The idea of secession seems almost inevitably to surface in times of national turmoil, political disarray, ideological and ethnic pillarization and economic resentment. In the wake of the Great Fraud, aka the 2020 American election, there is a whiff of secession in the air.
Rush Limbaugh worries that America is “trending toward secession.” Texas GOP chairman Alan West suggested that law-abiding states should “bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution.” Though he asserted “I never say anything about secession,” the implication was certainly present. Texit is in the wind. Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg) said “I am committing to file legislation this session that will allow a referendum to give Texans a vote for the State of Texas to reassert its status as an independent nation.”
Canada has undergone two secession movements originating in the province of Quebec, based on a founding schism between two distinct peoples—which novelist Hugh MacLennan called the “two solitudes” in his book of that title—culminating in a clash between two legal traditions, Quebec’s Napoleonic civil code and the ROC’s (rest of Canada) common law, and two languages, French and English.
Two referenda were held, in 1980 and 1995, the second defeated by the narrowest of margins, 50.58 percent to 49.42 percent. It is hard to say if separation would have been a “good thing,” whether Quebec would have prospered and Canada grown more coherent. I would hazard that the first prospect would have been enormously improbable, the second at least remotely possible.
The independence movement is alive today, but in another province. Alberta, which is Canada’s energy breadbasket, has suffered egregiously under the rule of Eastern Canada’s Laurentian Elite, beginning in modern times with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s low-pricing, high taxing National Energy Program (NEP) in 1980, which devastated Alberta’s oil industry.
According to the BOE report, “Economic disaster quickly followed. Alberta’s unemployment rate shot from 4% to more than 10%. Bankruptcies soared 150%.” Home values collapsed by 40 percent and the province plunged into debt. The debacle has climaxed with son Justin’s Green-inspired economic destruction and effective shutdown of the province’s energy sector. Unemployment has risen to more than 11 percent, thousands of residents are leaving the province, debt is soaring and cutbacks have severely impacted daily life.
As a result, a potent secession movement, known as "Wexit," has gathered momentum and solidified into a new political party. In addition, the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta registered as a political party on June 29. Its platform includes asserting the independence of the province, redefining the relationship with Canada, developing natural resources, and creating a Constitution of Alberta.
After having increased the job-killing carbon tax during—of all times!—the COVID pandemic and lockdown that had already pulverized the nation’s economy, prime minister Justin Trudeau has announced he will raise the tax almost sixfold to $170 per tonne by 2030, thus breaking the Liberal government’s promise “not to increase the (carbon) price post-2022.” According to the Toronto Sun, “That will increase the cost of gasoline by about 38 cents per litre, plus the cost of home heating fuels such as natural gas and oil.”
And according to Kris Sims at the Sun, “Based on the average annual use of natural gas in new Canadian homes, it would cost homeowners more than $885 extra in the carbon tax.” Filling up a light duty pickup truck will cost a surplus $45 per tank, and an extra $204 for the big rigs that deliver dry goods and comestibles. But that “won’t be the end of the increased cost the Canadians will face, starting with a $15 billion government investment in other climate change initiatives.”
All Canadians will be hard hit, but Albertans, who once fueled the engine of Canadian prosperity and who have the resources to do so again, will feel the provocation and injury even more profoundly. As Rex Murphy writes in the National Post, it is “the province that carries most of the weight, bears the most pain and has the least say in this mad enterprise.” The tax, he continues, will “injure the very farmers who have been stocking the supermarket shelves during COVID, put oil workers (at least those who still have jobs) out of work, increase the cost of living for everyone, place additional strain on the most needy and antagonize a large swath of the Canadian public.”
Kyle Biedermann is on the money when he says that “The federal government is out of control.” This is as true of Canada as it is of the United States, at least with respect to the major agencies of government. For this reason, I support the secession movement in Alberta. The province has no alternative if it is to survive a faltering and repressive Confederation saddled with an out-and-out Marxist prime minister, a de facto alliance with Communist China, an infatuation with an unworkable and unaffordable tax-subsidized Green technological program, a $400 billion deficit, a national debt exploding past the $1 trillion mark, and, in short, nameplate disasters like Trudeau’s A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy cabaret.
Alberta’s survival depends on restoring its energy sector to full capacity and shucking off the federal burden of over-regulation, crushing taxation, Green fantasy-thinking and unpayable debt. Murphy again:
This new carbon tax will throw a spike in the heart of the oil and gas industry. Keep in mind that it is but the most recent in a long string of policies designed to hamstring the industry, block its exports and drive investment out of the province.
For Alberta, it’s leave or die. Other provinces may eventually have to follow the same route as Canada disintegrates under the brazen incompetence and global-socialist doctrines of the current administration, with no relief in sight.
As oil executive Joan Sammon writes, “Inexpensive energy is imperative for a thriving economy, manufacturing excellence, economic mobility, job creation and a future of prosperity.” Clearly, there must be citizen pushback against the economy-killing decrees of a myopic and virtue-signaling government. People must put pressure on their elected representatives to resist the deliberate dismantling of the free market that will cost them the life of material abundance and comfort they take for granted. They must rid themselves of their infatuation with leftist memes, policies and hypocrisies.
I have a neighbor, a staunch adherent of our high-taxing, socialist administrations, who drives across the border to the U.S. to fill up her car at around one third the domestic price of fuel. She remains oblivious of the cognitive dissonance that governs her practice. Such thinking and behavior are what qualify as ultimately “unsustainable.”
The industry, too, Sammon writes, “needs to take back control from the preaching class and remind them that their lifestyles have been brought to them by the men and woman of the oil and gas industry.” The “green zealotry” that drives their anti-market efforts will destroy Alberta and lead eventually to the economic collapse of the entire country. Alberta, however, is at present the only province with a robust secession movement and, given its resource-rich milieu and the independent character of a large segment of its inhabitants, the only province in a position to save itself.
In any event, the message to Alberta is simple and straightforward. If at first you don’t secede, try and try again. The Overton Window is closing fast.
Happy New Year from Lyford Cay! I can’t imagine being anywhere else but here—away from border closures and shuttered shops. We are proving that there is life during Covid. Common sense would tell us that commercial flights and large resorts are a recipe for shutdown. Here… we wisely have none of that.
After big fireworks last night we ended up dancing on the beach, but it was mostly the guests of residents who don’t know the way of things here and stayed out late. That’s the thing with the non-residents… even if they weren’t frightfully easy to spot, one can always sense them nervously tugging at their pockets for vibrating cell phones that are a big no-no in this club and so many others that they obviously haven’t frequented.
The residents are of course mostly all lovely people, who’ve made their mark and can now focus on the things that matter. Speaking of just that sort, I had so wanted to talk to philanthropist Louis Bacon about all things environment. We’ve a strong contact in that one of my clients -- well, my former client -- is a big to-do in the Audubon Society. And Louis has received the actual Audubon Medal.
I haven’t had the chance to talk to him owing to the fact that my hosts are on the Nygard side -- that’s Peter Nygard, who shares a property border with Mr Bacon and for whom a once-peaceful adjacency eventually led to duelling feuds and some sort of federal racketeering suit in Manhattan. I had hoped to at least bump into his wife but she’s a second wife and… well you know how those things go.
I've heard whispers that he's not really as committed to the environment as he seems to be, and he did sue Wikimedia for publishing some bits he considered libelous, and there was even some suggestion of foul play when his estate manager was found floating naked in a hot tub, but I refuse to believe that someone who gives millions of dollars and thousands of acres for easements and wildlife could be in it for the wrong reasons.
I have to assume such a beef was bound to happen as their houses (the Bacons and the Nygards) are on the beachfront where the homes get quite close to each other, and in that area, one man’s dining room is only 200 feet from the other’s revolving acrylic discotheque.
As for Mr Nygard, my hosts maintain there is mostly nothing to the FBI raid and arrest at his fashion empire on charges of sex trafficking and racketeering. Here in Lyford he’s mostly disliked for his efforts to dredge the sea floor around his estate that eventually caused his cay to be seized by the Bahamian government. And then something caused a puddle that caused a feud between neighbours and here we are. As I’ve heard daddy say, one man’s cocktail party is another man’s sleepless night. Whatever the ruckus—he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Which got me to thinking… I should just go and chat up Her Majesty’s newly remarried (and newly gay) cousin Lord Ivar Mountbatten. He and daddy are quite chummy, and I met him with his daughter Ella at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Surely he’ll make the introductions—landowners tend to be big environmentalists.
This year, rather than silly resolutions I’ll be making significant intentions that support, empower, and manifest a joy-filled existence. I think it’s so important.
I made my way down to the New Year’s brunch in the pink tented dining pavilion. I was seated with some Austrians and I got excited that they might know Mr Bacon. Yes I know he’s an American but he obtained Austrian citizenship due to a special treatment for celebrities who have provided notable achievements for Austria. No one seems to know what the notable achievement was, but I hoped they were his guests. Sadly they were not, and didn’t know the least thing about him despite his celeb-status.
Once they heard I lived in Los Angeles they wanted to talk election stuffs and rant about Trump. I wasn’t sure what he’d done to them specifically but they seemed in favour of the Paris Climate Agreement. Well, so am I! Very much so, but I wasn’t stupid enough to think anyone could slip it past the Americans and hope they wouldn’t realise they had to comply more and pay more than anyone else.
I was quiet for a bit. Where were the Austrians who stood on principle so very many times? Not to mention they were the first to say there was “no path back” when one of their stupid teens ran off to be a brood mare for ISIS. This was a puzzlement. And so I began:
“Is it Americans you dislike? Or do you simply share an all-consuming love of our planet?” I asked in the queen’s English. What followed was such nonsense I wondered how they could claim to stand for anything. I changed the subject so deftly I’d have made even Judith (mummy) proud. I just don’t get the blanket hatred for America thing… all things considered-they really are good caretakers of our earth.
I asked them where they stood on Austria’s drastic move away from coal? They had no informed opinion. On their very own MAGA (Make Austria Great Again) rockstar Sebastian Kurz? Didn’t know. Nygard vs Bacon? (OK that was totally unfair but these two were getting on my nerves). But they somehow knew they were right to hate America for pulling out of the Agreement and didn’t have to be the informed sort of haters.
I lied about how much I’d enjoyed talking to them and excused myself. These two were such boors and were hardly going to help me manifest my higher purpose to save the planet. And no sooner had I focused on my destiny than I found a handsome hedge fund billionaire to chat up. Happy New Year Everyone!
The record continues to grow of China’s influence on Western institutions, which the Chinese deploy to advance China’s interests. Recent high-profile examples include ties to academic researchers who then lie about their relationship with Chinese underwriters, and agents for China serving as aides or fundraisers for, and, purportedly romantic interests of, elected officials.
Author Rupert Darwall has specifically explored how China is using the “green” agenda to gain advantage over America, including through its influence with environmental pressure groups. Patricia Adams detailed this further in an early December 2020 report published by the United Kingdom’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
Both conclude that Western green groups serve as “China’s propagandists” while turning blind eyes to China’s own environmental and human rights record which – according to the Greens’ expressed standards – would otherwise be subject to strident condemnation and pressure campaigns.
Instead, China is oddly praised by Western environmentalist groups. One wonders if this is related to the fact the groups require special approval from the state to operate within the communist country.
Darwall argues that, taking all of these machinations into account, the climate change issue has become “a national security threat – but not in the way the national security elite assumes.” That is to say, “For China, climate change offers a strategic opportunity. Decarbonizing the rest of the world makes China’s economy stronger – it weakens its rivals’ economies, reduces the cost of energy for its hydrocarbon-hungry economy, and sinks energy-poor India as a potential Indo-Pacific rival.”
For example, already, litigants in the United States have cited the Paris Climate Agreement as requiring judicial commandeering of energy and environmental policy from the political branches, leaving judges to decide what economic development may occur and how. This past summer, the U.K. Court of Appeal blocked major transportation infrastructure construction citing among the reasons that such projects are incompatible with the Paris commitments.
Expect more such mischief, via proxies for China, in the United Nations “Climate Conciliation Commissions” which await the U.S. if it “re-joins” the Paris climate agreement as Joe Biden vows to do.
This is one of many reasons President Trump should recognize Paris as the treaty it obviously is, by transmitting it to the Senate for the required “advice and consent” before the U.S. can be bound in any way.
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham Tweeted in favor of such a move, adding, “As currently drafted, the accord is a big win for China and India.”
Graham had been silent on the issue even as President Obama showed “disturbing contempt for the Senate’s constitutional rights and responsibilities” by declaring an obvious treaty to be something he could commit the U.S. to on his own. Indeed, records obtained under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation show Graham – one of three original sponsors of “cap-and-trade” legislation in the Senate until it became obvious this was not in his political interests – was targeted by then-Secretary of State John Kerry as a possible supporter of the Paris deal, along with climate obsessive Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
No longer. China’s scheming has become too aggressive to further ignore.
Still other FOIA’d emails revealed dealings among Western greens and the Obama-Biden State Department, an apparent business as usual that is likely to soon resume. For example, one April 15, 2015 email, sent by the then-Global Director of the World Resources Institute (WRI) Climate Program to State Department officials, candidly stated the role the WRI played in assisting China to develop the post-Obama “climate” world in Washington, D.C.
Other emails show the Obama State Department leapt at the invitation to help the WRI help China, arranging team-wide conference calls and other follow-up.
In light of this and other revelations, in 2018 the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources sent two oversight letters to WRI and other groups including NRDC, from which Biden has chosen his domestic "climate czar" Gina McCarthy (letters since scrubbed from the website by the new Democratic Chairman). Investigators pressed for clarity on apparent contradictions involving the group’s claims about its relationship with the Chinese government, and how that impacts its political activities within the United States.
The Committee specifically referenced the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires anyone acting as an agent of foreign principals “in a political or quasi-political capacity” to formally report that relationship and all “activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of those activities."
The green groups lawyered up with white-collar defense teams, the 2018 elections brought a new House majority, and the inquiries died. Still, one commentator observed that special counsel Robert Mueller “opened the door to more intense scrutiny of some U.S. environmental groups” by invoking FRA to pursue prosecution of former Trump campaign officials.
Given the influence these groups have in Washington generally, and particularly with Democrats, the precedent of invoking FARA to pursue all things Trump does not translate to pursuit of environmentalist pressure groups, as well, despite a clear record of involvement with, and even boasting of their ties to, China on matters of U.S. policy.
The foreign-agents act, like other statutes, appears to be merely a political weapon, intended only for those who threaten “the way things work” in Washington. And among the lessons of 2020 is that the way things work in Washington, as in academia and other institutions, is under substantial Chinese influence.
Call me a cockeyed optimist. I’m not convinced that the end is nigh. True a giant asteroid might come hurtling our way. However, I still regard dire warnings of the imminent end of times as the stuff of outlandish cults. Or, more entertainingly, humourists.
I might be missing something. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Prince Charles, and too many other notables to mention, think differently. They’re sure we are on our last legs; with only, what is it now, something like nine or ten years left to save the planet? Don’t hold me to this number. I get confused when threatened with extinction.
If those who do think the end is nigh were asked, I feel confident they would nominate coal as the biggest culprit. It spews out CO2 like nobody’s business. According to the U.S. Energy Department, per unit of energy produced, coal emits around twice as much CO2 as does natural gas. And, to boot, it has been the predominate source of power for industry and households for a very considerable time.
According to the Resources and Energy Quarterly published by the Australian government, thermal coal still accounted for 45 percent of global electricity production in 2018. Hence, coal is still doing its darndest to queer the planet and, shiver in trepidation, there’s 133 years of proven reserves of the black stuff still to dig up. But it’s not all bad.
It’s good for Australia. Thermal coal is the fifth biggest exporter earner behind (in order) iron ore, metallurgical coal (there’s that coal again), natural gas and gold. The prime minister is torn. Electorates in coal country in Queensland gave him victory in May 2019. Careless of dire predictions of doom, they selfishly voted their wallets ahead of the planet. Yet, from royal progeny to billionaires to zealots to inner-city elites to banks to boardrooms to the media, the anti-coal clamour is deafening. Politicians wilt.
In 2017, to the chagrin of the great and good, Scott Morrison -- before he became prime minister -- theatrically brought a lump of coal into parliament to make a powerful case for coal. And now, only a few short years later, is contemplating zero net emissions “as quickly as possible.” Trying to mix coal and zero emissions is a species of double-think. He’s a politician, he won’t notice.
Coal is enigmatic. Cheap energy to some, demonic to others; and with a future which is hard to pin down. Here is a trick question. How many coal-power plants are under construction? Answer: it depends upon which newspapers or fact-check websites you read or TV channels you watch. Greens and their allies want to convince everyone that coal is uneconomic, and on the way out. Coal lobbies present a bullish outlook for coal. Different interests, different schticks, different facts.
That said, whatever source of information takes your fancy, a large number of new coal-power plants are on the way. This is simply because coal provides cheap and reliable power and the Chinese and Indians, e.g., aren’t stupid. No need to guess who is.
When I say new coal-power plants are on the way; not so much in Australia, where they are on the way out. An irony you might think in a country with rich coal reserves, which for so long underpinned the competitive advantage of Australian manufacturing. Not so to those who believe Australia has to do its bit by closing down all of its installed coal-power of around 23 GW capacity in order, wait for it, to offset the up to 250 GW or so (depending on what you read) of new capacity China is intent on building. Do the sum.
Here is something else: on December 2, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) claimed that coal dust blowing from coal-loading ports 100 to 1,000 kilometres away threatened, the perpetually threatened, Great Barrier Reef. Peter Ridd, cancelled by James Cook University In Queensland for daring to suggest that the Reef was not under threat, described the claim as “ridiculous.” Ridiculous? How about “crackpot.”
On much surer footing than the tendentious apparatchiks at the IUCN, Michael Shellenberger (Apocalypse Never) goes into bat for coal. Coal, he says, with twice the energy of timber, saved the forests, while fuelling the industrial revolution. But for coal there might have been few trees left. Excluding those conservationists who bizarrely favour making them into biomass, everyone likes trees. Ergo, coal’s role in preserving them must be good.
Then again coal must be bad. The Economist (3 December) told us that, “unlike natural gas and oil, it is concentrated carbon, and thus [in America and Europe] it accounts for a staggering 39% of annual emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels.”
That might be true, who knows, but this isn’t: “Solar farms and onshore wind are now the cheapest source of new electricity for at least two-thirds of the world’s population.” Here the poor sods at the lower end of the prosperity scale in Asia and Africa are invited to “consign coal to museums and the history books.” “Much work lies ahead,” avers editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes.
I just wonder how much work has to be done to persuade developing regions of the world to use the cheapest source of electricity? They must all be dim-witted, if Ms Beddoes is to be taken at her word. Of course, Ms Beddoes is spouting agitprop. To be kind, she can do no other as a dedicated follower of the party line.
The case against coal is not based on economics. It is the cheapest source of 24x7 power. The case stands or falls on the danger CO2 presents to the planet.
If the alarmist predictions are wrong then the trillions of dollars spent on wind and solar farms has been the gravest waste of resources in the history of mankind. As the size of the effect of man-made CO2 on global warming is matter of conjecture, a contested hypothesis at best, it is inexplicable that is has taken such an iron grip on the minds of so many in positions of influence and power.
The overwrought reaction to Covid is similarly puzzling. Perhaps when religion wanes, collective belief is more susceptible to superstition and mass suggestion. If that is so; what, I wonder, will be the next hobgoblin to scare us into submission?
In the last week Europe’s political leaders in and out of the European Union have been engaged in the over-production of promises to transform the continent into a Net-Zero carbon-free green utopia. A few examples:
And in the current atmosphere of an auction on speed, who would bet against the Parliament getting its way?
Now, going carbon free will be extremely expensive both for governments (i.e., taxpayers like you) and for individuals and households. Just how expensive we’ll get to in a moment, though with some difficulty: governments have been very cagy about spelling out its costs clearly. But the financial costs may not give as accurate a picture of the scale of these promises—think how hard it is to grasp what a billion dollars is, let alone a trillion—than a look at what they would mean in visible and practical terms.
On that Climate Change Commission report is extremely illuminating because it breaks down the main effects of going Net Zero under four headings with examples of how we’ll be living under each one. Again, here are a few (with some editorializing in italics by me):
After looking at this list of the industrial,, economic and personal lifestyle changes needed to bring about Net Zero in Britain, it seems inevitable that together they must amount to a massive sum. But the report’s chairman sums up the costs in a single breezy paragraph:
Some of our most important work is on the costs of the transition. Low carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver Net Zero, supporting the UK’s economic recovery over the next decade. This investment generates substantial fuel savings, as cleaner, more-efficient technologies replace their fossil fuelled predecessors. In time, these savings cancel out the investment costs entirely – a vital new insight that means our central estimate for costs is now below 1% of GDP throughout the next 30 years.
How credible is that? Let me point out some warning signs in it. The first is that to think the argument that “in time these savings (from going from fossil fuels to cleaner technologies) cancel out the investment costs entirely” is a “vital new idea” is dotty on at least three counts: It’s the rationale for almost all investments. What’s vital about it is the qualification “in time” which for investments of this scale might be centuries. And the timescale might even be never if, as seems highly probable, the price of fossil fuels remains stubbornly lower than the price of technologies still to be invented.
And that risk is illustrated be the following comparison: the sum of 50 billion pounds cited as the annual cost of making Britain and the British virtuously Green is almost exactly the same figure as the 50 billion Euros given by the E.U. heads of government to Poland this week as compensation for killing its coal industry. The two programs are so different from each other in scale and risk that they could hardly cost anything like the same budgetary figure.
Even if the figures added up, however, the Climate Change Commission’s program would still face the larger political problem that its proposals depend on the support or at least acquiescence of the great majority of their fellow citizens in massive potentially unwelcome changes in how they live, work, travel, eat, and enjoy themselves not for a short period but forever. When we see the growing discontent with the privations and regulations that governments have temporarily imposed for protection against a pandemic, it doesn’t seem likely that whole populations will agree to live out their dystopian fantasies.
I wondered how governments would respond to that? Then I remembered something:
“Communism is Soviet Power + Electrification of the Whole Country.” Vladimir Lenin, Report on the Work of the Council of People’s Commissars. December 22, 1920
Goodness gracious. That report was issued exactly one hundred years ago. Next week.
Paradise at last! I couldn’t take one more day in St John’s Wood as London goes into yet another lockdown and daddy grumbles about Boris. One day leading to another… and all of them leading nowhere.
But I am alive again in Lyford Cay, having arrived late last night—and mask free! I got up rather early today, put on lipstick and perfume, availed myself of a golf cart and got myself down to the club. I was so excited you’d have thought I was sneaking into Buckingham Palace. I wasn’t hungry in the least but wanted to feel part of a living breathing world. Surely my hosts here wouldn’t miss me — I’d only just met them over Thanksgiving at Annabel’s anyway.
In minutes I was drawn into familiar noises… silverware, and ice being poured from a pitcher… oh it was just like the movies! Or every single day prior to coronavirus.
Lyford (the former Cay) was hopping! And nearly everyone dressed in white which could only mean they have an all-white rule for tennis or croquet or maybe everything. The substantially older women—the ones who delineated between jewellery and breakfast jewellery, were none of them in white, so it must indeed be a sporting requirement.
I looked around the room like a tourist might do. I felt as though I were looking through a window only because I hadn’t seen humans with coiffed hair or gold sandals or anything even remotely resembling civilisation for so long. I signalled the waiter for more tea, more berries, a paper if possible? Just more of everything because I wanted to bask in the glow of what was officially called… breakfast.
There were no papers but the waiter provided me with a card that allowed me to read several publications on my phone. “Even better!” I squealed. Lyford was green! Peering over my phone so that I could secretly scan the room, I settled on a conversation of a group of businessmen across th way…”the Great Reset”. Whatever could that be?
I googled on my phone to very little success… just links to a conference in Davos with futuristic looking businessmen talking intently. Was it staged? They were yellowish and pocket-sized. I googled and found it’s meant to be a global green push—post Covid. Things really were looking up. But I was very confused about seeing Prince Charles and Yo-Yo Ma in the promo and I was a little iffy on “a brighter, better and more sustainable future" from the ashes of Covid-19.
I texted daddy to ask him about the great reset and he texted back: “A lie.”
Really? A lie? I texted back, “What about financing sustainable recovery?
His response, “A lie.”
I started another text but before I could even finish he texted back --
“Also a lie." Followed by, “I can keep this up all day.”
As I made my way to the pool I got another text from him: “And don’t bother your nice hosts about this unless you are prepared to return via commercial flight. Mummy and I miss you. Take pictures.”
What I know is there is no stopping him when he’s in one of these moods. I know deep down inside he is committed to our planet but no one is willing to do the heavy lifting. I got out my laptop and decided I’d write about this very important opportunity. This may be the biggest pro environmental initiative of my lifetime.
After sketching out my outline, I took a short swim and returned to my notes. Somehow my arguments weren’t so clear. I called father for help. “Hi, so… I’m a bit wobbly on why the presentation features people like Meghan Markle instead of…”
“An economist with credibility?" he replied. "Because this is not an economic plan, it is just a lie, disguised as an economic plan, disguised as a way to save the planet. But it’s also about demilitarisation, and, independent media… oh and saving the arts. Shall we also throw in the whales?”
“Please just go with me for a minute… the great reset will ensure that every recovery stimulus from now on must include green conditions. To my mind this can’t be bad.”
“But specifically what?” He asked. Green stimulus money… to be spent on what? Tearing down infrastructure and rebuilding it to be more carbon neutral? Poof- our house in an adobe."
“But what about, you know, infrastructure… and trains?”
“You mean a tax! You want to tax everyone to build a train, even if everyone doesn’t ride on this train because it is better for the planet, yes?”
“Yes, but it is better.” I insisted.
“Perhaps but we are talking about things in places where they don’t exist -- take your new hometown. A train in Los Angeles would be prohibitively expensive, and would require a huge tax increase, so really we are talking about a tax.”
“Well, Tesla managed with private money.”
“Tesla sells carbon points, to other polluters, and makes a profit from it, so what have you achieved? It’s a shell game, darling. Listen, you know I’m all for environmentally ethical rules but that is not the role of business, the singular motivation of business is to make a profit, and profits make for better economies, better economies are better caretakers of the land-without exception.”
“And their promise of one hundred new carbon-neutral cities?” I continued.
“Find me the carbon-neutral city that you both want to live in and which respects the environment.”
He had me there. And I imagined my life with no luxury, no air travel, no country house, and sharing of all IP. This wasn’t going to work. I’m not giving up on the planet but I’m not giving up thousands of years of progress to these people whose main accomplishment, as far as I can tell… is to hold forums. Something to ponder tomorrow after my morning swim.
Yes, I know that the headline should really read “Is it I who am mad—or the world’s leaders?” but the dubious grammatical form used above is better suited to the populist sentiments of this article. And though populism and populist are words routinely used to mean “insane,” “dangerous,” or worse “problematic,” some kinds of populism are in fact social truths that experience has shown to be accurate and valuable, i.e., commonsense.
That applies especially to truths about spending, saving, investment, and borrowing. Copybook maxims on that score go from Thomas Jefferson’s “Never spend your money before you have it,” to Shakespeare’s “Neither a borrower nor a lender be/For loan oft loses both itself and friend/And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”
With that prudent advice ringing in our minds, let’s look at how prudently our political masters are handling our collective expenditures, revenues, borrowings, and investments. The first thing to notice (though few do) is just how massive the sums involved are.
Estimates differ but in the U.S., apparent president-elect Joe Biden is proposing a budget of $5.4 trillion equal to 24 percent of America’s GDP. He’s also proposing a smaller (but still massive) tax increase that would leave a gap of $2 trillion dollars for the U.S. Treasury to borrow. But cheer up—it’s bipartisan. President Trump’s budget estimates for 2021 weren’t much lower at 4.8 trillion equal to 21 percent of GDP and a deficit of $966 billion.
Now, expenditures to cope with the pandemic and lockdowns are emergency spending that almost everyone agrees is justified or, to be more precise, inevitable. That’s why the Trump budget rose to an annualized rate of 30 percent of GDP at the height of the pandemic this year. But a cool $700 billion is accounted for by Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda that would increase spending on infrastructure, the environment, and the Green New Deal. That's equal to one-eighth of Biden's projected total spending for 2021 and one-third of the likely deficit.
The picture is the same in Britain where Boris Johnson’s government, as well as spending vast sums to ameliorate the pandemic and concomitant recession, is embarking on a green industrial revolution and unrelated (even contradictory) infrastructure spending. There too the Labour, Lib-Dem, and Green opposition parties attack these plans as too little, too late. In both countries the general attitude has been Spend! Spend! Spend!
After all, everyone knows that Tomorrow Is Another Day!
Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With The Wind’s heroine, may be out of fashion in racial politics, but financially she’s never been so enchanting to so many powerful people.
That may be because we simply can’t get our minds or even our imaginations around the figures when they rise from million to billions to trillions. To help us do that, here’s David Schwartz, the science writer and a brilliant popularizer, explaining them to NPR listeners:
The difference between a million, a billion and a trillion is like the difference between eleven and a half days, 32 years and 32,000 years.” Do the sums: a $2 trillion dollar deficit the equivalent of 64,000 years in time measurements.
And an $5.4 trillion dollar total annual budget... or a $23 trillion accumulated national debt... is equal to... but I see the audience’s eyes glazing over... No -- they’re crying.
Now, it’s certainly true that borrowing is economically justifiable and potentially profitable if it’s likely to produce a stream of income or equivalent benefit that over time more than equals the cost of the capital borrowed. A home mortgage is a humble example.
It’s also the case that government investment can be economically worthwhile if it creates an economic environment that hikes productivity, spurs general economic growth, and thereby increases tax revenue for the Treasury. Some state investment meets those criteria, but by no means all. So we should apply certain tests to proposals such as the green industrial revolution and the Green New Deal?
The test that governments seem to like most at the moment is the question:
Can we borrow at a low interest rate?
It’s a fair question but it should be a secondary one. A low interest rate means it’s cheaper to borrow, but that’s a modest benefit at the best of times and no benefit at all if the investment produces less wealth than the cost of borrowing. And if interest rates rise as they tend to in periods of inflation produced by government over-spending, then the modest benefit becomes a horrendous cost, especially when your accumulated borrowing has reached $23 trillion. So the next—or rather, prior—question becomes:
Can we make sure the investment pays off?
To which the honest answer is, No. As the distinguished political theorist, James Burnham, author of The Managerial Revolution, used to say in his rules on life: You can’t invest in retrospect. Some of the visionary Green schemes proposed by Joe and Boris, such as electric airplanes and cheap hydrogen cars, can’t be invented simply because we establish a state fund to invent them, any more than the flying cars and personal jetpacks of Matt Ridley’s youthful imagination exist today because we wanted them, as he noted in a column on the ten big things wrong with the green industrial revolution.
I quoted the column last week, but it can’t be quoted too often because to judge from government policy no one in Whitehall or the Beltway has read it. It should be especially worrying that many of the schemes for transitioning from fossil fuels to “renewables” all cost more than the cheap fuels they are meant to replace and need state subsidies for longer than their advocates claim in advance. Demands for extended government subsidies should be a warning. Innovations will occur, of course, because a free economy is an innovation machine. We simply don’t know what they’ll be, and if we concentrate state funding on bright ideas too early, we risk being unable to fund the good ones that survive the sorting out process.
But they lift productivity and economic growth, surely?
Again, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but the signs don’t look that good. What economic benefit is likely to arise from the total electrification of Britain electric cars require that would match both its cost and the cost of forcing motorists to give up petrol-driven cars from 2030 onwards? If the answer is that we will benefit from the technological innovations that British and American auto manufacturers make in the course of developing cheaper and more efficient EV’S, we could have those benefits anyway by allowing them to make the cars that the motorists want at a price they can afford and at a pace that would allow government and industry to transition in line with market demand changes. Then we might get technical innovations in both EVs and petrol-driven cars.
We don’t do that because the real aim of policy is not technical innovation—that’s a by-product at best—but a reduction in carbon emissions, or net-zero in short. That’s why everyone concedes that electricity prices will rise for industry as well as for consumers, putting the industries in countries with green hairshirt economic policies at a serious disadvantage with their foreign competitors. How will that kind of enforced economic primitivism help us either to raise productivity or to pay back the money we’re now borrowing? It won’t.
Since this is a global problem, though, surely, our competitors like China are making the same sacrifice?
Well, no they’re not, as a matter of fact, and when they say they will, they usually ask “the West” to give them subsidies to do so. In the meantime, the Chinese Communist Party—no idealistic Greens in that Politburo—is bringing new coal-fired power stations on line with emission levels greater than the U.K.’s entire carbon output.
So why are we doing this?
That’s a bigger question to which I’ll return next week. But it certainly requires explanation because unless the laws of economics have been repealed, the policy of spending and borrowing massively in order to make our economies less productive and efficient can only have one result. It was forecast most eloquently by Rudyard Kipling in his once-familiar poem "The Gods of the Copybook Headings":
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
Something to think about.
On the face of it, international progress towards a global consensus on reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 in order to restrain the rise in world temperature to between 1.5 and 2.00 degrees above pre-industrial levels is about to be resumed after a four-year interruption. When President-Elect Biden overcomes the remaining legal hiccups to take office on January the 20, 2021—as I am assuming he will —his first acts will include returning America to its observance of the Paris climate accords. Since 195 other nations have already signed on to the Accords (and everyone has agreed to treat them as a treaty, even if a non-binding one), it’s full speed ahead to a net-zero carbon world.
Or so it would appear.
This global pact rests on strong support from the world‘s governments which in turn rest on a firm consensus of political parties, scientists, officials, “Green” activists, and the media that a net-zero carbon policy is essential in order to avert a global climate catastrophe. This consensus is so universal that anyone who dissents from it, even a distinguished scientist or a Nobel Prize winner, risks being treated as a dangerous eccentric and finds it hard to get a hearing in respectable forums. Demands are sometimes heard that such people be kept off the airwaves altogether or even prosecuted for “climate denialism.” Fortunately, there are very few such eccentrics.
Not that those within the consensus deny that the net-zero policy has problems. On the contrary everyone acknowledges that it will require quite heavy sacrifices from the ordinary citizens in their countries in the form of higher taxes, higher energy prices, and lower living standards. But these sacrifices will be worth it not only because they will avert a global catastrophe but also because Boris Johnson’s “green industrial revolution” or (according to taste) Joe Biden’s “Green New Deal” will create well-paying jobs in cleaner green industries such as windfarms. And the last obstacle to this green utopia in the form of President Trump has now been removed.
Thus ends my rather bland outline of the Authorized Version of climate change politics. If we examine it critically, it surely becomes clear very quickly that it rests on two unsteady supports: the strength of the establishment consensus and the electoral popularity of a policy of transitioning to a net-zero carbon economy. Both seem strong at present. As climate skeptics such as Allister Heath in the London Daily Telegraph have conceded, the elites on both sides of the Atlantic have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the consensus; and a poll taken before the recent U.S. election showed that America voters were greener than ever before:
Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the U.S. to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years.
In both cases, however, there are grounds for predicting that trouble lies ahead. Take, first, the establishment consensus. That is far from being a spontaneous embrace by almost all scientists and economists (climate policy being a blend of both disciplines) of manifest truths. Nor could it be, for a variety of reasons: science itself offers only provisional truths; climate science alone covers a wide range of scientific disciplines; and even the U.N. IPCC reports offer a range of possible outcomes with varying degrees of probability attached to each.
When its tentative and uncertain conclusions disappear and re-emerge as government policy, they have become firm doctrines (e.g., outlawing the U.K. sale of petrol-driven cars after 2030) enforced by quite strong sanctions: the granting or withholding of official contracts; appointments to official boards, university posts, and the civil service; publication in scientific journals; threats to employment and promotion; and even a de facto censorship of heretics in mainstream and official media. It’s hardly surprising that few people contest the establishment consensus when there are serious risks and no practical benefits in doing so. What’s surprising is that some do.
Who are they? Usually, the first critics of the consensus are natural heretics who look at any powerful structure of ideas maintained by force and try to find cracks in it. Others join them because they may have either economic or intellectual interests in doing so—a naturalist opposes windfarms because they kill birds, for instance.
Some people working to advance the policy discover flaws or scandals in its operations and resign to oppose it from outside. Then there are journalists, natural heretics often, but looking for a good story always. Finally, there are critics who are simply very clever people who notice things and realize they don’t add up. And when all these “types” start examining climate policy and how it’s going, they find all kinds of risks being taken and mistakes being made.
Of course, there have been sharp-eyed critics of “climate change” alarmism—and of the policies intended to ameliorate it—from the first: former U.K. finance minister Nigel Lawson who founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg who founded the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, and the late Nobel Laureate Freeman Dyson, who thought for Princeton.
But their numbers have been growing in the last year. The American environmentalist, Michael Shellenberger, announced his de facto resignation as a leading environmentalist by writing his book, Apocalypse Never. Its theme, echoing Lomborg's, is that climate change is a serious problem but not a looming catastrophe requiring drastic emergency measures.
Dieter Helm, the Oxford professor who was commissioned by the U.K. government to report on British energy supply chains and climate change, has now written a new book, Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change that challenges the central orthodoxies of the Western establishment’s climate policy. In a review on the U.K .Reaction website, Jack Dickens writes:
Two fatal flaws in the current global approach are emphasized in Helm’s book – the focus on reaching Net Zero carbon emissions while maintaining high levels of carbon consumption, mostly through off-shoring carbon-intensive activities, and the faith in a symbolic but ineffectual top-down approach to solving the climate conundrum, as exemplified by grand United Nations summits in Paris and Tokyo. The result, he argues, has been the creation of an illusion that something is being done while individuals and governments are consistently failing to take decisive measures.
And the U.K.’s main conservative papers in the Telegraph group—papers read by Tory activists and thus important to Tory politicians—have started to take a more skeptical view of Boris Johnson’s boasted “green industrial revolution” in op-eds by three of its star columnists—former editor Charles Moore, Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath, and columnist Matt Ridley. It doesn’t amount to a complete conversion; the Telegraph’s formidable financial columnist, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, remains on Boris’s side. Still, all three have written strong criticisms of the government's net-zero policy recently, and Ridley offered an especially scathing critique of ten reasons why it’s a mistake.
Ridley, who moonlights as a member of the House of Lords, is the author of several well-regarded books on science of which the latest, How Innovation Works, is highly relevant to the climate debate. He takes aim at Boris’s ideas on innovation in climate policy with a double-barreled shotgun. The first barrel demolishes the Prime Minister’s own proposed innovations:
Innovation will create marvelous, unexpected things in the next 10 years. But if you could summon up innovations to order in any sector you want, such as electric planes and cheap ways of making hydrogen, just by spending money, then the promises of my childhood would have come true: routine space travel, personal jetpacks and flying cars. Instead, we flew in 747s for more than 50 years.
The second barrel aims at Whitehall’s neglect of more realistic innovations that get no money or attention in the green industrial revolution:
My fear is that we will carry out Boris’s promised 10-point plan, cripple our economy, ruin our seascapes and landscapes, and then half way through the 2030s along will come cheap, small, safe fusion reactors.
It’s a bracing attack from a government supporter, friendly fire in fact, and taken together with the other skeptics, it’s a sign that the establishment consensus is showing some cracks. In part, these criticisms are a reaction to the fact that policies like net-zero carbon are ceasing to be distant possibilities and becoming real prospects. No sale of petrol-driven cars is only nine years away. And as Dr. Johnson wrote two centuries ago, when a man knows he will be hanged in the morning, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.
But surely these policies are popular with the voters? Wasn’t that the story of the U.S. opinion poll quoted above? How can a popular policy be reasonably compared to being hanged in the morning?
The answer to that objection is a rule that I’m thinking of calling O’Sullivan’s Second Law. It goes as follows: The popularity of a policy is less important than the popularity of its consequences.
How popular are the consequences of a policy of net-zero carbon by 2050 likely to be? It is hard to estimate that because governments constantly evade answering the prior question of what will be the costs of going net-zero in terms of higher taxes, higher energy prices, and a lower standard of living. They concede in a vague and slightly noble way that people will simply have to make heavy sacrifices, but they don’t want to put a figure on it.
That’s not surprising. When the New Zealand government did just that, it discovered, according to Lomborg, that getting to carbon neutrality would “cost more than NZ$85 billion annually, or 16% of projected GDP, by 2050. That is more than last year’s entire national budget for social security, welfare, health, education, police, courts, defense, environment, and every other part of government combined.”
Sixteen percent of projected GDP annually. That’s what you call political suicide. No policy that requires it will remain popular. It runs up against Stein’s Law formulated by the late Herb Stein, a distinguished American economist: ““If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
It can’t go on. Long before 2050, the net-zero policy will have to be abandoned. And the longer that political establishments cling to its defense, the worse the resulting crash will be.
Proposals for going green and hiking taxes—they seem to go together—rain down as gently upon us as leaves in Autumn. In Britain, as I mentioned last week, the Finance Minister, Rishi Sunak, is looking at new ideas to charge motorists for—wait for it—driving on the roads.
There will soon be s a $50 billion tax hole in his budget as a result of the government-mandated switch from gas-powered cars to electric ones by 2030. That date was moved forward from 2035 in a speech this week from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his “green industrial revolution,” i.e., the U.K. equivalent of America’s Green New Deal that Joe Biden has been promising.
Boris’s speech unveiled a whole armory of exciting new green measures—summarized coolly in the London Sunday Telegraph by "lukewarmer" Matt Ridley as “all Britons driving electric cars powered by North Sea wind turbines and giving up their gas boilers to heat their homes with ground-source heat pumps. [Plus] He will invent zero-emission planes and ships.”
Viscount Ridley suspects that not all the prime minister's hoped-for innovations will come to pass. As a strong believer in the importance of innovation himself -- his latest book is on that topic -- he thinks that we'll be happily surprised by some innovations by 2030, and we shouldn't take rash and expensive decisions that will foreclose those possibilities now. Equally, however, we shouldn't bet the bank on innovations that may never pan out despite our best efforts.
That's one cautionary truth. Another is that we can be pretty certain that these exciting new green measures Boris announced will likely bring forth a lot of exciting new green problems. Among them is that drivers won’t be paying the fuel taxes they pay now if they’re driving electric vehicles. That's why, to fill that budgetary hole, the finance minister is thinking to tax road use.
There must have been a hostile reaction to this leak because the next day the Times published a nervous follow-up:
Drivers would support a national road-charging system providing that it was not simply used as a “cash cow” by the Treasury, ministers have been told.
Of course, any new tax would be used by the Treasury as a “cash cow” if only because the U.K. is going to have to finance the economic effects of the lockdown one way or another. That’s a given. Also, governments like green taxes because they attract almost automatic support from green parties, pressure groups, and public opinion.
Road pricing has both green and attractive economic features as an alternative to other forms of taxation. As Dr. John Walker argues in his RAC Foundation study, On the Acceptability of Road Pricing: It’s “technically successful; meets objectives ranging from managing congestion to raising revenue to fund road improvement; need not be prohibitively costly; and once in place, tends to gain public acceptance”
As that guarded last comment suggests, however, it’s got some difficult features too. Switching from fuel taxes to road pricing is a problem in itself. Fuel taxes are simple to pay and to collect. Road pricing means that both government and the motorist have to install equipment to record the costs of journeys and to charge for them. It’s a more visible cost than when it’s paid as part of a price for petrol at the pump.
If the road pricing system is variable, moreover, imposing higher costs on cars sitting in traffic and lower ones on cars going along empty roads at off-peak periods, it will be more efficient, but it will also be more unpopular with the general public. Differential pricing of that kind makes economic sense because it discourages congestion and makes for more pleasant driving and less wasted time. But the public sees it as unfair because it penalizes those drivers who have to work regular hours and travel at peak hours, and they are often the poorer members of society.
And it’s being proposed at the wrong time. Motorists already feel under threat as many of the costs of Boris’s green industrial revolution end up being paid by them. If gas-fueled cars won’t be available from 2030 onwards, those owning such cars will find spare parts more expensive, gas stations fewer in number (and more distant), and gas prices higher. In the end they’ll have to purchase an electric vehicle if they want to continue driving.
Many of them—I’ve seen estimates as high as one-third of U.K. current drivers—will find buying an EV requires a serious financial sacrifice. Those who are unable to get a decent price for the resale of their petrol-driven cars will be in even worse financial straits. On top of these shock demands on their wallets, they will see the addition of road pricing as an intolerable extra.
It’s bound to provoke resentment among those financially hard-pressed drivers who find themselves paying heavy bills to use the roads that their taxes have already built in order to keep the economy moving today. That’s not entirely speculation. As the Times recalled late in the story: “The Labour government ditched similar plans for road charges 13 years ago after a petition attracted 1.8 million signatures.” Bringing in road pricing in such circumstances would risk a British version of the gilet jaunes suburban and provincial riots that have now lasted almost two years in France.
Road pricing is not the villain in this mystery, however, though it may be the victim (murdered by numerous Acts of Government.) The main super-villain, lurking in the background, is the decision taken with all-party support in Britain, echoed in similar decisions taken in Brussels and (shortly) in Washington, to aim for a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 which is both unachievable and certain to reduce living standards brutally. The lesser villain which is Son of the First is the decision taken by fiat of the present British government to switch to all-electric cars from 2030 onwards.
It is frivolity on stilts and bound to have terrible results: a hugely expensive electrification of Britain, power supplies nonetheless inadequate to cope with additional demand from EVs nationwide, electricity blackouts on a regular basis, increases in both taxes and electricity prices to pay for this transition, the spread of job losses in the industries that use power, etc., etc., in addition to the problems for motorists and taxpayers described above.
There is only one silver lining to this thunderstorm of clouds: when the policy of forced sales of EVs crashes into reality, it might compel the Johnson government to reconsider not only that policy but also the larger futility of dragging down the U.K. economy and standard of living by depriving it of the cheap energy that most of the world will still be using.
Switching to EVs is a kind of test drive for the new kind of economic policy: not the betterment of the people but the moral preening of the elites. We'll see if the net-zero carbon economy has survived its first run round the track by, say, January the 1st 2031.