Hawaii Five-Oy!

In person and on a small scale I rather like Big Thinkers. My beloved maternal grandfather was one of them. He did things like build a large boat in his small backyard and then when completed realized he had no way to get it out of there until a kindly neighbor with the right equipment helped him tear down a fence and remove it. They towed the boat to Lake Michigan where it immediately sank, overloaded as it was grandpa’s  handmade metal framed pictures of his ten grandchildren.

But you don’t want people like that in the public sphere, deciding public policy. I’ve often made fun of the Big Thinkers in California whose grandiose plans to control the climate  are wildly impractical -- the name for them is “central planners." But California’s not the only state that's placed big thinkers in  public positions, and unless things change, the lovely islands of Hawaii will now soon face blackouts at their hands.

Unless an energy law there is changed Hawaiians may well be  be moving about by outrigger canoes instead of their electric vehicles, cooling themselves by hand-held fans  and working by sunlight and starlight. Hawaii was the first state to mandate a full transition to renewable energy when in 2015 its then-governor signed that mandate into law. By September of next year the law requires that 100 percent of electricity sales  must be from renewable energy.

On and on it rolls, for free and forever.

AES Hawaii, the state's last coal fired plant  -- it supplies 15 to 20 percent of the islands’ electricity -- is preparing to shut down to meet the law. Among the replacements planned was the Kapolei Energy Storage Facility, to be built by the state’s largest supplier of electricity, Hawaiian Electric. Like grandpa’s boat locked in his backyard, this plan has run into a number of obstacles, foremost among which is reality. “If there is not enough solar, wind, or battery storage energy to replace the AES plant, HECO would have to use oil instead to charge things like the upcoming 185-megawatt Kapolei Energy Storage Facility,” Pacific Business News reported.

It’s not a matter of “if,” however. The reality is there’s not enough wind, solar, or battery storage to replace the AES plant. Hawaiian Electric has made this quite clear in recent documents, noting that it would not be able to meet its year-two renewable target (75 percent) for “more than a decade.” This means that to replace its soon-to-be retired coal plant, Hawaii Electric will soon be charging its giant battery … with oil. In other words, Hawaiians will be trading one fossil fuel (coal) for another, albeit one far more expensive.

This revelation caused the chair of PUC, Jay Griffin, to complain that Hawaiians are “going from cigarettes to crack.” Said he: “Oil prices don’t have to be much higher for this to look like the highest increase people will have experienced. And it’s not acceptable. We have to do better."

How exactly can you do better, if I may be bold enough to ask?

Of course, it’s goofy to allow central planners to decide to switch from an efficient, reliable, less expensive way to generate electricity to a more expensive unreliable means by a near-specific date, but as certain as central planning is always a mistake is that in the view of central planners and their proponents the fault always lies elsewhere. Kind of like Stalinists blaming engineers for being unable to meet production quotas, ignoring that they had been denied the basic production supplies.

Lysenko's got nothing on Hawaii.

And so it is in Hawaii. In this case, those responsible are blaming Hawaiian Electric. As you might imagine, the switch from coal “depends on all of us working together--the utilities, project developers, local and state agencies, regulatory," according to a company spokesman.

Good luck on achieving that smooth and efficient interface.

Marco Mangelsdorf, a photoelectric panel supplier, was sympathetic to the power company's troubles. “Those of us in the solar energy development space have had projects painfully delayed with proposed interconnect studies, costs and requirements that effectively kill the project and cause the developer to walk away after sometimes having spent millions," he noted.

For its part, Hawaiian Electric says some project delays were attributable to “a slow permitting process of getting models and information from prospective developers, often outside of HECO’s control”.

Jay Griffin, chairman of the Hawaiian Public Utilities Commission, points the finger at the company's lack of urgency and foresight, but conceded that “each of these projects must go through numerous steps, including government approvals/permitting and technical review of interconnection to the electrical grid before they are able to go online. These require coordination across numerous involved stakeholders, including the Commission.”

If you’ve ever worked in a government agency that has a permitting function, you might know that it’s always less risky to your career to raise obstacles than to quickly grant the permit. This reminds me of another Central Planning idea on Hawaii:

The dream was an elevated rail system to bypass what has been some of the country’s worst traffic, whisking commuters from the farmland and swelling suburbs of West Oahu into the heart of Honolulu. The 20-mile route parallels one of the world’s most glorious tropical shorelines.

More than a decade after inception, having spanned the tenures of three mayors and three governors and outlived its most powerful benefactor in Congress, the project is only half built. Hopes it might transform the crowded island city anytime soon are fading.

"They tried to force this as a major solution,” said Panos Prevedouros, civil and environmental engineering chairman at the University of Hawaii and a former mayoral candidate. “Now, we’re paying the dividends of all the lies, and we haven’t gotten any benefits.”

The expression live and learn seems to find no purchase in central planning on Hawaii.

Les Miserables

In George Bernard Shaw’s Play, Misalliance, a young socialist bursts into a upper-class weekend party  waving a gun, and after a good deal of Shavian talk he’s persuaded to postpone revolution for a square meal in the kitchen by the kindly matriarch of the household. Before he is diverted, however, he challenges a retired colonial governor to say how he would deal with the New Socialist Man of the future, like himself, who rejects all the conventional rules of the political game. The governor explains matter-of-factly that he would tip off an ambitious policeman that he was a bit of a troublemaker who should be watched and then wait patiently for the policeman to provoke him into a fight and an arrest.

“Why, that’s disgraceful,” responds the anarchist indignantly. The governor replies that in the game of anarchism the police can always beat the anarchist.

Almost invariably, that is true. Revolutions are the exception, and even they conform to the governor’s cynical insight when they succeed, because the police reappear soon after the new order is established, are given greater powers by the new post-anarchist authorities, and arrest the few remaining anarchists. See the history of the early Soviet Union passim.

What we’re at present witnessing is the spread of anarchism in the United States and, less violently so far, in the United Kingdom: mobs rushing around, pulling down statues, attacking people they believe to be “racists” (maybe because they’re wearing a baseball cap), demanding conformity to their  revolutionary slogans, and visibly flouting the authority of governments and local authority. The pulling down of statues—historically known as iconoclasm—is a traditional accompaniment to religious or political revolution that symbolizes the defenestration of one set of rulers and their replacement by a new set.

The role of the police in these events is especially significant. As the guardians of order, supposedly politically impartial, they are expected to restrain and suppress riots and destruction of lives and property. Against these disorders they seem pulled in three different directions Those in Seattle have been instructed by local authorities that are politically sympathetic to the rioters to allow them to establish “no-go” areas outside the law; those in Atlanta may be resigning or simply looking the other way when crimes are committed because they feel the local authorities are making them scapegoats for incidents of law enforcement that went wrong; and those in London seem to have decided on their own initiatives that policing by consent means the consent of the rioters and have accordingly tried to appease them. In all these cases the citizens can no longer rely with confidence on the normal assumption that the police will protect them and their property. Anarchy reigns.

At some point if the anarchy does not lead to an actual revolution, it will either fizzle out or be stopped by police or military force. The 1968 manifestations in Paris were stopped when the Army made it plain it would intervene if necessary, the bourgeois supporters of de Gaulle mounted their own massive manifestations in Paris, and the Gaullists won a landslide in the subsequent elections.

But the spirit of anarchy cannot be confined in a box marked public order. It seeps out into all aspects of our lives—I’ve mentioned iconoclasm as its symbolic representation in the arts. Jihadists have destroyed “pagan idols,” i.e., Buddhist images, in Asia. Feminists in recent years have been imitating the Victorians in putting bras on Greek statues and stockings on piano legs in official settings. And the removal of statues of national heroes such as George Washington, as well as leading abolitionists, on the grounds of “slavery,” shows that the real motive force of this particular anarchistic drive is to replace the United States, founded circa 1776, with a new American state.

More important than iconoclasm, however, is antinomianism which is the rejection of all laws, customs, and informal rules in all fields of human behaviour including, significantly, science, law, and morality. Their removal gives the anarchist a thrill of liberation when first antinomianism breaks forth. But since it’s in the nature of man that, as Burke said, he must have rules to govern him, and if they don’t come from within in the form of customs and practices, they will come from without in the form of politically-imposed new “truths” on the arts and sciences.

Seattle, 2020

It’s a two-stage process: first, we liberate ourselves from the old laws that confine our imaginations to what science and experience tell us is true and practicable; second, we replace them with rules that reflect the wishes and interests of the powerful—who are not always politicians and ministers but sometimes in periods of decaying political authority, the mob or its allies. The political mob made its first appearance in Paris during the French revolution, but it has come and gone many times since then, and it’s presently most powerful in Seattle and Portland.

Taken together these two stages produce the replacement of professional rules and ethics by political values and authority in all fields. It can be a slow process, especially in science, and it begins modestly, but the final stages often have seasoned professionals accepting new rules they would once have denounced or regarded as simply too absurd to bother denouncing. The old professional rules of American journalism that you followed the truth where it led by examining fairly the claims of all sides in a dispute have collapsed entirely—and that collapse began long before Donald Trump was elected President. It has reached its apogee in the recent decision of the New York Times to publish the deceptive and false 1619 Project not as one account of many historical accounts of the birth of America but as the sole acceptable truth (though it comes to us less from history than from critical race theory which is constructed so as to negate any criticism of its own criteria.) Its principal author has just welcomed the spreading anarchy as a vindication of the Times project, which is now to be taught in American high schools.

Examine now this sinister drift from the rules of scientific truth to the imperatives of political anti-science which we might call the Lysenko Imperative, or “What the Party says is Science is Science”:

  1. There is a replication crisis in science. For the last decade it has become an open or grumbling scandal that a very high number of scientific experiments cannot be replicated, which means that the original findings are invalid. Since a great number of findings are not tested for replication in this way, that implies much more uncertainty about scientific findings than we tend to assume. Replications are far lower in psychology (50 per cent) especially social psychology (25 per cent), and in medicine than in other fields. In the last few days, for instance, a study by Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford found that they could not replicate the results in 13 of the 15 studies purporting to support the two-metre distancing rule in SARs and Covid-19 cases and concluded that “poor quality research is being used to justify a policy with enormous consequences for us all.”
  2. Much of the writing on both pollution and global warming emphasizes that these problems constitute a crisis or an emergency requiring urgent action to reduce carbon emissions and other “pollutants.” Time and again the dates for which catastrophe was confidently predicted have passed without grave occurrences. No apologies have been offered, and no signs given that the forecasters were reconsidering the theories on which their forecasts were based. Like the replication crisis, the prediction crisis is a scientific scandal unless it is seriously addressed. The latest warning of this erosion of scientific standard comes from Professor Ole Humlum, who looks at the empirical observations of climate science (as distinct from computer modelling) and finds that in most respects, including some surprising ones, things are getting better. He points out  that new data on rising ocean temperatures raise interesting questions about the source of the heat. “We can detect a great deal of heat rising from the bottom of the oceans. This obviously cannot be anything to do with human activity. So although people say the oceans are warming, in reality there is still much to learn.” But that will depend on the willingness of scientists committed to the conventional view of global warming as something driven by human activity to question or moderate their outlook in the light of this disturbingly optimistic evidence.
  3. Where will these trends end up? As is already the case with the social sciences, the future of science could be its transformation into the political hopes of activist groups within the profession committed to views that reject traditional scientific rules as obstructions to their visions. "Feminist science" and "transgender science" both confront traditional biology as a hostile “essentialism” and treat those who disagree more as political enemies than as fellow-scientists. A more radical critique is mounted by those who want to decolonize "white science" (i.e., science)  by granting at least equal scientific authority to indigeneous religious world views. A journey around this set of ideas—or “new ways of knowing”-- is conducted by Lenny Pier Ramos in the current Quillette. It is a journey into the past and into pre-modern mind-set. “ I pushed this point and asked Dr. Tajmel [a leading proponent of this decolonization] if her project did not, ultimately, amount to the reintroduction of religion in science. She responded, without missing a beat, that science itself was a form of a religion."

Mr. Ramos reflects that given these trends it seems only a matter of time before Science and Nature get on board with that idea. It sounds alarmist but absurd. Yet we would once have thought the same of the "1619 Project" and the New York Times. And that's before the arrival of, first, the mob, and then the new policeman.