But Is O'Toole Any Better?

The Canadian Federal election is taking place on September 20th, and it seems harder than usual to follow what is going on up there. Recent polling suggests that the Conservatives and Liberals are more or less neck-and-neck, with the NDP pulling in third as expected, but with a surprisingly strong 20 percent share of the projected vote. Why so close? Well, it's partly because of the nature of the contemporary Canadian electorate -- the 2019 election, at least by popular vote, was a nail-biter as well. But it is also likely because the basic positioning of the major parties are so similar that you'd need to be a scholastic philosopher to determine the difference between them.

This should come as no surprise as far as two of those parties are concerned. The brains behind current prime minister Justin Trudeau, knowing well that the resurgence of the NDP was key to Stephen Harper's electoral victories in the early aughts, have continued moving leftward to prevent Jagmeet Singh's iteration of the party from bringing about a similar result. And, anyway, two leftwing parties jockeying for position as the true party of the left is so commonplace as to be almost not worth commenting upon.

But a notionally right-of-center party doing so? That's the puzzler.

O'Toole: Maybe inject some principles while you're at it.

Erin O'Toole won last summer's race for Conservative leader running as "True Blue O'Toole," a patriotic military man who was going to take the fight to Justin Trudeau. But ever since, he's gone out of his way to remake the CPC in his own Red Tory image. According to Gary Mason, in a column entitled 'Erin O'Toole is changing Canadian conservatism as we know it,'

[B]ehind the scenes, there was always a plan to change the direction the party would head in during an election if [O'Toole] became leader – the direction many believed offered the only path to victory.

Mason continually praises O'Toole's sagacity in eschewing the positions of his base on issues like abortion, guns, conscience protections for healthcare workers, and environmentalism; and his overall willingness to adopt stances more acceptable in polite society. Says Mason, a "Conservative Party headed by Erin O’Toole would be in step with the times. Full stop." But it's striking that the supposedly up-to-date positions he describes, purportedly to appeal to the same type of alienated, working-class voters who made Brexit a reality, are in fact the characteristic views of the Laurentian Elite.

Peter MacKay famously blamed the party's loss in 2019 on the "stinking albatross" of social conservatism hanging about its neck, but for Erin O'Toole the albatross seems to be conservatism itself.

Environmentalism is our focus here at The Pipeline, and on that score O'Toole's drift has been particularly egregious. One of the Tory insiders that Mason quotes praising the party's lurch leftward is Ken Boessenkool, who has been arguing for years that the only way conservatives will ever again take power is if they sell out Canada's oil and gas producing provinces by embracing carbon taxation and other extreme (and pointless) regulations in order to win over voters in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). O'Toole has taken this advice, and the advice of other Tory insiders, like Mark Cameron, former head of the environmentalist pressure group Canadians for Clean Prosperity, now a deputy minister in the government of Alberta.

During his leadership campaign O'Toole signed a pledge saying,

I, Erin O’Toole, promise that, if elected Prime Minister of Canada, I will: Immediately repeal the Trudeau carbon tax; and, reject any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.

But after he'd won, O'Toole released a document entitled 'Secure the Environment: The Conservative Plan to Combat Climate Change,' which begins "Canada must not ignore the reality of climate change. It is already affecting our ecosystems, hurting our communities, and damaging our infrastructure."

To combat climate change, O'Toole promised that, should he form a government, he would 1) implement his own Carbon Tax, one that's less onerous than the Liberal version, but which could be increased if market conditions make doing so feasible. 2) "Finalize and improve" the Trudeau government's Clean Fuel Standard (also known as the second carbon tax), 3) enact an electric vehicle mandate and invest billions of tax-payer dollars in EV manufacture and infrastructure, which includes, 4) update the national building code such that all buildings will have "mandatory charging stations or wiring required for chargers", 5) reduce emissions in line with the Paris Climate Accords by 2030 and achieving Net-Zero emissions by 2050. And on and on.

That's not just a flip-flop, that's an atomic belly flop.

Coming your way, Canada.

But are these moves necessary to win? Mason quotes Howard Anglin, former Chief of Staff to both Harper and Jason Kenney, as saying "[t]he first challenge that any Canadian conservative party must confront is that Canada is not a conservative country." Maybe. But I can't help hearing in that sentiment the predictions of impending "permanent Democratic majorities" we've been hearing about in the U.S. for the last 40 years. My own theory is that Canadians are rarely presented with a serious conservative alternative to the Trudeaupianism they've been force-fed since the '60s.

Here's just one example of how the Tories might have approached this election differently -- Dan McTeague of Canadians for Affordable Energy recently pointed out that the exploding price of housing has been a major issue in this election, but there has been little mention of the other factors making life in Canada increasingly expensive.

Once someone has a place to live, they are going to need to cool it in the summer and heat it in the winter. They will need electricity to cook and store their food... All of this, of course, takes energy... Every major Canadian political party is committed to at least Net Zero emissions by the year 2050. I have written extensively about how this leads to skyrocketing energy prices. Yet, amid all the talk about housing affordability no one in Canada seems to be saying much about energy affordability.

Policies like carbon taxation are always sold by the Liberals as affecting "Big Polluter" mega-corporations, but in fact they do real harm to ordinary people, both when they 're hit with the tax directly at the pump or paying their heating bill, or indirectly when the price for everything else goes up. Canadians are very sensitive to those pocketbook issues, probably even more so than Americans. Energy affordability could have been a winning issue for the CPC, with the winter months approaching and more than a year of accumulated pandemic-related economic anxiety weighing on people's minds. Instead they chose to go Liberal-lite, a move which rarely, if ever, works.

Still, I do appreciate arguments like those of former Conservative MP and minister Joe Oliver, whose recent endorsement of O'Toole for PM said:

[Trudeau] has exploited the pandemic to set the country on a path of unsustainable spending and intrusive government. Four more years galloping toward a dystopian Great Reset would make it exceptionally challenging for a new government to arrest, let alone reverse, that dire fate.

But I can't help but notice that Oliver's argument -- that Trudeau is awful and Canada just needs him gone -- is only for O'Toole by default.  Maybe that will be enough, and Trudeau fatigue will carry O'Toole over the finish line. But such a strategy just failed spectacularly in the California recall election, leaving Gov. Gavin Newsom in an even stronger position to torture the Golden State than he was before. Canada is likely to experience the same fate.

Renewables: Is There Anything They Can't Do?

From the Wall Street Journal:

Natural gas and electricity markets were already surging in Europe when a fresh catalyst emerged: The wind in the stormy North Sea stopped blowing. The sudden slowdown in wind-driven electricity production off the coast of the U.K. in recent weeks whipsawed through regional energy markets. Gas and coal-fired electricity plants were called in to make up the shortfall from wind. Natural-gas prices, already boosted by the pandemic recovery and a lack of fuel in storage caverns and tanks, hit all-time highs. Thermal coal, long shunned for its carbon emissions, has emerged from a long price slump as utilities are forced to turn on backup power sources.

The episode underscored the precarious state the region’s energy markets face heading into the long European winter. The electricity price shock was most acute in the U.K., which has leaned on wind farms to eradicate net carbon emissions by 2050. Prices for carbon credits, which electricity producers need to burn fossil fuels, are at records, too... At their peak, U.K. electricity prices had more than doubled in September and were almost seven times as high as at the same point in 2020. Power markets also jumped in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

So the transition to so-called renewable energy has really been raking European energy markets over the coals. Literally, in fact, as coal-fired power plants are having to increase production to meet energy demands. And it's making Russia into a one nation OPEC, the only country in the region with an excess of natural gas which will happily export it.... for some significant diplomatic concessions.

Quite the bind the E.U. finds itself in. Perhaps they might consider changing course, accepting that shutting down their natural gas and nuclear power plants, not to mention banning fracking, is a mistake?

Doesn't sound like it! Reuters -- "Record high power prices in European Union countries show the bloc must wean itself off fossil fuels and speed up the transition to green energy, the EU's top climate change official said on Tuesday." That official -- first vice-president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, who has appeared in these pages before, always singing the same one-note tune -- argues that, in fact, it is because they haven't transitioned quickly enough that things are so bad! "Had we had the Green Deal five years earlier, we would not be in this position because then we would have less dependence on fossil fuels and on natural gas," he said.

Never mind that the transition itself helped create the shortage by causing a shortage of the fuels that, for the foreseeable future, the continent continues to run on. That, and the fact that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun sometimes fails to shine.

Anyway, you heard it from Frans first -- renewable energy causes problems that can only be solved by... more renewable energy. Is there anything it can't do?

Winner Takes All, Beijing-Style

Much has been made of the estimated one-trillion-dollars worth of lithium reserves hiding in the soil of Afghanistan since the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Kabul cast doubt on America’s future ability to exercise power in and around Afghanistan. That ability is not zero. The U.S. has the power to withhold large sums of aid on which the Taliban is relying for the reconstruction of a devastated country. But it’s greatly inferior to the power and influence currently exercised by China which is cosying up to all of its neighbors in Central Asia in an attempt to gain something like a monopoly of lithium.

It’s a scene reminiscent of pre-war thrillers in which hostile powers vie for the control of materials essential for war, usually oil, and their agents scheme to steal the maps and contracts that will ensure their victory. (See Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, and more recently, Alan Furst passim.) But it’s very far from fiction.

China herself has substantial reserves of lithium. That’s a “special earth” that goes into the manufacture of electric vehicles, AI machines, and iPhones. As an Al Jazeera report pointed out,

Now all three are at the cutting edge of a modern economy driven by advancements in high-tech chips and large-capacity batteries that are made with a range of minerals, including rare earths. And Afghanistan is sitting on deposits estimated to be worth $1 trillion or more, including what may be the world’s largest lithium reserves — if anyone can get them out of the ground.

And not just lithium. Among the other rare minerals increasingly needed to power a modern economy and to achieve climate change policies such as Net-Zero, China also has large reserves of tungsten, iron, lead, copper, mercury, and more.

Looking to 2050.

If China succeeds in its current wooing of not only the Taliban but also Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and other countries in Central Asia, the Middle East, and further afield, it will come close to gaining a strategic monopoly of the minerals needed for economic growth, technological superiority, and military power. The West ignored that threat until recently when the Chinese Communist Party’s deceptive and even sinister suppression of news of the Covid virus until it had spread worldwide belatedly alarmed policy-makers. If China is an enemy or becoming one, its hoovering up of strategic minerals would constitute a major national security threat. Unless . . .

There was one optimistic interpretation of China’s rush to monopolize strategic minerals, however: it suggested that the new superpower might be serious about eventually combatting climate change. Its previous promises to do so were looking as threadbare as its explanations of the origins of Covid. But might China’s grab for a virtual lithium-etc. monopoly mean that it was preparing for an eventual switch from fossil fuels to “renewables” which would require a reliable supply and build-up of stocks of the raw materials for the switch?

So has does that optimistic view look when placed alongside other decisions taken by Beijing? My attention was caught by a paragraph in the important book, This Sovereign Isle: Britain In and Out of Europe, by the distinguished Cambridge historian, Robert Tombs, in which he briefly notes the “alarming rampage” that China embarked on in June 2020: economic sanctions against Australia when its government proposed to investigate subversion and corruption in its own political system; China’s suppression of liberty in Hong Kong (that incidentally broke an international treaty with the U.K.); the invasion over the Ladakh frontier by the Chinese army that attacked and murdered twenty Indian troops; renewed tensions with Japan and other maritime states over Chinese claims on strategic islands in the Pacific; threats against Taiwan (naturally); and then, more interestingly:

[I]n quick succession in July and August the Chinese government concluded long-term oil and gas contracts with Iran(for $400 billion—effectively a monopsony for twenty-five years), Saudi Arabia (it is said in exchange for nuclear technologies that the US would not provide), and Abu Dhabi, securing long-term supplies at bargain prices at the expense of Europe and Japan.

The return of the Silk Road.

At the expense of the U.S. too since the country won’t be able to access the reserves China has locked up when the slow strangulation of America’s fracking revolution and pipeline capacity by Biden’s regulatory policy means that the supply of American natural gas peters out. No one in Washington or Brussels seems to have joined up all the dots. Professor Tombs now does so:

[T]his pre-emption of vast oil supplies, combined with massive use of coal for electricity generation, suggests how far Beijing’s vaunted backing of Green technology is a weapon against a gullible West.

In other words the Chinese government is locking up energy reserves of all kinds, the means of transporting energy of all kinds (think Belt and Road), and the supplies of lithium and other raw materials needed for ‘clean’ energy and ‘renewables’ to work. America’s defeat in Afghanistan just made China’s task both easier and more vital.

And what are the U.S. and the West locking up? Not America’s high-technology weaponry abandoned in Kabul but promises of eventually joining the West in its Net-Zero crusade—promises that China has broken several times already.

From the Government and Here to Help

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.

Build your own igloo! It's easy if you try. Sort of.

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.

Or, you could be warmer. Maybe.

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.

So easy even Joe Biden can do it. Almost.

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.

This Just in, From Acronymia

Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued one of its working group reports contributing to the Sixth Assessment Report on the current state of the world’s climate. Or in keeping with the fashion for acronyms in global governance, the UN’s IPCC issued the AR6-WG1 of its AR6, but an SFP or Summary for Policy-Makers is also available.

Enjoy!

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Though full of scientific findings, these U.N. reports are a bastard child of science and politics rather than a strictly scientific document. The wording of almost every paragraph in them has to be approved by the 190 signatory governments. In the past governments have insisted on significant changes in the treaty so that it justified the climate change policies they had already adopted.

Such political pressures will be especially intense this year since in less than two months the U.K. and the city of Glasgow will be hosting the world’s governments for COP26 which stands for the 26th U.N. Conference of the Parties that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (Or UNFCCC.) Governments need a report that makes a strong case for the admittedly extreme policies of Net-Zero they have already adopted.

Have they got it? That’s not quite clear.

We're still doomed, maybe, kind of.

The report itself is a hefty 4,000-page document, and even its SFP is heavy going at 41 pages, which means that the major news analyses that came out on publication day are a tribute to the intellectual powers and speed-reading of the world’s journalists. Or maybe not. As my colleague Tom Finnerty suggested when he listed the various attempts of blue-chip media to match the tabloids in generating fear and anxiety, they wrung more horror from its pages than was really there:

"The Latest IPCC Report Is a Catastrophe" says The Atlantic. "IPCC report’s verdict on climate crimes of humanity: guilty as hell" is The Guardian's headline. Here's USA Today: "Code red for humanity."

As is often the case, however, the tabloids were more accurate in conveying the report’s overall thrust. Writing in the New York Post, Bjorn Lomborg, the moderate Danish climate realist, pointed out that the report was more even-handed than in previous years. It leveled no charges of crimes against humanity, and it balanced the damages caused by climate change with its less-known advantages:

Since the heat dome in June, there has been a lot of writing about more heat deaths. And the IPCC confirms that climate change indeed has increased heatwaves. However, the report equally firmly, if virtually unacknowledged, tells us that global warming means “the frequency and intensity of cold extremes have decreased.”

This matters because globally, many more people die from cold than from heat. A new study in the highly respected journal Lancet shows that about half a million people die from heat per year, but 4.5 million people die from cold.

As temperatures have increased over the past two decades, that has caused an extra 116,000 heat deaths each year. This, of course, fits the narrative and is what we have heard over and over again. But it turns out that because global warming has also reduced cold waves, we now see 283,000 fewer cold deaths.

You don’t hear this, but so far climate change saves 166,000 lives each year.

That’s an important point with a wider application. We know from Lomborg’s own writings (among other sources) that the number of deaths and injuries from all extreme weather events, involving both heat and cold, have fallen dramatically over a long period even when the extreme weather events themselves have risen in number.

Promises, promises.

The reason is that people build defenses against such weather and adapt to the risk of it or their insurance companies charge higher premiums if they insist on ignoring the risk. If global warming is now helping to reduce deaths from cold—in effect it’s assisting people to adapt—then the cost-benefit analysis of policies to combat climate change becomes much more complicated.

Of course, the headline conclusion of the IPCC report that provides the governments at COP26 with justification for Net-Zero is that global temperatures are continuing to rise—indeed, rising even faster than we previously thought. But as the science editor of the Global Warming Policy Forum, Dr. David Whitehouse, points out, there seems to be a conflict between that conclusion and the U.K. Meteorological Office’s global temperature data base.

His review of the Met’s data for this century shows that global temperatures have barely changed since the last IPCC report in 2014. What we see instead in Dr. Whitehouse’s words is “a long hiatus (2002 – 2014) that was acknowledged by the IPCC (but later denied by some scientists), an intense multi-phased El Nino event and its aftermath (2015 -2020) and now a recent decline to levels where they were when the IPCC published its last report.”

That conflict shouldn’t happen since the actual data on global temperatures should be the bedrock of any theory of global warming. He concludes:

So when you read the new IPCC report and take in the alarmist headlines it will undoubtedly generate, bear in mind that since its previous report in 2014 global temperatures have barely changed, and have declined from their El Nino-inspired peak of a few years ago.

If global warming is not rising as much as the IPCC forecasts suggest, then its consequences, including costs, are presumably not rising as much either. More complexity there for any cost-benefit analysis to handle, and therefore more reason to look at the costs of combatting climate change. After all, if the costs of climate change and the costs of halting or reversing climate change are both high, we need to know how close they are to each other, since that knowledge is vital to choosing the right mix of policies.

We just need to gaze at the data some more.

What then are the costs of Net-Zero? They're high, we know, and they’re getting higher. Just how high we're about to find out.

Two days before the IPCC report was published, London’s official Information Tribunal instructed the parliamentary Committee on Climate Change to publish the calculations behind its advice to Parliament that the U.K. economy could be decarbonized at modest cost. That’s a big deal because it was the CCC’s advice that was the basis of the decision by MPs to adopt the U.K.’s Net-Zero target in 2019.

Two paragraphs from the Tribunal's report will establish the high importance of this decision:

  • 247. We find that there is an extremely strong public interest in enabling scrutiny of the data, models and calculations which underpin the CCC’s conclusion that the a net-zero target could be met at an annual resource cost of up to 1-2 percent of GDP to 2050 (see p 12 of the NZR).
  • 248. This is a very significant sum of public money. It has an impact on everyone in the country. Further the NZR recommendations led to almost immediate legislative change to enact the net zero target which will have significant impact on almost every area of the lives of everyone in the United Kingdom over the next 30 years.

The case to compel this disclosure, was brought by Andrew Montford, deputy director of the GWPF, which issued the following statement after the court’s decision:

The ruling, which dismisses almost all of the CCC’s arguments, comes after a two-year battle to obtain the cost calculations. Extraordinarily, the CCC’s case centred around a claim that it had erased and overwritten the relevant information by the time of the FOI request, just six weeks after the publication of the Net Zero report, and indeed changed and lost it further subsequent to the request.

If that is so, MPs acted on information that understated the costs of one of the most important policy decisions they will ever make. That said, it’s fair to add that no one really believed the Committee’s estimates. What might force a reconsideration of policy, however, is if the Committee’s underestimate of Net-Zero’s costs turns out to be outlandishly low.

The Information Tribunal has given the CCC thirty-five days to produce the calculations. The COP26 Glasgow conference takes place eighty-five days later on the November the 1st. Fasten your seat belt, Jimmy, it’s gonna to be a bumpy night.

In Locked-Down Australia, Bad News Good, Good News Bad

Disdain for the progressive media cuts me off from 95 percent and more of news commentary. Luckily, from very little that’s true or uplifting. How do I know, you might ask, if I don’t read or watch it? Well, I have to admit to occasionally refreshing my disdain.

Living in the hermit kingdom of Sydney under yet another dystopian Covid stay-at-home order, replete with troops on the streets, I had time on my hands and switched idly from watching Fox News to BBC World News. As it happened, the presenter was interviewing Professor John Thwaites, chair of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and of Climate Works Australia; a professional climate alarmistWhy was Thwaites being interviewed? Basically, to add to the gloating about Australia earning a wooden spoon; having been awarded last place in taking “climate action,” according to a U.N. sponsored report.

Notice something about those alarmed by the impending climate catastrophe. They get immeasurable sanctimonious pleasure from bad news. Whether it is bush fires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, etc.; or, as I will come to later, coral bleaching. Bad news is good news for them.

A face only a mother could love: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The report, issued by a bunch of economists calling themselves Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), evaluated the “sustainable development” performance of almost 200 countries across 17 categories; climate action being one of the categories. Oh yes, I should mention, Thwaites is one of the co-chairs of a council overseeing the work of SDSN.

Climate action, we are informed by SDSN, is judged on four criteria: CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production; CO2 emissions embodied in imports and, separately, in exports; and progress in implementing carbon pricing. Being the second largest coal exporter obviously didn’t do Australia any favours. At the same time, I can’t work out how Australia managed to beat Indonesia, the exporter of the largest amount of coal, and China, the builder of most new coal-power stations, into last place.

Last in terms of taking climate action, really? Those disquieting reports of wind and solar farms being built across the Australian landscape must be gross exaggerations. I looked at some numbers. To wit, per capita generation of electricity from wind plus sun in 2020. Lo and behold, Australia (1584 KWH) outdid the USA (1421 KWH), the UK (1284 KWH), Canada (1006 KWH) and China (505 KWH). I’m beginning to feel aggrieved that our magnificent achievement in erecting ugly, inefficient and intermittent energy totems is not being sufficiently appreciated.

I think the U.N. and their hangers-on have it in for Australia because we won’t agree to go along with the globally-woke in-crowd and voice commitment to zero-net emissions by 2050. My advice to Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is to just say it. You know you want to but for those few pesky conservatives still clinging on in your party room. And, best of all, you don’t have to mean it, nobody else does. Nobody else has a clue about how to get there either.

Morrison: good thing he's a "conservative."

Coming last on climate action was compounded by more bad news. Or, was it? And then there was relief from good news. Or, was it? Again, it all depends on your point of view.

UNESCO threatened to declare the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) “in danger;” which would give this highly politicised and compromised organisation license to busy-body itself into Australia’s climate affairs. You might recall that Donald Trump sensibly withdrew the United States from UNESCO. Not a chance Australia will have the gumption to follow suit.

A first view was that China put UNESCO up to it. Australia is firmly in Xi Jinping’s bad books for wanting an inquiry into the Wuhan lab, among other wanton anti-Chinese provocations from another of America’s running dogs. Though it turns out that hypocritical oil and gas exporter, pipsqueak Norway (pop. 5½ million) was the principal party behind it.

Anyway, Australia’s marine scientists were overjoyed at this “bad news.” Nothing they would like better than the reef being declared in danger. After all, they have spent decades foreshadowing its imminent demise. Keeping the research funds coming depends on keeping the reef endangered.

Then just as things were going swimmingly, ill-timed “good news” from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). It reported an upsurge in coral on the reef. Whether it’s the Northern part of the reef (up 27 percent since 2018/19), Central (up 26 percent), or Southern (up 39 percent), it’s all on the up and up. And that indeed was “bad news” for marine scientists, coming shortly before UNESCO was to pronounce judgement. Sure enough, UNESCO backed off, for now.

Peter Ridd, former professor at James Cook University, and expert on the reef, averred that coral on parts of the GBR was at a “record level” (The Australian 23 July, paywalled). The real danger he said is that the coral, as a matter of normal course, will fall from this record level, providing a fresh pretext for alarmism. But then he’s an outcast. He criticised the quality of his colleagues’ scientific research on the reef in 2017; maintaining that the reef was robust and healthy. He was sacked in 2018. Toe the party line or be cancelled.

His case for unfair dismissal has now reached the Australian High Court and will be decided shortly. At stake is the free speech of a dwindling sub-species: academics wedded to evidence rather than to an activist agenda.

We're still all right, mate!

And, as for the evidence on the state of the GBR? It’s unequivocal. The reef’s blooming. Ridd has been proved right. Ergo, those who’ve been relentlessly propagating scare stories recanted? Wrong! They immediately went into face-saving mode. Some examples.

Coral reef scientist Susan Ward: “another heat wave could wipe away this good progress.” Marine scientists James Cook and Scott Heron: “signs of recovery should not distract from the underlying threat to the reef.” And here is chief executive of AIMS Paul Hardisty, no doubt feeling guilty about his organisation’s upbeat report: “There is some encouraging news in this report and another good year would continue the recovery process, but we also have to accept the increasing risk of marine heatwaves that can lead to coral bleaching and the need for the world to reduce carbon emissions.”

There it is. When bad news is good news and good news bad. This is the perverted worldview I prefer not to have streamed into my living room, as I said at the start.

Boris Hits the Ground, Not Running

Between now and October 31,  connoisseurs of political embarrassment will be licking their lips and looking forward to a veritable feast as the British government prepares to host the 2021 U.N. Climate Change conference in Glasgow (or COP26 in bureaucratese.) Their enjoyment may be even more thrilling in the twelve days following the end of October when the conference wends its slow way through a vast program of policy pledges to keep the global mean temperature to within a 1.5 degree increase above its pre-industrial level—and, more enticingly, another vaster program of how to make the pledges reality

You might say: “So what’s new?” These pledges have been made time and again in the years since the climate change game was launched in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1990s. After all, this is the 26th U.N. climate change conference, and the other 25 were about exactly the same topic. Even though one or two of them were pronounced failures—for instance, the Copenhagen Summit conference in 2009—most ended with mutual congratulations and “doubles all round.” But these pledges have not been redeemed by actions. As the latest report of the U.N.’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to argue, the effects of climate change have continued to worsen.

Oh, shut up.

Boris Johnson’s “Conservative” government, in addition to hosting the conference, governs the nation that has made the boldest promises to cut emissions. To be fair, it has so far lived up to these promises better than most (though some U.K. emissions have been “exported” to other countries which now emit on behalf of U.K. corporations that make carbon-heavy investments abroad and sell the products back in the U.K. And Boris had hoped to bask in a green spotlight on a U.N. stage in Glasgow as the man leading Britain and the world into the broad carbon-free sunlit uplands of which legend speaks.

That is now looking less likely.

There’s always been a logical gap in the green case for a full-scale policy of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. Policy-makers simplistically assumed that if too many carbon emissions were the problem, then the solution must be requiring fewer carbon emissions—an approach known as mitigation. Simple, neat, an obvious solution.

But there’s more to solving problems than simply reversing their cause. Here are two alternatives to mitigation:

  1. In order to put out a fire, the fire brigade doesn’t search for its causes. It pours water on it. Can we find some technology, logically unrelated to rising emissions, that blocks their ill effects in much the same way? Such technical “fixes” exist, but they’re unpopular with environmentalists and the U.N. which prefer solutions that regulate capitalism and re-distribute income.
  2. Another approach would be to adapt to rising emissions. People will do that anyway. If they think that floods threaten them, they will devise better methods of flood protection as the Dutch have done for centuries. Or they may simply move elsewhere.

People adapt to risks and dangers as follows. They try to establish which solution is the least costly and most effective one, and having done that, they then ask if that solution is less costly and more habitable than living with the problem, here rising emissions.

And that’s the big problem. The costs of mitigation—Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050—are enormous both financially and in terms of reduced lifestyles (eating less meat, no flying, higher electricity prices, switching to costlier and less efficient home heating, etc., etc.) They are certain to be deeply and unavoidably unpopular; voters rarely vote to make themselves poorer in democratic elections. It’s the classical problem of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. How did it happen?

Scylla, meet Charybdis.

Policy-makers committed themselves to arranging a clash between the voters and international treaties, and they did so quite deliberately. They calculated they would get rewards for green virtue at the time, but that later when the clash came, they could plead that their hands were tied by “legally-binding” obligations. No worries. The voters would swallow it.

But now the witching hour has arrived, and at a most inconvenient moment. With less than two months to go before the Greenbeanfeast in Glasgow, governments are beginning to reject the obligations they had imposed upon themselves and the voters when they saw the price tag electorally.

Two such inevitable betrayals of the global “consensus” on Net Zero occurred in the last ten days. Internationally, a meeting of G20 energy and environmental ministers failed to agree a date on which they would phase out the use of coal—not surprisingly, since coal is the original source of most of the electricity that is supposed to replace it. Without such a universal pledge, however, the COP26 conference will not be able to achieve the promised agreement on limiting global warming to 1.5C as even the U.K. minister responsible for the policy conceded. Such an agreement, said Alok Sharma, would now be “extremely difficult.”

Nor will Boris Johnson be able to shuffle the responsibility for this ecological backsliding onto the G20. In the same two-week period, Whitehall leaked the story that the government would probably push back the regulation banning the sale of gas boilers and heaters from 2035 to 2040. Hydrogen boilers and air-source heat pumps cost £14,000 and £11,000 more than the gas boilers they will be mandated to replace. Which means that some gas boilers would still be in use in 2050. That would itself a serious setback for Britain’s Net-Zero promises and for Boris personally on the eve of COP26.

And it is unlikely to be the last retreat. As the U.K. media speculated:

It comes amid a mounting backlash over the spiralling cost of Mr Johnson's so-called green revolution, with Government insiders fearful that the proposals could add another £400billion on top of the enormous sums accrued during the Covid pandemic.

As Hamlet points out, moreover, when troubles come, they come not in single spies but in battalions. To add to the government’s troubles in this matter, Mr Johnson’s Downing Street press spokesman, Allegra Stratton, upon being asked by The Independent what ordinary citizens could do to prevent global warming, she suggested first that they might put their dirty dishes into the dishwasher without rinsing them first, and then upon more mature consideration, she added:

'What can they do?', they can do many things. They can join Greenpeace, they can join the Green Party, they can join the Tory Party.

Understandably, that was too tempting for a Green party leader, Jonathan Bartley, to ignore. He welcomed Stratton's comments and told The Independent:

After decades of inaction from both the Conservatives and Labour, we would absolutely agree with the government that joining the Green Party is the best thing people can do to help tackle climate change. As we witness the Conservatives waste time talking about loading dishwashers and fantasy projects such as Jet Zero [Mr. Johnson’s prediction of carbon-free airlines], it is reassuring to see that they do understand it is only the Greens who can bring about the real change that is needed if we are to prevent climate catastrophe.

And the sad point is that Mr Bartley is quite right. Anyone who wants to pursue the unachievable target of Net-Zero by 2050, destroying the U.K. economy after it has finally recovered from Covid-19, would be well advised to vote for an amiable fanatic like Mr Bartley rather than for an impulsive risk-taker like Boris Johnson who ultimately has the commonsense and self-interest to pull out of crash dive before it hits the environment. Because if he doesn’t yet know it, Boris hasn’t got an ejector seat on this particular voyage.

Heinrich's New Mexican Boondoggle

Earlier this summer Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), one of the most ardent environmentalists in national politics, wrote a typically brainless Op-Ed in the New York Times on electrification and the push for net-zero in the Democrats' multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill. Over at Capital Matters, Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation does us all a favor by thoroughly demolishing it.

Gessing opens with an important clarification --

Unfortunately, in Heinrich’s parlance, “electrification” does not mean bringing much-needed electricity to impoverished corners of our country, including the Navajo Reservation right here in New Mexico. No, the legislation he’s pushing in Congress — and the funding he’s advocating in the infrastructure bill, specifically — do nothing of the sort. By “electrification,” the senator means that he’d like federal, state, and local governments to phase out or completely ban your natural-gas stove, oven, and furnace, thus requiring you to use electric heat and stoves.

Which is partly to say that the bill itself is almost the antithesis of an infrastructure bill. Instead of putting government money towards what were once called "internal improvements" with the goal of raising the standard of living and improving economic conditions in neglected parts of the country, this bill ignores those forgotten places while seeking to lower standards of living and weigh down the economies across the board. This is what the Left calls "equity."

Gessing points out that, until a few years ago, environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club actually supported natural gas, due to its cleanliness compared to coal. He mentions that Barack Obama even touted its potential for reducing atmospheric CO2. But now major American cities like Sacramento, Seattle, and New York have begun the process of banning natural gas in new construction.

The environmentalists had it right the first time. As regular Pipeline readers know, the United States has led the world in carbon emissions reduction since the year 2000.  Senator Heinrich and his allies, meanwhile, imagine that it can be entirely replaced with electricity generated by so-called renewable resources. That would be quite the trick, considering the fact that only about "10 percent of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined" while this proposed transition "would increase U.S. electricity consumption by 40 percent." No surprise that Germany's attempted wind and solar transition has resulted in an increased reliance on coal, not to mention skyrocketing energy rates.

It's worth noting that the politicians pushing these policies are often working against the interests and preferences of the citizenry. The majority of people even in liberal cities want natural gas because it is "clean, affordable, and reliable energy," in Gessing's phrase. And Heinrich's home state of New Mexico is a major natural gas producer -- his own constituents would suffer if his preferred policies were fully enacted! In saner times, the residents of these communities would simply vote the bums out, but nowadays extreme partisanship protects activists masquerading as representatives.

It's quite the boondoggle. Just like Senator Heinrich's electrification proposals.

Investing 'Ethically'? Prepare to Lose Your Shirt

It’s starting to look as if the world is emerging, albeit slowly and reluctantly, from the utopian dream of halting and reversing climate change by policies based on almost exclusively on mitigation rather than on adaptation. These two approaches have always been the practical choice between real-world alternatives. A mixture of the two leaning mainly towards adaptation is probably the best approach since the costs of mitigation—as in achieving Net-Zero carbon emissions—are huge and its benefits either modest or unachievable.

For reasons outside the scope of this short commentary, however, the world’s governments and global agencies have placed all their money on the mitigation approach. I write carelessly “their money.” It is, of course, other people’s money. And we are gradually discovering just how much of other people’s money they are investing in climate change mitigation. Prepare to be shocked.

Recently the Financial Times reported as follows:

Thirty of the world’s biggest asset managers, which collectively oversee $9tn, have set a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions across their investment portfolios by 2050 in a move expected to have huge ramifications for businesses globally. The group, which includes Fidelity International, Legal & General Investment Management, Schroders, UBS Asset Management, M&G, Wellington Management and DWS, said they would work with their clients to cut emissions across their investments.

That attracted the attention of National Review’s Andrew Stuttaford (full disclosure: an old friend) who devoted his regular weekly column on finance to examining how and why Wall Street decided to plunge so wholeheartedly into green ink investments. It’s a real humdinger of a column because it solves a financial mystery.

Nowhere to go but down.

After all, the purpose of investment institutions is to deliver the best return on the money that they are lent by savers and pensioners. If an investment house says that it intends to make mitigating climate change one of its main aims, it’s also telling you that your money will be getting a lower rate of return than it otherwise might. That’s a clear betrayal of the fiduciary duty that agents owe to their principals—unless they level with them and admit the likely loss.

That’s exactly what happens with other ESG funds, and I’ve no doubt that this admission will appear in the middle of the voluminous fine print which warns purchasers that socially conscious investments are likely to perform less well than the average. At the same time all the great and the good of the financial, political, and regulatory world from Al Gore to Mike Bloomberg to Mark Carney are bent on assuring nervous investors that they are making a prudent decision in going green.

Their argument boils down to claiming that any investor risks from green investments are trivial compared to the risks of investing in fossil fuels which are likely to prove unprofitable investments in a world moving towards Net-Zero and which might make those companies vulnerable to expensive lawsuits and regulatory restrictions.

The fallacies embedded in that argument were challenged by me in February last year in the first column I wrote for The Pipeline—which was a criticism of Mark Carney’s strident advocacy of strong measure of financial regulation to direct investors into the “right” green companies.

Yet if these climate forecasts are either exaggerated or simply uncertain [as they are], what is the test which would tell us with some reliability that the market demand for fossil fuels is likely to fall along with the value of companies that extract them. It cannot be the additional stress tests or capital requirements that regulators may want the banks to impose on energy companies, for then the regulators would be using their own interventions as the justification for intervening. As yet, however, non-official market participants can’t seem to see spontaneous causes for this threat to the energy sector.

But my tentative point is made more vividly and powerfully by the economist John Cochrane (quoted by Stuttaford) in an address to the European Central Bank in a reply to one of its senior executives:

Let me quote from ECB executive board member Isabel Schnabel’s recent speech. I don’t mean to pick on her, but she expresses the climate agenda very well, and her speech bears the ECB imprimatur. She recommends that,

‘First, as prudential supervisor, we have an obligation to protect the safety and soundness of the banking sector. This includes making sure that banks properly assess the risks from carbon-intensive exposures. . . .’

Let me point out the unclothed emperor: climate change does not pose any financial risk at the one-, five-, or even ten-year horizon at which one can conceivably assess the risk to bank assets. Repeating the contrary in speeches does not make it so. Risk means variance, unforeseen events. We know exactly where the climate is going in the next five to ten years. Hurricanes and floods, though influenced by climate change, are well modeled for the next five to ten years. Advanced economies and financial systems are remarkably impervious to weather. Relative market demand for fossil vs. alternative energy is as easy or hard to forecast as anything else in the economy. Exxon bonds are factually safer, financially, than Tesla bonds, and easier to value. The main risk to fossil fuel companies is that regulators will destroy them, as the ECB proposes to do, a risk regulators themselves control. (My italics.)

“A risk regulators themselves control.” I hesitate to accuse a former governor of the Bank of England, a former Vice President of the United States, and a former Mayor of New York of financial legerdemain, but I think there are laws against stock manipulation of that kind—though I doubt legislators ever envisaged fraud on the scale of nine trillion dollars.

My own advice to investors and pension fund managers is to fight shy of the “watermelon investments” recommended by the great and good. They are written in Green ink today, Red ink tomorrow.

Consider tobacco companies instead. They survived the legal and regulatory onslaught, and today they’re nice little earners.

'Climate Change' Charlatanism Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Professor Ole Humlum is a former Professor of Physical Geography at the University Centre in Svalbard, Norway, and Emeritus Professor of Physical Geography, University of Oslo, Norway. He specializes in reporting and analyzing annual changes in the climate. I wrote about the professor’s work just over a year ago on this site. His report, published annually by the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, was moderately optimistic on climate changes in 2019, pointing out that some of them were for the better, some worse, but that overall there was no justification for the alarmist rhetoric of climate emergency. For instance, as I then wrote,

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.

Since annual reports come out every year, his latest report on the world’s climate in 2020 has just been published. It covers the waterfront from Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation to Zonal Air Temperatures, and though most of it is addressed to technical specialists, it reaches some broad general conclusions that can be grasped by the layman. By and large these are a mix of moderate changes, long-term stability in main trends, and some trends getting worse but falling short of a climate emergency. Here, for instance, is his summing-up of changes in snow cover:

Variations in global snow-cover extent are driven by changes in the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the major land masses are located. Southern Hemisphere snow-cover extent is essentially controlled by the Antarctic ice sheet, and is therefore relatively stable. Northern Hemisphere average snow cover has also been stable since the advent of satellite observations, although local and regional inter-annual variations may be large. Considering seasonal changes in the Northern Hemisphere since 1979, autumn extent has been slightly increasing, mid-winter extent has been largely stable, and spring extent has been slightly decreasing. In 2020, Northern Hemisphere seasonal snow cover was somewhat below that of the preceding years.

And here is his account of storms and hurricanes in 2020:

The most recent data on numbers of global tropical storms and hurricane accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) are well within the range seen since 1970. In fact, the ACE data series displays a variable pattern over time, with a significant 3.6-year variation, but without any clear trend towards higher or lower values. A longer ACE series for the Atlantic Basin (since 1850), however, suggests a natural cycle of about 60 years' duration for tropical-storm and hurricane ACE. The number of hurricane landfalls in the continental United States remains within the normal range for the entire record since 1851. (My italics.)

Not easy reading, as you can see, but worthwhile because it records what actually happened to the climate in the last year. And that picture contrasts strongly with two things: the general impression of what happened to the climate given by the mainstream media, and the forecasts drawn from computer modelling in previous years of what would happen to the climate. Those two things generally reinforce each other almost as if the media reports those real climate events that reflect the media “narrative” and ignore or gloss over those that don’t. The truth rarely, if ever, catches up with the predictions in mainstream news reporting.

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Time and again the dates for which catastrophe was confidently predicted have passed without grave occurrences, as I wrote a year ago. No apologies are offered, and no signs given that the forecasters will be reconsidering the theories on which their forecasts either were based or by which they will in future be supported.

To be sure, that's a problem not confined to climate science. There’s a general crisis of “replication” or “reproducibility” in science as scientists themselves have been debating in the last decade. As Wikipedia sums it up:

A 2016 poll of 1,500 scientists conducted by Nature reported that 70 percent of them had failed to reproduce at least one other scientist's experiment (including 87 percent of chemists, 77 percent of biologists, 69 percent of physicists and engineers, 67 percent of medical researchers, 64 percent of earth and environmental scientists, and 62 percent of all others), while 50 percent had failed to reproduce one of their own experiments, and less than 20 percent had ever been contacted by another researcher unable to reproduce their work. Only a minority had ever attempted to publish a replication, and while 24 percent had been able to publish a successful replication, only 13 percent had published a failed replication, and several respondents that had published failed replications noted that editors and reviewers demanded that they play down comparisons with the original studies.

That’s bad enough. Worse, common sense suggests that the rate of failed replications will be higher in forecasting than in already performed physical experiments. To replication failure and prediction failure, however, we should probably add a third crisis—namely, impartiality failure on the part of the mainstream media—if we are to understand how bad things are.

The latest example of this is the media treatment of a new book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters, by Steven Koonin, a physicist specializing in energy policy who served as an Under-Secretary for Energy for Science in the Obama administration. He doubts some of the claims allegedly accepted as valid by a “consensus" of scientists. Koonin has since come under fierce attack from those scientific reviewers who in turn doubt his own claims. That’s well and good—it’s how science is supposed to operate until experiments settle the argument conclusively--for the moment. In the meantime Koonin must fight his corner as best he can—as apparently he intends to do.

There ought to be a law!

What is objectionable is that social media should tilt an already tilted playing field so that its “fact-checkers” preface information about “Unsettled” with a kind of health warning that its statistics are unreliable and that the book itself “denialist” when in fact Koonin denies not climate warming but some arguments about its speed, extent, and whether we’re pursuing the right mix of mitigation and adaptation in dealing with it.  That’s a debate we need—and which we’re bound to have anyway because of the looming costs of Net-Zero.

Suppressing debate simply won’t work. And that’s likely to be demonstrated soon. Koonin has agreed to give the GWPF’s annual lecture in November in London. My guess is that the Foundation will have to hire a larger-than-usual hall to accommodate an audience drawn there by today’s equivalent of “Banned in Boston”—namely, “Not Available on Social Media.”