After 'Net-Zero,' A Different Kind of Deluge
When The Pipeline was launched more than three years ago, it was among a small minority of websites specializing in energy topics that warned the world it was heading for catastrophe in embracing the dogma of Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050. We pointed out that even if one were to accept the belief that the world is facing a “climate emergency”—it isn’t—moving from a world eighty percent reliant on fossil fuels for energy to a world reliant to the same extent on renewables such as wind and sun would impose a drastic collapse in the world economy and living standards far worse than the impact of “climate change.”
Such arguments almost never got a serious government response or public attention. Mostly they were ignored—but not entirely. One occasional response was to concede that implementing Net-Zero would require some sacrifice on the part of ordinary people which, however, would be compensated for by a new Green Industrial Revolution, green jobs, and various environmental benefits.
But the degree of sacrifice required of everyone if we were to abandon fossil fuels entirely was never made clear. Financial estimates of its costs in higher taxes and energy prices were hard to find, and when found they were either unreliably low or so vast as to be hard to grasp. Undeterred, however, the Net-Zero caravan moved impressively forward from Copenhagen to Cairo to Glasgow with the U.N. and the world’s governments at its head, corporations, and investment houses dragged along in regulators’ wagons behind them, and loud angry crowds of NGOs and activists shouting “faster, faster” if anyone paused or questioned the direction of travel. Not many did. It was, after all, an inevitable matter of saving the world.
That was only yesterday. But with every revolution of the 24-hour news cycle, it seems more and more remotely in the past. “’Outraged and furious’: Germans rebel against gas boiler ban,” proclaimed a recent Financial Times headline on a story that householders were being forced by Germany’s energy transition policy —dubbed die Energiewende— “to install hearing systems power by renewables dubbed the ‘heat hammer.’”
“Treasury idiocy is killing North Sea Energy,” was the title the U.K. Times’s editors put on a column by the paper’s economic columnist, Juliet Samuel, that went on “The North Sea is critical to British energy security. Oil and gas supply more than two thirds of our overall energy. If the government has its way, North Sea industry will soon be in irreversible decline.”
It takes time for such stories to fight their way to the top of editorial agendas in major newspapers. But the technical and specialist media are full of them. Here, for instance, is Reinsurance News: “German reinsurance giant Hannover Re has opted to leave the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, making it the third high profile re/insurer to leave the U.N.-convened alliance in less than a month. Unravelling, step by step...”
Unraveling? Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but the discipline that the U.N. and government regulators have been able to exert over Wall Street and U.S. corporations in the form of ESG and fossil fuel disinvestment is certainly coming under pressure. Exxon is a fossil fuel company, which might cast doubt on the importance of the slow turning of its tanker towards defending its core business. As the website ZeroHedge grasps, Exxon’s pushback against the financial regulations designed to suppress fossil-fuel investment sounds unusually firm: Exxon “said the prospect of the world achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 is remote and should not be further evaluated in its financial statements.”
And Exxon is not alone. Other oil and gas corporations—notably Beyond Petroleum—are scaling back their climate policy commitments to reflect the fact that they are in the oil business, not climatology, and that high and rising energy prices have been signaling the need for more investment in energy—and were doing so before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
(No comment so far from former Bank of England governor and advisor to the U.N. and Boris Johnson on climate policy, Mark Carney, who wanted to place a fiduciary responsibility on corporate managers to avoid fossil-fuel investment on the grounds that it was at risk of losing their clients’ money because of risks that seemed to include the disapproval of regulators such as himself.)
Now, you might suppose that all these different reactions reflecting nervous “second thoughts,” even opposition, to Net-Zero policies indicate how savagely the lack of fossil fuels is biting voters and consumers. But according to the U.K. website tracking the composition of U.K. energy, the mix of British electricity on May 21 this year at 9.00 pm was 33 percent gas; wind and solar 20 percent between them; nuclear 19 percent; and imports of electricity 22 percent. The author’s main concern was shock that Britain relies on imports for more than one-fifth of its electricity which is certainly a valid concern. What is more important for our purposes here, however, is his revelation that renewables still amount to only one–fifth of the U.K.’s electricity generation after twenty years of multi-party backing of Net-Zero orthodoxy.
In other words, unless the British Net-Zero obsession is junked, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Net-Zero will have to be junked. So why hasn't it happened yet? The answer is that the British governments, its media, cultural, and scientific establishments, and all major political parties have imposed a uniform Net-Zero orthodoxy, sustained by a deep bureaucratic groupthink, on public debate and scientific discussion. Only a handful of people—notably the late Lord Nigel Lawson and the Global Warming Policy Foundation he founded—have sustained a serious and respectable intellectual critique of it over the years.
As a result there is a strong national consensus, especially among highly-educated people, in favor of the policy which at the extreme calls for punishment of dissenters and suppression of inconvenient evidence. We see the consensus operating not only in the unlawful obstruction of public order, traffic, and lawful economic activity such as mining or road-building by groups like Extinction Rebellion, but also in the failure of public authorities, including judges, to restrain or punish those illegal acts in pursuit of a cause generally regarded as good. And the fact that the consensus is strongest among the highly educated should be no comfort because recent psychological research suggests that well-educated people are less willing to change their minds and more able to defend their erroneous opinions than others.
It’s a class war, of course, at least potentially since blue-collar workers are less committed to Net-Zeroism, most likely to be adversely affected by it, and less resistant to changing their minds in the face of real-world evidence. Already, we see signs of this coming conflict in the fights breaking out between activists blocking the road and people needing to get to work or even to hospitals and in the tendency of the police defending the activists rather rather than the motorists. More to come...