This morning U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee, ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline. He also ordered that it be emptied of oil by Aug. 5. Expect an almost immediate appeal.
[D]id not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.
At issue is the Missouri River which the pipeline crosses just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota. The Sioux and various environmentalist groups argued that the pipeline could contaminate the river, and the Obama administration took their side against the Corps. Obama spent years slow walking the project because of the environmentalists' concerns.
In answer to those concerns, Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, stated:
[W]e're not on any Indian property at all... We're on private lands. That's number one. Number two, this pipeline is new steel pipe... It's going to go 90 feet to 150 feet below the lake's surface. It's thick wall pipe, extra thick, by the way, more so than just the normal pipe that we lay. Also, on each side of the lake, there's automated valves that, if in the very, very unlikely situation there were to be a leak, our control room shuts down the pipe, encapsulates that small section that could be in peril. So, that's just not going to happen.... there is no way there would be any crude to contaminate their water supply. They're 70 miles downstream.
Which is to say, this pipeline doesn't violate native property rights and it is as safe as it can reasonably expected to be. Consequently, after the 2016 election this was one of many stalled projects that Donald Trump greenlit on the strength of the existing environmental reviews.
But now, after the construction has been completed and crude has been pumping through the pipeline for three years, it is being shut down pending yet another environmental review -- if the ruling stands. Workers will be laid off and the company will take a serious financial hit, no easy burden in the present economic climate. As for the oil, somewhat less of it might be pumped -- the ultimate goal of the greens -- or else it will go into storage until it can be moved to the refinery some other way. Very likely by rail.
Seven years ago, on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a seventy-four car freight train carrying crude oil crashed and exploded. Forty seven people were killed in what was called possibly "the most devastating rail accident in Canadian history.”
It is important that we mourn for and with those effected by this tragedy, but we must also note that it is within our power to reduce the chances of such a thing happening again by making sure that more oil is carried across this continent via pipeline, which is significantly safer than rail.
And since that time, oil by rail has nearly doubled in Canada. Let us not dishonour the memory of those lives lost by caving in to those who block the approval and construction safe pipelines ... please https://t.co/yF2Ogwhm4L
Unfortunately attacking pipelines is a common tactic of the environmentalist left. This is precisely because they are able to safely move large amounts of oil over long distances, and for the Greenies, the safe transport of oil goes against their most fervently held beliefs.
Hopefully all of this is quickly sorted out such that the pipeline can get pumping again. Because as Lac-Mégantic reminds us, the human and environmental costs when something goes wrong with those trains is incalculable.
Who's Afraid of 'Climate Change'?
If you don't already keep tabs on Michael Shellenberger, you should. While you may not always agree with him -- Shellenberger is a self-described environmentalist and man of the left -- you will find him to be an honest, insightful, and even brave writer. Brave because he consistently uses facts to counter the hysterical narrative of the Green New Deal wing of the green movement, which as you might imagine doesn't win him a lot of friends.
In the piece, essentially a pitch for his book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All, Shellenberger reviews his environmentalist bona fides, working to save the California redwoods and lobbying the Obama administration to spend billions on so-called renewable energy, etc. Increasingly, however, he became disturbed by other environmentalists distorting the science to make a case for hysteria, and shutting down anyone who questioned their conclusions.
They've been so successful that children routinely report having nightmares about climate change and people around the world are convinced the end is near. Eventually Shellenberger came to feel he had a responsibility to speak out and counter their propaganda.
Here are some facts few people know:
• Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”
• The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”
• Climate change is not making natural disasters worse
• Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003
• The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declinedby an area nearly as large as Alaska • The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California
• Air pollution and carbon emissions have been declining in rich nations for 50 years
• Adapting to life below sea level made the Netherlands rich not poor
• We produce 25% more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter
• Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change
• Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels
• Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture
I know that the above facts will sound like “climate denialism” to many people. But that just shows the power of climate alarmism.
It looks like we're getting to the other side of this pandemic, with lock-down orders easing up and restrictions on everyday activities being lifted, with and without masks. One sign that things are returning to normal is that people's minds are turning away from daily case numbers and towards the election in the fall. To that end, Jason Furman, a Harvard professor and one of Barack Obama's senior economic advisors, gave a presentation to the Democratic party's top strategists a few weeks ago, and what he had to say absolutely shocked them:
“We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country," he said.... “Everyone looked puzzled and thought I had misspoken,” Furman said in an interview. Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever....
Furman’s counterintuitive pitch has caused some Democrats, especially Obama alumni, around Washington to panic. “This is my big worry,” said a former Obama White House official who is still close to the former president. Asked about the level of concern among top party officials, he said, “It’s high — high, high, high, high.”
Maybe I've missed something, but the above sounds to me like.... good news. But I suppose that's because I'm not running for president with the hopes of hanging a new Great Depression on the incumbent.
Furman stressed that he was speaking “in gross terms, not in net terms,” which is to say that the "V shaped" recovery he was predicting wouldn't leave us better off than we were before the pandemic. The economy would look great compared to the depths of the April and May, but we would still be in rough shape. This, of course, is a difficult message to boil down into a campaign slogan or a meme, which is why the Dems are so anxious about it.
At the same time, it should serve as a rallying cry for the Right. Just a few months ago, when we were riding an incredible economic wave with low taxes and low unemployment, the Democrats were arguing that we should be willing to risk our prosperity on their ideological program. Here's Jim Geraghty on that point:
Back during one of the debates, Tim Alberta of Politico asked Biden, “As president, would you be willing to sacrifice some of that growth, even knowing potentially that it could displace thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers in the interest of transitioning to that greener economy?” Biden responded, “The answer is yes. The answer is yes, because the opportunity — the opportunity for those workers to transition to high-paying jobs, as Tom said, is real.”
Biden pledged “no new fracking” during a debate, then walked it back; he wants to set a price on carbon to be used for either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade; Biden endorsed California’s AB5, the anti-“gig” law; he would raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, and he insists he can raise taxes by $4 trillion over the next decade, without raising taxes on anyone making $400,000 per year or less.
If the economy is heading in the right direction in the fall -- if jobs are coming back and the stock market is up -- but hasn't quite recovered, should we really trust Joe Biden to prioritize getting us back where we need to be, rather than handing over his domestic policy to the Green Blob? His recent pledge to kill the Keystone XL pipeline if he's elected doesn't inspire confidence.
If you haven't yet twigged to the British website Spiked, it's about time you did so. The online publication describes itself as "the magazine that wants to change the world as well as report on it. We are committed to fighting for humanism, democracy and freedom." It expresses that admirable commitment via articles by some of the best young British writers, who daily deconstruct modern shibboleths such as "climate change," the Greenie weenies, and, latterly, the hysteria over the coronavirus. Like us here at The Pipeline, the gang at Spiked clearly sees the link between the overreaction to the virus and the longer-term agenda of the "climate change" privateers, who seek to destroy the Western way of life in the guise of rescuing it. A sample:
Covid-19 is a frightening dress rehearsal of the climate agenda
Months into the pandemic and many unknowns still cloud our understanding of the virus. The basic parameters of its transmission rate are still contested by scientists. Rather than shedding light, experts from prestigious institutions descend into acrimonious, politically charged, point-scoring debates. Even the grim daily ritual of the body count is slated as either an overestimate or a grotesque underestimate. But the biggest unknown yet is the damage the virus and attempts to control it have done to society and the economy, and how we will recover. From this wreckage, the green blob has re-emerged from an all-too-brief period of obscurity with a list of demands that will destroy any hope of recovery.
From the outset, there has been a palpable sense of green jealousy of the virus as it stole attention from the climate fearmongers. For half a century, greens have been prognosticating the imminent collapse of society. Yet with each new generation, deadlines to stop the destruction of the planet pass without event. In reality, the world’s population has become healthier and wealthier, and we live longer lives than ever before. Panic about the virus achieved in days what greens have been demanding for years: grounded planes, empty roads, and a halt in economic growth.
Experience of coronavirus shows that the kind of fear, panic and mistrust ramped up by doom-laden forecasts has had severe consequences for humanity. Fear of the virus has threatened to dissolve the essential relationships of mutual dependence between human beings, almost in an instant – and on a greater scale than anything Gaia can throw at us in her angry revenge. Greta Thunberg’s maxim – ‘I want you to panic’ – should cause environmentalists to pause and consider what they actually want for society.
But such reflection is unlikely to be forthcoming. After all, lockdown gives greens what they have always wanted: the abolition of flight, and of travel deemed ‘unnecessary’ by technocrats; and the prohibition of goods which have been designated ‘non-essential’. Indeed, this is apparently what a green utopia looks like.
Read the whole thing, of course, if only for this line:
Green platitudes are nothing more than a veneer of bullshit for no-mark politicians to hide behind.
The key is that the "green economy" is a malignant fantasy of New Ludditism, a branch of cultural Marxism that openly seeks the destruction of the Western way of life. Its embrace by callow and mendacious politicians the world over is a triumph of stupidty and short-term thinking over reason, facts, and history.
So what if it comes disguised as "environmentalism"? The devil is the devil no matter what he's wearing, even if it's nothing at all.
Alberta's Petrochemicals Protecting Canada
The collapse in oil prices combined with the virus and the lockdowns are hitting the Canadian province of Alberta extremely hard. Some are even predicting the worst economic contraction in its history. But I was glad to read in the Financial Post about one bright spot in the province's economy at the moment, its petrochemical sector which produces a variety of plastic products that are in high demand at the moment:
In 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government would move to ban single-use plastics such as shopping bags, cutlery and straws to curb the proliferation of plastic waste in landfills and oceans. Now, in the middle of a public health crisis, the demand for plastic packaging has exploded. In Alberta’s oilpatch, ethane crackers used to make polyethylene film are among the only facilities that are busier today than before the pandemic knocked out global oil demand and led to hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil being shut in.
“The demand for plastic packaging has never been higher than it is right now,” said Bob Masterson, president and CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, noting that the evidence of the huge demand for the industry’s products is plain at any grocery store in the country. Some grocery stores that had previously banned or started charging for plastic bags have eased those policies as workers are concerned about handling re-usable grocery bags. Acrylic plastic shields have been installed at tills to separate cashiers from shoppers, both of whom are wearing plastic gloves and masks in increasing numbers.... Masterson said the current crisis has led to “an absolute boom in the demand for packaging,” as grocery stores and consumers are wrapping food in plastic to prevent surface contamination of foods from the coronavirus.
Plastics, of course, aren't the only timely products produced by petrochemicals. Another is isopropyl alcohol:
I think it has shown some vulnerabilities in Canada’s supply chain,” Masterson said, noting that Shell Canada Ltd.’s Sarnia plant is the only producer of isopropyl alcohol in Canada, used to make alcohol-based cleaning products such as hand sanitizers. Shell president and CEO Michael Crothers said in a March 31 release the company would donate 125,000 litres of isopropyl alcohol, which is “approximately enough to create nearly one million 12-oz bottles of hand sanitizer for use in hospitals and medical facilities....
In Alberta, successive governments have implemented incentives designed to attract more petrochemical investment in an effort to diversify the province’s economy and build out the supply chain for hydrocarbon production. An incentive program introduced by former NDP premier Rachel Notley resulted in both Inter Pipeline Corp. and Pembina Pipeline Corp. spending $8.5 billion combined on under-construction polypropylene facilities, which will turn the province’s abundance of propane into plastic pellets used in a range of consumer goods.
The article notes that there is some question as to whether the industry will continue to boom once the pandemic and the lockdowns are over, and that is a real concern should the Greens return to form. The environmentalists are working hard to keep the "climate emergency" front and center, and even to link the two. But from where I sit, this pandemic definitively demonstrates the necessity of this industry, and the people talking about managing its decline are nuts.
Carbon Emissions Fell Months before Pandemic
One disturbing thing we've seen during the course of this pandemic is that there's a certain variety of Greenie -- not all of them mind you, but some -- who are almost gleeful about the state of things. John O'Sullivan pointed out one example back in March, when former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis tweeted the following:
A silver lining: Climate activists have been told again & again that people will never consent to major changes in their lifestyle. Well, Covid-19 changed all that! Once the epidemic ends, we must demonstrate that a better, green, post-capitalist lifestyle can be fun!
Fun, eh? File that one under takes that didn't age well. But even so, it demonstrated an enthusiasm for large-scale, government mandated lifestyle change once the pandemic has come to an end. Another, perhaps more common source of environmentalist delight is the decline in CO2 emissions as a consequence of the the decrease of economic activity of every kind. Britain's left-leaning newspaper Guardianreported a few weeks ago:
Global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by a record 2.5bn tonnes this year, a reduction of 5%, as the coronavirus pandemic triggers the biggest drop in demand for fossil fuels on record. The unprecedented restrictions on travel, work and industry due to the coronavirus is expected to cut billions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic metres of gas millions of tonnes of coal from the global energy system in 2020 alone
[R]ight now we're learning that the three times when climate change and fossil fuel usage went down were during this pandemic, in the days after 9/11, and during the Great Recession.
There's something revelatory about this way of looking at things -- these horrible moments of tragedy, of poverty and loss of life, conform most perfectly with the vision of the environmentalist movement. Conservatives have been saying that misery would be the necessary outcome of environmentalists getting their way, and environmentalists seem to be in agreement.
But it is also oddly misleading. Their vision of graceless growth, of the gluttonous nature of modern capitalist life, leaves out the fact that the nations who have been most successful in employing technologies that decrease carbon emissions are market economies, generally in the West.
The United States, the country hated by environmentalists most of all, actually saw its carbon emissions decline by 2.8 percent last year, according to a new report released by the Energy Information Administration. A decline, it need hardly be stated, that occurred before the pandemic. Moreover, the U.S. has led the world in reducing carbon emissions over the past 20 years.
FACT you will NEVER see on the 6 o’clock news: U.S. emissions FELL 2.9%, or by 140 million tons, continuing the trend of the United States LEADING THE WORLD IN TOTAL EMISSIONS DECLINE since 2000. https://t.co/bZTkmCZbOs
And it isn't just America -- worldwide carbon emissions were flat in 2019, even though the global economy grew.
The stall in emissions, as reported by the International Energy Agency on Tuesday, was mainly due to rich countries using less coal for electricity, replacing it with natural gas, wind, solar, and nuclear power. Coal generation in advanced economies fell by nearly 15%.
It is also worth noting that our transitions toward natural gas and nuclear (I'm less certain than the IEA about the contributions of wind and solar) helped keep worldwide emissions flat, even though the massive increase in coal usage throughout Asia meant that emissions in the rest of the world grew by nearly 400 million tons in the same time period.
All of which is to say, human misery and communist diktats won't lead to a cleaner environment, whatever the Greenies might tell you. Prosperity, rational development, stewardship, and freedom are the way forward.
'Extinction Rebellion': Rebels with a Cause
The poet and scholar of Soviet history, the late Robert Conquest, is the author of several commonly quoted -- and misquoted -- rules of politics, the second of which amusingly holds that "the behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies." (Many sources list this as Conquest's Third Law, but the one they list as second -- "Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing" -- was actually coined by our own John O'Sullivan.) Anyone who has ever been to the DMV or had occasion to deal with, say, the Bureau of Land Management, will take his point, though it is perhaps slightly contradicted by the fact that the bad behavior of bureaucracies never seems to rein them in. Rather the opposite in fact.
In any event, it isn't only bureaucratic organizations that often seem to be run by cabals of their enemies. Hardly a week goes by these days without some group or other engaging in an officially sanctioned activity that seems to run so counter to its own interests that it really makes you wonder. A recent example of this comes from an outift that has made its name antagonizing the very people you'd think they'd be trying to persuade: Extinction Rebellion.
You might remember them from their various antics over the past few years, including gluing themselves to a DLR train in London so that everyone on the platform would be late for work, and digging up the famous lawn of Trinity College, Cambridge, for reasons which were difficult to follow. I myself happened to be giving my young niece and nephews a tour of Lower Manhattan on the day that they sprayed fake blood all around Wall Street, likely turning those horrified children into life-long anti-environmentalists.
Extinction Rebellion purportedly engage in these shenanigans -- what we used to call crimes -- in order to draw attention to the supposed "climate emergency" we're allegedly experiencing. In fact, they mainly succeed in pissing people off, so much so that even environmentalist onlookers were disturbed by the Trinity Lawn incident, and the train-gluing eventually led to frustrated commuters dragging the protesters from the tops of the trains.
As for their latest bright idea, The Mail on Sundayreports that XR are planning on aggravating the present COVID-19 related economic calamity by "staging rent strikes, halting tax payments and taking out bank loans they don't intend to repay":
Internal documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday set out plans for a ‘Money Rebellion’ involving acts of financial sabotage to ‘directly challenge the fundamental principles that govern our national and global economies’. Despite dire warnings that the coronavirus pandemic has plunged Britain into its worst recession for 300 years, the dossier details how the group – also known as XR – wants to launch a rent strike later this month....
XR hopes at least 5,000 supporters will refuse to pay their rent, adding: ‘Council tenants and private tenants alike can participate in the strike… on such a scale that it forces a society-wide conversation about our misguided economy.’ According to the documents, it will be followed by a tax strike involving 10,000 people who will sign a conditional commitment to withhold £100 of income tax. Such a move will, it adds, ‘present a dilemma to HMRC about whether to pursue 10,000 claims for £100’.
Other possible protests include a utilities strike, where activists refuse to pay their bills unless suppliers promise to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy, and plans for supporters to withhold VAT, student debt or mortgage payments.
In the United States, some 33 million people have filed for unemployment due to this pandemic and the attendant lockdowns. In Great Britain, almost a quarter of workers have been furloughed. It is likely that many more people are going to suffer from the economic effects of this crisis than know anyone who has contracted the virus. But this is good news, say Extinction Rebellion. This is the moment to bring civilization to its knees. While their previous acts of vandalism and disruption mostly fall into the category of nuisance, this proposal has more than a whiff of treason about it.
Now, I'm skeptical that they will actually succeed in bringing civilization down. Indeed, it would be surprising if they convinced enough people to engage in this scheme to have a discernible impact. More than likely they will succeed only in injuring their own credit scores (that is, if they don't get their wealthy parents to pay off their loans before there are any real consequences), while once again enraging regular Britons, who are putting up with a lot right now without having to watch spoiled children trying to tank the economy.
Hence my invocation of Conquest's law. After all, what have they to gain from all of this negative sentiment? Shouldn't they be trying to make a case for the rightness of their cause rather than disrupting the lives of regular hardworking people, all while lecturing them about their carbon footprints?
And yet, it seems significant that, most of the time, XR's disruptors get away with it. At Cambridge -- to the annoyance of locals -- the police simply stood by and looked on. At the London Underground, it was the commuters, not the cops, who dragged them off the train. Its hard to imagine that they would have acted with such passivity without a directive from above, and while I'd like to think that were they to seriously attempt to sabotage an already shaky economy during a national emergency they would be dealt with swiftly and severely, I have my doubts.
In any case, it does seem like persuasion is the furthest thing from their minds. Rather than seeking and perhaps gaining broad support, leading to the election of politicians who agree to advance their aims, XR's tactics are aimed at giving headaches to the people in power, who fold rather than dealing with them, or else giving a pretense to the people in power who already agree with them to act according to their own inclinations.
Which is to say, perhaps they have a better sense of their interests than I do. Power, not popularity, is what matters to them. Maybe the goal of Extinction Rebellion is to become the cabal that controls the bureaucracy.
Who's to say that they haven't already succeeded?
Thank You, Oil & Gas!
In the new documentary, Planet of the Humans, Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs explain that a major reason they've soured on green energy is that they came to see how reliant so-called renewables are on the very fossil fuels they aspire to replace. Wind turbines and solar panels are made of plastics which are produced using petroleum distillates, the crystalline silicon used to manufacture the photo-voltaic cells on solar panels make use of mined materials, etc.
And then, of course, there is the intermittency problem -- the sun isn't always shining, the wind isn't always blowing -- which makes it so that the Green Energy Industry requires traditional power plants to remain on stand-by to fill in the gaps, thus emitting more carbon than they would have otherwise. As Ozzie Zehner one of their experts puts it in the documentary:
You use more fossil fuels to do this than you're getting a benefit from it. You would've been better off [just] burning the fossil fuels in the first place instead of playing pretend.
This is meant to induce a sense of despair in the viewer, so as to lay a groundwork for their Malthusian suggestions and we-don't-ever-actually-use-the-phrase-population-control solutions. I was, however, reminded of this aspect of the documentary -- the exposé concerning the poison-pill fossil fuels mixed into your wholesome green energy -- while reading a Wall Street Journal editorial this week entitled Big Oil to the Coronavirus Rescue, which examined other products which rely on oil and gas.
The editorial begins by pointing out the irony of the New York City council's recently coming out of their pandemic hidey-holes to introduce a resolution divesting the city's assets from banks that invest in fossil fuels. Ironic because the industry that they are attacking is central to the production of supplies which we need to beat back the virus they've been hiding from. From the WSJ:
Exxon’s predecessor Standard Oil invented isopropyl alcohol (IPA), the key ingredient in disinfectants and hand sanitizer, in 1920. Its Baton Rouge chemical plant is now the world’s largest producer of IPA. While refineries have been throttled back, Exxon has ramped up IPA production by 3,000 tons per month, which is enough to produce 50 million four-ounce bottles of sanitizer.
The oil giant recently noted in a press release that the state of New York has turned to the Baton Rouge plant for critical supplies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be grateful Exxon isn’t holding a grudge after the state’s four-year inquisition for allegedly deceiving itself about its climate impact, which finally ended last December when a state judge tossed the state lawsuit as entirely without merit.
Exxon is also increasing production of a specialized polypropylene that is used in medical masks and gowns by about 1,000 tons per month, which is enough to manufacture up to 200 million medical masks or 20 million gowns. At the same time, it is applying its expertise in material science to develop new face shields that utilize a filtration fabric.
Working with Boeing, Exxon plans to manufacture as many as 40,000 masks an hour. According to an Exxon engineer, this new design and production method won’t be vulnerable to the supply-chain hiccups that have led to widespread mask shortages. No Defense Production Act coercion necessary.
The editors ask wryly whether "liberals want to divest from using those [products] to fight off the coronavirus?" Well, after watching Planet of the Humans which has one scientist saying that barring a "major die off in population, there's no turning back," you would be forgiven for concluding that at least for some liberals the answer is yes.
As for me, however, I'm extremely grateful that we have these products produced by the oil and gas industry. Every ounce of isopropyl alcohol, every bit of that specialized polypropylene they produce become weapons in our arsenal. I'm so enthusiastic about their work, in fact, that I'd like to see them focus their energies on it even more exclusively, to the exclusion of, for instance, cosying up to the Greens, who will never forgive them for existing anyway. Maybe they could even redirect the plastics earmarked for wind turbines and solar panels towards making face-shields, ventilators, and personal protective equipment for the next year or two.
Something to think about.
Michael Moore Strikes Back
We here at The Pipeline have been covering Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs' new film Planet of the Humansfairlyextensivelylately for the simple reason that we believe it to be a very important film, both because it is extremely informative on the topic of the "green energy" fraud, but also because it has blown open a major rift within the environmentalist movement. So much so that those on the other side of that rift are either ignoring the documentary entirely (as far as I can see, neither the BBC, the CBC, nor Australia's ABC have published a word on it -- kind of shocking that the state broadcasters of the English speaking world are ignoring such a big story) or, as Michael Walsh pointed out yesterday, are calling on YouTube to take it down for spreading misinformation (and, presumably, for giving aid and comfort to the enemy).
To rebut those claims, Moore and Gibbs have been on a bit of a media tour, and one stop on that tour was this lengthy interview with The Hill TV:
It is an illuminating interview, and I think it bears out my contention that, far from turning their back on environmentalism, Moore and Gibbs are willing to tear down that movement as it currently exists so that they can rebuild it as something somewhat leaner (in that it will have less cash), but definitely a lot meaner. Creative Destruction, you might call it.
First of all, Moore takes up the question of their motivation. He and Gibbs haven't turned on the movement - "We are lifelong environmentalists!" They've been in since the "first Earth Day!" Their main concern is "this evil economic system that we have [which] is based on greed," and the tendency of certain environmentalists to "[hop] into bed with corporate America." From his perspective, this gives the corporations a kind of moral authority that they shouldn't have, and allows them to treat the movement like a revenue stream:
[Y]ou've seen this happen over the last decade, how they've all gone Green, they all tout the big Green thing, and they saw basically that enough of us believed in Green, because we want this planet to live, and they saw, '[W]ow, there's the supply and demand right there -- the demand is for Green, lets give them Green, and lets make a lot of money off of it.
So, for Moore:
The failure of the movement has been to address this serious flaw, which is: We are not gonna save the planet or ourselves by allowing Wall Street, hedge funds, corporate America, to be anywhere near us, as we try to fix this.
The film is simply their way of breaking that to the true believers.
To my way of thinking, it's Gibbs who really gives voice to their ambitions:
You know, this is so much bigger than climate change. You know, we've eaten 90% of the fish in the ocean. Half of the wildlife have disappeared in the last 40 years, primarily because of expanding logging and agriculture. Fossil fuels is tragic, but there is a lot more to us damaging the planet than just climate change.... I think [that] looking at ourselves as a single species that's got this addiction to growth, my theory is that infinite growth on a finite planet is called suicide, and that's what we have to address.
I mentioned the Malthusian drift of the documentary in my review, and Gibbs responds to that critique:
We never use the word population control, we're not in favor of population control. We merely point out, there was a UN study that came out one or two years ago, that just points out that the doubling of our human numbers and the quadrupling of our human economy is the prime driver of extinction on this planet. Is the UN favoring population control? No!
Many scientists are pointing out the obvious, but you don't read about that so much in the press anymore, since it's all only focused on climate change.
Funny how, while disclaiming population control, he argues that scientists are merely "pointing out the obvious," but doesn't himself spell out that "obvious" here. When you go to the documentary itself, you find what his scientists are actually "pointing out." Here's one representative sample: "Without seeing some sort of major die off in population, there's no turning back."
Back to the interview, Gibbs mitigates our need to read between the lines further when he says:
[R]ight now we're learning that the three times when climate change and fossil fuel usage went down were during this pandemic, in the days after 9/11, and during the Great Recession. Now, we're just raising the question, we've got to come to terms with this expansion. We don't have the answers in the film, but it is our growth, and especially our growth and consumption, driven by capitalism, that's driving this beast.
Ah yes, those three greatest moments of our civilization. Just as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the other day, Gibbs is admitting here that their project is built on human suffering. This is what we call "Making the sub-text, text."
I've been seeing conservatives on Twitter and elsewhere over the past week who are elated about this movie, and in the short term it might work to our benefit. But don't be fooled -- Moore and Gibbs are not on our side. Their vision is very dark, and they themselves are very persuasive.
Michael Moore Learns an Inconvenient Truth
The enemy of my enemy is... well, in the case of Michael Moore, still my enemy. That's because of the destruction he's wrought on the mental processes of so many members of my generation with his Riefenstahl-esque documentaries which convinced them that they'd have been better off growing up in Castro's Cuba than in suburban New York. That said, Moore is a worthy foe. He's extremely sharp, and he doesn't go in for easy short term victories. He's playing the long game.
The most recent example is a documentary he's produced along with his longtime collaborator Jeff Gibbs, who serves as director and narrator. The film is called Planet of the Humans, and was released on YouTube earlier this week just in time for Earth Day. It is not, however, your typical Earth Day fare, alternately happy-clappy and weepy-waily. Planet of the Humans digs deep down into the supposed Green Energy Revolution which promises to liberate us from our present fossil fuel regime. What it definitively demonstrates, however, is that Green Energy is a fraud (and one which has made a lot of people very rich) -- and, worse, that the revolution is never going to come.
Gibbs begins by talking about his long standing tree-hugger bona fides. As a young man, he moved to the woods of Michigan and built a log cabin, which he wired for solar power. But as the years went by, and as he continued to learn about the ins and outs of the green energy industry, he got increasingly skeptical and cynical.
Early on in the documentary Gibbs shows us a solar power fair, which boasts that it's powered entirely by solar panels. A rock band is playing on stage under electric lights, everyone is having a good time, all is well. Until, that is, it begins to rain. Gibbs follows staff members working frantically backstage, and when he asks what they're doing, they explain that they are hooking everything up to a biodiesel generator. When that doesn't produce enough juice, they simply plug in to the regular old local power grid.
That basic set-up starts to become pretty familiar. Gibbs attends a launch event for the Chevy Volt electric car, and gets the enthusiastic employees to explain that, well, yes, actually all of the electricity powering the cars and the plant comes from fossil fuels. He's invited to see the plant's solar panel farm, the size of a football field, only to learn that it gets roughly 8 percent efficiency and generates only enough energy to power about ten homes. He speaks to several green energy enthusiasts who admit that the intermittency of solar and wind requires renewables to be backed up with idling fossil fuel power plants, which (as Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Philip Moeller explains on camera) "maybe can be dialed down during the day, and dialed up when demand starts rising." When asked if this effects the efficiency of the plants, Moeller responds "Oh yeah, they don't like to be dialed up and down." Their hope is that we will one day be able to bridge that gap with batteries, but Gibbs points out that not only is that a still-remote possibility, but that the batteries themselves come from mined products degrade in a very few years.
Gibbs also takes us to Lowell Mountain in Vermont, where land is being cleared for an enormous wind farm. He goes hiking with a group of concerned citizens who show him the devastated mountain. One local says:
I'm looking at the ground [here] and thinking 'this is not the legacy I want to leave to my kids.' When I was a kid, we'd go hiking in these woods, we'd be able to drink from the water down the hill here, and now you have to question that.
Aside from intermittent wind energy, what do they get from all of this? Three full-time jobs and about twenty years of use before those turbines need to be replaced. "Has anybody considered that this is mountaintop removal for wind instead of coal?" he asks. Which is to say, so-called renewable energy requires fossil fuels -- often used wastefully -- to exist. Ozzie Zehner, author of the book Green Illusions, sums up this theme of the documentary perfectly when he says
You use more fossil fuels to do this than you're getting a [green] benefit from it. You would've been better off [just] burning the fossil fuels in the first place instead of playing pretend.
In the background roll enthusiastic news clips and interviews featuring environmentalist heroes like Barack Obama, Al Gore, Michael Bloomberg, Jeremy Grantham, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Bill McKibben. Every one of them talks about "shovel ready" projects, jobs in all fifty states, "free energy forever," and the potential for prosperity for all -- while also saving the planet. At one point Arnold Schwarzenegger appears on screen introducing the world's largest solar energy plant, and says "There's some people that look out into the desert and see miles and miles of emptiness! I see miles and miles of a gold mine."
Surely these luminaries must know they're wildly overpromising at best, and at worst simply lying. Why do they do it? Gibbs answers that, for the most part, they're in it for the money and the power.
The only reason we've been force fed the story 'Climate change + Renewables = We're Saved' is because billionaires, bankers, and corporations profit from it.
Many environmentalist philanthropists -- including several of those mentioned above like Grantham and Branson -- invest heavily in supposed alternate energy sources like biofuel and biomass, the usage of which allows businesses and universities to claim that they are powered by "100 percent renewable energy." As Mike Schellenberger points out,
In reality, scientists have for over a decade raised the alarm about biomass and biofuels causing rain forest destruction around the world including Brazil and Malaysia, and have documented that when one takes into account their landscape impacts, the fuels produce significantly higher carbon emissions than oil and gas and may produce more than coal.
At the same time, they use the power of celebrity to lobby governments and shame politicians into enacting biofuel mandates and other regulations which just so happen to benefit their stock portfolio.
Gibbs also examines the potential financial incentives for perhaps the most influential environmentalist of the past 20 years, former vice president Al Gore. Gore was the co-founder of an investment firm called Generation Investment Management, which was an early promoter of biomass and biofuels. Gibbs wonders aloud whether Gore's Oscar-winning climate documentary An Inconvenient Truth was "just about climate change, or was it about something else?" That is, was it about promoting his investments.
If it was, it worked out for him. Those investments helped Gore launch CurrentTV, which he ended up selling for 100 million dollars to Al Jazeera, the state broadcaster of Qatar, a nation whose wealth is largely a product of fossil fuels. The documentary gives us several clips of Gore not even being slightly embarrassed by this hypocrisy. “You couldn’t find, for your business, a more sustainable [buyer]?” he's asked by Daily Show host Jon Stewart. “What is not sustainable about it?” Gore replies.
I mentioned at the outset that Michael Moore is playing a long game, and here's what I meant. Moore and Gibbs know that "green energy" is a boondoggle, and that soon enough it is going to fall apart. Planet of the Humans is their attempt to get out in front of inconvenient truth, so that environmentalism won't be entirely discredited when their fantasy world collapses. Though they will probably be raked over the coals by the usual suspects (one imagines that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn't going to be happy about this documentary, which implicitly tears the heart out of the Green New Deal), Moore and Gibbs remain climate-change true believers. We are told over and over again in the course of this documentary that humans are destroying the planet. What sets them apart from other environmentalists is that they don't believe that there is a technological solution. "Is it possible for machines made from industrial civilization to save us from industrial civilization?" Gibbs asks.
No, their solution is rather darker. They believe that we need to massively diminish the amount of energy we are using, and that, while personal responsibility has a role in that, the very presence of humanity is the main obstacle to their goal. Planet of the Humans regurgitates discredited Malthusian and Ehrlichian ideas which hold that we are experiencing a population bomb and that ultimately the planet's major underlying problem is, quite simply: us.
That said, I found Planet of the Humans to be an extremely affecting and informative documentary. It isn't difficult to feel Gibbs' pain as he confronts the fact that green energy "wasn't what it seemed." And, very likely, the hard hitting nature of this documentary is going to cost Moore and Gibbs more than a few friends. I found myself feeling both appreciation for their honesty and apprehension for what their suggestions portend. At the same time, as I alluded to above, several of my high school classmates were corrupted by Moore's early 21st century documentaries, such as Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. I shudder to think what Planet of the Humans -- with its pessimism about both green energy and human life itself -- will do to the next generation of environmentalists.