) Even higher taxes on air travel were firmly nixed (53 to 40 percent.) In fact the only proposal for greater sacrifice that got an actual majority (60 to 24 percent) was “allowing more land to be used for wind energy/turbines”—and it’s likely that this idea was supported by landowners who expect to be well-subsidized for their sacrifice and opposed mainly by wildlife enthusiasts. It doesn’t directly affect many other people.

Despoiling the Irish countryside in order to save it.

I don’t suppose that most of my readers will be too shocked by this. Most polls in other countries have similar results, confirming that people’s willingness to make painful financial sacrifices declines in proportion as the reality of the sacrifices increase. Why did the government not notice the same thing?

My guess is that they knew there’d be trouble—just not quite so much trouble—for an understandable reason. When all the major institutions of society (including both major parties and the media) support even a painful policy, controversy over it gets damped down. The voters aren’t alerted to what’s coming down the pike. That’s what happened when Ireland abandoned its lucrative low level of corporate taxation, and government spinmeisters may have calculated it would happen again with Green taxes and higher energy bills.

The difference between the two cases isn’t that abandoning Ireland’s low corporate tax strategy won’t hurt multinational investment, Ireland’s economic growth, and thus the voters’ prosperity. It will hurt all three, but it will do so gradually, moderately, and above all imperceptibly. Higher electricity and property taxes, electricity supply interruptions, and unaffordable vacation flights, on the other hand—well, people notice that kind of thing. And when they do, they conveniently forget that they had once expressed a noble willingness to endure pain to avert climate catastrophe. Instead they doubt that the catastrophe is as urgent as the need to keep their homes heated, their cars running, and their tax bills moderate.

In the next two weeks we’ll have the run-up to COP-26 in Glasgow. We may then see how much raw virtue democracy can take in any country. The Irish are unlikely to feel ashamed by comparisons.

Renewables: Is There Anything They Can't Do?

From the Wall Street Journal:

Natural gas and electricity markets were already surging in Europe when a fresh catalyst emerged: The wind in the stormy North Sea stopped blowing. The sudden slowdown in wind-driven electricity production off the coast of the U.K. in recent weeks whipsawed through regional energy markets. Gas and coal-fired electricity plants were called in to make up the shortfall from wind. Natural-gas prices, already boosted by the pandemic recovery and a lack of fuel in storage caverns and tanks, hit all-time highs. Thermal coal, long shunned for its carbon emissions, has emerged from a long price slump as utilities are forced to turn on backup power sources.

The episode underscored the precarious state the region’s energy markets face heading into the long European winter. The electricity price shock was most acute in the U.K., which has leaned on wind farms to eradicate net carbon emissions by 2050. Prices for carbon credits, which electricity producers need to burn fossil fuels, are at records, too... At their peak, U.K. electricity prices had more than doubled in September and were almost seven times as high as at the same point in 2020. Power markets also jumped in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

So the transition to so-called renewable energy has really been raking European energy markets over the coals. Literally, in fact, as coal-fired power plants are having to increase production to meet energy demands. And it's making Russia into a one nation OPEC, the only country in the region with an excess of natural gas which will happily export it.... for some significant diplomatic concessions.

Quite the bind the E.U. finds itself in. Perhaps they might consider changing course, accepting that shutting down their natural gas and nuclear power plants, not to mention banning fracking, is a mistake?

Doesn't sound like it! Reuters --

Record high power prices in European Union countries show the bloc must wean itself off fossil fuels and speed up the transition to green energy, the EU's top climate change official said on Tuesday.

That official -- first vice-president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, who has appeared in these pages before, always singing the same one-note tune -- argues that, in fact, it is because they haven't transitioned quickly enough that things are so bad! "Had we had the Green Deal five years earlier, we would not be in this position because then we would have less dependence on fossil fuels and on natural gas," he said.

Never mind that the transition itself helped create the shortage by causing a shortage of the fuels that, for the foreseeable future, the continent continues to run on. That, and the fact that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun sometimes fails to shine.

Anyway, you heard it from Frans first -- renewable energy causes problems that can only be solved by... more renewable energy. Is there anything it can't do?

Saving Economic Recovery from the Greens

As the end of the Second World War approached, the Allied nations began serious preparations for peacetime policy and reform. That was felt to be an overriding duty owed to their armed forces fighting and dying in the field; it was fueled by a strong sense of guilt that they had failed in this duty after the Great War; and the content of that reform was largely shaped by two general ideas in wartime circulation.

The first was that future governments must harness science for the benefit of society; the second was that state planning was manifestly superior to the unplanned chaos of free market competition. The cant phrase was that as we had planned to win the war, so we must now plan to win the peace. Together these two ideas would shepherd us towards a better world. Films, plays, and novels as well as White Papers were published along these lines.

Critics would patiently make a case against these ideas. My first boss on the Daily Telegraph, whenever a colleague proposed to tackle some social problem “like a military operation,” would ask sardonically: “Have you ever served in the Army?” But it’s hard for even clever people to make a dent in an amorphous ideological atmosphere.

As a result the first idea triumphed in the United States, where science married government following the Manhattan Project, gave birth to a military-academic-industrial complex, and has lived a luxurious but not always honest life dancing to her mate’s priorities ever since. The second idea of state planning won out in Britain, in the Allied Control Commission running Germany for the first few years of peace, in several other Western European states, and of course in an “Eastern Europe” under Soviet control.

The results of both we’ll see below.

They’re important because the same kind of debate is now being held in Europe and North America over what policies we should be pursuing in the relatively near future as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns imposed to defeat it, to find economies ravaged by several months of inactivity and losses. Estimates of the severity of those losses vary greatly from a fall in GDP of 6.5 percent to one of 35 percent.

And when we recall it took about six years for many European countries to return to the levels of prosperity they enjoyed before the 2008 financial crash (made worse in Europe by the grumbling Euro crisis that may be about to re-emerge in Italy), we must acknowledge the seriousness of the challenges we’ll face and the difficulty of choosing between alternative choices. .

Debates over which recovery policies to pursue fall into two categories. There is the more or less eternal clash between those favor a free market policy of liberating enterprise, cutting regulations, and stabilizing the currency in order to attract investment and increase economic growth and those who believe in state planning, public investment, high levels of regulation, and inflationary finance to do the same.

Intellectually speaking, that conflict was decided by the early fifties in Europe. As the distinguished Hungarian economist, P.T. Bauer used to argue, the workforces in countries on both sides in the war were already skilled, educated, and in possession of attitudes and aptitudes conducive to economic success. They already had or were human capital.

How would they perform under different policy regimes? The answer was provided by the sluggish postwar economic performance of statist Britain under Clement Attlee’s Labour compared to the rapid recovery of both Germany and Italy under Christian Democrats whose finance ministers pursued orthodox policies of deregulation and anti-inflationary finance. Italy returned to prewar levels of prosperity by 1949, Germany a little later. Both enjoyed “miracle” economies by the mid-fifties; the Brits had to wait for Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

So we know the policies needed to provide a speedy return to prosperity.

But those working on post-pandemic recovery policies have adopted a second aim which greatly complicates any plans to do that. The European Commission, most European governments, notably those led by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, the United Nations, the Democratic opposition party in the U.S., the Pope, the Davos crowd of morally correct CEOs, and bien-pensant liberal opinion generally supports a  “Green New Deal” of recovery on the back of a massive reduction of carbon emissions which is rather like eating without food or swimming without water.

If my description sounds somewhat over-critical, here is the EU’s own account of what the "European Green Deal" (click on the link) means: “a modern, resource-efficient, and competitive economy where:

I will treat that last item as a meaningless piety until the EU manages to come up with a financial and currency deal that rescues the economies and unemployed youth of southern Europe left behind by the depredations of the Euro. First things first. On the other hand, I will charitably assume that the first item will not be achieved by “exporting” the EU’s carbon emissions to other parts of the world, mainly Asia, by investing in factories that operate under looser climate rules. As is done now.

That leaves item two. If my charitable assumption is correct, economic growth can only be de-coupled from resource use—to the extent that the economy grows while the carbon-based forms of energy that currently power it are massively cut—by new forms of energy as yet undiscovered or by scientific advances that allow us to use carbon-based energy while eliminating their emissions.

And here the Green New Deal faces a serious problem: Science isn't Magic. It's a powerful engine of progress but it doesn't always deliver exactly what you want when you want it. For instance, most of the new alternative forms of energy currently in use—the so-called “renewables”—are either unreliable (i.e., winds don’t blow on schedule, not all days are sunny) or expensive to produce, commercially risky, and in need of subsidies.

Similarly, technologies that would allow us to “capture” carbon emissions and disperse them harmlessly have yet to be developed. That means not that they will never be developed, but that they might remain bright ideas for a long time and be prohibitively expensive compared to existing energy sources when they eventually come online.

And those caveats apply to other new technology “fixes” on which the Green New Deal implicitly relies. They explain too why the deal is so heavy on vague uplift and social justice rhetoric in its “roadmap to actions” section: “supporting industry to innovate,” for instance, and” “turning the political commitment [to making Europe climate-neutral by 2050] into a legal obligation.” Its rhetoric can’t be matched by its proposed actions.

What becomes crystal clear is that, barring some huge technological miracles, the only way that Europe can grow without net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 is by diverting the whole of any economic growth away from increasing the living standards of its peoples into transforming its economy along puritan green lines. Even then it will find it hard, probably impossible, to avoid actually depressing such living standards by a considerable amount.

In short, Greenery can’t rely on science to deliver the goods for it.

That, of course, is exactly how the Soviet Union destroyed itself. It diverted the proceeds of production (and of massive borrowing from abroad) from consumer living standards to investment in military technology, thus becoming as someone said: “Upper Volta with nuclear weapons.”

EU leaders can’t admit any of this, and they may well feel that—in response to pressure from their own Green parties (with whom some are in coalition)—they have gone much too far in promising this transformation. President Macron’s fierce threats to place sanctions on countries that don’t join the Paris Green accords would suggest so. It’s a classic attempt to get other countries to assume the burdens that would otherwise cripple France in competition with them.

Nations have sometimes made commitments they have no intention of fulfilling for a quiet life diplomatically. But repeated commitments create a general political atmosphere in which retreating from them looks like cowardice, bad faith, and even cynical duplicity. The existence and growing political clout of extreme Green parties and NGOs make that doubly difficult. Those movements have no qualms about adopting policies that will bring about a severe drop in the standard of living of countries, including their own, that they feel are looting the world’s resources. In fact it’s their policy is to bring about such a change—and in particular to use the transition from the recessions caused by the pandemic not to restore the living standards of 2019 but to foster a humbler, poorer, greener Western world.

In the last week, sensing a danger that the EU would begin to soften its flagship Green cause in order to revive European economies, environmental pressure groups have begun to make the case that restoring prosperity comes second to moving to the new green economy—and, more honestly and ruthlessly, to propose that some industries either shouldn’t return at all or at the very least should return in a shrunken form.

Their candidates for this reduction in size and importance are: the airline industry, the shipping industry, and (more surprisingly) the farmers who are in the firing line because the Greens argue that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) damages the environment, privileges large agri-business, and takes a massive 38 percent of the EU’s budget which could be used on greener causes.

All three industries have clout, strong lobbying representation in Brussels, and strong positions to defend. The airlines have the advantage that when the pandemic has faced from memory, people will want to vacation and visit their second homes abroad. The shipping industry likewise, and it has already sounded the alarm. France’s farmers, which have successfully defended the CAP against earlier attacks from, for instance, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, have always enjoyed the support of French governments. They're unlikely to lose that now.

But these industries—and the customers they serve—will need to organize for a real fight. They may have the larger public on their side, a popular cause in economic recovery, and an intellectual case in how recovery was achieved after 1945. But their enemies are well-entrenched in the media, the bureaucracy, the law, and politics. And they have the great unseen benefit of a political atmosphere in which saving the earth is the unassailable political virtue—and the European Union its loudest champion.

Until it dispels that myth, industry will have an uphill fight—and the EU a mass of of embarrassments.

Frans and the Seven Dwarves

Poor Frans Timmermans. You remember him, the first vice-president of the European Commission? (And yes, the EU does have multiple vice-presidents. Eight to be precise. In America, many of us feel that even one is too many. Even occupants of the office feel this way -- our 32nd VP, John Nance Garner, famously described his office as "not worth a bucket of warm piss." Something tells me that Dutch doesn't have an equivalent expression, so it has probably never occurred to ol' Frans to talk about his current position that way).

Readers will recall that back in March, First Vice-President Timmermans had gotten himself worked up into a tizzy about the hot topic of the day, namely COVID-19, the 'rona as the kids are calling it, though I much prefer WuFlu. But Timmermans' Tizzy wasn't what you'd expect. He was extremely concerned that this blasted virus would get in the way of his precious European Green Deal, the object of which is to:

[T]ransform Europe's economy, enshrining in law that every EU member nation reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, mandating that a substantial portion of every budget category be dedicated to reaching that goal (for instance, "40% of the budget for the common agricultural policy and 30% of fisheries"), and imposing heavy fines on those nations not on track.

As Timmermans put it at the time:

[C]ontaining the coronavirus and solving it [is] absolutely a priority,” he said. [But] the climate law was “so important”, because “it allows you to focus on other things without losing track of what you need to do to reach climate neutrality”.

That is to say, the European Green Deal needed to be passed immediately so that the European Commission could turn its focus to, you know, dealing with a global pandemic. Well, here we are a month later and Frans, the seven other veeps, and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen appear to have given up the ghost. Or some of it.

The coronavirus crisis is putting Commission staff under unprecedented pressure to deal with “urgent, new and existing COVID-19 related files,” according to a draft document seen by EURACTIV. In order “to free up capacity,” the EU executive is preparing an updated work programme for 2020 which is expected to be published on 29 April.... As part of the review, the Commission’s secretariat general is assessing whether new policy initiatives can afford to be postponed because they are neither directly related to COVID-19 or are considered “less essential for delivery on the absolute key priorities”.

Which is a jargony way of saying We Are Dealing With the Virus, and We Can't Do Everything At Once.

Leaked documents show that the EU Commission has divided its European Green Deal goals into three categories, with a small number of urgent priorities -- such as their 2030 "climate and energy framework" -- which will be implemented no matter what, and a larger wish list which might potentially be delayed. It's the last group which probably keeps Frans up at night, tears streaming down into his enormous beard. That's because they're the goals which will be delayed until at least 2021.

Back in March, Timmermans said that, once the European Green Deal was passed, "the Eye of Sauron" (meaning, strangely, the EU) could turn its attention to "something else for a bit [since] the trajectory to [net zero-carbon emissions by] 2050 will be clear." Now that his deal has been postponed, will Europe's insane devotion to Net-Zero 2050 be put on hold as well? For the sake of our friends on that lovely continent, I certainly hope so. But I'm not holding my breath.