It seems like every day Germany inadvertently contributes to the case against environmentalism. As we've had occasion to discuss before at The Pipeline, over the last few decades Germany, driven by environmental concerns, has been shutting down their (essentially zero carbon) nuclear power plans with an eye towards a total transition to green energy as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, technology being what it is, running a first world nation of 80 million people on wind and solar energy is currently impossible. So to make up the difference in energy supply and demand, Germany has taken to 1) burning massive amounts of (carbon intensive) coal and 2) importing massive amounts of oil and natural gas from Russia.
Of course, Russia then invaded Ukraine, making itself a pariah state. The E.U. hit it with a host of economic sanctions, as did the United States. The object of these was to tank the Russian economy -- which is heavily reliant on oil and gas revenues -- forcing President Putin to back down. And Germany, led by new chancellor Olaf Scholz, has been directing the charge. They've issued full-throated condemnations of Russia's actions and pledged to double their military spending in response. They've even announced a new policy towards Russia known as Zeitenwende, or "Sea Change," suggesting that they're going to end their reliance on Russian energy as soon as possible.
Olaf Scholz: tough talk, no action.
But actions speak louder than words, and CNN reports that Germany is desperately searching for ways to circumvent anti-Russian sanctions. They are particularly desperate the find a way to meet Russia's demand that existing oil and gas contracts be paid for in rubles rather than euros, a strategy that they've employed -- rather successfully -- to counter western sanctions and keep their economy afloat while the war continues.
Gas distributors in Germany and Austria told CNN Business that they were working on ways to accept a Russian ultimatum that final payments for its gas must be made in rubles, while complying with EU sanctions.... Buyers could make euro or dollar payments into an account at Russia’s Gazprombank, which would then convert the funds into rubles and transfer them to a second account from which the payment to Russia would be made. Germany’s Uniper said on Thursday... that it believes a “payment conversion compliant with sanctions law” is possible.
It helps that Germany is essentially the most important member of the E.U. and as such it has a lot of say over how sanctions will be enforced. So this comes as no surprise:
The European Commission issued guidance to EU member states last week saying that is “appears possible” that buyers could comply with the new Russian rules without getting into conflict with EU law. EU governments are likely to allow the payment mechanism to go ahead, Eurasia Group said in a note on Thursday.
Which is to say that Germany is going to find a way to keep paying for Russian energy, keeping the ruble afloat and ensuring that the war in Ukraine continues, no matter what Chancellor Scholz says when he's on camera. They're addicted, and addicts are unreliable.
Germany: A Cautionary Tale
Richard Fernandez recently wrote about Germany's famous (and infamous) Energiewende policy program, whose object was to transition the country away from low-carbon natural gas and effectively zero-carbon nuclear energy, but whose consequence has been to replace them with carbon-intensive coal while getting the country addicted to Russian oil and gas. The irony of this is something we've touched on before at The Pipeline, as when we pointed out the fact that Germany, an inspiration to environmentalists the world over, has been "bulldozing forests for the purposes of mining coal," at the same time as the purportedly evil empire of America, governed by a cabal of grasping oil executives in smoke-filled rooms, has led the world in total emissions reduction since the year 2000.
In a more just world, tree-huggers everywhere would be celebrating the fracking revolution rather than obsessing over environmentally questionable solar panels and biomass. But, as Fernandez discusses, while we could all see how badly the Energiewende was going -- the Wall Street Journal called it the "world’s dumbest energy policy" years ago -- the war in Ukraine upped the ante considerably. Read his piece for the key details, but one point worth emphasizing is the tremendous economic bind German environmentalism has put the country in. While well-intentioned bleeding hearts the world over have been calling for a total embargo of Russian energy exports, the German government's economic advisors have been pointing out that such an action would lead to a significant contraction of the German economy. Reuters:
Germany would face a sharp recession if gas supplies from Russia are suddenly cut off, the country's leading economic institutes said on Wednesday, and the government said the war in Ukraine poses "substantial risks" for Europe's largest economy. A sudden stop in Russian energy supplies... would slow economic growth to 1.9 percent this year and result in a contraction of 2.2 percent in 2023, they said.... "If gas supplies were to be cut off, the German economy would undergo a sharp recession," said [the Kiel Institute's] Stefan Kooths.... The cumulative loss of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022 and 2023 in the event of a such supply freeze would likely be around 220 billion euros ($238 billion), or more than 6.5% of annual economic output, the five institutes said.
All you need is a little Latvian blend."
In fact, it has been reported that for all of their anti-Russian rhetoric, energy starved European nations have been looking for ways to get around the sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of the invasion. One popular loophole involves the blending of Russian petroleum products in foreign ports with those sourced from other countries. If less than 50 percent of a barrel comes from Russia, it can be sold under a different flag. "Latvian blend" oil has become the euphemism of choice for this product, as Ventspils, a port city Latvia, is where much of this mixing takes place.
There's a take-away from all of this for the United States, Canada, and any other free (or relatively free) nation blessed with natural resources. That is: if you want to control your own destiny, don't follow Germany down this road. It was laid out for them by anti-human, anti-civilization nihilists, and the cost has been astronomical. They exist in our nations too, and they have amassed considerable power. But if we care about our future, it is imperative that we give them the cold shoulder. We need to start putting our interests first, and not empowering "humanitarians" whose efforts inevitably benefit the bad actors of the world.
In 2019 Germany announced an ambitious "climate change" goal: by 2022, it would close its last nuclear power plant and by 2038, stop burning coal altogether. The Wall Street Journal called it at the time the "world’s dumbest energy policy," but the Germans said it was all part of the Energiewende (German for 'energy turnaround') the ongoing transition to a low carbon, environmentally sound, reliable, and affordable energy supply. Then an event occurred in 2022 which demonstrated how much Green energy was politics. Russia invaded Ukraine.
The repercussions of the invasion rippled like hydrostatic shock through the whole fabric of the European "climate change" agenda. At a stroke the war made natural gas from Moscow on which Germany was dependent politically toxic and killed sacred cows like the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline overnight. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, addressing Germany’s parliament, promised he would "create strategic energy reserves while shifting energy purchases away from Russia." Germany took steps to revive its nuclear power industry by extending the life-span of its remaining nuclear power plants. Even coal was back on the table for Europe, as politicians mooted keeping anything that could produce power going. "All options must be on the table," said the German Economic Affairs and Energy Minister.
Biking may be your best bet, Germany.
But sheer habit and inertia die hard. From the start the Green agenda fought back. John Kerry warned the Russian invasion of Ukraine would worsen climate change. "The top White House climate official said a negative impact of a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be that it sidelines efforts to curb emissions worldwide." Despite the fact that fuel was a basic necessity and Europe's immediate problem was how to get energy from anywhere, such was the power of Green that U.N. Secretary General António Guterres specifically warned against quickly replacing Russian oil if it would "neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use."
Trapped between Scylla and Charybdis, Europe's compromise strategy was to "diversify gas supplies to reduce reliance on Russia in the short term... but ultimately to boost renewables and energy efficiency as fast as technically possible." In effect Europe would try to solve the energy shortage caused by its renewables policy without politically abandoning the climate change ideology.
The first step to walking this tightrope is European energy rationing. Although no specifics have been announced, proposals include include lowering speed limits and introducing car-free Sundays in large cities. Rationing is being sold as both good for the planet and bad for Putin -- a win-win. "This point is about trying to bring down demand for fossil fuels — this is our true and effective weapon against Vladimir Putin,” a Cambridge University academic said.
But on the supply side there were few quick fixes to the problem of storing the output of wind and solar energy, even assuming that enough could be generated by these means. "The ability to cheaply generate, transport and store a clean replacement fuel like hydrogen to power trucks, cars and airplanes remains years away... [the] chief technology officer of the offshore wind unit at Siemens Gamesa, said that companies like his 'are now forced to do investments based on the prosperous future that we are all waiting for'."
A similar challenge faces the electric grid for it to universally replace the internal combustion engine. By dint of emergency efforts Europe hopes to have a hydrogen infrastructure in place by 2030 -- eight years from now -- a gargantuan task. Green requires a complete overhaul of how people live -- digitalization, smart grids and meters, flexibility markets, the electrification of transport, charging points -- the works. All of it is necessary to store wind and solar power and get it to the consumer.
The triumph of hope over experience.
However exhilarating this transformative vision is, not every country is willing to put all its eggs into the Green basket. Britain and France, perhaps harboring secret doubts, plan to invest in small, new technology nuclear reactors. The normally left wing Guardian ran an op-ed proclaiming "we need to revive the U.K.’s nuclear industry." But even with a change of heart plants take time to build and in the short term Europe has no choice but to import fossil fuels from non-Russian sources, principally the U.S. and the Middle East if it is to avoid economic catastrophe.
From Angola to the U.S. gas is heading for Europe. "Toby Rice, who runs the U.S. largest natural gas producer EQT, told the BBC the U.S. could easily replace Russian supply... He estimated the U.S. has the potential to quadruple its gas output by 2030... U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urged the country's fuel industry to pump more oil. 'We are on a war footing. That means you producing more right now, where and if you can'." Energiewende may not be "world’s dumbest energy policy" but only because it can repudiate itself.
The nearly comic irony of progressives being in the "drill baby drill" situation is hardly ever pointed out, it being considered bad form to do so. But it may be useful to recall that Germany's delegation at the U.N. General Assembly once laughed during then-President Trump's speech when he suggested that Germany was becoming “totally dependent” upon Russian energy, as shown in this video from the Washington Post. With the benefit of hindsight there's no denying that mistakes were made regarding Russia's suitability as a Green energy partner. Even Mitt Romney pointed out the growing threat posed by Putin during his 2012 presidential campaign against Obama but he too was laughed to scorn. It's fair to say that nobody's laughing now.
Canada: New Kid on the Totalitarian Block
Things are not going well in this country. In fact, things have rarely gone worse. We have a prime minister who has deliberately flouted The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, imposing vaccine mandates that violate several of its sections, in particular Sections 1, 7, 15 and 52(1), which guarantee the life, liberty, security and protection of every citizen under the law without discrimination. Covid has furnished a gilt-edged opportunity to scrap such constitutional provisions.
True to form, Trudeau the Younger has falsely claimed that the uninjected are responsible for the pandemic. He has scapegoated the unvaccinated as “a small, fringe element in this country that is angry, that doesn’t believe in science, that is lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks [he meant “misanthropist”], andwho are taking up space… Do we tolerate these people?” Obviously not. He went on: “And I know we’ll not allow those voices, those special interest groups, those protesters — I don’t even want to call them protesters, those anti-vaxxer mobs — to dictate how this country gets through this pandemic and how we recover our economy free from lockdowns.”
What Canadians do not seem to understand is that mandatory this eventually leads to mandatory that. Initial consent will often culminate by increments in abject capitulation to the imposition of autocratic measures.
Just ask the Germans.
Taking a page from the Covid dictatorship in Australia, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s News Release of August 13, 2021 earmarks funding for what is euphemistically called the Safe Voluntary Isolation Sites Program. One wonders how “voluntary” such an institution will be. Camps will be built in various municipalities in the provinces of Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. Such camps begin to sound suspiciously like internment centers, all in the name of saving us from ourselves.
Trudeau is cut from the same tattered cloth as Joe Biden, who warned“We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated for themselves, their families and the hospitals they'll soon overwhelm.” This is fear-mongering on steroids in an attempt to impose unconstitutional mandates upon the country in defiance of the data showing the vaccines to be largely ineffective and even harmful.
Biden continues: “But there's good news: If you're vaccinated and you have your booster shot, you're protected from severe illness and death.” After two weeks to flatten the curve morphing into two years of masking, quarantining, lockdowns, two initial jabs followed by a growing queue of booster shots, all without provable long-term effect, all waning and helpless against viral mutations (Sources: 12 34 5 ) and perhaps responsible for them, it should be obvious that Biden is a liar from the egg, as is Trudeau.
Regardless of the similarity between the two leaders, there is a crucial difference between Canada and the U.S. In America one can still find enclaves of liberty in the so-called red states, which have abolished Covid mandates, lockdowns, masking and vaxxports. Not so in Canada, where not a single province or territory offers even a modicum of sanctuary for those who oppose a mandatory system and who refuse to allow an experimental and poorly tested gene-therapy vaccine to be injected into their bodies.
But these stalwart souls are a minority. The majority are easily manipulated and seem to have no problem with the gradual march of tyranny into their lives. The extinction of liberty and the tactics of repression can begin slowly and insidiously, aided by a condition that Ghent University professor Mattias Desmet and psychiatrist Mark McDonald call “mass formation psychosis” among the public, until it reaches a a point at which it become too late to withstand the rise of totalitarian regimes.
Nuremberg: the science was settled.
On January 27, 2020, Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski delivered a speech during a memorial commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. “But be careful, be careful,” he warned, “we are already beginning to become accustomed to thinking that you can exclude someone, stigmatize someone, alienate someone. And slowly, step by step, day by day, that’s how people gradually become familiar with these things… Don’t be complacent, whenever you see historical lies. Don’t be complacent, whenever you see the past being misused for current political purposes. Don’t be complacent, whenever any kind of minority is discriminated against… Don’t be complacent, whenever any government violates already existing, common social contracts. Remain faithful to the Eleventh Commandment: Never be a bystander.”
Failing which, the next stages of the process inevitably follow: the stripping of further rights, dehumanization, detention and incarceration, and eventual elimination.
Those who believe it can’t happen here are in for a rude shock. It is happening as we speak. Under the reign of the Trudeau the Younger, and considering the utter lack of opposition parties and a largely compliant and indifferent public, Canada is approaching the inflection point of no return from the precipice of unaccountable government intent on absolute authority and the eradication of Charter freedoms. Despite a number of resistant organizations like No More Lockdowns Canada, Russ Cooper’s C3RF,Take Action Canada, and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, it seems an uphill battle to Make Canada Canada Again.
Unlike Trump, Biden Puts Moscow First
Over at Newsweek Josh Hammer has a good piece on the Biden Administration's capitulation on Putin's Nord Stream 2 pipeline which, among other things, highlights the American Left's Russian schizophrenia.
We all remember the Obama years which brought us the Hillary Clinton "Russia Reset'" button; then- President Obama's famous debate smack down of Mitt Romney for his pugnacious attitude towards Moscow, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back;" and Barack's assuring Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” in dealing with his country once the election was over. Things were all candy and flowers.
Then came the 2016 election, which saw Trump, like every U.S. president going back to Reagan, indicating a preference for improving relations between the two powers. The Left lost its collective mind in response, to the point that watching Rachel Maddow's nightly show got to be like hanging out with Joe McCarthy while he was on a bender, only a lot less fun.
Hammer does a good job of illustrating how little their accusations actually matched the facts on the ground:
The irony is that Trump, on the actual substantive merits, toed a very hawkish line on the Russian Federation. He shored up missile defense in Central and Eastern Europe, which the Obama administration had undermined.... He repeatedly stood strongly with America's ex-Iron Curtain allies, delivering a powerful, Reagan-esque 2017 foreign policy speech in Warsaw that was aimed squarely at Moscow. He unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from certain bilateral and multilateral accords... that buttressed Russia due to the simple fact that it did not comply and America did. Trump also adamantly opposed and issued strong sanctions to try to prevent the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline."
That was because Nord Stream 2 would, as I wrote in May, increase Germany's addiction to Russian energy (since their own electricity rates have skyrocketed due to their foolish Energiewende program), replenish the Kremlin's coffers that had been hurt by several years of low energy prices as well as Covid, and alienate our Eastern European allies who are understandably anxious about Russian domination.
Hammer calls Biden's decision to greenlight the project "a stunning about-face." After all, the president never shied away from the Dems' constant assertion that when Trump said "America First" he really meant "Moscow First." Biden frequently calls Putin a "KGB thug," and claims to have once looked him in the face and said "I don't think you have a soul." And on Nord Stream 2 specifically, the Biden administration frequently reiterated that their position is essentially that of the last administration, right up until the day before it changed completely.
So who does this benefit? Putin, obviously, as well as the Merkel government, whose energy failures can be papered over with Russian oil and gas. And who loses out? Aside from America's allies in the region, the biggest losers are America's natural gas exporters, who are effectively locked out of a key European market.
So tell me again, which president actually puts Moscow first?
Net-Zero: Poorer, Meaner, Slower, Dearer
One of the most consistent themes of this occasional column has been the contradiction between the pessimistic analyses of the costs of the Net-Zero policy adopted by the Western world and the optimistic belief of its governments that its overall impact will be positive all round.
Keep in mind that this contradiction is not an argument that global warming or climate change is not happening, or if it is happening, that it’s not damaging. It’s a question directed solely at whether or not Net-Zero—as a solution to climate change—will in fact make life better or worse. Climate change may be a real problem without Net-Zero being a solution to it. And if that’s the case, we should be looking for other solutions.
Realization of that possibility—which was slightly below Net-Zero a year ago—is now breaking rudely in upon the community of public policy intellectuals. Dominic Lawson in the London Sunday Times pointed out that the G7’s proposed reduction in carbon emissions would be swamped by China’s increase in them and thus render the sacrifices made by the West’ populations pointless. Irwin Stelzer in the Washington Examiner demonstrated that the policy was politically unachievable. And Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus, a veteran of the climate wars, recently argued that the contradiction above--he calls it Orwellian “doublethink”—will collapse into itself when predictions of the International Energy Authority come to pass:
By 2050, we will have to live with much lower energy consumption than today. Despite being richer, the average global person will be allowed less energy than today’s average poor. We will all be allowed less energy than the average Albanian used in the 1980s. We will also have to accept shivering in winter at 19°C and sweltering in summer at 26°C, lower highway speeds and fewer people being allowed to fly.
Let me add the conclusion that all three writers make clear. At these prices, Net-Zero simply isn’t going to happen. Almost everywhere it has been offered to the voters, the voters 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.
Such popular resistance is making itself felt before any serious sacrifice has actually been imposed on electorates. Until now, their pain has been purely rhetorical. How will they react when told that they can’t drive fast cars, take plane rides to Sicily, or turn up the heating on winter nights? They’ll vote no.
Would that i'twere so simple.
Since Net-Zero is not a solution, the obvious question arises: is there another solution we haven’t yet considered?
Dominic Lawson rules out the heavy reliance on higher “hypothecated” energy taxes promoted by the G7 on the commonsensical grounds that if U.K. chancellors have fought shy of raising fuel duty for twenty years, they’re not likely to embark on massive new ones in the more straitened circumstances of today. In his Examiner article, Irwin Stelzer proposes among other things that we should concentrate on developing carbon-capture technologies that would allow us to use fossil fuels without adding to carbon emissions. That’s a narrow solution—we shouldn’t rely excessively on single possible innovation--but it makes sense.
And Bjorn Lomborg offers a broader version of the same thing on the basis of a highly topical comparison:
COVID is fixed with vaccines, not unending lockdowns. To tackle climate, we need to ramp up our investments in green energy innovation. Increasing green energy currently requires massive subsidies, but if we could innovate its future price down to below that of fossil fuels, everyone would switch.
What makes all of these proposals more persuasive, however, is an argument advanced in a monograph published by London’s Global Policy Warming Foundation. In this short analysis, Tim Worstall, a businessman and blogger, begins by establishing that relying on future innovations as a solution to global warming becomes more plausible as the likely crisis looks more manageable.
Not convinced? Think about it this way. If climate change really is an “emergency” likely to produce prolonged droughts, a rise in the sea level threatening coastal cities, crop failures, starvation, and all the other predictions made by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion—and all by the day after tomorrow—then we probably couldn’t rely on continuous gradual innovation to reduce the price of renewables, the carbon emissions of greener fossil fuels, and the invention of alternative fuels not yet imagined. We would be climbing a very steep hill by baby steps.
As Worstall points out, however, those alarming predictions were rooted in a “worst case” scenario of future trends in carbon emissions that assumed a world in which the consumption of coal (the “dirtiest” of fuels which is actually declining in use throughout the West) would rise to higher levels than ever before—with the result that there would be a rise in temperature of almost five degrees (over pre-industrial levels) by the end of this century.
As several environmentalists (including Nature magazine) have complained, however, this worst -case scenario has since been treated as “business as usual” in official and unofficial discussions of climate policy. That in turn has led to a massive exaggeration of both global warming and its “emergency” impact.
How can we be sure that this “cooler” prediction is accurate?
Good question. And it has an even better answer. It’s not a prediction. It’s already been happening for some time. The explanation is fracking, which has reduced the use of coal and replaced it with the cleaner greener fuel of natural gas wherever governments and the courts have allowed it to be developed over the protests of , ahem, the Greens.
And yet the solution is right to hand.
The fall in American carbon emissions under the late Obama and Trump administrations occurred almost entirely because of the spread of fracking (which incidentally also fueled a rise in American growth and prosperity.) And if you want a negative example, Angela Merkel’s boneheaded decision to abandon Germany's nuclear power led directly to the greater use of coal and a consequent rise in carbon emissions in a Germany that was meanwhile spending massively on unreliable renewables..
Fracking! It’s the start of the answer—the remainder is innovation—to the problem of halting global warming without closing down the world economy (which is otherwise the respectable establishment strategy.) If you want to be technical about it, fracking has helped to move the world from a Representative Concentration Pathway of 8.5 to an RCP of between 4.5 and 6. And as every schoolboy knows, that makes a helluva difference.
So, following Chancellor Merkel’s example, Boris Johnson has blocked fracking in the UK, and Joe Biden is placing obstacles to it in the U.S.
There’s a horrible sort of inevitability about that, isn’t there?
The coronavirus crisis calls for an urgent review of Germany's climate targets under goals set by the European Union, the leader of the economic council of the conservative Christian Democrat party (CDU) said on Saturday. The COVID-19 pandemic is "putting the German economy to the test," and the EU should consider a "deferment of climate policy targets," Wolfgang Steiger said in comments published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Steiger said the fallout from the pandemic on the economy could amount to a new "de-industrialization" of Germany. Experts are predicting a global recession as a result of the business shutdown and subsequent layoffs.
The EU's ambitious 2030 climate goals include a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels and at least a 32% market share for renewable energy. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pledged that a large amount of the bloc's budget would go towards achieving the EU Green Deal.
Deferring this ruinous course of action would seem to make sense. Germany is loath to give up its ongoing Wirtschaftswunder, which has seen it go from wartime ruination to postwar industrial powerhouse. To destroy a 75-year record of achievement in order to attend to an imaginary future crisis when confronted with a real one in the here and now would be crazy. But fear not, Germany still has plenty of crazies:
However, Germany's environment minister, Svenja Schulze, warned against "connecting climate protection and economic prosperity." It may be possible "to use the exit from the corona crisis to promote climate-compatible and sustainable economic structures," she said.
The radicals, of course, want to go farther, faster:
Jennifer Morgan of the environmental activist group Greenpeace is among those who believe the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the weaknesses of the global economic system. "We are being offered the chance to fundamentally change how things work," said Morgan of the shutdown brought about by the health emergency.
In a meeting on March 26, EU leaders invited the commission to start working on a comprehensive coronavirus recovery plan, incorporating green transition.
Never let a crisis go to waste, indeed. As the Western world emerges from its China-induced economic coma, we need to be vigilant lest the patient, in a still-weakened state, fall prey to an even more insidious and destructive disease, cultural and economic Marxism disguised as "environmentalism."
'Progressivism' Versus Progress
A cry is going up across the world— in Cambridge England, in Germany, and above all in Canada. It’s the cry heard down the ages from the Common People, the Reasonable Person, the Over-burdened Taxpayer, the Forgotten Man, the Silent Majority, and whoever is feeling his shoes pinching and his belt tightening. That cry today is more puzzled and poignant than usual because it expresses bafflement as well as indignation.
That cry is: “What the hell’s going on?”
The note of inquiry is entirely justified. Last week some hooligans (in Newspeak: protesters) invaded Trinity College, Cambridge and dug up its famous lawn, carting off the soil and dumping it in Barclay’s Bank. They were activists from Extinction Rebellion, or XR, a group of Green extremists, who argue that since there is a “climate emergency” that will destroy humanity, civilization, and the world in about a decade, they will take direct action now to obstruct and punish companies and institutions that “profit from” the emergency.
Their justifications for this ecological vandalism—the Trinity lawn was itself a symbol of environmental stewardship over centuries—both vary and multiply.
In this case the protesters were angry both because Trinity has investments in “fossil fuel” companies and because it had sold land to the Port of Felixstowe which might be used for a car park. Half of Britain (and most of the world) depends on fossil fuels for their energy. Industry and individual car-owners depend on car parks in order to move goods and themselves around the country. All these activities are legal, and the government regulates them to ensure that, as far as possible, they don’t impose unwanted costs on third parties or the general public. XR’s vandalism, on the other hand, imposed quite serious costs on Trinity, Barclay’s, the people living in Cambridge, and not least the environment.
Two days later, while the public outrage was still fresh, the protesters added a new complaint: the university had sold land for developers to build housing. The project in question had been designed to be environmentally sustainable. The claim of sustainability did not save it, however, because it was to be sold at a unit price of £385,000 that could only be bought by wealthy people.
A quick check via Google shows that £385,000 is lower than the average price for a Cambridge house which is a little over £388,000. So, in principle, Extinction Rebellion is opposed to building sufficient housing in Cambridge for a rising population. If XR runs out of specific justifications for its vandalism, however, that won’t really handicap it. Any extended discussion of XR’s aims invariably climaxes with its call to end “capitalism” which in XR’s ideology is the cause of all environmental ills.
Yet even a brief glance at the history of the Soviet bloc would show that it had a far worse environmental record than any Western country. Two examples from its last days suggest the ecological consequences of replacing capitalism with “socialism”: the pollution of Lake Baikal so befouled with chemicals that it actually caught fire—and the breakdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor (recorded in a brilliant dramatized HBO miniseries.) Chernobyl’s breakdown scattered nuclear fallout over a large region but it was concealed for a time by a managerial bureaucracy anxious to protect the good name of Soviet nuclear power. Such risks inevitably grow when a Politburo which manages industry consists of the same people who appoint the regulators and dictate coverage in the media.
If it makes you happier, by all means call them “the People.”
Nevertheless, the environmental history of socialism provides a very weak argument for getting rid of capitalism. Yet, it is where most solutions to the climate emergency end up and, not coincidentally, where they begin too.
XR’s multiplication of justifications for their hooliganism is explicable when you realize that their predictions of doom keep not happening. And when any particular doom doesn’t happen, the climate seer needs to invent another likely catastrophe to justify his activism. Dr. Madsen Pirie, founder of the Adam Smith Institute in London, gave a fairly comprehensive list of such predictions here.
1966: Oil will run out in ten years
1967: Famines by 1975
1968: Worldwide overpopulation
1970: World's natural resources run out
1970: Ice Age by 2000
1970: Water rationing in US by 1974, food rationing by 1980
1971: New ice age by 2020 or 2030
1974: Satellites show new ice age near
1976: Scientific consensus that Earth is cooling.
1978: 30-year cooling trend continues
1980: Acid rain kills life in lakes
1980: Peak oil in 2000
1988: Regional droughts by 1990s
1988: Maldives underwater by 2018
1989: Nations will be wiped out if nothing done by 2000
2000: Children won’t know what snow is
2002: Peak Oil in 2010
2002: Famine in 10 years unless we stop eating fish, meat, and dairy products
2004: Britain will be Siberia by 2020
2008: Arctic will be ice free by 2018
2008: Al Gore predicts ice-free Arctic by 2013
2009: Prince Charles says we have 96 months to save the world
2009: Gordon Brown says we have 50 days to "save the planet from catastrophe"
2013: Arctic ice-free by 2015
2014: Only 500 days before ‘climate chaos’
Of course, Pirie was writing in 2014; the list will be longer now. But however often the predictions are falsified, the soothsayers never admit error. Like the religious lunatics who assemble on a mountain to witness the Apocalypse in this Peter Cook sketch, their conclusion is always: “Okay, next week, same time, same place. We must get a winner some time.”
This combination of hooliganism and hysteria is happening not only in Cambridge. Similar protests erupted recently in Germany where the local XR activists were trying to halt the building of a factory that will manufacture electric cars. (Such are the contradictions of climate emergency ideology.) Parts of London have been repeatedly brought to a halt by XR demonstrators who have glued themselves to streets and police vehicles in recent months to demand a change in government energy policy from its current enthusiasm for carbon reduction to monomaniacal passion on the topic. And as readers of The Pipelineknow better than anyone, half of Canada has been effectively immobilized by protesters who block railroads and highways in a campaign of forceful obstruction to prevent a pipeline that has passed every legal, democratic, and indigenous test laid down by governments hostile to it.
All of these cases of activism, though described as “non-violent,” involve the use of force to prevent individuals and companies going about their lawful business or simply going about. This is worth pondering. If protesters leave others only a choice between using force of their own to overcome obstruction or abandoning their lawful business, it is false to describe the obstruction as non-violent. Obstruction is itself a kind of tame violence—which is why laws in every country prohibit it. And why the police are required by law to intervene, prevent the obstruction, and enable the general public to live their lives.
Which brings us to a curious aspect of these protests—namely, the passive (and sometimes active) cooperation of the police and governments with the protesters. In Cambridge the police discussed with XR protesters which roads should be closed; they were on hand to see that their obstructionism observed the agreement; and they stopped members of the general public from removing the obstacles erected (one of which forced an ambulance to turn back.) They took no action to prevent the digging up of the Trinity lawn. Nor does Trinity seem to have requested their intervention. And though they have since brought charges against people suspected of offenses in these cases, that was probably in reaction to the angry and widespread public criticism of their previous inaction.
Earlier that inaction had been defended by a police spokesman on the grounds that legislation gives police a duty to superintend political protests. That seems right. But commonsense suggests that it means they should regulate such protests rather than assist them to gain their objectives. Laws also require the police to enable ordinary citizens to go about their lawful business unhindered. Taking those two duties together, they require police to regulate protests in such a way as to enable citizens to go about their lawful business. If it comes to a choice between those two duties, helping members of the public should come ahead of enforcing the will of activists upon them.
In the case of Canada, an entire government has been wobbling nervously for more than a week in order to avoid enforcing public order on left-wing and environmentalist constituencies whose support it is reluctant to lose. Only when those defending the pipeline failed to surrender in a timely fashion did the Trudeau government move—still nervously—to require that the law and the democratic decision making process it supports be upheld. And as to that, we’ll see.
For the moment, these different but similar events illustrate the degree to which our political life throughout the West has been changed by the cultural conquest of our institutions by progressive ideas. Under progressive governments which sympathize with the protesters, of course, but also under conservative governments which fear to challenge a respectable orthodoxy even when it breaks the rules that are supposed to govern everyone.
That conquest, which had already taken over the HR departments of corporations, the media, and even the armed forces, has now spread to the police who seem to have imbibed the silliest sociological ideas of the last few decades. In these cases they apparently have decided that the police should, where any choice exists, side with the protesters against society—even when, as here, the protest movement is unusually “white”—against the respectable classes who bear the odium of keeping society’s rules, obeying the law, and seeking change only through democratic channels. It looks liberal, but it is really a form of anarchy. And an anarchic police force is not something to treat lightly. It is odd and perhaps sinister.
Which is why people say: “What the hell is going on?”