Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't he?
Makes you proud to be an American, doesn't he?
The U.K. government apparently plans to install 600,000 heat pumps per year into British homes to replace ‘polluting’ gas. No such plans have yet been announced in Australia. Gas heating is used less here than in colder climates. Nevertheless, natural gas is a popular enough form of heating. I have it in my flat. For how long, who knows? The Australian government is sidling its way into the net-zero-by-2050 club. Perforce, setting in train all manner of even more unnatural things than erecting monstrous wind farms.
But what things? There’s the rub. Choices to be made. And, ominously, in the keeping of government.
I viewed one of those Grand Designs TV programs from England. The guy building his innovative house was a green-minded engineer, intent on warming his heavily-insulated house via heat extracted from underground. When finished he pointed to the temperature on his hand-held thermometer with some pride. He had managed to warm his spacious living room to an ambient temperature of 16°C (61°F). His wife in the background looked unimpressed. But that’s his problem not ours.
Spent his own money. Got a cold house. His choice alone. It’s a whole different kettle of fish when government decides on a particular technical and engineering solution and goes about mandating and subsidising its wholesale implementation. So unfolds a process so fraught with risk that it defies belief that governments could be so foolhardy. Doesn’t it? Not really.
When the economic recession was raging in 2009, the Australian Labor government under Kevin Rudd decided to embark on a range of so-called stimulatory measures. All failed miserably but one stood out. This was the so-called “pink-batts” scheme. The government decide to provide free ceiling insulation batts to anyone who wanted them. This killed two birds with one stone you understand. First, the insulation industry would be stimulated. Second, global warming would be dealt a blow.
Sadly, the outcome did not go according to plan. An aging rocker Peter Garret, finding a second life as a politician, was the government minister in charge; satisfying the requirement (if you’ve ever seen the British TV series Yes Minister) of having no relevant expertise or experience. The existing insulation industry was ruined as main chancers became installers overnight. Imports of insulation batts from China soared; stimulating their manufacturing not ours.
Three untrained installers were electrocuted, another died of hypothermia, several others suffered third-degree burns and ninety-four houses caught fire. The scheme was abruptly closed down. Millions upon millions of insulation batts lay unwanted in warehouses.
Governments doing silly things with vast amounts of taxpayers’ money is not a rarity. However, hold onto your hats, we ain’t’ seen nothing yet. Unparalleled, climate-combatting catastrophes lie ahead. They’re inevitable. Conditions are ripe. Governments want action. Free markets won’t deliver. This means governments must make choices among alternatives, often mutually exclusive alternatives, armed with insufficient information and foresight; and without the guidance of market prices. What could possibly go wrong? Most everything.
Replacing gas heaters in millions of homes with heat pumps is a huge and irreversible exercise. Too bad if better technological and engineering solutions arise. Of course, when put together with the need to insulate the same number of homes, else rampant hypothermia among the aging, it will prove impossible to accomplish. Nevertheless, if you studiously don’t do the sums in advance, keep blinkered and myopic, there is no telling how far down the road you can get and how much damage you can do before everything falls apart. Look at the pink-batts scheme for a mere taste of the thrilling ride ahead.
Of course, heat pumps are a very small part of governments’ efforts to cure global warming by undoing prosperity. Take electric vehicles. Figures from the International Energy Agency show transport, almost completely fueled by refined petroleum, accounting for 35 percent of total energy usage in 'selected economies' in 2018. Passenger cars make up two-thirds of that. Residential space heating came in at only 11 percent in comparison.
Leave aside the feasibility, practicability, and affordability of extracting and processing the materials required to manufacture sufficient numbers of batteries; never mind their later disposal. It’s the charging of them that’s so much the bigger challenge.
Unfortunately, electric vehicles cannot work their way gradually to a position of dominance and then universality. Not without ubiquitous charging infrastructure. And ‘gradually’, in any event, is not the right word for the wet dreams of woke politicians.
Joe Biden wants half of all cars sold in the United States to be electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030. Justin Trudeau has set a date of 2035 for new cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission. Boris Johnson wants to ban the sale of new conventionally fueled cars by 2030 and hybrids by 2035. And, think, Glasgow’s on the horizon to steel their reveries.
Imagine what will be required to support electric vehicles in a zero-emission world. Where is the power to come from? I have seen estimates which suggest that up to 50 percent more electric power will be required. My rough calculation, based on figures published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, suggest that it might be quite a bit more than that. And this, when dispatchable power (sourced from coal and natural gas) is gone and largely replaced with unreliable and intermittent power from wind and solar. Literally incredible.
Then there’s the charging infrastructure. Untold numbers of charging stations and the upgraded substations and cabling required to support them. For comparison purposes, there are around 150,000 gas stations in the United States.
To fill up now takes about five minutes. Currently the fastest charger takes 30 minutes to give your car about 200 miles. Presumably that is so inconvenient that charging technology will drive the time down to something bearable, if batteries can handle it.
Let’s realise what’s happening here. Intensive-energy petroleum (what a boon to human progress) gives out its power incrementally over the whole journey. Whereas, all of that same power and more must be delivered into batteries inside some minutes; multiplied by millions of vehicles. Has anyone in any western government done the sums?
Governments are making an irreversible choice. Spending billions upon billions of dollars and committing untold resources to bring about their currently favoured means of propelling vehicles. They didn’t choose petroleum back near the turn of the 20th century; the market did. And the difference that makes, we’ll discover painfully.
What a difference a few days can make. It was only the other day that President Biden spoke to the nation in what was billed as a press conference devoted to Covid-19 and vaccinations. After staring blankly into the teleprompter for eleven minutes and delivering his scripted remarks, the president inexplicably shuffled from the podium without taking any questions from, you know, the press. Bizarre as this was, it was made slightly less so by the fact that he had declined to answer questions in a similar setting the previous day, where he spoke about what at the time was the still-nascent debacle in Afghanistan.
The Covid-19 speech was plainly a ham-fisted attempt at misdirection, intended to divert the nation’s attention from what was merely an international embarrassment but has since become a literal bloody mess, with some 13 American servicemen and scores of Afghans killed in suicide bombings near the Kabul airport. Late last week, the president held another press conference, this one devoted to the events in Afghanistan, and as bland and affectless as he was in his appearances earlier in the week, when compared to Thursday’s performance he was Henry V at Agincourt.
In his address on Thursday, the president appeared confused, weak, and detached, as though still in denial that his own decisions have led to all that has recently transpired in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan. Even as he answered a question from Fox News reporter Peter Doocy about his role in the Afghan debacle, the president deflected responsibility onto his predecessor.
“I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late,” the president said, then he predictably resorted to one of the most tiresome of all his tiresome tropes. “But here’s the deal,” he continued, “you know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban.” He then attempted to engage Doocy in some kind of bastardized version of a Socratic dialogue, the intent of which was to establish that he, fundamentally, bears no responsibility for the loss of life after all.
The disorder in Afghanistan is only the latest example of what happens when utopian visions come into violent collision with reality. From the comfort and safety of the White House (or Camp David, or his basement in Wilmington, or wherever), President Biden can claim the best of intentions, the mere invocation of which, he believes, absolves him of any responsibility for the consequences wrought by his decisions. As is always the case with leftist utopians, the costs are borne elsewhere and by others.
It is not only in Afghanistan that we see evidence of this. The product of poor leadership is evident in many American cities, most especially those where defund-the-police movements have taken root within local government. In Los Angeles, where the entire municipal government and the management of the LAPD have kowtowed to the police-are-the-problem mob, murders have increased 24 percent over last year and 44 percent over 2019.
And in Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears to have lost whatever minimal grip on reality she might have once had, murders are up 5 percent over last year, which may not sound all that dire until you recall that 2020 saw a huge spike in murders from the previous year.
The daily carnage in places like Los Angeles and Chicago, in which the bodies stack up incrementally, may lack the punch-to-the-stomach impact of a suicide bombing that claims dozens in an instant, and while some may think it unfair to compare the killers who stalk our city streets to jihadis waging war in foreign lands, can those jihadis be said to be any more depraved than the gunmen who, two weeks ago in Chicago, shot two little girls as they sat in their car seats in their parents’ car?
Like the jihadis in Afghanistan, those gunmen in Chicago pay little heed to the platitudes pouring forth from politicians insulated from the costs of their poor leadership. They want what they want and they do what they do because they have no fear of the consequences.
It wasn’t so long ago that no foreign leader would consider aggression on a neighboring country without first considering the question, “How will the Americans respond?” Not even some tin-pot dictator in the most backwater third-world hellhole would make an adventurous move without weighing the risk of seeing U.S. Army paratroopers filling the skies, Marines swarming ashore on the beach, or an Air Force JDAM whistling down the palace chimney.
Today, if our adversaries even bother to ask how the Americans will respond, the answer they arrive at is, “They won't.” No more than Lori Lightfoot does, or Bill de Blasio in New York City or Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles.
Our president displays weakness, which in its turn invites challenge. It should surprise no one that Afghanistan is once again under the control of the same sandal-clad barbarians we routed from power 20 years ago, and it remains to be seen which of our adversaries will be next to take advantage.
A few weeks ago, I alerted readers to the top priority on the SEC’s new agenda: “ESG.” For those who don’t know, “ESG” is the latest Orwellian doublespeak for “Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance.” It’s the latest in Marxist trends going back to the 1950s, which you might previously know as “socially responsible investing” or “conscious capitalism.”
What is “ESG,” exactly?+
“E” stands for climate change, or course. That includes things like pollution mitigation, waste management water usage, carbon footprints, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, energy efficiencies, and biodiversity (because diversity apparently must extend beyond humans).
“S” (Social) stands for all things labor, although one wonders why it isn’t “L.” This includes some important things like privacy and data protection, health and safety, supply-chain management and human rights. But it also includes labor standards, wages and benefits, and the dreaded workplace and board diversity, racial justice, pay equity, human rights, talent management, and social justice issues. Maybe we should just substitute “W” for “woke.”
“G” refers back to how the “E” and “S” are governed within an organization.
Up until recently, all of this nonsense was relegated to choices within the business and investing communities. If your company or board of directors decided to make these issues relevant, they could vote to do so. If you chose to invest in such companies, or do business with them, that was your business.
Now, however, the Leftist-Marxist crowd is planning to crack down in unspecified ways around public companies that make “ESG Disclosures.” Like all things Marxist, this will begin with an apparently harmless enforcement agenda that just wants to make sure that companies are being honest when they claim to be sufficiently woke.
What we can expect is that the SEC will bring enforcement actions not merely with the intent to create such “honest” disclosure, but become the de-facto scarlet letter should a company fail to meet its un-exact and non-specific standards.
And to be sure, the SEC’s standards will be made up as it goes. That’s because the less information there is regarding ESG disclosures, the more enforcement actions the SEC can bring, and the more money the agency can rake in from its one-sided enforcement procedures.
What few Americans realize is that federal agencies all operate the same way. Congress passes laws, and agencies take years to develop “rules” that more specifically interpret the law. There is a long public comment period, during which the agencies consider the input, then finalize the rules in the Federal Register. This is a lengthy process, during which everyone who is regulated by the given agency operate in the dark.
This assumes the agencies even bother to make rules. When something isn’t congressionally mandated, an agency doesn’t even have to formulate the rules. They’ll take requests for rulemaking, but you can imagine how often those requests are fulfilled and when they are fulfilled, how long it takes.
Meanwhile, agencies like the SEC are free to engage in “rulemaking by enforcement.” If the SEC sees something it doesn’t like, it can open an investigation and bring an enforcement action if it so chooses. The terrifying thing about the SEC and other agencies is they can do whatever they want in this regard. They can subpoena records of just about anything from any entity. They can demand testimony. If someone refuses and invokes their Fifth Amendment privilege, such an invocation is considered an “adverse inference” in any administrative or judicial process. In other words, judges and juries can assume that since the Respondent refused to talk, they are guilty or liable.
Because the process is so one-sided and expensive, individuals are often forced to settle and endure onerous fines because they cannot afford to go to trial. Most companies will choose to settle so they can just get back to business, although some opt to litigate.
Oh, and should one choose to settle, standard SEC settlement language requires them to “neither admit nor deny” the charges, but they cannot ever make a public statement asserting innocence, or even make a statement that is tantamount to such! Yes, the CATO Institute tried to litigate this matter, but lost in the D.C. Circuit for lack of standing.
Despite all the scams being perpetrated on investors on a regular basis, the Biden Administration wants the SEC to begin enforcement of… ESG? It makes no sense in terms of fulfilling the SEC’s mission, which is allegedly to protect investors.
But that’s the point. Protecting investors has nothing to do with the ideological Marxism behind ESG enforcement. The point is to push climate change requirements into the public markets. It begins with the new SEC chair Gary Gensler’s mandate that SEC develop a rule proposal on climate change specifically, which includes:
Funny how nothing else in the ESG agenda is up for rulemaking except climate change.
Gensler had long been eyed to take over the SEC, having been a Democratic operative for years. He was a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as well as an adviser to Obama, served as party treasurer in Maryland, was on the staffs of Maryland’s top politicians, and was part of Biden’s transition team.
Gensler will do the Leftist’s bidding and establish onerous rules that will begin with “proper” disclosure. There will be big fines for “misrepresenting” ESG (climate change) activity in the disclosures of many big companies. There will then come requirements to either change disclosure or “remediate” climate change policies within the companies, with emphasis on the latter. Wouldn’t a company rather be given the “opportunity” for “remediation” than pay a fine?
This is the first step. Soon, ESG – and climate change specifically – will become requirements.
Lawyers specializing in migration from both sides of the barricades have a wry capsule explanation of how the law works: It Ain’t Over 'til the Migrant wins. In this explanation “wins” means “stays.”
There are American laws galore that allow the government to deport people present in the United States illegally. Why don’t they work? Well, there are also laws that enable a competent lawyer to string out his client’s deportation indefinitely until he has a wife, children, a job, a home, and a lawyer here—which almost amounts to a squatter’s right to stay.
It seems downright unreasonable to send him back to where his home used to be—at least that’s the view of the immigration bar, NGOs specializing in migration and refugee policy, media that are overwhelmingly sympathetic to migrants of every kind, all Democrats and some Republicans in Washington, academic “experts” on immigration, and so eventually of the courts trying such cases.
As the late Judge Robert Bork pointed out in his short, brilliant book, Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges (AEI, 2003), modern judges implement not the law as such but a blend of the law itself and of the opinion of the law held by legal members of the highly educated upper-middle class.
That’s why the opinions of judges matter and why legal verdicts in immigration cases increasingly follow the maxim of “It ain’t over 'til the migrant wins.” And, therefore, stays.
Is that maxim now being transferred to law determining court cases on the environment and climate change? That question is raised by the proliferation of court challenges to projects to extract and transport fuels, especially fossil fuels, when those projects have survived regulatory challenges from the federal bureaucracy, and even when their cancelations are likely to provoke disputes between the U.S. and other countries.
The most recent case of such judicial intervention took place in Alaska—usually a state hospitable to the oil and natural gas industry (as well it might be)—when a federal judge canceled Willow, a massive energy investment by Conoco-Phillips on Alaska’s North Slope.
Judge Sharon Gleason of the District of Alaska ruled that the environmental impact statement for Willow should have included a ”quantitative estimate of emissions resulting from oil consumption” (or explained why the estimate could not be produced) and provided better protection for wildlife including caribou.
These are interesting proposals, but they are not exactly legal judgments. They are decisions for the political and regulatory authorities which had considered then and taken a different view to Judge Gleason. Willow had been approved by the Bureau of Land Management, supported by the Biden administration, and backed enthusiastically Alaska’s Governor, Mike Dunleavy, who is responsible to the voters for Alaska’s economic development. He responded sharply to Gleason:
We are giving America over to our enemies piece by piece. The Willow project would power America with 160,000 b/d, provide thousands of family-supporting jobs, and greatly benefit the people of Alaska.
Judge Gleason has no accountability for the economic consequences of her arbitrary judgments. She was exercising irresponsible power—or as the saying goes, legislating from the bench. Alaska voters damaged by her intervention have no way of sanctioning her for it.
Of course, we should acknowledge that such judicial interventions sometimes favor the corporation against the regulatory bureaucracy or the decisions of lower courts. A recent example of that took place in Louisiana where a court forced the Biden administration to resume selling oil and gas leases to energy company which it had halted “temporarily” while the Interior Department reviewed them.
Higher courts may reverse that judgment on appeal—but that comes with a cost too. As the formidable columnist Mark Steyn has pointed out in the different context of libel law, “the process is the punishment.”
All these infrastructure projects are hugely expensive and take years to complete. If their approval is a constantly changing shuttlecock batted back and forth between the courts, the regulatory bureaucracy, the political world, and the industry, that will raise their costs massively, sometimes cause their cancelation, and hike the price of the final product in energy bills to the electricity consumer—who now include owners of electric cars and other electrical products. They buy such such products in order to switch from dirty fuels to greener power sources at a considerable increase in cost. That cost increase will get larger if infrastructure projects become as risky as roulette. And if you make the cost of switching heavier, fewer people will do it.
All those consequences—and more—were exemplified by President Biden’s cancelation of the nine-billion dollar Keystone Pipeline from Canada to Texas. He did this by executive order immediately upon coming into office after it had survived more than a decade of regulatory and legal challenges from the usual suspects—environmentalists, protesters claiming to represent indigenous interests, progressive billionaires: the Democratic party’s post-industrial urban base.
Par for the course, you may think. But this particular decision was unusual in two respects. In the first placed, it reversed the more common practice by which the courts override the national executive in Washington. On Keystone, Biden overrode the courts—which is usually seen by Democrats as a constitutional mortal sin. "Climate change," however, is the excuse that sweeps all rational argument aside. Second, it provoked a serious foreign policy crisis with—of all energy-producing countries—Canada! Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is Biden’s ideological soulmate on energy, the environment, and much else, but he still had to take his constituents into account.
That international crisis shows no sign of abating—quite the contrary—because Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer canceled a much more important and more established pipeline between the U.S. and Canada, apparently without really grasping the extraordinary damage she was inflicting on our friendly neighbor to the north. Here's one local report:
While the Keystone project was halted in early construction, Line 5 has transported Canadian oil since 1953. More than half of Ontario’s supply passes through it, according to [the pipeline company] Enbridge. It exits Michigan at the border city of Sarnia, Ontario, and connects with another line that provides two-thirds of crude used in Quebec for gasoline, home heating oil and other products.
I would once have thought that a war with Canada was in the realm of the impossible. But Governor Whitmer may be proving me wrong. She is threatening to confiscate Enbridge’s profits and do many other terrible things if the company continues to defy her. The federal regulator seems not to agree with the governor’s arguments that the pipeline is a hazard to the environment. Enbridge points out that all the alternatives to the pipeline would be more hazardous. The Canadians seem to be united around the defense of their own oil and gas industry since it keeps Ontario and Quebec warm in winter (and Michigan's airports operating). Local Michigan businesses are largely on Enbridge's side too. The Biden administration, which is currently digging down into a lot of holes, must be wondering how on earth it got into this hole and how to get out of it.
The answer is that, as in Biden’s cancelation of the Keystone pipeline, there are far too many “authorities”—executive, regulatory, state, federal, legal—which believe that their virtuous Green ideologies give them a right to intervene arbitrarily in environmental and energy issues to reach the right outcome. Which one of them prevails is now an almost random matter. For companies contemplating multi-billion dollar projects, both negotiating with regulatory authorities and going to law in these circumstances are a little like shaking a kaleidoscope or consulting an astrological chart.
The main villain in all this is the authority that should and normally would determine fairly which of all the other authorities has the right and obligation to make which decisions on what and on what legal basis. That authority is the courts. Law should offer a reasonable certainty to companies and individuals contemplating major expenses from mortgages to investment in renewables. But it can only play this role well if it reduces to the minimum its own opinionatedness on green issues.
Unfortunately, the courts are no longer impartial umpires interpreting laws passed by Congress and state legislatures. They are moving in the direction of becoming more “green” rather than more judicial as the examples quoted above demonstrate. They have their fingers on the scales of Lady Justice. It threatens both America's prosperity and its democracy if it ain't over till the Greens win. But that's the trend.
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?
Pretty shocking -- Politico reports on growing tensions within the Democratic coalition, with the environmental activist faction of the party objecting to even the mildest attempts by the Biden administration to confront China over its human rights violations and international aggression.
As a new Cold War takes shape between the U.S. and China, progressives fear the result will be a dramatically warming planet. Over 40 progressive groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden and lawmakers on Wednesday urging them to prioritize cooperation with China on climate change and curb its confrontational approach over issues like Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and forced detention of Uyghur Muslims.
The problem for the Biden administration is that American public opinion has shifted significantly against China in recent years, such that according to a recent Pew survey, 89 percent of Americans "consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner." This move began with Donald Trump calling out China's predatory trade policy and intellectual property violations before he was even president and continued through then-President Trump and Chairman Xi's trade war. It was cemented, however, by the CCP's handling of the Covid-19 outbreak last year, which, if the no-longer-a-conspiracy-theory lab leak hypothesis turns out to be true, would mean that China is responsible for the most significant man-made disaster in human history.
Which is to say Americans' anger with China is real and entirely justified such that Biden can't simply ignore it. Consequently, when the G-7's leaders met last month, the president urged them to condemn China's human rights abuses, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a point of addressing the “ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing” of China's Uyghur minority during a recent phone call with his Chinese counterparts.
But for the environmentalists, none of this really matters. They've convinced themselves that climate is the preeminent political issue, and no other consideration comes close. Many of them would even argue that American capitalism and climate change are inseparable -- even indistinguishable -- political problems, never mind the fact that, while the U.S. has led the world in total carbon emissions decline since 2000, China's new coal-fired energy capacity alone outstripped the rest of the world by 300 percent in 2020.
Like the tankies of old, who invariably defended the Soviet Union's various atrocities, the modern variety can't imagine any bad actor on the world stage aside from the United States. For them, China's signing emissions reductions pledges which they don't intend to honor is evidence that they're the good guys, while America's banning the import of a single Chinese company's solar panels over some pesky forced labor allegations suggests that we aren't taking climate change seriously enough.
Thus far in his presidency, Biden has felt it necessary to appease his environmentalist flank at every turn. But considering the burgeoning anti-CCP sentiment, will that trend come to an end? Perhaps. But the activist class is very persistent and has friends and fellow travelers in high places. My money's on their winning out and us backing down against China. Again.
The year is 2013. I am a passenger on a container ship as it voyages for twenty-seven days from Hong Kong to Southampton. Magellan, the third largest container ship in the world, is powered by a huge engine, equalled in size by only one other in the merchant fleet. For the mechanically minded; it is a marine diesel, fuel-injected, internal combustion, two-stroke engine, generating 109,000 hp. It has fourteen pistons, each almost a metre in diameter. I can vouchsafe that it is very large and loud.
On this voyage, the ship is carrying the equivalent of nearly 10,000 standard-sized containers. Containers, which can be more than double the length and taller than standard-sized, can hold up to about 28 tonnes of cargo.
Why mention any of this? A container ship provides a practical and grounding lesson on the realities of modern economic life that school children might be taught. As distinct, that is, from being brainwashed with fairy tales of sustainable development.
The lesson might begin thus: Our way of life, our prosperity, our ability to help those among us in need, are all critically dependent on growing, mining, making, trading and transporting things. Needed are entrepreneurship, business acumen, skill, hard work and, critically, cheap and plentiful supplies of energy.
A series of questions might follow to generate discussion. Apropos: If it takes around 4,700 tonnes of marine diesel fuel at $550 per tonne to shift one-hundred thousand tonnes of cargo from Hong Kong to Southampton, how many batteries charged by wind and solar farms would it take and how much would it cost? For mathematics students this would be an instructive introduction to imaginary numbers.
Another question might go like this. Is it possible for us to enjoy the ownership of cell phones, computers, flat screen TVs, cars, and all of our other modern conveniences without the dirty business of their manufacture and shipment? For students of anthropology, this may throw light on the development of cargo cults among primitive peoples. And talking of cargo cults, adult classes might be held for those who vote for green parties who seem equally prone to thinking that goods simply appear out of thin air.
Other instructive questions could be posed for the tutelage of students and greenies alike. Me, I want to stop there and turn back to the crude diesel which powers large ships. According to those who estimate these things, shipping accounts for around 2.5 percent of man-made CO2 emissions. Twice the emissions of Australia by the way. And as Australia is under pressure by the great and good, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson included, to prostrate itself before the deity of net-zero emissions by 2050, it isn’t surprising that shipping is also in the firing line.
The International Maritime Organisation’s voluntary goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050 compared with 2008. Bear in mind that tonnages shipped are on course to be far higher in 2050 than they are now. The goal might be described as aspirational. Think of the late Soviet Union’s five-year plans. Even so, it is not going to be nearly enough to satisfy the zealots, when net-zero is their goal.
Norway is doing its bit. Reportedly, as from January 2026, Norway intends to ban cruise ships from sailing through its fjords unless they generate zero emissions. How to bring this about? I don’t know. However, the Norwegian shipping line Hurtigruten announced in 2018 that it would run its ships on dead fish and other rotting matter. Smelly business. Fish at risk. Has limitations.
In an article in Forbes, development economist Nishan Degnarain echoed the UN in calling for shipping to urgently ditch fossil fuels. He claims that shipping is the sixth-largest emitter after China, the U.S., India, Russia and Japan; which, though mixing categories, is about right. What to do?
Degnarain doesn’t mention dead fish. He lists four possible solutions. These come out of a report by the international conservation group Ocean Conservancy. The report was launched at U.N. Climate Week, held virtually in New York in September 2020. Here are the putative solutions:
To take them in reverse order. Environmentalists aren’t keen on LNG. Apparently, it leaks methane in transit. And, anyway, “cleaner” though it is, it is still a foul fossil fuel. Ammonia carries a risk of blowing up and when burnt emits the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Just a guess, but fuel cells powered by green hydrogen might not be quite ready for widespread installation in ships. One solution mooted is the onboard conversion of sea water to hydrogen. I simply assume that’s a joke. And in that same amusing vein, electrification is clearly a risible solution for ocean-going vessels. Consider the magnitude of the problem.
Leave aside the 30 million or so recreational and fishing boats in the world; lots pumping out CO2. As of the beginning of 2020, there were around 56,000 merchant ships trading internationally. This encompasses 5,360 container ships, over 17,000 general cargo ships, more than 12,000 bulk cargo carriers, around 8,000 crude oil tankers, nearly 6,000 chemical tankers, over 5,000 roll-on roll-off ships, and some 2,000 LNG tankers. All running on fossil fuels, overwhelmingly crude diesel, with a bit of LNG thrown into the mix.
Is it possible to get your head around refitting and/orreplacing this fleet so that it's emissions free? Maybe, if you’re an airhead and assume as-yet uninvented technologies will somehow save the day. If burdened with common sense and realism, you will know that it can’t be done. It is Panglossianism on stilts.
This is the situation. Western world leaders, without political opposition, have bought completely into "global warming" alarmism. Extraordinary, but that is the least of it. They are buying into delusional solutions to a non-problem. You’re sane and trying to figure out what the heck’s going on? Forget it. Just cling onto the rails as they do their damnedest to sail us into the abyss.
In the 1983 U.K. general election, the Labour Party under the amiably leftish leadership of Michael Foot published a manifesto that amounted to a wish-list of extreme socialist policies long sought by the party’s Marxist wing. It leant so far to the left that one of Foot’s closest colleagues, the late Gerald Kaufman, described it privately (in a bon mot that was soon leaked) as “the longest suicide note in history.”
Not any longer. The last few weeks have seen two longer suicide notes by two organizations more important than an opposition U.K. party. They are the G7 nations, which Marx might have described as “the executive committee of the global capitalist democracies”—aka the West—and the International Energy Agency which is a specialized committee of the United Nations system and as such the globalist bureaucracy serving all U.N. member-states.
The distinctions between the two organizations are not trivial, but they usually say the same things, especially on climate change. Indeed, the global organization of anxiety over climate change was initially launched by the U.N. Secretariat in a series of international conferences—Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen—at the end of the Cold War. Its greatest support to date has been found in the G7 countries, especially in the United Kingdom and the European Union (minus coal-producing countries such as Poland) where it has become unchallengeable dogma.
America has been the exception to the G7’s enthusiasm, having repeatedly refused to ratify any of the climate change treaties even when, as now, the U.S. administration was in the hands of climate “emergency” zealots who signed them. Partly as a result, the United States under the Trump administration was able both to reduce its carbon emissions and to re-emerge as an energy super-power by liberating “clean, green” natural gas from the land by fracking.
Oddly, even masochistically, President Biden was elected to reverse this policy and to embrace the Paris conference aim of achieving Net-Zero emissions by 2050. Seeing this as an opportunity to entrench Net-Zero as a legally-binding international obligation on all governments, the G7 and the IEA each issued a report at around the same time, respectively making the political and the technical case for the inevitability of Net-Zero.
There was neither deception nor coyness about this simultaneity; the G7 applauded the IEA for its help. And the joint advocacy is expected to generate overwhelming diplomatic endorsement all the way to the next climate conference this fall in Glasgow. You can read the G7 report here and the IEA report here.
But you should read both with a skeptic eye. Here, for instance, is one of the most important paragraphs in the G7 report [italics mine]:
In this context, we will phase out new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy, except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, in a manner that is consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality in order to keep 1.5°C within reach, in line with the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement and best available science. Consistent with this overall approach and recognizing that continued global investment in unabated coal power generation is incompatible with keeping 1.5°C within reach, we stress that international investments in unabated coal must stop now and commit to take concrete steps towards an absolute end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021, including through Official Development Assistance, export finance, investment, and financial and trade promotion support. We commit to reviewing our official trade, export and development finance policies towards these objectives. We further call on other major economies to adopt these commitments.
Sounds impressive, right? It’s a wordy elaboration of the idea—relentlessly canvassed in climate emergency propaganda—that we can kill coal by cutting off government subsidies to it and thus making it a bad investment. But as my italics show, the governments are building escape hatches into their commitments at almost every point. They will phase out new and direct government subsidies to coal except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, i.e., when a government wants to subsidize coal.
Similarly, they’ll take concrete steps to end subsidies for unabated coal. That’s interesting. The official definition of unabated coal is “the use of coal without any technologies to substantially reduce its CO2 emissions, such as carbon capture and storage.” Carbon capture is the technology, still in large part theoretical, that’s cited as one important way in which carbon emissions can be reduced or eliminated in, for instance, the manufacture of concrete. You can be sure that when carbon capture has become a more practical possibility—or even before that—the governments of coal-producing countries will find that their coal is magically no longer unabated.
And they would have a point. The possibility of carbon capture makes the case against fossil fuels much less strong than it otherwise seems—and certainly more attractive than the policies and lifestyle changes that the IEA report lists as necessary to the achievement of Net-Zero.
I’ve written many times before about the lifestyle changes and their lack of electoral appeal. Here’s Irwin Stelzer, the U.S. economist and entrepreneur, making those points with dispatch:
It is simply unrealistic to expect the world’s politicians to rally support for net-zero emissions by 2050 by telling them there can be no more oil and gas furnaces for sale by 2025, half of air travel will have to cease unless emissions-free fuels are developed, car trips must be replaced with walking and cycling, no permits will be issued to develop new oil and gas fields, and no coal plant will be constructed unless fitted with currently unavailable emission-catching equipment.
That unrealism becomes more risky when we look at the IEA’s coldly realistic analysis of the innovations that will be required to make these lifestyle sacrifices worthwhile in terms of emissions reduction:
Innovation cycles for early stage clean energy technologies are much more rapid in the NZE than what has typically been achieved historically, and most clean energy technologies that have not been demonstrated at scale today reach markets by 2030 at the latest. This means the time from first prototype to market introduction is on average 20 percent faster than the fastest energy technology developments in the past, and around 40 percent faster than was the case for solar PV.
What’s being proposed by the G7 and IEA is a vast leap into the dark—maybe the literal dark unless renewables become much more reliable than they have been to the present.
That may be why the G7’s final plea in the quote above: We further call on other major economies to adopt these commitments” shows no sign of being accepted and implemented by either the big energy-producing countries (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia) or the big energy-consuming countries (India, China, and most of the Third World).
Maybe the G7 should heed the IEA’s warning that without such international cooperation, Net-Zero simply can’t be achieved. And if possible, before we’ve spent our children’s and grandchildren's inheritance on it.