Sailing Into the Abyss

The year is 2013. I am a passenger on a container ship as it voyages for twenty-seven days from Hong Kong to Southampton. Magellan, the third largest container ship in the world, is powered by a huge engine, equalled in size by only one other in the merchant fleet. For the mechanically minded; it is a marine diesel, fuel-injected, internal combustion, two-stroke engine, generating 109,000 hp. It has fourteen pistons, each almost a metre in diameter. I can vouchsafe that it is very large and loud.

On this voyage, the ship is carrying the equivalent of nearly 10,000 standard-sized containers. Containers, which can be more than double the length and taller than standard-sized, can hold up to about 28 tonnes of cargo.

Why mention any of this? A container ship provides a practical and grounding lesson on the realities of modern economic life that school children might be taught. As distinct, that is, from being brainwashed with fairy tales of sustainable development.

Magellan today: there's a metaphor here somewhere.

The lesson might begin thus: Our way of life, our prosperity, our ability to help those among us in need, are all critically dependent on growing, mining, making, trading and transporting things. Needed are entrepreneurship, business acumen, skill, hard work and, critically, cheap and plentiful supplies of energy.

A series of questions might follow to generate discussion. Apropos: If it takes around 4,700 tonnes of marine diesel fuel at $550 per tonne to shift one-hundred thousand tonnes of cargo from Hong Kong to Southampton, how many batteries charged by wind and solar farms would it take and how much would it cost? For mathematics students this would be an instructive introduction to imaginary numbers.

Another question might go like this. Is it possible for us to enjoy the ownership of cell phones, computers, flat screen TVs, cars, and all of our other modern conveniences without the dirty business of their manufacture and shipment? For students of anthropology, this may throw light on the development of cargo cults among primitive peoples. And talking of cargo cults, adult classes might be held for those who vote for green parties who seem equally prone to thinking that goods simply appear out of thin air.

Other instructive questions could be posed for the tutelage of students and greenies alike. Me, I want to stop there and turn back to the crude diesel which powers large ships. According to those who estimate these things, shipping accounts for around 2.5 percent of man-made CO2 emissions. Twice the emissions of Australia by the way. And as Australia is under pressure by the great and good, Joe Biden and Boris Johnson included, to prostrate itself before the deity of net-zero emissions by 2050, it isn’t surprising that shipping is also in the firing line.

No emissions please, we're Norwegian.

The International Maritime Organisation’s voluntary goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050 compared with 2008. Bear in mind that tonnages shipped are on course to be far higher in 2050 than they are now. The goal might be described as aspirational. Think of the late Soviet Union’s five-year plans. Even so, it is not going to be nearly enough to satisfy the zealots, when net-zero is their goal.

Norway is doing its bit.  Reportedly, as from January 2026, Norway intends to ban cruise ships from sailing through its fjords unless they generate zero emissions. How to bring this about? I don’t know. However, the Norwegian shipping line Hurtigruten announced in 2018 that it would run its ships on dead fish and other rotting matter. Smelly business. Fish at risk. Has limitations.

In an article in Forbes, development economist Nishan Degnarain echoed the UN in calling for shipping to urgently ditch fossil fuels. He claims that shipping is the sixth-largest emitter after China, the U.S., India, Russia and Japan; which, though mixing categories, is about right. What to do?

Degnarain doesn’t mention dead fish. He lists four possible solutions. These come out of a report by the international conservation group Ocean Conservancy. The report was launched at U.N. Climate Week, held virtually in New York in September 2020. Here are the putative solutions:

  1. Electrification, in other words batteries
  2. (Green) Hydrogen fuel cells
  3. Ammonia
  4. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

To take them in reverse order. Environmentalists aren’t keen on LNG. Apparently, it leaks methane in transit. And, anyway, “cleaner” though it is, it is still a foul fossil fuel. Ammonia carries a risk of blowing up and when burnt emits the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Just a guess, but fuel cells powered by green hydrogen might not be quite ready for widespread installation in ships. One solution mooted is the onboard conversion of sea water to hydrogen. I simply assume that’s a joke. And in that same amusing vein, electrification is clearly a risible solution for ocean-going vessels. Consider the magnitude of the problem.

Leave aside the 30 million or so recreational and fishing boats in the world; lots pumping out CO2. As of the beginning of 2020, there were around 56,000 merchant ships trading internationally. This encompasses 5,360 container ships, over 17,000 general cargo ships, more than 12,000 bulk cargo carriers, around 8,000 crude oil tankers, nearly 6,000 chemical tankers, over 5,000 roll-on roll-off ships, and some 2,000 LNG tankers. All running on fossil fuels, overwhelmingly crude diesel, with a bit of LNG thrown into the mix.

Is it possible to get your head around refitting and/orreplacing this fleet so that it's emissions free? Maybe, if you’re an airhead and assume as-yet uninvented technologies will somehow save the day. If burdened with common sense and realism, you will know that it can’t be done. It is Panglossianism on stilts.

This is the situation. Western world leaders, without political opposition, have bought completely into "global warming" alarmism. Extraordinary, but that is the least of it. They are buying into delusional solutions to a non-problem. You’re sane and trying to figure out what the heck’s going on? Forget it. Just cling onto the rails as they do their damnedest to sail us into the abyss.

Net-Zero: the West's Suicide Note

In the 1983 U.K. general election, the Labour Party under the amiably leftish leadership of Michael Foot published a manifesto that amounted to a wish-list of extreme socialist policies long sought by the party’s Marxist wing. It leant so far to the left that one of Foot’s closest colleagues, the late Gerald Kaufman, described it privately (in a bon mot that was soon leaked) as “the longest suicide note in history.”

Not any longer. The last few weeks have seen two longer suicide notes by two organizations more important than an opposition U.K. party. They are the G7 nations, which Marx might have described as “the executive committee of the global capitalist democracies”—aka the West—and the International Energy Agency which is a specialized committee of the United Nations system and as such the globalist bureaucracy serving all U.N. member-states.

The distinctions between the two organizations are not trivial, but they usually say the same things, especially on climate change. Indeed, the global organization of anxiety over climate change was initially launched by the U.N. Secretariat in a series of international conferences—Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen—at the end of the Cold War. Its greatest support to date has been found in the G7 countries, especially in the United Kingdom and the European Union (minus coal-producing countries such as Poland) where it has become unchallengeable dogma.

America has been the exception to the G7’s enthusiasm, having repeatedly refused to ratify any of the climate change treaties even when, as now, the U.S. administration was in the hands of climate “emergency” zealots who signed them. Partly as a result, the United States under the Trump administration was able both to reduce its carbon emissions and to re-emerge as an energy super-power by liberating “clean, green” natural gas from the land by fracking.

Everybody agrees: the end is near!

Oddly, even masochistically, President Biden was elected to reverse this policy and to embrace the Paris conference aim of achieving Net-Zero emissions by 2050. Seeing this as an opportunity to entrench Net-Zero as a legally-binding international obligation on all governments, the G7 and the IEA each issued a report at around the same time, respectively making the political and the technical case for the inevitability of Net-Zero.

There was neither deception nor coyness about this simultaneity; the G7 applauded the IEA for its help. And the joint advocacy is expected to generate overwhelming diplomatic endorsement all the way to the next climate conference this fall in Glasgow. You can read the G7 report here and the IEA report here.

But you should read both with a skeptic eye. Here, for instance, is one of the most important paragraphs in the G7 report [italics mine]:

In this context, we will phase out new direct government support for carbon intensive international fossil fuel energy, except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, in a manner that is consistent with an ambitious, clearly defined pathway towards climate neutrality in order to keep 1.5°C within reach, in line with the long-term objectives of the Paris Agreement and best available science. Consistent with this overall approach and recognizing that continued global investment in unabated coal power generation is incompatible with keeping 1.5°C within reach, we stress that international investments in unabated coal must stop now and commit to take concrete steps towards an absolute end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021, including through Official Development Assistance, export finance, investment, and financial and trade promotion support. We commit to reviewing our official trade, export and development finance policies towards these objectives. We further call on other major economies to adopt these commitments.

Sounds impressive, right? It’s a wordy elaboration of the idea—relentlessly canvassed in climate emergency propaganda—that we can kill coal by cutting off government subsidies to it and thus making it a bad investment. But as my italics show, the governments are building escape hatches into their commitments at almost every point. They will phase out new and direct government subsidies to coal except in limited circumstances at the discretion of each country, i.e., when a government wants to subsidize coal.

Similarly, they’ll take concrete steps to end subsidies for unabated coal. That’s interesting. The official definition of unabated coal is “the use of coal without any technologies to substantially reduce its CO2 emissions, such as carbon capture and storage.” Carbon capture is the technology, still in large part theoretical, that’s cited as one important way in which carbon emissions can be reduced or eliminated in, for instance, the manufacture of concrete. You can be sure that when carbon capture has become a more practical possibility—or even before that—the governments of coal-producing countries will find that their coal is magically no longer unabated.

And they would have a point. The possibility of carbon capture makes the case against fossil fuels much less strong than it otherwise seems—and certainly more attractive than the policies and lifestyle changes that the IEA report lists as necessary to the achievement of Net-Zero.

I’ve written many times before about the lifestyle changes and their lack of electoral appeal. Here’s Irwin Stelzer, the U.S. economist and entrepreneur, making those points with dispatch:

It is simply unrealistic to expect the world’s politicians to rally support for net-zero emissions by 2050 by telling them there can be no more oil and gas furnaces for sale by 2025, half of air travel will have to cease unless emissions-free fuels are developed, car trips must be replaced with walking and cycling, no permits will be issued to develop new oil and gas fields, and no coal plant will be constructed unless fitted with currently unavailable emission-catching equipment.

That unrealism becomes more risky when we look at the IEA’s coldly realistic analysis of the innovations that will be required to make these lifestyle sacrifices worthwhile in terms of emissions reduction:

Innovation cycles for early stage clean energy technologies are much more rapid in the NZE  than what has typically been achieved historically, and most clean energy technologies that  have not been demonstrated at scale today reach markets by 2030 at the latest. This means  the time from first prototype to market introduction is on average 20 percent faster than the fastest  energy technology developments in the past, and around 40 percent faster than was the case for  solar PV.

What’s being proposed by the G7 and IEA is a vast leap into the dark—maybe the literal dark unless renewables become much more reliable than they have been to the present.

And away we go!

That may be why the  G7’s final plea in the quote above: We further call on other major economies to adopt these commitments” shows no sign of being accepted and implemented by either the big energy-producing countries (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Australia) or the big energy-consuming countries (India, China, and most of the Third World).

Maybe the G7 should heed the IEA’s warning that without such international cooperation, Net-Zero simply can’t be achieved. And if possible, before we’ve spent our children’s and grandchildren's inheritance on it.

Black Monolith or Energy Black Hole?

Remember the famous scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when the monolith first appears? The proto-humans all gather round and practically worship the thing as a god. The same sort of thing is going on in Hawaii as we speak, except the monolith is one giant freaking battery and the worshippers are not ignorant apes, but enviro-nuts, which are pretty much the same thing now that I think about it.

The Kapolei Energy Storage (KES) project is being built on eight acres of land in Kapolei on the island of Oahu. When complete, the giant battery will be capable of storing up to 565 megawatt hours of electricity and dispatching up to 185 megawatts. In other words, it can put 185 megawatts onto the Hawaii grid for up to three hours.

By law, all electricity generated in the state of Hawaii is supposed to be produced using 100 percent renewable fuels by the year 2045. The island’s lone coal-fired power plant, with a rated capacity of 203 MW, is due to be forcibly retired next year. Plus Power, the company developing KES, says the battery will enable the grid to operate reliably once the coal plant goes down for good: “The 2022 completion of the KES project will ensure that the AES coal-fired plant will end operations, supporting the state’s goal of shifting from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy generation.”

Average hourly demand in Hawaii is about 1,000 megawatts. That’s average demand, peak demand – which is what really matters when talking about grid stability – is considerably higher. But, for purposes of this analysis, we’ll use the average, which leads us to an important question: can a battery that can satisfy a little less than 20 percent of demand for a period of three hours replace a coal-fired power plant that has the capacity to satisfy 2- percent of demand more or less continuously?

The answer, which should be obvious to any high-school physics student, is no. A battery does not produce electricity, it’s just a place for electricity produced elsewhere to hang out for a while. In the case of the state of Hawaii, most of that electricity is, has been and will continue to be produced by burning oil. Roughly 65 to 70 percent of Hawaii’s electricity is generated by combustion of petroleum liquids according to data provided by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Funny, it doesn't look like a monolith.

About 17 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources, primarily wind and solar. That’s not bad, but it’s not anything close to the 100 percent goal. Worse, it’s likely that the battery will be primarily charged using electricity produced by burning oil, not by using electricity generated from renewable sources. The problem is the bugaboo that always affects wind and solar: capacity factor.

Capacity factor is a measure of how much electricity a power generation asset produces compared to what it theoretically can produce. If a plant is rated at 100 megawatts, but generates on average 40 megawatts, we say its capacity factor is forty per cent. Most nukes operate at capacity factors in the high nineties. Coal fired base-load plants are generally in the eighties, sometimes the low nineties.

Wind and solar have crappy factors because, even in Hawaii, the sun don’t always shine and the winds don’t always blow. Solar panels don’t have much to do at night and their efficiency drops significantly on cloudy days. Wind turbines can’t operate in calms or near-calms and, perversely, also have to shut down if the wind is too strong.

The Descent of Man: Feeling good about feeling good.

Again using EIA data, we find that last year the combined capacity factor for wind and solar was about 27%. So, while the total capacity of all renewable generation assets on Hawaii, 746 megawatts, sounds impressive compared to average daily demand, those assets will only generate about 200 megawatts on average. And when they are generating electricity it makes a whole lot more sense to pack it on the grid than sending it on a short vacation to the battery. The only time the battery will be charged using renewables is during those rare instances where there is a significant excess of renewable power. Most of the time, it’ll be charged up courtesy of fossil-fuel combustion.

Of course the battery will make a fine story for those who don’t understand how electricity works and allow eco-nuts to feel good about themselves. Will it do much of anything to help Hawaii meet its 100 per cent renewables mandate? Nope.

Lunacy in the U.K.

Over at NR's Capital Matters, Andrew Stuttaford has an excellent post about the costs of Net-Zero for the U.K., which should serve as a bit of a warning for the U.S. and any other country that wants to go down that nutty path.

Long story short, Theresa May foolishly committed the country to achieving Net-Zero by 2050 (Stuttaford describes this as "a last desperate, if unnecessary, effort to ensure that she would be remembered as one of Britain’s worst prime ministers), while dismissing out of hand the Chancellor of the Exchequer's concerns "that such a target would cost £1 trillion and could thus require spending cuts to public services."

No Maggie Thatcher, she.

Then the entertaining-but-disinterested-in-the-details Boris Johnson became prime minister, and rather than change course, he doubled down. Presumably he thought that this would help the Conservative Party hold on to educated and affluent Britons even as the party brings more working class voters from Labour's traditional heartlands into the fold.

This is, unfortunately, a short-sighted political calculation. Because once the costs start becoming clear, those new Tories will quickly become ex-Tories, and many of the voters this is designed to appeal to will be a lot less affluent.

To focus on just one aspect of Stuttaford's analysis, to make Net-Zero's math almost work, the Johnson government is calling for a 20-fold increase in the number of heat pumps installed annually by 2028, and this "in a country where less than 1 percent of the homes use the technology." Which is to say, there isn't currently a booming industry for their installation. Heat pumps also cost about three times more than gas boilers, but the Johnson government are going to be pressuring millions of Brits to replace the latter with the former. They also take up a lot more space, are more expensive to operate, and work best in well-insulated houses -- not exactly Britain's strong suit.

Johnson and Co. flirted with the idea of banning gas boilers in all homes by 2035, but they quickly backpedaled, recognizing that forcing millions of voters to spend thousands of dollars to adopt an inferior technology to heat their drafty homes was maybe not the wisest course of action for a party that wants to keep winning elections. They've eased up on that timeline a bit, but have remained firm on keeping gas boilers out of new homes, thus inflating building costs at a time when the U.K.'s chronic housing shortage is looking like it will be one of the hottest political issues of the next decade or more.

BoJo would be better off pivoting in that direction, trying to make Great Britain a place where ordinary people can afford to own a home and raise a family, rather than working so hard to get a pat on the head from the global elite who will never forgive him for Brexit anyway.

A Carbon-Neutral Deity?

Relativity permeates this earthly realm. Not Einstein’s but the common or garden variety of judging people and things against other people and things. For example, when Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, emerged from Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit he was condemned by the usual suspects for lagging behind the U.S., the U.K., and others, in not absolutely committing to net-zero emissions by 2050. On the other hand, he earned plaudits from the local conservative media rump for standing his ground; albeit much greener ground than he occupied a few years ago.

A conservative-leaning cartoonist in the Australian newspaper, Johannes Leak, caught the mood. Boris Johnson, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern and Greta Thunberg were pictured at Joe Biden’s Mad Hatter’s tea party mocking Morrison approaching the table soberly with his “measurable achievements and realistic goals.” Accordingly, he basks in the glow of being less idiotically alarmist than his peers.

Of course, Australia’s so-called “achievements” (regarding his "realistic goals," more below) rest on a pipsqueak reduction in CO2 emissions which don’t move the gauge at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Nevertheless, in percentage terms, it’s relatively better than most. That’s what counts, apparently.

Whatever...

Is everything relative? Are there no absolutes? For a dwindling proportion of men and women there remains a God. For climate alarmists (and that’s now about everyone who’s anyone) a new absolute has emerged. This is vitally important. Religions need absolutes. If you are going have interfaith dialogue with the Pope, which John Kerry has just begun, you gotta have something to show. I suggest that carbon neutrality fits the bill.

“We have God, the way, the truth and the life,” the Pope averred.

“Well, Your Holiness, we have carbon neutrality, scary projections and wind turbines preventing the planet from becoming a fiery hellhole.”

“I think we've got a deal,” says the Pope.

OK, it might not have gone down quite like that. But there is no doubting the religiosity of climate change. And religions need an absolute.

Forget Kyoto and Paris and the relativity of comparing by how much this or that country has reduced its own emissions since 2000 or 2005. All now equally have to aim for, dare I say, the sacred number of net-zero. But what does it mean? Akin, if you like, to the old question about the meaning of God. I searched:

An Australian website called Carbon Neutral seemed a promising place to start. This what I found: “Carbon neutrality means that you have to reduce your climate impact to net zero.” OK, I think. But disappointment follows: “As it is almost impossible to avoid the creation of greenhouse gasses emissions entirely, you will need to balance these emissions through the purchase of carbon offsets.” Hmm? There seems to be a fallacy of composition going on here. Sure, any individual, company, state or country can buy offsets. But not all. Short, that is, of Martians turning up with carbon credits in their space knapsacks.

I turned, at random, to the website of OVO Energy, a U.K. "green energy" company. Here I found the answer. This is what it means in terms of what must be done.

We (the world) must switch to 100 percent reliance on renewable energy for electricity, accompanied by battery storage. We must insulate houses, install low-carbon heating and smart energy-saving products. Switch to electric cars but, note, as making them creates emissions we really need to shift to using public transport. And, as air travel is an issue until it is carbon free, we need to replace vacations with, wait for it, “staycations.” Fits in, I suppose, with Covid-fearing isolationism. Farm animals too are a problem, so we need to move to plant-based diets. Massive forest planting completes the future carbon-neutral nirvana.

Welcome to Cloud Cuckoo Land.

As anyone of common sense can see this is completely unachievable; apart from being undesirable for those not keen on regressing to a rude state of nature. But at least there’s an honesty about it, which we don’t hear from politicians, who simply repeat ‘net-zero by 2050’ as a mantra to signify fidelity to the faith. Even arithmetic has fallen victim to the faithful. To wit, take Liddell, a coal power station in New South Wales.

Built in 1973, it can still deliver up to about 1,700 MWh of dispatchable power. It’s due for closure in couple of years. Mooted to replace it: a mixture of wind, solar, batteries and gas. Of these, only gas can provide 24x7 power. In case there is any doubt. Wind is intermittent. The sun doesn’t shine of a night. Battery power drains quickly.

Consider wind. Wind turbines on average deliver at best only 30% of their capacity. A typical turbine with a capacity of 1.67 MW produces just 0.5 MWh on average. Thirty-four hundred such turbines would be required to provide 1,700 MWh; occupying about 60 acres per MW of capacity, or 340,000 acres of land. And hold on, an infinite number would be insufficient when the wind isn’t blowing.

To infinity and beyond!

In other words, wind power is expensive, land-intensive and useless. No ifs or buts. It has to be taken out of the 24x7 equation; as does the sun, as do batteries. This leaves only gas. The idea is to provide 660 MWhs of gas. Let’s see, when I went to school, 660 plus zero, or something very small, does not come close to equalling 1700. Never mind, there is still plenty of coal power around to tap to fill gaps.

The Liddell story is like many. Renewable energy (RE) only works now, when it does work, because it is a small part of the energy mix feeding into grids, which borrow from dispatchable power sources in case of need. Watch out when those dispatchable power sources become fewer and fewer. Unless, that is, of course, Kerry’s yet uninvented technologies come to the rescue. After all, there is no imaginable limit to what can be achieved come uninvented technologies. In other words, come miracles befitting the new religion and its totemic absolute of carbon neutrality.

I noted above that Morrison was lauded for having “realistic goals.” Really? He’s pinning his hopes on reaching net-zero on green hydrogen and carbon capture; to which he’s committing oodles of taxpayers’ money. Relatively speaking, he’s just a little less besotted with uninvented technologies and the new religion than is Kerry.

Talking the Talk on 'Climate Change'

What are we to make of an article by William Hague, a former U.K. Foreign Secretary from 2010 to 2014, that predicts Britain’s armed forces may one day be sent into action abroad to safeguard the natural environment from such predators as oil companies and loggers? Quoted by the Daily Mail from an article in the journal Environmental Affairs, Lord Hague writes:

In the past the UK has been willing to use armies to secure and extract fossil fuels. But in the future, armies will be sent to ensure oil is not drilled and to protect natural environments.

That prediction is startling from several standpoints. To begin with, it could be read as confirming a frequent left-wing allegation—hitherto hotly denied by the British and other Western governments—that in the two Gulf Wars the West intervened not to prevent Iraqi aggression or to stabilize the Middle East but to get its hands on Arab oil. I don’t think that’s true, as a matter of fact, but if it is, it’s a big admission and a big news story. And it was merely the first of several startling predictions.

The Mail’s succinct report was a paraphrase of a 6000-word article, “The Great Convergence,” by the former foreign secretary in a new journal, Environmental Affairs, in London. I don’t suppose Mr. Hague thinks the paper’s summary did any favors to his long and detailed argument which seeks to show how Britain (and by extension the West) should bring about a convergence between its policies on climate, foreign affairs, and towards China to ensure their all-round success.

He may be wrong about the Mail, as I shall argue below, but there’s little doubt that Hague’s article kicks off a serious attempt by the U.K. and international establishments to explain how their policy of Net-Zero carbon emissions by 2050 fits comfortably, even necessarily, into their other principal foreign policies like a missing jigsaw piece.

Go on, give it a try!

The signs of a political influence operation are all there. Policy Exchange is one of three influential conservative think tanks close to the government. Environmental Affairs is an impressive new venture. Its contributors include leading figures from the global climate change establishment and the U.S. foreign policy establishment, notably General David Petraeus. And its first publication arrives at just the point when governments are suddenly nervous of two fundamental political problems with Net-Zero:

For already there are growing symptoms of domestic and international resistance to Net-Zero—as Hague himself points out. His “Great Convergence,” rather like the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset,” is a rhetorical device to shore it up by combining it with policies supported by other influential constituencies such as the defense establishment and China hawks. Hague’s opening gambit therefore is to establish that climate change is a threat not only to the prosperity of nations but also to their national security and thus to global security as a whole.

That’s a theme increasingly heard from Western governments—and I’ve expressed skepticism about it before. But the former Foreign Secretary said it first in 2010, and he thinks his forecast has been borne out by events:

In Iraq, farmers were driven to join ISIS once opportunities to provide for their families dried up along with local water sources. In Somalia, jihadists have cut off water supplies to punish areas of the country outside of their control. And in Syria, social unrest, exacerbated by droughts driving Syrian farmers into cities, spilled over into civil war just a few short months after my remarks, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions scattered across the world.

But the problem with these examples is that they are the effects of civil war, terrorism, and oppressive government rather than of "climate change." It’s possible that climate change may have played a part in making them worse—as the Russian winter complicated Napoleon’s invasion of Russia—but it would never have caused them in the absence of war, terrorism, and oppression. Most of Syria’s neighbors, after all, have helped refugees rather than persecuting and robbing them. And there are far easier and less dangerous ways of adapting to small rises in temperature than press-ganging your neighbors or ethnically cleansing them.

One way to stop climate change.

Not that Hague, a prudent statesman aiming at pacific solutions, is anxious to send in gunboats. His main stress is on diplomacy and trade which he would send in ahead of the troops:

[A]s climate change climbs the hierarchy of important political issues, it will be increasingly difficult to square our climate change policy with agreeing to a free trade deal with a country that clears a football pitch-sized area of the Amazon rainforest every minute.

He's talking here about Brazil, but he could equally be talking about China and coal-powered stations, or Saudi Arabia and oil, or Russia and pipelines. So let’s not underestimate the boldness of Hague’s statement here. It overturns something very important.

Free trade is a central element in the kind of liberal conservatism that Hague, Cameron, and Boris all represent—and that global economic institutions have upheld in practice since the end of the Cold War. It’s how they believe mankind makes progress—by developing and trading new ideas and products in peaceful competition between nations. Hague’s willingness to subordinate that method of human progress to the stern sacrifices of Net-Zero shows the extent to which climate policy has become an dogma overriding all other considerations in Western policy. It’s now an unquestionable article of faith.

Yet if we are to base military, diplomatic, and even trade policy on the economic and security consequences of climate change, shouldn’t we also take into account the consequences of the policy of combatting climate change? Governments candidly admit that Net-Zero is likely to impose heavy costs on the economy and to require seriously unwelcome life-style changes from their populations.

But it seems shortsighted and rash to ignore the likelihood that these consequences would create tensions--tensions at least as serious as those Hague predicts from climate change—between different social, ethnic, and religious groups within countries. And that goes double for international tensions between countries.

Welcome to Syria.

After all, the potential international conflicts that Net-Zero seems likely to foster include: angry demands from the developing world for decarbonization subsidies from the West; broken Net-Zero promises from a China surging ahead on cheap, reliable fossil fuels; and attempts by a declining West to compel the rest of the world to implement Net-Zero targets—attempts that fail and prompt airy talk of intervention.

Hence the value of popular journalism—seen here in the Daily Mail’s selective compression of Hague’s 6000 words into one simple conclusion: “In the future, armies will be sent to ensure oil is not drilled and to protect natural environments.” It brings us hard up against reality.

Under whose authority would these troops be sent abroad? Obviously, Hague was not proposing a Western coalition of the willing to halt Brazilian logging or shut down Bahrain. That would be too much like a re-run of the Iraq War for comfort’s sake. There would have to be a U.N. force of some kind under the authority of the Security Council. Consider, then, the following three points:

  1. Russia and China are among the world’s largest energy-producing and energy-consuming countries respectively.
  2. Both countries are also two of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and enjoy the right of veto on any U.N. use of force.
  3. And there is zero chance that either country would allow any U.N. use of force that threatened its vital economic interests.

Indeed, only last month a Security Council debate on whether climate change should be treated as a threat to international security revealed (not surprisingly) that there was support from India and other energy-rich and energy-hungry countries for Chinese-Russian skepticism on the point. Only a very small country is at risk of being invaded by British or other Western troops for crimes against the climate.

Lord Hague makes a fair point when he says about climate policy that Britain "cannot get away with talking the talk without walking the walk" indefinitely. Since we can’t walk the walk in reality, however, maybe we should be a little more careful about talking the talk.

Waiting for Genghis Khan

The Guardian has a cheeky post entitled "Why Genghis Khan was good for the planet":

Genghis Khan, in fact, may have been not just the greatest warrior but the greatest eco-warrior of all time, according to a study by the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Energy. It has concluded that the 13th-century Mongol leader's bloody advance, laying waste to vast swaths of territory and wiping out entire civilisations en route, may have scrubbed 700m tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere – roughly the quantity of carbon dioxide generated in a year through global petrol consumption – by allowing previously populated and cultivated land to return to carbon-absorbing forest.

An amusing thought. But it'd have been funnier if we hadn't just sat through a year of pandemic and lockdowns which, at least early on, the green movement were positively giddy about. Remember when anti-human phrases like "The Earth is Healing Itself" trended on Twitter almost daily in the opening months of the pandemic? When we heard over and over again that, because of the pandemic, "carbon emissions are down!," "The air is cleaner!," and (my personal favorite) "The fish are returning to Venice!"? Of course, this crowing died down a bit when the mounting death toll and cratering employment numbers made it just too ghoulish.

Which is to say, the idea that environmentalists might be in favor of a modern day Mongolian warlord thinning out the human population to help us achieve Net-Zero isn't actually that ridiculous. That being so, it is worth noting that when The Guardian jokes that calling for the return of the Great Khan might "not [be] a guaranteed vote-winner for the Green party's next manifesto," they really just mean "let's not give the game away too soon."

What Is 'Stakeholder Capitalism'? Part One

The concept of “stakeholder capitalism,” proposed by Klaus Schwab in his various books on the subject—in particular COVID 19: The Great Reset, co-authored with Thierry Malleret, and his latest foray in the field Stakeholder Capitalism, which faithfully reprises the points and principles of the earlier volume—is far more insidious than it sounds. From the perspective of the Left, the progressivist, the woke, “Capitalism” is, of course, a loaded word, but it remains the engine of the world’s most advanced economies, and its kinetics cannot be dispensed with. Market-dominated societies are perforce competitive and revenue-driven.

“Stakeholder,” however, is a detergent term, bleaching the semantic grime from its verbal companion, which is why it functions as a remedial descriptor. It comes across as friendly, compassionate and inviting. In its current usage, the word derives from the education industry, where it has become ubiquitous, highlighting the educators’ presumably favonian sympathies toward their students, fawningly regarded as “stakeholders.”

Originating in John Dewey’s child-centered, student-oriented educational theory, which he called “progressivist,” the idea has proliferated to the present day when students are empowered to issue demands, decide whom they want to be taught by and whom they want to be fired. It explains why we should be wary when it is used to qualify a social and economic program as vast and disruptive as the Great Reset.

Trust me, I'm German.

Placed under the loupe, stakeholder capitalism reveals itself as a sobriquet for international socialism. The corporate impetus is no longer exclusively directed toward profits but will be supervised, guided and restrained by government intervention. Or so we are led to believe.

In the wake of the pandemic, Schwab writes in The Great Reset, “Societies could be poised to become either more egalitarian or more authoritarian…[ E]conomies, when they recover, could take the path of more inclusivity and more attuned to the needs of our global commons.” Ironically, as history has proven time and again, in order to become more egalitarian, society will of necessity become more authoritarian. It’s a dynamic that approximates to a historical law. 

Schwab assesses the social and political impact of the pandemic in the five domains of Society, Economy, Environment, Technology and Geopolitics. This is what he calls the Macro Reset (of which the Micro Reset—industry and business—and the Individual Reset are specifications), a transformation which involves a “redefinition of the social contract” in the direction of “stakeholder capitalism and environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.”

The result will be a “better world,” portrayed as “more inclusive, more equitable, and more respectful of Mother Nature.” He envisions a tectonic shift from capital to labor, of wealth distribution from the affluent to the needy, and of greater government interventions in the functioning of the economic system, customary arrangements, social architectures and cultural dynamics in order to ensure “global sustainability.”

It's easy, too!

A proper management of the economy and social life will entail a number of salient factors. Companies, for example, will have to reconceive their “fundamental purpose” from unbridled financial profit to that of “serving all their stakeholders, not only those who hold shares.” Wages will be raised and substantial health benefits guaranteed, regardless of the bottom line. The massive expansion of stimulus funding will create “37 million nature-positive jobs” and a Green economy will be resolutely promoted to fight climate change, generating employment and profits along the way. There exists, plainly, not a shred of empirical evidence to justify Schwab’s prognostics.

It is hard to say whether Schwab’s arguments—or some of them—are cleverly devious or childishly naïve. For example, he urges us not to fear the dystopian fatality of entrenched tech-and-government surveillance following recovery, since it is “for those who govern and each of us personally to control and harness the benefits of technology without sacrificing our individual and collective values and freedom.” This analysis seems a colossal oxymoron. Surveillance will be pervasive but our values and freedoms can somehow be preserved.

When he argues that governments must do “whatever it takes and whatever it costs” to ensure our wellbeing, otherwise people afraid of the virus will not shop, travel or dine out, thus hindering economic recovery, he appears oblivious to the fact that it was intense government panic-mongering that led precisely to the adverse consequences he wishes to avoid—probably the greatest political error of a generation. Is Schwab deceiving us or deceiving himself? Such instances of double-think can be multiplied throughout his text.

As to be expected, Schwab has bought wholesale into many contemporary shibboleths and intellectual sedatives. He enthusiastically accepts the dodgy hypothesis of "global warming" and is indifferent to both the uselessness and devastation wrought by the costly scam of Green energy as a replacement for reliable fossil fuels. “The climate risk is unfolding more slowly than the pandemic did, but it will have even more severe consequences”—a premise that has been robustly challenged by some of the most reputable and knowledgeable researchers in the field.

Money for nothing, and stuff for free.

In The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab supports the accelerating “innovation in genetics, with synthetic biology now on the horizon,” involving “biotechnology techniques using RNA and DNA platforms… to develop vaccines faster than ever”—except that these substances are not vaccines but computer-like “operating systems” that alter “the unique mRNA sequence that codes for a protein,” and rely on pathogenic priming that can make people sicker than the disease would have.

In Stakeholder Capitalism, we learn that Schwab is all for “contact tracing” which “has an unequalled capacity and a quasi-essential place in the armoury needed to combat COVID-19”—the “quasi” is a bet hedger, just in case things go sideways. He is an avid supporter of Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook is a censuring giant, and regurgitates Zuckerberg’s deceptive and self-serving pitch that greater regulation is needed to hold companies accountable.

Schwab regards COVID-panic-stricken, shut-down countries like New Zealand as “trailblazers.” He is a Net-Zero Telamon for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 with their animus against individual property rights. He has proposed a scheme of “non-financial metrics” to chart a company’s progress toward virtue, and affirms that “such virtuous instincts can become a feature of our economic systems,” assuring us they will continue “creating prosperity for all their citizens and businesses.” John O’Sullivan correctly notes that “the hairshirt economic policy of Net Zero [is] a dystopian delusion.”

[Part two tomorrow]

 

Will the U.N. Security Council Rescue Net-Zero?

Constructing and imposing an international orthodoxy is a never-ending task, especially when the orthodoxy imposes heavy costs on those countries and organizations that support it. That’s more clearly true about the orthodoxy on “climate change”—i.e., it’s an “emergency” that means global “catastrophe” very soon unless we take brave corrective measures to avert it—than about any other global “crisis.”

A quite small number of U.N. official have been the drivers of this diplomatic agitprop since it started at the Rio de Janeiro UN Earth Conference in 1992. Of the UN Secretariat’s estimated 37,000 officials responsible to the Secretary General, only eight enjoy the title of UN Secretary, and a further fifty are Deputy Secretaries. In short fewer than a hundred diplomats and ex-politicians have succeeded in cajoling and corralling most governments into adopting policies that require economic sacrifices on their populations for aims that are at the very least questionable. It’s a astounding achievement of sorts.

A questionable orthodoxy needs to be shored up against questions and costs, however, and plenty of both have been coming home to roost in the last year: questioning books by previous believers in the “climate emergency” such as Michael Shellenberger as well as from established sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg; and soberly realistic estimates of the costs of “Net Zero” by 2050, the main plank of UN climate policy, in terms of both greater pressures on over-burdened government budgets and downward life-style changes for the voters. Shrewd political analysts—and that describes the UN Secretariat very well—know that they need additional measure to sustain a potentially rickety consensus.

The science is settled, comrades.

Until now, the biggest gun in their arsenal has been the notion of “legally binding” climate treaties that will compel governments to stick with the unpopular consequences of “Net-Zero” policies as they become inescapably evident. It’s a confidence trick. Politicians go along with it because it’s also a method diverting blame for Net-Zero away from them onto the treaty with the argument that “we have to accept international law.”

But there are commonsense limits to that. No government will accept massive economic damage and huge political unpopularity simply because it, or more likely one of its predecessors, unwisely signed a “legally binding” but masochistic and unenforceable treaty.

Some governments won’t even sign a treaty with such dire results in the first place. President Obama never submitted the Paris Accords on Net-Zero for Senate ratification because he knew they’d be rejected. President Trump (while delivering a greater reduction in carbon emissions than any signatory nation because “fracking” fueled a switch to cleaner greener natural gas) was therefore able to withdraw America’s signature on it because Obama’s “executive agreement” had no constitutional force.

And if President Biden seriously intends to make his own switch back to supporting the Paris “treaty” effective, he’ll have to submit the Accords for the Senate ratification from which Obama prudently shrank—or risk another withdrawal of the U.S endorsement by another Trump.

I don’t think Biden will take that risk. But if he does, and given his hostility to fracking, it’s possible that he’ll go down in history as the president who both signed the Paris Accords and presided over a large increase in net carbon emissions. Watch this space.

It’s because the "legally enforceable" gambit is not really enforceable on sovereign states, especially those with democratic governments, that the UN bureaucrats have had recourse to a weapon that is more under their control: namely, bringing the UN Security Council into play.

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here.

The UNSC is the single most important and powerful institution in the UN system. According to its own website: “All members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to member states, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that member states are then obligated to implement under the Charter.”

This makes the UNSC a very big deal. Its enforcement powers in dealing with “threats to peace and international security” include economic sanctions, arms embargoes, financial penalties and restrictions, and travel bans; the severance of diplomatic relations; blockade; or even collective military action. And if climate change were to be declared such a threat, that would allow—in theory at least—the Security Council to employ these enforcement mechanisms in dealing with it.

Some governments and international agencies have been arguing that climate change is a threat to international security for some time. My take is a highly skeptical one:

[T]hinking about such matters should not be a priority. In comparison with countering the most advanced weaponry being developed by the Russian and Chinese militaries (and also with subversive methods of asymmetric warfare), holding down carbon emissions is a third-order consideration. Truth be told, climate change is not a question of military security at all unless some other power is weaponizing climate change against NATO. That kind of thing happens a lot in James Bond movies—usually through the agency of a mad billionaire. . .  Not, however, anywhere else.

But the United Nations “Climate Emergency” caravan rumbles on regardless. One month ago the UN Security Council had a debate on whether the Council should treat climate change as a “threat to national security,” and all the international chart-toppers were present to sing along from the alarmist handbook.

The session was opened by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and other speakers included President Macron of France, Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, the Biden administration’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry, and a large host of prime ministers, foreign ministers, and other “eminent persons” (an actual UN term.) It’s not necessary to plough through the entire debate, however, because all the speeches said much the same thing, which in the case of the BBC’s long-standing television naturalist David Attenborough was: “If we act fast enough we can reach a new stable state” and the UN conference in Glasgow next November “may be our last opportunity to make this step change.”

My suspicion is, however, that Glasgow will only prove to be the next last opportunity to save the world with many more to come along as the conference circuit.

Et tu, Brute?

That suspicion is fueled by the fact that it’s not until paragraph nine of the comprehensive account of the discussion in the UN’s own press release that we come to the speech of the Russian Federation’s representative, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who wondered skeptically if climate change issues were really the “root cause” of the conflicts cited by Kerry, Johnson, Macron, and almost all the other dignitaries.

The connection between the climate and conflicts can be looked at with regard to only certain countries and regions, talking about this in general terms and in a global context has no justification.

He concluded that, for Russia, climate change was an issue to be dealt with not by the Security Council with its array of diplomatic pressures and economic and military sanctions, but by the less powerful specialist UN agencies armed only with scientific and economic expertise.

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, after repeating China’s familiar pledge to meet the Net-Zero carbon targets ten years after the West when it would have enjoyed forty years of economic growth built on fossil fuels, said much the same thing:

International climate cooperation should be advanced within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In one of the conference’s most impressive speeches, India’s environment minister, Prakash Javdekar, argued that countries should meet their earlier targets for carbon emission reductions before embarking on ambitious new ones—a criticism that was all the more powerful because India is one of the few countries to have met its targets. But he too went on to express skepticism about the idea that "climate change" was the cause of conflict.

These three speeches amounted to a Niagara of cold water pouring over the argument that an imminent climate emergency is a threat to peace and security requiring the UN Security Council to intervene to force massive carbon reductions on reluctant member-states.

Consider now that China and India are the two most important economies in Asia, and that Russia is an energy superpower as well. Consider also that Russia and China are two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with the power of veto over its decisions, and that India is the Asian country with the best claim to joining them there. When you add up all those facts, the speeches calling for the UNSC to push a reluctant world to implement the hairshirt economic policy of Net-Zero are soon revealed as a dystopian delusion.

To adapt an old gag: the dogs may bark, but the caravan has ground to a halt.

Making an End-Run Around Democracy, Part Four

When this four-part series began a few weeks ago, it posed an intellectual puzzle: why do governments, political parties, and individual officeholders believe that the policy of Net-Zero carbon emissions that they themselves admit will make the lives of voters much poorer and more burdensome will nonetheless prove popular and win elections for them?

I’ve already given some answers to that question in the first three parts. But the best answer to it is that networks of NGOs are now seeking to alter our definition of democracy in ways that transfer the final decisions on environmental and energy policies away from the voters in elections onto more “truly representative” methods of policy-making. That way, the voters would become impotent spectators as other people had the final say on everything from the cars we drive to what we eat—and the politicians won’t have to worry about winning elections.

But who are these "other people"? And how are they to be selected?

We're from the government and we're here to boss you around.

The answer to those questions is an ancient one: they are ordinary citizens and the process by which they are given power is selection by lot as in ancient Greece. It is argued now, as then, that ordinary citizens should play a larger part in governing and the way to ensure they do so is for them to draw lots for office rather than our choosing between different candidates. Most of us call this blind luck. Modern political scientists call it “sortition” and it tends to be supported by those who don’t like the policies that emerge from the system of popular elections for MPs and congressmen.

Brett Henig, the co-founder of the Sortition Foundation, defends the idea as follows: “Our politics is broken, our politicians aren’t trusted, and the political system is distorted by powerful vested interests. […] if we replaced elections with sortition and made our parliament truly representative of society, it would mean the end of politicians.”

That’s self-delusion, as a moment’s thought reveals. Once the citizen representatives were actually placed in power by lot, they would cease to be ordinary citizens and become subject to the same ambitions, status anxiety, lobbying pressures from vested interests, and incentives (i.e., temptations) from their own weaknesses not very differently from today’s MPs. They would become, in a word, politicians.

But there is an even stronger objection to sortition, namely that it cuts the link between the representative and his constituents that makes government by the people a reality. The MP chosen by lot isn’t elected by voters who share his political opinions and support the policies he advocates, and they aren’t be able to throw the rascal out if he betrays or disappoints them. He is the representative of chance, as much as any monarch, and he can afford to ignore their disapproval and betray them unconcernedly.

That is perhaps what makes sortition appealing to Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, the Green Party, and other radical environmentalists with little political following who have no realistic chance of winning an election on their policy platforms. (The Greens have one MP in the U.K. Parliament.)

No, really, trust us.

Whatever the reason, they and their U.K. parliamentary allies have succeeded in inserting sortition into the official legislative process on energy and climate policy. Their eventual aim seems to be a “national” citizen’s assembly chosen by lot outside the parliamentary system, but they are sensibly starting with baby steps, and the first one is the U.K. Climate Assembly. As Ben Pile describes its birth in his skeptical study, The UK Climate Assembly: Manufacturing Mandates:

On 20 June 2019, six parliamentary select committees announced that a climate assembly would be formed, ‘to explore views on the fair sharing of potential costs of different policy choices’ and to ‘inform political debate and Government policy making’.

The Assembly was to be composed of volunteers from the general public who would agree to discuss different policy choices following instruction from various levels of experts and advocates over six weekends. But though it's a semi-official body, founded by Parliament to advise the government on reforming and implementing legislation and funded in part by public money—about one quarter of its total cost—it bears little resemblance to such traditional and august bodies as a Royal Commission. It shows no sign of seriously attempting to represent or even examine a wide range of views on those topics. How does it look on closer scrutiny?

Mr. Pile’s analysis of how the U.K. Climate Assembly operated is well-documented (and footnoted), thorough, careful, and dispassionate. My sense is that he is a skeptic about the U.K.’s climate policies but not about climate change as such. His overwhelming concern is not to challenge “science” but to reveal the questionable ways in which public policy is made—potentially all public policy if a National Citizens’ Assembly were ever to become a reality. And what he has uncovered is disturbing.

To keep this column within manageable (and readable) length, I will consider only two of the Assembly’s structural flaws:

The first is that the Assembly’s selection of citizens violated the main principle of sortition: its randomness. Not only were the initial volunteers drawn from people who were willing to devote six weekends to discussing climate policy—that’s an anorak level of political interest—but the final 108 Assembly members had been whittled down further in accordance with “age, gender, educational background, ethnicity, home location and ‘attitude to climate change.’”

That last criterion was based on an opinion poll, almost certainly an “outlier” as Pile demonstrates, which assumed 85 percent of British voters are either “very” or “fairly concerned” about climate change. It therefore ensured a Climate Assembly that was equally concerned before it even began.

What could possibly go wrong?

The second was that most of the Climate Assembly funding and almost all its organization, personnel, and various Expert Leads, Advocates, and Informants were provided by the same kind of network of like-minded NGOs, academics, publicists, and activists in the Green movement that we saw a few columns ago in Dr. Fuller’s article. Here are some similar examples from Pile:

Greenpeace’s Doug Parr spoke to the assembly against investing confidence in technological solutions like greenhouse gas removal. Fernanda Balata, from the New Economics Foundation, argued for an ‘economic transformation’, locating the source of the problem of climate change within capitalism itself. Tony Juniper was introduced to the CA as being from UK environment quango, Natural England, but is best known from his previous role as Friends of the Earth England’s director between 2003 and 2008.

Were there no “Advocates” on a less Green side of the questions? Not needed, said one organizer, because climate science was already settled. That response was at best disingenuous, at worst dishonest.

The Climate Assembly was established to consider not the science of climate change but the full range of economic and social policies from agriculture to tourism designed to combat it. That includes the food we eat, the cars we drive, the countries we visit, and a great deal more. It is absurd to limit discussion of such matters to the far left of the environmentalist spectrum. But that is what the U.K. Climate Assembly did. And its report duly reproduced the wish-list policies of Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace as what the British people wanted in future policy—taxes on flying, restricting private cars, higher energy prices, etc., etc.

In reality the Climate Assembly was an exercise in politicians and activists talking to each other to keep their spirits up in the face of growing concern among “ordinary citizens” about the consequences of their common policy of Net-Zero. Pile calls it an exercise in “manufacturing consent” which is a nice way of describing an outrageous stitch-up. But how strong will that consent prove when the wind fails on cloudy days, electricity blackouts disable cars and home heating, the post brings demands for higher taxes and energy prices, and your MP calls asking for your vote in next week's election?

A storm is coming on the Chiltern Hills.