The Automobile of Tomorrow -- and Always Will Be?

Yesterday was “Battery Day,” the long-awaited moment when Elon Musk was to reveal Tesla’s breakthrough in battery technology that would make the electric car a real economic rival to the internal combustion engine. It was therefore a significant moment not only in the evolution of electric cars but also in the development of policy by governments and international agencies towards a switch from fossil fuels to cleaner and renewable sources of energy.

There’s an obvious link between these two trends. Petrol is the fossil fuel that provides the energy for the internal combustion engine that still powers the overwhelming majority of automobiles on the world’s roads. If it’s gradually replaced by electricity as the fuel powering cars, then one major source of demand for the world’s oil companies will shrink very substantially. And where automobiles go, other forms of energy consumption are likely to follow, notably home heating.

That at least is the intention of most Western governments. Britain’s Tory government, for instance, has decreed that the sale of petrol-driven automobiles will be prohibited by 2035. Ministers are considering bringing forward the date to 2030. There are pressures to speed up the transition from MPs in all parties—notably from a 100-strong group of moderate “One Nation” Tories. And this policy has received support from some unexpected backers, notably the company formerly known as British Petroleum, which, under its new CEO, Bernard Looney, has adopted an almost missionary stance in promoting an ambitious Green agenda.

Quick off the mark, but what about the long haul?

As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard also pointed out in a fascinating analysis of the future trends in the energy market, Looney intends to free his company “from the fossilised grip of his predecessors. Not content to declare a rhetorical Net-Zero target by 2050 -- who doesn’t these days? -- he has called for the U.K. to pull forward its ban on the sale of diesel and petrol cars to as early as 2030. “We’re up for it,” he says.

Mr. Looney is not quite the revolutionary he seems, of course. As Evans-Pritchard points out in the same article, BP is also “doubling down on liquefied natural gas” which is another fossil fuel.  And placing a large bet on the proposition that “natural gas with carbon capture” will become a far larger part of the energy market once the technology for carbon capture and storage has broken out of the laboratory. And having his research department look closely at the coming prospects for hydrogen as a fuel for everything from aircraft to home heating (at least as I read between Evans-Pritchard’s eloquent lines on that last point.)

Even with these qualifications,  the push for electric cars and the switch from oil go hand in powerful hand. Are there any reasons for caution on the side of the skeptical investor? Though most investors have not been very skeptical until now, I think there are.

To begin with, there is likely to be some consumer resistance to electric cars for the reasons that were first outlined by Thomas Edison to Henry Ford in 1894 when evaluating the latter’s petrol-fueled Quadricycle:

"Electric cars must be kept near to power stations. The storage battery is too heavy. Steam cars won't do, either, for they have to have a boiler and a fire. Your car is self-contained—carries its own power plant—no fire, no boiler, no smoke, and no steam. You have the thing. Keep at it."

Both men changed their minds about electric cars subsequently, and Ford embarked on developing one, but in the end abandoned the attempt. That said, some of Edison’s complaints about electric cars are echoed by drivers today. There’s still debate over whether they’re too slow—with admirers saying they’re actually quicker off the mark than conventional autos and detractors responding that quicker is not faster once they’re actually off the mark.

Genius at work, 1899.

Some of these deficiencies will doubtless be remedied by what is a self-consciously innovative industry, but whatever the reasons, polls suggest that consumers are for the moment nervous. A nationwide survey by the U.K.'s automotive trade body (admittedly an interested source), quoted by the Telegraph, found that 44 percent of motorists don't think they'll be ready to run a battery vehicle in 2035. Many say they can't see themselves ever owning one. So it’s not surprising that according to the same report, industry insiders now want, as so often, better government incentives for consumers to purchase electric cars. And when the politicians are talking of bringing the ban on selling petrol- and diesel-based vehicles from 2035 to 2030, the producers are talking of pushing it forward to later than 2035.

The second basis for caution is that as another Telegraph report points out, the minerals needed for the production of car batteries--nickel, cobalt, and lithium—face a number of market obstacles. They’re scarce, difficult to mine or refine, located in countries with bad environmental records, dangerously volatile (lithium), and all in all their supply looks to be falling behind demand.

“Their growing scarcity is a problem that is weighing heavy on not just Musk, but the entire electric car industry,” writes the Telegraph. “Demand for nickel is expected to increase six-fold by 2030, and supply isn't keeping up.” When that happens, prices rise. And the price of electric cars, though becoming more competitive, is higher than other cars and so already a negative market factor.

The third consideration is that electricity doesn’t grow on trees—that is, not until they’re cut down, transported, and fed into power stations. Or as the intellectually lively former Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, tweeted earlier this week: “I am often struck, in discussions about energy, by how many people talk of electricity as if it were a source of power rather than a medium. Your phone is probably coal-powered.”

So in order to replace disgraceful gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting conventional automobiles with vehicles powered by “clean” electricity, we have to generate much more electricity and make it available to drivers across the country via EV (or electric vehicle) charging points. That means more coal, gas, oil, or timber being fed into the power stations.

What also flows from this reality is that electric cars, however expensive in themselves, will be the cause of much larger costs in the form of a nationwide network of EV (for electric vehicle) charging points, not only as now in public places but in future in people’s homes as well.

In The Hidden Costs of Net Zero, Mike Travers, a distinguished engineer, estimates that the cost of installing EV charging points alone will be a considerable one—something on the order of £31 billion. (At present the U.K. has just five percent of the target number of public devices promised for the end of the decade.)

He goes on to estimate the impact not only of switching to electric cars but also of wider policies of decarbonizing, for instance, home heating, and concludes that the extra demand for electricity would overwhelm the existing system of electricity distribution and require massive infrastructure repair and development at a total bill of £410 billion, an average of £15,000 per household.

Even if we assume, as we must, that the second-order costs of electric vehicles alone would be much lower, these are such staggering figures that we look naturally look for alternatives to current policies, and that takes us down the route of innovation.

As Evans-Pritchard noted above, the titans are doing so. BP’s policies include both banking that carbon capture will give natural gas a longer life expectancy as a respectable energy source and, in the longer term, developing the potential of hydrogen as a versatile fuel, presumably by overcoming its dangerous volatility as tragically seen in the destruction of the Hindenberg.

The problem with innovation is that while it can be depended upon in general, it’s not a reliable solution in particular. Carbon capture is far from a sure thing. If it does ever emerge from the laboratory, however, its benefits need not be confined to natural gas. In principle at least it might make all fossil fuels clean or cleaner—gas, oil, and even coal. Given that these fuels have far lower prices than the accumulated costs of the electricity that powers the Tesla, that would revive their market appeal. The same would be even truer for a new clean fuel emerging from a safe hydrogen.

These rivals to the electric car would have looked smaller yesterday if Elon Musk had unveiled a battery that enables EVs to travel further, faster, and with shorter refueling times at a price that competes with conventional autos and perhaps with other innovation-based cars and that can plausibly claim to leap over the obstacles listed above.

Did he do so?

He said he did. He promised a new battery that would enable Tesla to market EVs at $25,000, a fifty per cent cut from the present $50,000. That would be a game-changer. But industrial history is littered with the bones of true innovators who were over-taken in the final stretch.

We’ll see.

How to Make Poverty Expensive

"Do you not know. my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" That’s a famous remark by a Swedish statesman, Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), one of the most celebrated men of his time who is now largely forgotten except by historians. He gave that advice in a letter to reassure his nervous son that he need not worry about the diplomatic negotiations in which the young man was about to engage because he wouldn’t find them that difficult. Message: Don’t be too impressed by important people, son. They may have no idea of what they’re doing.

Most people recognize the wisdom of this remark on hearing it but they’re not always able to explain why. My own view is that many of us get it wrong. We think Oxenstierna is deploring the low vices—greed, ambition, jealous rivalry, etc.—that lead people in positions of power into corruption and disaster. Such things happen and they produce bad results. But the disaster arising from greed and corruption are fairly minor compared to those produced by great schemes of idealism so virtuous that no one opposed them on grounds of cost for fear of seeming petty. They’re the really big ticket items.

That was brought home to me this week when I came across a televised debate in the U.K. House of Lords in June 2019 in which Viscount Ridley (in private life, Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist and Innovation, and on climate change a “lukewarmer”) was complaining the British government didn’t seem to have conducted a cost/benefit analysis of its decision that the U.K. would eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050.

In fact, when Prime Minister Theresa May announced the decision the previous week, she had said proudly: “This means the U.K. will be the first G7 country to legislate for net-zero emissions.” (Tory cheers!) Ridley was less proud because he thought that spending a vast but unknown sum to reduce U.K. carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 without first discovering what it would cost or what benefits it would deliver suggested a spirit of light-hearted financial abandon.

“We’re faced with a measure,” he declared, “that is likely to cost at least a trillion pounds on top of the 15 billion pounds a year that we’re now spending on subsidies to renewable energy. Let’s remind ourselves for a second just how big a sum a trillion pounds is. If you spent a pound a second, it would take you thirty thousand years to get through one trillion pounds. You’d have to start before the peak of the last Ice Age where woolly mammoths and Neanderthals roamed across a tundra where we now sit.”

Ridley went on to point out that when you added in the costs of other measures to reduce emissions—converting gas-heated homes to electricity, switching to hydrogen-based fuels, etc.—the total costs of U.K. policy came to something like £2.8 trillion. Similarly, writing in the monograph Greenhouse Emissions: the Global Picture, Martin Livermore estimates the various costs of government measures to mitigate climate change as likely to present every family in Britain with a bill for 100,000 pounds.

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These are massive expenditures—so massive that we have no real sense of what the statistics mean until someone like Ridley takes the trouble to express them in an arresting way. That explains why two of the earlier speakers in the Lords debate had dismissed them implausibly as “nickles and dimes” and “manageable.” These Brits had already swallowed Everett Dirksen’s Kool-Aid: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money”—except that a billion’s no longer real money.

And, finally, they are being spent at a time when other vast sums are being allocated both to treat patients suffering from Covid-19 and to sustain the living standards of workers made unemployed by the lockdown even though the expected recession will greatly reduce revenues going to the Treasury.

Burning bread since the 9th century.

A certain giddiness has seized the minds of hitherto sober politicians and officials. If you ask the question: “Is the U.K. taxpayer getting decent value for the expenditures being made on his behalf,” you’re likely to be told that’s not the point. What is the point then?  It’s to save the world by setting a moral example of a mature developed nation making sacrifices for the common good of the world by moving to a net-zero carbon economy.

That arguments falls at more fences than there are in the Grand National. We exaggerate our sacrifice. Much of the fall in Western carbon levels comes from moving our industries overseas to Asia and then importing the goods they produce back to home. Our consumption levels still push up carbon levels. Even if we went without those goods, that would persuade Asians not to cut back on carbon emissions but to look for new markets. They want higher production and higher standards of living which, in the absence of major technological breakthroughs, will require greater use of fossil fuels and higher carbon emissions. And for Western countries to make the deeper emission cuts promised by their leaders, that would mean much higher electricity and other fuel prices and a much reduced standard of living, inflicted on Western voters by their own governments. Even then, in the case of Britain, it would have no impact on global emission levels because the U.K.’s share of them is so small.

As the Brits were making these painful but pointless sacrifices for the common good, China, India, and the former developing countries would be surging ahead and pushing up carbon emission levels ahead of themselves. Indeed, that’s exactly what they are doing and why carbon emissions are not falling but rising. Among other consequences, the shift of economic and financial power (and ultimately of military power too, as we’re starting to realize) from the West to Asia would be greatly accelerated by our own energy policy!

And what makes the position of Western governments still more uncomfortable, as Livermore points out, is (1) that their long-term strategy for getting to net-zero is neither economically nor politically plausible without carbon capture and storage technologies that don’t yet exist, and (2) that they will have to modify it by adopting energy solutions such as nuclear power that they and their peoples have rejected until now. Livermore’s picture of Western policy is like a maze with exits that close as soon as you approach them.

Just whistle a happy tune and it will all turn out right.

No sensible analyst thinks that the plans for net-zero carbon economies by 2050 (let alone 2030) can possibly succeed. They have no justification unless it’s an exercise in multicultural masochism and the politics of sainthood. The voters won’t tolerate them even if small groups of fanatical greens agitate violently to impose them or if the Eurocrats try to close down democratic access to energy policy, which Andrew Willshire recently hinted at in his Spectator piece on the EU’s new energy targets. And their enormous cost will become increasingly burdensome as the bills for so many other better causes fall due.

 

Extinction Rebellion and Tony Abbott: the Climate Changes

As the lockdowns begin to fray around the world, so the pre-lockdown controversies emerge blinking into the light, seemingly unchanged by their experience of hibernation. We’ve just had two resurrections of the climate change debate in London in the last week. And though the arguments heard in them are much the same as before, there are signs of a slight chill in the public’s response, hitherto quite favorable, to them.

The first was the blockade on Friday night/Saturday morning of the printing works that produce most of the Brits’ morning newspapers by Extinction Rebellion protesters. One hundred XR demonstrators, chaining themselves to vehicles, blocked roads to three printing sites from which the great majority of newspapers are transported to homes and newsagents across Britain. Printing then began at other sites, but most people in provincial Britain missed the papers that on a Saturday give them a vast panorama of information and entertainment on news, politics, the economy, real estate, sport, travel, movies, music, theatre, etc., etc.

Much noise was made by XR to the effect that the print works and two papers they print, the Times and the Sun, are owned by Rupert Murdoch who is a hated figure on the Left. But Murdoch’s rivals, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Financial Times are also printed at his works. And the FT is editorially friendly to the XR’s claim that climate change now constitutes an emergency.

Talk about an existential threat.

Until this happened, the public had seemed partly sympathetic, partly resigned, to the inevitability of such demonstrations. Very few people had been inconvenienced by earlier blockades, and the costs in delayed journeys or diverted routes to those who had was modest. Being deprived of a long Saturday read over coffee at the breakfast table, however, though hardly a tragedy, was nonetheless very irritating. And irritation is a favorite British emotion.

Then the XR spokesmen made matters worse for themselves by their justifications of the blockade which generally boiled down to claiming that the papers misled their readers on the urgency of dealing with climate change. Here is the choicest argument from activist Gully Bujak (27):

"The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.”

It’s pretty clear that Mr. Bujak wouldn’t make a very good editor, running the same story on every front page every day, but he wouldn’t be a very good reporter either. Almost all the U.K. mainstream media, far from actively sowing seeds of climate denial, are united in their belief that climate change is a major challenge facing humanity and that we should be prepared to cut living standards in order to lower carbon emissions. That’s true not only of the leftish Financial Times but also of the hated (but widely read) Murdoch press. In fact copies of the tabloid Sun diverted or blocked by XR demonstrators were that day carrying an article by Britain’s most celebrated BBC environmentalist, David Attenborough, on how to combat climate change (because readers of the Sun think of little else.)

Occasional op-eds taking a climate-skeptic viewpoint appear in their  pages because newspapers not edited by Gully Bujak have a professional bias in favor of debate and controversy. But the mainstream media are generally careful not to stray too far from officialdom’s climate-change orthodoxy.

XR protesters, however, stray very far from that orthodoxy in the opposite direction, demanding net-zero carbon emissions within five years and more or less eliminating both holiday air travel and meat from peoples’ diets, these changes to be supervised by unelected and unaccountable “citizens’ assemblies.”

Given the puritan authoritarianism of these aims, XR’s assertion of its right to halt the distribution of newspapers because they disagreed with the opinions they expressed on climate change rang a very loud warning bell. Commentators across the spectrum condemned the blockades as attacks on press freedom. Members of the public started to ask why the police had appeared to cooperate with the protesters so that the blockades could be enforced with minimum inconvenience to third parties. Aren’t newspaper readers and printing companies, not just third parties, entitled to go about their business without deliberate let or hindrance too? (Maybe, yes: 72 protesters were eventually arrested.)

Even government ministers, who have been somewhat timid of late, spoke out firmly in defense of “a free press, society and democracy” (Home Secretary Priti Patel) and against this particular attack on the free press (“completely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson.)

In short there was a rare bi-partisan consensus that Extinction Rebellion had laid an egg and that in future it should no longer be allowed to run around bullying people in order to impose a minority opinion that if implemented would have grim consequences in lower living standards for the rest of us. Except, as the Daily Mail’s combative centrist columnist, D.P. Hodges, pointed out mildly, until this weekend almost all the people now fulminating had given the impression of admiring the idealism of XR protesters even if they mildly deprecated their occasional excesses. Was that now changing?

I’ve seen too many false dawns of that kind to believe so without crossing my fingers and hoping to die. But a second event makes me ever-so-slightly more hopeful. In the middle of last week it was leaked in London that the Johnson government would be asking the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to join the Board of Trade as a senior advisor in its forthcoming drive to sign post-Brexit free trade deals with a wide range of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, and, er, Australia.

Abbott: an almost infinitely complex mechanism.

There’s no doubt that was a shrewd and sensible move. Britain badly needs to accelerate its trade diplomacy not only for the sake of future deals but in order to show to Brussels that London has enough good options so as not to need to appease the European Union in the current talks—now at make-or-break time. Abbott has the experience of trade negotiations and a knowledge of the players that would improve the chances of success. As Mark Higgie—a former Aussie ambassador to the EU—pointed out in the Australian Spectator www.spectator.com.au, Abbott as prime minister negotiated free trade deals with China, South Korea, and Japan which between them covered 50 percent of Australia’s trade.

Not everyone in Britain wants its extra-European trade diplomacy to prosper, however, because they hope to limit the country’s global reach and to keep Britain even outside the EU inside the EU’s sphere of influence. That makes them especially wary of the concept of CANZUK which promises to develop a closer trade, security, and migration relationship between four of the five countries in the “Five Eyes” intelligence cooperation agreement. There’s modest but growing support for this concept—which already exists in its subordinate but important parts like security cooperation—and Abbott is sympathetic to it. From some points of view, he’s an obstacle to a closer UK-EU relationship down the road.

That’s not a point of view, however, that can be openly argued with any chance of success. So Abbott was denounced as unsuitable to the Board of Trade role because he was a misogynist, opposed in the past to gay marriage, pro-life, and above all a “climate change denier.”

None of these charges is relevant to the post for which he was being considered. Most of them describe (or caricature) legitimate opinions held by very large groups of voters, most of whom lean to the Tories. And one at least—Abbott’s supposed “misogyny”—is simply false. But the charge of being a “climate change denier,” which was probably the most damaging of the charges, is worth at least unpacking since we have some evidence in relation to it.

The first thing to be said is that “climate change denier” is not a scientific term but a political one intended to silence or blacklist anyone so described. If it is to have any clear meaning, that must be someone who denies that the climate is changing or—to be a little more flexible—that it’s rising so rapidly as to pose a serious threat to humankind that can only be countered by emergency measures of mitigation not far short of those advocated by Extinction Rebellion. Fear of being called a “denier” explains the contradiction, noticed by Hodges above, that many politicians and public figures now denouncing Extinction Rebellion have been very mild in their criticisms of it until now. They don’t want to be accused of backing XR’s aims but refusing their means and thus being a “denier” in practice.

Get thee behind me, Satan.

But this apparent contradiction is a false one and the fear it generates groundless. As the science writer and author (most recently) of “How Innovation Works," Matt Ridley, pointed out a few years ago in Quadrant magazine:

These scientists and their guardians of the flame repeatedly insist that there are only two ways of thinking about climate change—that it’s real, man-made and dangerous (the right way), or that it’s not happening (the wrong way). But this is a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility: that it’s real, partly man-made and not dangerous. This is the “lukewarmer” school, and I am happy to put myself in this category. Lukewarmers do not think dangerous climate change is impossible; but they think it is unlikely.

And the evidence is overwhelming that Tony Abbott belongs to this lukewarmer school because he delivered a  lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation in 2017 on this very topic:

Physics suggests, all other things being equal, that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would indeed warm the planet. Even so, the atmosphere is an almost infinitely complex mechanism that’s far from fully understood.

Palaeontology indicates that over millions of years there have been warmer periods and cooler periods that don’t correlate with carbon dioxide concentrations. The Jurassic warm period and the ice ages occurred without any human contribution at all. The medieval warm period, when crops were grown in Greenland, and the mini-ice age, when the Thames froze over, occurred well before industrial activities added to atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Prudence and respect for the planet would suggest taking care not lightly to increase carbon dioxide emissions; but the evidence suggests that other factors such as sun spot cycles and oscillations in the Earth’s orbit are at least as important for climate change as this trace gas – which, far from being pollution, is actually essential for life to exist.

Certainly, no big change has accompanied the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the past century from roughly 300 to roughly 400 parts per million or from 0.03 to 0.04 per cent.

Well, maybe someone in Downing Street was paying attention, because after a few days of ministers looking like frightened Bambis in the glare of klieg lights amid the thunder of media questioning, Boris Johnson appeared in public to state the obvious: that while he didn’t agree with everything that was said by the government’s many advisors on many topics, Tony Abbott was nonetheless a whiz on trade and that he was happy to have him on board. And as often happens when it’s clear that a prime minister really isn’t going to surrender to a media mob, the storm dispelled—and a much more convenient storm blew up over Extinction Rebellion’s candid attack on press freedom.

My optimism remains provisional, but one thing is clear and another thing is possible. Political and public opinion is growing more hostile to the claims of XR and other alarmists that their belief in climate catastrophe gives them a right to override democracy and free speech; and as more and more scientists, economists, and politicians who aren’t intellectually intimidated by fear and/or alarmism adopt a "lukewarmer" stance, the prospect increases of a more rational policy that treats climate change as a serious problem requiring a prudent mix of mitigation and adaptation in response rather than as an imminent catastrophe calling for sackcloth and ashes.

It won’t happen overnight, and there’ll never be a consensus on it. How could there be? As Matt Ridley wrote in that Quadrant article: You can’t have a scientific consensus about the future.

'Resilient Recovery' to the Rescue!

The Trudeau government has a plan to save Canada's economy from post-Covid collapse. It advances a glorious shopping list of unsustainable programs and initiatives called the Task Force for Resilient Recovery, part of the so-called “Build Back Better” campaign, which is also Joe Biden’s campaign slogan. The plan claims that “Our focus should not be simply on returning to growth, but on growing smarter and cleaner to support a more resilient future.”

The intention is “to put our economy on a low-carbon [and] sustainable and competitive pathway [toward] net-zero,” thus supporting “Canada’s adaptation to climate impacts.” Its attention will be on “supporting the environment, clean competitiveness and climate resilience [while] addressing implementation, and with attention to youth, women, Indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups.” 

The emphasis will be on solar panels, new grids, hydrogen production, carbon pricing systems, clean energy sectors (i.e., wind farms) and zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The project is being pushed by Deputy Prime Minister and newly-installed Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and by Trudeau crony Gerald Butts, which inspires zero-confidence in the outcome. Freeland is all fries and no burger. Butts is the next edition of the Terminator. Given their qualifications and record, the leadership of these two Trudeau stalwarts should inspire profound misgivings.

It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with.

As Diane Francis writes in the Financial Post regarding “the loopy recommendations put forth this summer by Trudeau’s Task Force for a Resilient Recovery,” it is an anti-business outfit consisting of “a hand-picked task force that is a grab-bag of professional Liberals, green activists, former civil servants and self-described social entrepreneurs whose business models are all about getting grants and subsidies.” She continues:

Their recommendations would bankrupt the country. They include: $27.5 billion to build energy-efficient buildings; $49.9 billion to retrofit existing buildings; and a pledge to ‘jump-start production and adoption of electric vehicles,’ which does not include a price tag, but is sure to be a hefty one. When mixed with Trudeau’s continuing assault on Canada’s only engine of economic growth — the oil and resource sectors — the outcome is a foregone conclusion: Canadian taxpayers, who already pay some of the highest taxes in the world, will crumble or flee, along with their investors and employers.

The resilient recovery initiative is neither resilient nor oriented toward recovery. It is shaky and abortive and will crater on itself, dragging the economy down with it. A similar project was tried in Ontario under the Liberal governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynn. The aforementioned Butts was McGuinty’s senior advisor and also, as the CBC reports, the “brains behind… the ill-fated Green Energy Act.” He had no compunction about “signing onto dubious wind power projects and its cripplingly inefficient Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP).” Ontario is now the most heavily indebted sub-sovereign borrower in the world, plagued by systemic inefficiency, prohibitive electricity rates, and a debt load almost double that of the “fiscal train wreck” known as California, a triple whammy from which the province may never recover. 

The science on which the taskers predicate their version of the Green New Deal is deeply flawed. Writing in PowerLine, John Hinderaker lucidly exposes why Green energy is impossible. It is an article that should be read by every citizen concerned about the wind turbine being erected in his neighborhood. The problems are insurmountable. “Wind turbines produce energy around 40% of the time, and solar panels do much worse.” Battery storage, the Liberal default position, is a dead end. There is no feasible battery “that can store the entire output of a power plant or a wind farm,” apart from the fact “that battery storage is ruinously expensive.” Moreover, the materials needed for a single wind turbine—4.7 tons of copper, 3 tons of aluminum, 2 tons of rare earth elements, and 1,200 tons of concrete—should give us pause.

Depleting the planet's resources, one twirl at a time.

Figures for the U.S. grid taken as a whole show that the wind-solar-battery nexus “would consume around 70% of all of the copper currently mined in the world, 337% of global nickel production, 3,053% of the world’s total cobalt production, 355% of the U.S.’s iron output, and 284% of U.S. steel production, along with unfathomable quantities of concrete.” In addition, to have a perceptible effect on climate, “China, India, Brazil and the rest of the developing world would have to get all of their electricity from wind and solar, too. That would increase the above demand for materials by something like 15 to 20 times,” depleting the planet’s resources.

Meanwhile, in a crowning irony, radical environmentalists “bitterly oppose, and successfully frustrate, the very mining projects that would be needed to produce the materials for the turbines and solar panels they say are essential to the continued existence of the human race.” Altogether, it makes more sense to “harness the energy of unicorns running on treadmills.”

And what is driving this Green madness? Two things: “1) politics, and 2) enormous quantities of money being made by politically-connected wind and solar entrepreneurs.”

In a painstakingly detailed report for the Manhattan Institute, The New Energy Economy: an exercise in magical thinking, Mark Mills has also demonstrated that the green energy movement is wrong by orders of magnitude in every single claim it makes regarding cost, efficiency, underlying math, energy availability, disposal protocols, grid parity, incremental engineering improvements, digitalization and the ability to meet demand

Green energy, he points out, is no substitute for hydrocarbons, which are the world’s principal energy resource today “and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Wind turbines, solar arrays, and batteries, meanwhile, constitute a small source of energy, and physics dictates that they will remain so… there is simply no possibility that the world is undergoing—or can undergo—a near-term transition to a ‘new energy economy.’” The mathematics is unforgiving.  “The path for improvements now follows what mathematicians call an asymptote; or, put in economic terms, improvements are subject to a law of diminishing returns.” As he explains:

This is a normal phenomenon in all physical systems… gains in efficiency… or other equivalent metrics such as energy density (power per unit of weight or volume) then shrink from double-digit percentages to fractional percentage changes. Whether it’s solar, wind tech, or aircraft turbines, the gains in performance are now all measured in single-digit percentage gains.

In other words,

The physics-constrained limits of energy systems are unequivocal. Solar arrays can’t convert more photons than those that arrive from the sun. Wind turbines can’t extract more energy than exists in the kinetic flows of moving air. Batteries are bound by the physical chemistry of the molecules chosen… The limits are long established and well understood.

Mills is talking about actual energy production and use, not about digital miniaturization, which follows different laws of efficiency. “Physics realities do not allow energy domains to undergo the kind of revolutionary change experienced on the digital frontiers,” he explains. Green enthusiasts believe that energy tech will follow Moore’s Law, namely, that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved. Mills puts paid to the idea of domain parity:

Logic engines can use software to do things such as compress information… and thus reduce energy use. No comparable compression options exist in the world of humans and hardware. If photovoltaics scaled by Moore’s Law, a single postage-stamp-size solar array would power the Empire State Building. If batteries scaled by Moore’s Law, a battery the size of a book, costing three cents, could power an A380 to Asia. But only in the world of comic books does the physics of propulsion or energy production work like that.

Nonetheless, the scam persists thanks to “scientific” jobbery and self-interest, as well as the furthering of political schemes in favor of the Green agenda. Stuart Ritchie in his just-released Science Fictions refers to what is known as the Mertonian Norms (named after sociologist Robert Merton) that underpin all scientific research and progress. These comprise the four major scientific values:

So-called climate science is an example of how the Mertonian Norms—in particular the last two principles—have been consigned to the scrap heap, leading to data manipulation, massaging of results for propaganda purposes, belief in the improbable or impossible, and promotion of government projects however dubious or ill-advised.

Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

The newfound passion for ZEVs is a case in point. Transport Canada announced a national purchase incentive program for electric vehicles. Canadians who purchase electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids are eligible for an incentive of $2,500 to $5,000. It sounds good on bureaucratic paper, but as Mills clearly shows:

There are no subsidies and no engineering from Silicon Valley or elsewhere that can close the physics-centric gap in energy densities between batteries and oil. The energy stored per pound is the critical metric for vehicles… The maximum potential energy contained in oil molecules is about 1,500% greater, pound for pound, than the maximum in lithium chemistry.

Yet enthusiasm for these projects continues to grow. In a recent column, “The folly of green economics," Rex Murphy comments on the absurdity of the city of Toronto’s plan to outfit its ambulances with solar panels. “[S]o inventive, so original an initiative to stave off planetary oblivion,” he writes, will be little consolation to anyone who “has to be carted off at high speed to the emergency department… should  911 be called on a rainy day, or during the night.” But the symbolism of the project is not to be downplayed since it shows the world “how sublimely climate-virtuous we are.” 

Murphy can scarcely disguise his incredulous contempt. I take this folly as representative of what, in reality, is meant when Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks so confidently about a green recovery.” For there is nothing “so unpromising in practical terms, so irrelevant to the real challenges of our time… as subservience to green politics.” Come to think of it, if solar is so reliable and efficient that people’s lives are made to depend on it, why don’t solar panels or, say, lithium batteries power helicopters or passenger jets or ocean liners? As we’ve seen, adducing Moore’s Law to green the future simply cannot work in this energy context. 

I watch the tugs from my window hauling gigantic barges, massive cargo ships and endless log booms up the Fraser River toward the sawmills. Heavily laden mile-long freight trains rumble across the nearby trestle bridge dozens of times day and night. On the farther shore tall cranes, dredges and power shovels are at work putting up a fifty-seven storey condo tower. Tugs, barges, ships, freight trains, sawmills, bridges, dwellings—in short everything we rely on for our existence would cease to exist on solar, lithium and wind. Commerce would come to a standstill.

The fact is that the war against the energy sector and its replacement by green renewables will be calamitously unaffordable, trash the domestic power grid, and ultimately bankrupt the nation. And if carried out globally, it would devastate the planet. This should be a no-brainer but it escapes the progressivist mind with perfect serenity, in particular since neither Mertonian disinterestedness nor skepticism are cherished values.

Writing in the Financial Post about the “five years of suffering in eco-zealot purgatory under the Trudeau Liberals,” Gwyn Morgan cites Statistics Canada showing that “since election of the Trudeau government in 2015, investment in 10 of our 15 major business sectors has dropped by 17 percent, as both Canadian and foreign investors have fled. More than $185 billion left the country.” The full impact of the gargantuan restructuring of our vital business sectors in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic will be economically apocalyptic if based on green thinking. To make matters worse:

In the face of such alarming prospects, it seems the coronavirus has fostered escape to a fantasy state where reality is magically replaced by an imagined world that is whatever one wishes it to be. It’s baffling to hear our government declare the pandemic has created an ‘opportunity for public investment in green restructuring of the economy,’ which translates into subsidizing windmill and solar-power companies. How will that work out? Ask Ontarians.

Morgan concludes his fiscal obituary with a note “to our new Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland: Achieving private-sector investment and job creation is the only hope for keeping the good ship Canada from smashing onto the post-Covid rocks and sinking a nation that had such great potential.” Unfortunately, Minister Freeland knows nothing about finance and, like the rest of the Green coterie, is deaf to reason, science and economics. And it is unlikely they will undergo a change of heart or mind, being subject to Brandolini’s Law: The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

And so the Task Force for Resilient Recovery ploughs ahead toward the abyss, indifferent to the laws of nature, in defiance of the principles of scientific inquiry, and oblivious to the dictates of common sense. It is busy imposing its comic book designs upon the real world. As Graeme Gordon writes for CBC News, “The architects of Ontario's energy fiasco are now stationed in the PMO. The whole country should be wary of the financial disaster of that province being replicated nationwide.” 

It’s a foregone conclusion.

Low-Energy Joe v. High-Carb Donald

In last week’s column I compared the energy-related policy agendas of the two men, Joe Biden and Erin O’Toole, who have been chosen to lead their parties, both in opposition, in the United States and Canada respectively. It was a task requiring at least some subtlety and fine distinctions, because both men claim to be pursuing the same goal of zero-carbon emissions by . . . well, by different dates but let’s not quibble yet.

O’Toole is the more cautious politician, and he has hedged this pledge about with more qualifications than does Biden, who in his embrace of Green policies is a purist missionary devoted to environmental virtue at any cost. Joe’s 47 years in politics haven’t exactly demonstrated this selfless devotion to principle, but it’s possible that, like President Truman, he’ll be a different man if he makes it to the White House. Anyway, let’s take the charitable view.

Besides, now that President Trump has accepted the GOP nomination for the 2020 November election, we can compare Biden with Trump directly which means we have at least to start by treating their energy-related policies at face value. Just to show that we’re not naïve, however, we’ll lay out a key reality test:

Economic growth means more energy. Growth needs more energy and it generates more energy. Sure, there are qualifications and off-sets which is why we always add the rider, “other things being equal.” And innovation can produce more growth without using more energy in those cases where an entrepreneur arranges the factors of production more efficiently. But the overall truth remains that growth and energy go together like a horse and carriage—with the horse providing the energy and the carriage representing the greater comfort and wealth of a economically prosperous society.

All aboard for the 21st century!

Most politicians try to confuse this truth and avoid the difficult problem it imposes on them. Since they want both to increase growth and to reduce the carbon emissions that fossil fuels generate, they have to avoid putting realistic prices on their “carbon net-zero” policies and to argue that as yet elusive technological innovations, such as carbon capture, will enable them to produce the same amounts of energy with lower carbon emissions.

Boris Johnson is a prime example of this approach since his energy policy is deep green and his signature economic policy (before the Covid-19 pandemic) was to borrow large sums on money at low interest rates in order to fuel a U.K. recovery via infrastructure spending. Nice work if you can get it, as Gershwin wrote, but there’s a car crash in the future of such a contradictory policy.

So it’s a pleasant surprise that both Trump and Biden do their best to be honest about their choice in the Growth versus Greenery debate. Trump favors a policy of encouraging economic growth above all else; so he accepts that it will require energy policies that exploit as many new ways of generating energy as possible. His motto might as well be “Let 'er rip!”

Biden makes the opposite choice. He wants to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels and towards “cleaner” energy as quickly as possible and he seems to accept that this will mean less economic growth overall even if it encourages jobs growth in specific areas. He doesn’t spell out that choice exactly, but the phrase “economic growth” is hard to find in his grand $700 billion economic program.

It’s low-energy Joe versus the high-carb Donald.

Of course, we already know what Trump is about because his first term was based on the policy choice of liberating energy production, de-regulating, and cutting taxes in order to hike growth. Just in case we’ve forgotten, however, his acceptance speech this week reminded the viewers of how he began four years ago:

Days after taking office . . . I approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, ended the unfair and costly Paris Climate Accord, and secured, for the first time, American Energy Independence. We passed record-setting tax and regulation cuts, at a rate nobody had ever seen before. Within three short years, we built the strongest economy in the history of the world.

And the future?

Over the next four years, we will make America into the Manufacturing Superpower of the World. We will expand Opportunity Zones, bring home our medical supply chains, and we will end our reliance on China once and for all. We will continue to reduce taxes and regulations at levels not seen before. We will create 10 million jobs in the next 10 months.

All that’s clear enough. But what of the environmental costs of Trump’s booming pre-Covid US economy? These should have been visible in rising carbon emissions. But, remember, that depends on “other things being equal.” In reality carbon emissions in the industrialized world—the US, the EU, and Japan—fell in the last few years because these economies were switching to cleaner fuels. And they fell faster than most in the U.S. because the “fracking revolution” in America meant that cleaner natural gas was replacing dirtier coal.

For the future, Trump is banking not only on the continued spread of fracking and its benefits but also on the likelihood that a booming economy will produce innovations that to make both renewables and fossil fuels cleaner, cheaper, and safer.

Frack this.

It’s a bold gamble, but so far it’s paying off.

Now, Biden makes his choice almost as clear. If you type “Joe Biden and economic growth” into Google, what you get back is this: The Biden Plan To Build a Modern Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future. In other words, you get an economic program that subordinates the need for economic growth to other desirable things—notably, a switch to cleaner energy.

That’s very clear in his plan’s section on what he proposes for those communities who powered the industrial revolution over centuries. He means people working in the fossil fuels industry, and his policies include “securing the benefits coal miners and their families have earned, making an unprecedented investment in coal and power plant communities, and establishing a Task Force on Coal and Power Plant Communities," etc. In other words, coal miners and perhaps other fossil fuel producers will not be part of Biden’s sustainable and equitable clean energy economy, but their workers will be economically protected.

The key elements of the Biden Plan to Build a Modern, Sustainable Infrastructure and an Equitable Clean Energy Future include:

  1. Build a Modern Infrastructure
  2. Position the U.S. Auto Industry to Win the 21st Century with technology invented in America
  3. Achieve a Carbon Pollution-Free Power Sector by 2035
  4. Make Dramatic Investments in Energy Efficiency in Buildings, including Completing 4 Million Retrofits and Building 1.5 Million New Affordable Homes
  5. Pursue a Historic Investment in Clean Energy Innovation
  6. Advance Sustainable Agriculture and Conservation
  7. Secure Environmental Justice and Equitable Economy Opportunity

In fact, there’ll be a Biden program costing $2 trillion that will finance both the transition from dirty to clean energy production and a large variety of other infrastructure expenditures and industrial subsidies to, for instance, the auto industry. But all economic forecasts of the costs of switching to non-fossil fuels show that it will be extremely expensive. And though two trillion dollars will finance many good things, unless there’s economic growth overall—and the Biden plan doesn’t seem to promise that—there won’t be any net additional jobs. What there will be is “jobs growth” in the industries favored by the Washington planners granting the subsidies.

So instead of Trump's policy rooted in growth and abundant cheap energy, we have a Biden policy based on cleaner energy and state industrial investments financed by . . . redistribution and tax increases.

And a very substantial overall increase in taxation at that. The Democrat candidate has so far proposed the following:

US Budget Watch, synthesizing the estimates of several other economic consultancies, suggests that the plan would increase taxes for the top 1 percent of earners by 13 to 18 percent of after-tax income; indirectly hike taxes for most other groups by 0.2 to 0.6 percent; and moderately slow the pace of economic growth by discouraging work and capital accumulation.

Biden’s gamble here is a kind of mirror image of Trump’s: he proposes to increase taxes sharply and use the proceeds to re-direct investment from existing industries to "cleaner" and more sustainable ones, leaving them to achieve higher growth and technical breakthroughs in the future. A lot of bad decisions can occur that way.

Moreover, whereas overall growth and technical innovation will be financed from the proceeds of a growing economy in Trump’s plan, much of the state finance for growth and innovation in Biden’s industrial plan is earmarked for the expensive transition to carbon neutrality, and his tax plan will leave much less for private investors to spend on inventing the future. On top of which the psychological atmosphere of an economy powered by state control and direction of investment is unlikely to inspire the kind of entrepreneurial innovation we saw in the pre-Covid Trump economy.

What have I done?

How do things look, however, when we leave the Big Picture and go micro-economic? Consider how the contenders fare on fracking, nuclear power, and renewables.

Fracking is a clear advantage for Trump who has encouraged it with deregulation and who has been helped by its contribution to reducing carbon emissions. If fracking were a flag, Trump would be waving it. On the other hand, Biden has got himself twisted into knots on the issue, having earlier promised the illogical policy of “no new fracking” under pressure from the Green lobby. Unless Biden can embrace fracking fully, his overall energy policy becomes significantly more expensive. Plus, it’s a vital jobs issue in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Mexico on which hundreds of thousands of job depend.

Both Trump and Biden favor a revival of nuclear power, but Trump has an advantage there, too, because a year ago he asked his Energy Secretary to assemble a nuclear energy working group to find ways to expand the U.S. nuclear energy industry in an effort to compete globally (i.e., versus China).

Renewables should be an easy win for Biden because he’s been a champion of them (his plan depends heavily on their success), whereas Trump has been a loud skeptic about the industry. Such is the unfairness of life, however, that last year there was a surge of investment in the U.S. industry. Expect more “America First” rhetoric about renewables, therefore, from the president. That said, better news for renewables is better for Joe Biden, just not that much better.

On those micro-economic measures, therefore, Trump wins two out of three, and when they’re added to the macro-economic outlook for their plans, Trump expands his lead over Biden by a head.

Trump and Biden are both to be congratulated on giving us a generally clear idea of how they would govern economically and especially on energy policy. It’s not a K.O, for either.

But on the evidence so far, High Carb Donald has it over Low Energy Joe.

Getting to Net-Zero: Is It Worth It?

At the end of last week two men were selected as the leaders of the main opposition parties in North America—Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate in the U.S. and Erin O’Toole as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. They’re very different people with very different ideas, but if both of them are elected, each is likely to exert a decisive influence on the other on the central political issue of energy policy and climate change.

But look, first, at who they are and what they’ve done. Biden has been a professional politician for almost all his adult life. After graduation and four years of lawyering, he became a U.S. senator in 1973 and has since remained in Washington for seven senatorial terms and two terms as U.S. vice-president. He is usually defined as a moderate Democrat, which in practice means he has an acute sensitivity to the shifts of opinion in his party and an unrivaled ability to adapt to them without apparently moving his feet.

That means at present he is being dragged leftwards by a Democratic party that is rapidly moving from liberalism to a more radical progressivism. Thus, when his party’s radicals demand to “defund the police,” he is described by an AP as wanting “some of the funding for police [to] be redirected into different programs, such as mental health counseling” which might or might not be a difference depending on the amount re-directed.

Joe and Jill.

O’Toole had a more varied career as first an officer in the Royal Canadian air force and then as a corporate lawyer until he was elected to Parliament in Ottawa eight years ago. Because he served in the RCAF sea rescue missions, he’s one of the few politicians anywhere who, like lifeguard Ronald Reagan, can claim to have saved lives. He’s a moderate conservative in an avowedly conservative party, but one who wants to broaden its base without throwing principles overboard. That’s a risky game to play, as Biden’s zig-zagging career illustrates, but O’Toole has found two ways to play it.

The first is to make policy into a balancing act. As a Catholic who supports choice on abortion, he also defends a conscience clause that would enable health professionals to refuse to assist in abortions if they have moral/religious reasons for doing so—and respecting conscience is an important principle. The second is to look for and elevate new issues that attract new supporters without alienating old ones. He was an early supporter of the idea of CANZUK—warmer and better trade and migration relationships between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.—which seems to be an increasingly realistic policy now that the U.K. is making trade deals with CANZUK members.

It isn’t hard to tell Biden and O’Toole apart, and if it were, the policy packages that appear in their manifestos would make it very clear. They are separated by a vast ideological gulf—except in one key respect. Both men and their parties have committed themselves very firmly to one particular extreme policy outcome: they are both committed to the principle of making their economies “carbon neutral” by 2050—indeed, Biden has upped the ante on this with a revamped plan to spend two trillion dollars in making all of electricity production carbon-neutral by 2035. (I think that looks like this: $2,000,000,000,000—its cost to you we’ll come to in a moment.)

Now, no one thinks of this policy as extreme because it’s supported overwhelmingly by most Western governments, most mainstream political parties (and, as it happens, most “populist” parties too), most of the media, most cultural institutions, the United Nations, and all the great and good around the globe. When a bill reflecting an earlier version of this was passed in the U.K. Parliament, only five MPs voted against it.

There’s been a slight down-tick in popular support for the policy since the policy response to Covid-19 both imposed heavy costs on ordinary people—with the prospect of many more to come—and weakened the credibility of scientists and computer modelling. A recent opinion poll showed that it ranked only fifth in the table of national problems facing the voters.

That will have little effect on elite opinion unless it takes the form of voting out MPs and Congresspersons respectively. As yet we’re quite far from that. Because its costs are in the future, a policy of saving the world is bound to be popular. And so, for the moment, making their economies “carbon neutral” by a given date is supported by both leaders.

But there is a vital distinction that politicians repeatedly ignore—and that I have repeatedly stressed in vain—between the popularity of a policy and the popularity of the consequences of a policy. The classic example is government control of prices and incomes which is always popular because it seems “fair” and advantageous to the poor, but which always becomes extremely unpopular because it leads to shortages of goods with controlled prices, black markets with much higher “real” prices, and exemptions for key workers who multiply in numbers the longer the policy lasts.

Carbon neutrality has enormous costs—so enormous that governments do their best to suppress their own estimates of what they are likely to be.  Only New Zealand has been honest or rash enough to do so. As the Danish economist and head of the Copenhagen Consensus, Bjorn Lomborg, pointed out recently in a New York Post oped, adapted from his new book, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet:

It will cost 16 percent of its GDP each and every year by 2050, making it more costly than the entire New Zealand public expenditures for education, health, environment, police, defense, social protection, etc. (My italics.) 

New Zealand, however, is an energy superpower only in hydro- and thermal power. Both the U.S. and Canada, however, are at present energy superpowers across the board—in oil, gas, hydro, and nuclear power since they have both fossil fuels and uranium galore and in recent years they have invented ways of accessing them more economically, such as fracking. The impact of carbon neutral policies would be far more damaging to Canada and the U.S. than to any other countries in the world except Australia and the Middle East for that reason—far more damaging, that is, than a 16 percent annual fall in GDP.

Erin O'Toole and American friend.

Biden and O’Toole have faced this dilemma—choosing a popular policy that has catastrophic economic consequences—in somewhat different ways. Biden, “an old man in a hurry,” has gone for broke. He’s adopted the most extreme version of an extreme policy and hoped that its dire results would not be noticed or, if noticed, not believed by most voters in the heat of an election campaign.

That’s certainly a risk. Already, a Trump campaign spokesman, Hogan Gidley, has described the policy as "like a socialist manifesto that promises to massively raise taxes, eliminate jobs in the coal, oil or natural gas industries, and crush the middle class. There is no way he can sell this radical agenda to union workers in energy-producing, manufacturing, or auto industry states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, or Wisconsin.”

In this election, however, maybe the policy will sneak through under the smokescreen of all the rest of the hellzapoppin shenanigans in both campaigns.

O’Toole is taking no such risks. True to his strategy of balancing, he opposes a federal carbon tax—carbon taxes are the main unpopular element in the carbon-neutral strategy—but will assist the Canadian provinces if they adopt such taxes on their own.  Along the same lines, he promises “a plan to get to net-zero emissions in the oil and gas industry through the use of technologies like electrification generated from sources such as nuclear and wind and carbon capture, with the government providing incentives similar to those that were used to stimulate the early development of the oilsands.”

In other words he’s hoping to be able to save Canada’s energy industries—and his own political prospects if he becomes prime minister—by relying on technical breakthroughs like “carbon capture” that would allow oil and gas (and presumably coal) to continue to be the basis for electricity generation. That’s not unreasonable as a political strategy—it’s traditionally known as “waiting for something to turn up”—but technical breakthroughs can’t be guaranteed to arrive on time. What about the interim?

Well, O’Toole may be helped by a deus ex machina in the modest form of Joe Biden. He is facing an election in just ten weeks on November the 3rd whereas the date of O’Toole’s rendezvous with destiny is more uncertain. Canada’s election must be held no later than October the 19th, 2023, but Canada’s scandal-hit minority Liberal government could fall at any time.

If Biden were to be elected in November, he would be unrolling his energy policy in early 2021 and its economic and industrial costs would begin to be apparent no later than Spring 2022. (Its benefits, being invisible, will never be apparent.) If they are as disastrous as the policies are bold, Biden will be a marvelous negative example of the economic consequences of courageous carbon neutrality.

On the other hand Trump may win—in which case Biden will provide a marvelous negative example of the political consequences of courageous carbon neutrality.

I don’t see how O’Toole can’t not enjoy the 2020 US presidential election.

Beware the Environmentalists' False Flags

You're probably familiar with the phrase "false flag operation." Referring originally to a ship's flying the flag of a different nation than that with which it was aligned in order to deceive the enemy, it has come to refer to any such misrepresentation, particularly those with the intent of casting one's opponents in a negative light.

The thing that makes false flag operations so effective is that it is often impossible to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one has actually taken place. Absent an admission of guilt, all one can do when investigating the circumstances is to lay out the facts and let the jury decide.

I bring this up because I've recently stumbled upon two stories which have the appearance of false flag operations. The first is by Jazz Shaw, who reports on the attempt to build what's being billed as the next generation of nuclear power plant in Idaho. The plant would serve roughly 720,000 homes in that state and in neighboring Utah. Communities in both states which would benefit from this project have already signed on, but one group of activists have made it their mission to convince all involved that it's a bad deal.

The group is called the Utah Taxpayer Association, and their principal argument is that the project is a waste of taxpayer money and (because the technology is still being developed) is likely to fail and lead to higher electricity prices.

Well, as a conservative, fiscal responsibility arguments always get my attention. But Shaw points out that there is something fishy about the organization making the argument:

As to the “fiscal conservative” group trying to get municipalities to pull out of the project, the Utah Taxpayer Association is being fronted by The Hastings Group. One look at their client list at that link will give you an idea of their general ideological makeup. They include:

Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists
Green America
National Resources Defense Council
Renewable Nation
Union Of Concerned Scientists

The Utah Taxpayer Association has also enlisted anti-nuclear power advocate Peter Bradford as a spokesperson. The list of their association with green energy and environmentalist groups goes on.

Shaw doesn't mention this, but along those same lines, the website of The Hastings Group is full of boasts about their "18-month push" to pressure the Trump administration to stop off-shore drilling and their "12-year campaign to shift media attitudes about socially responsible/sustainable investing," the latter being code for divesting from fossil fuels.

Judging by these relationships, it seems unlikely that the Utah Taxpayer Association is the confederation of Goldwater Republicans that its name and rhetoric would lead you to surmise. It's rather more likely that some textbook Greenies, aware that their normal pitch would have less purchase in rural mountain states, decided to attack the problem from a different angle, hoping that cost-conscious conservatives would miss the lefty agenda behind the scenes.

And what is that agenda exactly? After all, as Shaw notes, nuclear power is effectively zero carbon, so you'd think that anti-carbon emissions activists would be on board with this project. Their opposition reveals their true colors -- for a lot of them, at least, it isn't the carbon they care about so much as limiting the competition for their so-called renewable energy projects.

The second potential false flag is rather more complicated, and has to do with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a planned project which was principally owned by Richmond, Va., based Dominion Energy. It was meant to move natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation in West Virginia through Virginia and then down to North Carolina. Had the pipeline gone through, it is probable that Dominion would have built a second natural gas liquefaction terminal, likely in the Newport area, to complement the one it already owns in Cove Point, Md., creating lots of well-paying jobs for Virginians and allowing the company to export significantly more natural gas overseas.

"Was" is the operative word here, however, because in July it was announced that Dominion is cutting its losses and pulling out of the $8 billion project, citing "the increasing legal uncertainty that overhangs large-scale energy and industrial infrastructure development in the United States." This is being spoken of principally as a victory for the environmentalist groups which have been trying to kill the project since it was launched, with Michael Brune of the Sierra Club crowing,

Dominion did not decide to cancel the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—the people and frontline organizations that led this fight for years forced [it] into walking away.

However, journalist and Virginia native Arthur Bloom is skeptical. As he put it in a recent podcast appearance, "the death of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has sort of been heralded by activists as this big win, this is the new Virginia, pushing back on decades of probably-racist Republican rule. Virtually none of that is true."

Bloom has written a detailed piece at The American Conservative in which he attempts to connect the dots to discern what really happened here. The thing is, Dominion is not only pulling out of the Atlantic Pipeline, it is, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "selling the rest of its natural-gas transmission and storage network to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for $9.7 billion," a deal which includes a 25 percent stake in its Cove Point liquefaction facility. As he investigated the "various interests that were publicly opposed to the construction of the pipeline," Bloom was struck "quite forcefully [by] how many of them were connected to Berkshire Hathaway."

One of those interested parties was Michael Bills, a Virginia billionaire and chairman of the board of environmental lobbying group Clean Virginia, who has waged a war against Dominion for the past several years, even offering to max out donations to any political candidate in the state who pledged not to accept any money from the company. Bloom points out that Bills is the former business partner of Berkshire Hathaway executive Ted Weschler, who is frequently mentioned as a potential replacement for Warren Buffet, as Berkshire's CEO. That doesn't prove anything, but it is a connection, and a high level one at that.

Bloom also details the political opposition to Dominion from the state's ascendant Democrats, a more important part of the story than the legal and regulatory hurdles to the project. (Indeed, the project had recently won big at the Supreme Court). Of course the state Democratic ascent has been funded in large part by Berkshire money too. Bloom notes that "the largest single donor to the Democratic Party of Virginia in 2015 was the son of Buffett partner Charles Munger, Jr, whose money supplied more than half of their funds for statehouse races that year."

And then there's the fact that, in Bloom's words,

Berkshire also owned most of the newspapers in western and central Virginia until March, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Free Lance-Star, the Culpeper Times-Exponent, the Daily Progress in Charlottesville, the News Virginian in Waynesboro, and the Roanoke Times, giving them almost complete control of the pipeline narrative in the parts of the state where it mattered.

Be sure to read the whole piece to get into the real nitty-gritty of the thing, but Bloom makes a compelling case that everything is not as it seems. As he makes clear in the interview cited above, there is something a little too convenient about the fact that Dominion was the focal point of so much environmental activism, which had the effect of depressing the stock price of the company, allowing a massive financial firm -- which had deep ties to the environmental activists -- to swoop in "and [scoop] up their assets on the cheap." Meanwhile the environmentalists are able to claim the scalp of a major pipeline project while ignoring Berkshire Hathaway, this despite the fact that the company's anti-union history makes it likely that the unionized workers in Dominion's natural gas sector might soon be out of a job. Unions are less important to the left these days than wealthy environmentalists.

False flag operations are difficult to prove, but Shaw and Bloom argue persuasively that alliances and the money trail constitute a preponderance of evidence in their respective cases pointing to real deception on the part of the interested parties. Read and judge for yourself.

The Year the Lights Went Out in California

A famous definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. California energy policymakers have been monomaniacal about imposing the “climate” agenda. California is presently imposing rolling blackouts due to a shortage of supply, for the second time in less than a year. Energy crises there are not infrequent, and policymakers only press for more in the wake of the havoc this wreaks.

The insult to their own self-inflicted injuries is the demand that the rest of the country suffer under it, as well. Call it the “Green New Deal” though, like most flops, it has already been re-branded, as “Net Zero.”

The climate agenda is not an agenda that claims it will impact the climate, so let’s get that out of the way up front. “Climate,” in policy terms, means imposing energy scarcity. 

This is done through price rationing – recall a presidential candidate boasting to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket… because I’m capping greenhouse gases”? The key word wasn’t “skyrocket,” it was “necessarily.” It’s a feature of climate policy, not a bug. Call it a way to force seniors and the poor, indeed anyone on a low or fixed income, to choose between heating and eating.

It is also done through rationing the actual physical supply of reliable sources of electricity, known as “dispatchable” sources, i.e., whose production can be sent where it’s needed, when it’s needed. The combination leads to “energy poverty” for some, and blackouts for all. 

California’s problem is elementary and one that dogs all “green”-obsessed jurisdictions. In short, each state must have the capacity at all times to produce (or arrange for the importation of) enough power to run its needs. It can dial the dispatchable power down as renewables get into the mood of pitching in, and dial it back up when they stop (say, when the wind ebbs or sun goes down). 

That’s wasteful and inefficient of course, but the agenda creates perverse incentives – build expensive redundancies to meet mandates and with a guaranteed return of investment, but don’t replace or even maintain older, working equipment. Rent-seeking utilities have supported it because the system encourages them to lobby for more new construction with a guaranteed return on investment. The more expensive and redundant, the better! 

So, California is not building dispatchable capacity, and instead is prematurely forcing closure of both nuclear and gas plants while mandating renewables and expensive battery storage, which at the scale required is not realistic. In fact, we are seeing again how grossly irresponsible it is. 

True, one small power plant failed and another was unavailable because it had been put out of service – coherent systems are designed with the understanding that a certain portion of supply will be off-line at any given time. That is, one ensures power reserves. But California has closed its margin for error in response to anti-nuclear and climate change hysterias.

Not long after the October 2019 rolling blackouts, a report commissioned by the beleaguered utility PG&E, obtained under California’s Public Records Act by the Wall Street Journal, predicted that the frequency of these backouts would double over the next 15 years and then double again in the next 15. Also in 2019, California’s Public Utilities Commission warned of shortages as early as 2021 on hot summer evenings. The Journal editorial page gave credit it where it’s due.

That day has arrived a year early. Congratulations to Democrats for beating their own forecasts.

Michael Shellenberger is a former candidate for governor of California who ran largely on the insanity of the state’s man-made energy policy disaster. Reminiscent of the old joke, waiter, the food was horrible, and the portions too small, he notes that “California saw its electricity prices rise six times more than the rest of the United States from 2011 to 2019, due to its huge expansion of renewables.”

This dangerous misery is inarguably the result of misguided policies. Whether this agenda is cruel by intent or merely some condition like the aforementioned definition of insanity, its practitioners show no signs of learning from their own debacles. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris each have sworn fealty to imposing this on the rest of the country.

They do so in the name of the climate, of avoiding more deaths from heat by imposing policies no one actually claims will impact the temperature – but which are shown to increase risk of death not only from heat stroke, but massively increase deaths from hypothermia. These deaths are mostly among seniors, the same demographic ravaged by reckless policy responses to Covid-19 (which also were grounded in worst-case – i.e., least likely – computer-modeled projections).

It’s past time for rational Democrats to stand up to the radical environmentalist wing of their party. Republican must free themselves from the rent-seeking lobbies of utilities and renewables “investors” (actual investments require risk, not guaranteed welfare). Those are the two halves of the Bootleggers-and-Baptists coalition enabling the Climate Industrial Complex.

Policymaking is full of the Noble Lie, the cynical understanding that the public will accept this or that policy so long as it’s to avert catastrophe -- take the government-imposed restrictions attending the Wuhan virus, for example. But as the social costs of energy rationing increase, including the disgrace of a butcher’s bill from energy poverty, it is difficult to argue that the Noble Lie of climate policy is not the most ignoble of them all.

Total's Grade-A Corporate Slacktivism

Woke Capital is very "on trend" at the moment, with major corporations (once considered, if not always accurately, natural allies of the political right) pumping money and influence into fashionable social causes. As John O'Sullivan has pointed out (a few times actually), it is sometimes the case that signing on to such causes actually runs counter to the interests of these corporations. When that happens it is both an attempt to achieve a gold medal in virtue signalling as well as act of dishonesty that violates the trust between shareholders and management, the latter having been entrusted with the former's money.

It should be noted, however, that quite a lot of corporate virtue signalling is of the "slacktivist" variety, where nothing is actually risked in supporting some elite-approved cause, as the proffered support requires no actual commitments or policy changes. Often it even serves as rhetorical cover for a move which the company was planning on making anyway.

For just one example of this, the French oil and gas giant Total recently announced that, "consistent with [its] Climate Ambition" plan, "which aims at carbon neutrality," it would be withdrawing from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) because of a "misalignment between their public positions and the Group’s," and would be stranding its Canadian oil sands assets at Fort Hills and Surmont in Alberta, meaning that the "overall reserves [at those sites] may therefore not be produced by 2050."

Now, even within the press release linked above, Total acknowledges that this decision is at least partly financial. In response to the pummeling oil prices have taken in the wake of COVID-19, they have revised their oil price projection for the years to come, and now believe that those projects won't be profitable enough to justify their financial outlay. Fair enough -- while I might question the wisdom of the decision and worry about what it means for Canadian workers, that's the kind of calculation a company is supposed to be making on behalf of its shareholders.

But the multiple references to their Climate Ambition plan and to "carbon neutrality" are rather strange. Particularly since, in 2019, Total was involved in the effort to lobby the Trudeau government over the implementation of Bill C-69, dubbed the “No More Pipelines Bill” by Alberta premier Jason Kenney. Bill C-69 expanded Ottawa's involvement in the review process for oil and gas projects, did away with hard caps on project review timelines, and required regulators to take into account climate change and public health when assessing all major infrastructure projects. In CAPP's write-up on the bill, they laid out their concern that its main effect would be "driving away investment into Canada by making it extremely difficult to approve major projects like pipelines in the future."

Total's own lobbying record specifies their interest in ensuring "consequential amendments... focusing on ensuring certainty of timelines" are made to Bill C-69 and, after an obligatory reference to "environmental stewardship" (something which everyone supports), mentions the necessity of "encouraging foreign investment and ensuring Canadian energy exports are competitive and reach global markets."

Much to the disappointment of Conservatives, the majority of amendments to Bill C-69 were defeated by the Liberal majority, and it became law in June of last year. Of course, a lot has happened in the industry and the world since then. But is it crazy to think that Total's removing itself from Canada is an example of exactly what it, and CAPP, warned the Trudeau government about, with red tape and regulatory uncertainty making the country a less attractive place to do business, and driving companies out of the Canadian market?

So ignore the media and activist class parroting Total's environmentalist bromides, and proclaiming that this is the beginning of the end for Canada's oil sands. That is just Grade A slacktivism on Total's part, meant to score some brownie points with the media while obscuring what this really is -- a dollars and cents decision based on the present state of the market and the regulatory reality in Canada.

You Knew This Was Coming

As we've been saying from the jump, the "global warming" crew adores the Covid-19 manufactured "crisis," primarily because power-mad authorities were able to take an event with only slightly more reality than imminent beachfront property in Nevada and turn it into a full-fledged, economy- and social-trust-destroying assault on the world. If all it took was the flu, for crying out loud, they must be thinking, why didn't we think of something that simple?

The end of the world is already taken, but what about " scientists say it's the end of the world"? And that to appease the angry Climate Gods, we must take the advances the Wuhan virus has brought us and expand upon them?

If global warming is to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by the Paris Agreement, scientists say efforts to reverse economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic must include climate policy measures, according to a [recent]  study.

COVID-19 has killed several hundred thousand people and sickened millions more, but the lockdowns necessitated by the crisis have had a positive effect on air quality. Research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, however, suggests the pandemic's silver lining is unlikely to last should the world economy's return to business as usual.

Nothing like a "silver lining" to death and economic destruction, I guess. but at least the air quality is better! A small price to pay!

But wait -- the real treat is yet to come:

Even if global lockdowns were extended through the end of the year, without significant economic reforms, the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions achieved during the pandemic will amount to infinitesimal reduction in global warming.

And you know what that means...

"Our paper shows that the actual effect of lockdown on the climate is small," study co-author Harriet Forster said in a news release. "The important thing to recognize is that we've been given a massive opportunity to boost the economy by investing in green industries -- and this can make a huge difference to our future climate," said Forster, who recently graduated from the University of Leeds in Britain.

Because the behavioral shifts triggered by pandemic and resulting economic downturn are temporary, researchers suggest the momentary reduction in emissions will have a minimal impact on climate change. Still, the authors suggest the pandemic has provided global governments a unique opportunity to address climate change long-term.

Researchers suggest that while the pandemic's effects on the climate are temporary, they have offered a glimpse of the progress that could be made with permanent structural reforms.

And you really know what that means:

They never stop, they never sleep, and -- even after their entire economic and political system has collapsed -- they never quit trying to destroy ours as well.