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.

The Texas Blame Game

The finger-pointing is well under way in Texas. And understandably so, as the situation on the ground is such a disaster. Millions of people are without power and heat, water pipes are bursting, and thus far thirty deaths have been blamed on the weather and the attendant outages. In a recent interview, Gov. Greg Abbott argued that Green energy is a big part of the problem:

This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. Texas is blessed with multiple sources of energy such as natural gas and nuclear as well as solar and wind. Our wind and our solar got shut down and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid. And that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the face of the Green New Deal, took to Twitter to hit back, saying that the governor has it exactly backwards:

The infrastructure failures in Texas are quite literally what happens when you don’t pursue a Green New Deal. Weak on sweeping next-gen public infrastructure investments, little focus on equity so communities are left behind, climate deniers in leadership so they don’t long prep for disaster. We need to help people now. Long-term we must realize these are the consequences of inaction.

Which sounds vaguely inspiring, but it doesn't rebut Abbott's charge. He claims that the failure of so-called renewable energy, upon which Texas's power grid relies, led to the whole system being overwhelmed. Ocasio-Cortez replied that it'd be nice if Texas had updated its infrastructure. That's probably true, but that doesn't mean it is "quite literally what happens when you don’t pursue a Green New Deal." Why not update the existing infrastructure, reinforcing it against extreme weather, rather than replacing everything -- and with a less reliable power source -- as the GND mandates?

In response to the environmentalist fury at the suggestion that 'renewables' bear any responsibility for this disaster, the Wall Street Journal has a patient walk through of the part that they actually did play.

Last week wind generation plunged as demand surged. Fossil-fuel generation increased and covered the supply gap. Thus between the mornings of Feb. 7 and Feb. 11, wind as a share of the state’s electricity fell to 8 percent from 42 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Gas-fired plants produced 43,800 MW of power Sunday night and coal plants chipped in 10,800 MW—about two to three times what they usually generate at their peak on any given winter day—after wind power had largely vanished. In other words, gas and coal plants held up in the frosty conditions far better than wind turbines did.

By Monday the 15th, temperatures had dropped so low that conventional power plants (aided, yes, by infrastructure failures) began struggling to cover the surging demand. On Tuesday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas put out a statement saying it "appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system." The WSJ observes that wind's apologists "are citing this statement as exoneration. But note he used the word “today.” Most wind power had already dropped offline last week.... Gas power nearly made up for the shortfall in wind, though it wasn’t enough to cover surging demand."

So, to the Greenies working overtime to assign blame for the disaster in Texas, maybe take a look in the mirror.

Thank You, Oil & Gas!

In the new documentary, Planet of the Humans, Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs explain that a major reason they've soured on green energy is that they came to see how reliant so-called renewables are on the very fossil fuels they aspire to replace. Wind turbines and solar panels are made of plastics which are produced using petroleum distillates, the crystalline silicon used to manufacture the photo-voltaic cells on solar panels make use of mined materials, etc.

And then, of course, there is the intermittency problem -- the sun isn't always shining, the wind isn't always blowing -- which makes it so that the Green Energy Industry requires traditional power plants to remain on stand-by to fill in the gaps, thus emitting more carbon than they would have otherwise. As Ozzie Zehner one of their experts puts it in the documentary:

You use more fossil fuels to do this than you're getting a benefit from it. You would've been better off [just] burning the fossil fuels in the first place instead of playing pretend.

This is meant to induce a sense of despair in the viewer, so as to lay a groundwork for their Malthusian suggestions and we-don't-ever-actually-use-the-phrase-population-control solutions. I was, however, reminded of this aspect of the documentary -- the exposé concerning the poison-pill fossil fuels mixed into your wholesome green energy -- while reading a Wall Street Journal editorial this week entitled Big Oil to the Coronavirus Rescue, which examined other products which rely on oil and gas.

The editorial begins by pointing out the irony of the New York City council's recently coming out of their pandemic hidey-holes to introduce a resolution divesting the city's assets from banks that invest in fossil fuels. Ironic because the industry that they are attacking is central to the production of supplies which we need to beat back the virus they've been hiding from. From the WSJ:

Exxon’s predecessor Standard Oil invented isopropyl alcohol (IPA), the key ingredient in disinfectants and hand sanitizer, in 1920. Its Baton Rouge chemical plant is now the world’s largest producer of IPA. While refineries have been throttled back, Exxon has ramped up IPA production by 3,000 tons per month, which is enough to produce 50 million four-ounce bottles of sanitizer.

The oil giant recently noted in a press release that the state of New York has turned to the Baton Rouge plant for critical supplies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be grateful Exxon isn’t holding a grudge after the state’s four-year inquisition for allegedly deceiving itself about its climate impact, which finally ended last December when a state judge tossed the state lawsuit as entirely without merit.

Exxon is also increasing production of a specialized polypropylene that is used in medical masks and gowns by about 1,000 tons per month, which is enough to manufacture up to 200 million medical masks or 20 million gowns. At the same time, it is applying its expertise in material science to develop new face shields that utilize a filtration fabric.

Working with Boeing, Exxon plans to manufacture as many as 40,000 masks an hour. According to an Exxon engineer, this new design and production method won’t be vulnerable to the supply-chain hiccups that have led to widespread mask shortages. No Defense Production Act coercion necessary.

The editors ask wryly whether "liberals want to divest from using those [products] to fight off the coronavirus?" Well, after watching Planet of the Humans which has one scientist saying that barring a "major die off in population, there's no turning back," you would be forgiven for concluding that at least for some liberals the answer is yes.

As for me, however, I'm extremely grateful that we have these products produced by the oil and gas industry. Every ounce of isopropyl alcohol, every bit of that specialized polypropylene they produce become weapons in our arsenal. I'm so enthusiastic about their work, in fact, that I'd like to see them focus their energies on it even more exclusively, to the exclusion of, for instance, cosying up to the Greens, who will never forgive them for existing anyway. Maybe they could even redirect the plastics earmarked for wind turbines and solar panels towards making face-shields, ventilators, and personal protective equipment for the next year or two.

Something to think about.