The Oxymorons Heard 'Round the World

News reports inform us that Covid cases are rising exponentially, particularly in the U.K., which has reportedly enjoyed the most successful vaccine rollout on record thus far, with about 85 percent of the population receiving a first dose and 62 percent receiving two. Yet no connection is made between a massive vaccination program intended to reduce or prevent the spread of infections and the fact that cases are said to be skyrocketing. The vaccines are extravagantly touted as reliable antitoxins; at the same time the disease apparently continues to surf from wave to wave and variant to variant. 

Meanwhile, as Matt Margolis at PJ Media reports, the World Health Organization has stipulated that fully vaccinated people should keep wearing face masks and practicing social distancing in order to prevent new variants of Covid-19 “even though Covid deaths have not surged.” Cases are up, fatalities down, which latter may be owing to the gradual acquisition of natural herd immunity. (The rash of new cases may be partially attributable to the kernel choice of high test cycles, which will often reflect residual genetic material, such as junk or dead virus, rather than a peak in viral infections.) 

Despite these odd discrepancies in recommendations, we are still counseled that the vaccines work, which does not prevent the authorities from declaring that the disease is spiking. The two obvious reasons for this contradiction are never mentioned or even recognized:

  1. The vaccines are ineffective, mere panaceas. The limited trials were flawed as nobody was exposed to the virus during the relevant studies; indeed, the actual numbers show there is no such thing as a miraculous vaccine. Pfizer math purporting trial success rates has been shown to be radically unconvincing if not deceptive. In any event, whether the vaccines are effective or not, they are clearly not safe. Adverse symptoms will routinely be blamed on “anxiety” or some other emotional reaction, or some pre-existent medical condition. As Stacey Lennox writes discussing traumas of this nature and the staple explanations adduced by professionals, “There are no words strong enough to describe how cynical and dismissive these medical providers are.”
  2. The surge in “cases,” predictably assigned to the always timely arrival of new mutations, may be the result, as dependable sources have claimed, of the vaccines themselves via a condition known as antibody-dependent enhancement. Prominent French virologist and Nobel Laureate Luc Montagnier, the bête noir of the leftist establishment, contends that mass vaccinations are “an unacceptable mistake… they are creating the variants.” The virus is cleverly adaptive and will find a way to circumvent the vaccines or, as noted, even use the vaccines to aid in adopting new forms. Similarly, the top-tier medical journal Vaccine has warned that the vaccines may exacerbate rather than attenuate viral infections, and remains skeptical of their viability. Additionally, previously infected persons who have been vaccinated, warns Pennsylvania immunologist Hooman Noorchashm, could suffer a “re-ignited critical inflammatory disease or blood clotting complications.” 

Now wait just a minute there...

Not to be denied, the media and official organizations will argue that growing case numbers are attributed to the stubborn resistance of a minority cohort of anti-vaxxers. The W.H.O has even now called the unvaccinated “Covid variant factories” who may prolong the pandemic, an assumption there is no way of proving but which is obviously intended to lay the groundwork for future vaxxports. Moreover, given the vast numbers of vaccinated people who are or should be immune and the fact that young and healthy people are naturally resistant to serious complications, the assumption is highly implausible. Nonetheless, the conjurations and hexings proceed apace. The shamans and medicine men have spoken.

The palpable fact is that the vaccinated, who are now presumably shielded, should have no fear of the unvaccinated. It doesn’t seem to matter. I have met many of the jabbed who diligently avoid those who have demurred—even close relatives—though if the vaccines they swear by were potent, they should clearly have acquired immunity and be assured of their security. They are confident, yet frightened, a perfect instance of cognitive dissonance of which they remain unaware. 

And there’s the rub. Such people are not governed by reason but by a species of magical thinking, a kind of voodoo conviction. Despite whatever inner tremors they feel or doubts they may have struggled to suppress, they insist on the soundness of the vaccines and rush to the inoculation booths. These confections are like magical elixirs, bunches of dill or lavender laid at the door to keep out demonic beings, or talismans affixed to the lintel to ward off the angel of contagion.

If the sorcery doesn’t work, it could only have been improperly invoked or may demand a more powerful form of juju. After all, the signs and portents are everywhere. Time for a booster, and then another, ad infinitum. The U.K. has already announced a third jab for vulnerable populations to be offered beginning in September. Johnson & Johnson may require annual vaccine shotseven though longitudinal studies are years from completion and the vaccines remain in the experimental stage

We are an advanced society, a highly civilized and increasingly secular people. On the surface this is true, but in essence we are as primitive and credulous as our stone age ancestors. Magic, not reason, remains the psychological default. Amulets and incantations will keep us safe, our tribal elders are repositories of arcane wisdom, our witch doctors are acknowledged to be clinically infallible, and the practice of exorcism will banish the evil spirit that has possessed us. A passion for the occult supersedes the reliance on reason and common sense.

The best minds of our generation have spoken.

As Amelia Janaski observes in the American Institute for Economic Research, in regard to the issue of “excess deaths” owing to bungled COVID policy responses, “epidemiological models have largely failed to predict real-world outcomes…plans often end up based on a pretense of knowledge rather than real-world evidence or understanding.” This is certainly true not only with respect to mask mandates and periodic lockdowns but equally to what has become a therapeutic obsession, to wit, the prevalent vaccine cult and fetish. We believe in the enchantment of “models” and the charm of cryptic statistical artifacts the way we believe in the apotropaic force of totems and idols. Vaccinology carries the day.

We might say that we are idol worshippers, votaries of Francis Bacon’s four Idols of false reasoning and superstition, laid out in the Novum Organum: the Idols of the Tribe, The Cave, the Marketplace and the Theater. We are currently prone specifically to the Idols of the Marketplace, which refer to proclaimed opinions that are ephemeral or manifestly not sensible, given the available evidence; and to the Idols of the Theatre, which refer to belief in groundless scientific theories and presumed facts in the absence of valid empirical confirmation.

Proneness to idolatry is par for the human condition, as is the susceptibility to magical thinking. But in the present age and, especially, in the “Covid moment,” idolatry and magic have become psychological vectors that govern our response to the real world. And, as always, and to our detriment, reality will have the last word.

Talking the Talk on 'Climate Change'

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

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

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

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

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

Go on, give it a try!

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

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

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

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

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

One way to stop climate change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Syria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'The Hidden Costs of Net Zero'

In last week’s column I argued that in dealing with the threats of climate change, our best approach would be to forget labels like "climate denialism” and “climate alarmism,” make a fair accounting of the problems, and set about tackling them practically. When I advocated this approach of “climate practicality,” I was thinking in Big Picture terms: How best should we allocate scarce resources between adapting to climate change and seeking to mitigate it, for instance? Or between generating energy mainly from fossil fuels, as now, or from “renewables,” or from going nuclear? Where will our money get the best results?

Answering those Big Picture questions is obviously necessary, indeed unavoidable, but it’s also very difficult to answer them well, i.e, convincingly, because they contain so many variables. It’s somewhat easier (though still hard) to examine the practicality of specific policies from the standpoint not only of governments which propose and implement them but also of the ordinary citizens who have to live with their impact.

That’s done with deep practical expertise and occasional dry wit in a new monograph from the Global Warming Policy Foundation titled ReWiring the UK: the Hidden Costs of Net Zero by Mike Travers, a distinguished engineer with wide experience in that most practical of disciplines.

I am sure every one of us in the UK supports cutting waste, not polluting the oceans with plastic, collecting our rubbish (though people are still throwing tons of waste out of car windows), reducing discharges of all types into our fragile atmosphere and still maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. To do this we need to plan, engineer and build in a sensible way. What we cannot afford to do is inflate electricity prices and other costs: this will simply result in manufacturing industry leaving the country and the export of our carbon dioxide emissions.

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Travers starts with the problem, which is that electricity prices have been rising sharply in the U.K.: “[B]usinesses and consumers have been facing steadily increasing electricity bills for the last 12 years. Average domestic prices have risen from 6p to 16p per unit. That is more than 150 percent in twelve years, faster than any other commodity. This is partly the result of poor planning of the system.”

And why is that? Travers first gives vent to an understandable professional pique that “[e]ngineers have long since lost control of the electrical supply, and the regulators, accountants, and lawyers who now hold sway have conspired to prevent sensible improvements to the system.”

His second explanation, however, goes to the nub of the problem, which is that rising electricity prices stem mainly from government policies to “decarbonize the economy’” (i.e. the hidden costs of the monograph’s title), as the country switches from gas turbines to the much more expensive wind turbines to generate electcicity and move towards net zero carbon emissions.

As we head towards a fully decarbonised grid, the expense will become truly astronomical. We even have to pay windfarms to switch off. These so-called ‘constraint payments’ reached £140 million in 2019.

Rising electricity prices from decarbonization are a major problem, especially so when consumers are facing harder times as the cumulative impact of Covid-19 and the lockdowns kicks in, but they are far from the only negative results. For the U.K. government, though headed by an easy-going optimististic prime minister in Boris Johnson, is committed to requiring ordinary Brits to make major changes in their life-styles that will mean imposing heavier costs on them as both consumers, electricity users, and taxpayers. For instance, the government has already announced that it is making a transition to electric cars compulsory by 2035—and that regulation will include hybrid cars. Nor is it likely to be only such regulation. Brits will also be required to install in their homes such other devices as heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points.

The cost of installing EV charging points alone will be a considerable one. Travers estimates that it will be of the order of 31 billion pounds. But that’s small beer compared to the overall losses from the installation and use of all the additional electric devices needed for decarbonization (italics mine):

The extra demand for electricity will overwhelm most domestic fuses, thus requiring homeowners to install new ones, as well as circuit-breakers and new distribution boards. Most will also have to rewire between their main fuse and the distribution network. In urban areas, where most electrical cabling is underground, this will involve paying for a trench to be dug between the home and the feeder circuits in the street. In addition, increased demand along a street will mean that the distribution network will need to be upgraded too. This will involve installing larger cables and replacing distribution transformers with larger ones. Most urban streets will need to be dug up. The cost to the country of rewiring alone will probably exceed £200 billion, or over £7,000 per household. This figure excludes the cost of new equipment, such as EV chargers, heat pumps and electric showers.

That’s the total impact on householders. It’s alarming. But the details of how many of these centrally-imposed regulations will impact the individual householder is where Travers shines. Here he is, for instance, on heat pumps:

The best alternative is a ground-source heat pump (GSHP), which extracts heat from the earth, using a network of buried pipes. However, that requires a lot of space, so they are really only an option for people who own significant plots of land or can afford the alternative of drilling a borehole. The total cost in a new house for installing a GSHP is likely to be £18,000, or four times the present cost of an oil or gas heating system. The alternative is an air-source heat pump (ASHP), which might cost £10,000, gives energy gains rather less than GSHPs, and suffers from major reductions in efficiency in cold weather.

Even an attentive reader of the serious press would not guess one tenth of the upheavals and cost additions that electric vehicles and heat pumps alone by themselves are likely to cause the Brits—and thus to government ministers when voters realize that what these high-sounding moral principles will mean in practice.

If Ministers pay heed to Travers on the costs and practicality of their policies, they will reconsider de-carbonization and look instead at going nuclear or choosing adaptation over mitigation. But practicality and government live increasingly separate lives—the former in this world, the latter in Utopia. And a reconciliation between them is probably a catastrophe away.