Boris Johnson, who has dominated British politics since the middle of 2019, is now facing a possible ejection from office and the end of his political career for the sin of attending parties at Number Ten Downing Street during the period that his government was enforcing anti-Covid regulations that forbade ordinary citizens from attending not only parties but also funerals, marriages, and the bedsides of dying family members. This scandal, inevitably named party-gate, has aroused extraordinary public anger against Johnson because it crystallizes the widespread public feeling after two years of Covid lockdowns that “there’s one law for Them [i.e., the political class] and another law for Us."
That’s an especially damaging charge against him because until recently Boris was seen by a large slice of the British public, especially blue-collar Tories and Brexit supporters, as their defender against a remote and corrupt establishment. Not to mention that the charge comes at a time when Boris is losing popularity more generally because several groups in the broad conservative coalition oppose his other policies.
I dealt with his plight which is a serious one—and how he might succeed in keeping his job—in a recent article in National Review Online:
The odd truth is that although he helped to put together an election-winning coalition, he is now alienating all the major Tory factions one after another by his various policies: Thatcherites by his reckless over spending and abandonment of tax cuts; patriotic Tories by failing to counter the deracinated ideas of Wokeness conquering so many British institutions; younger and less affluent Tories by not tackling the unavailability of affordable housing effectively; small savers and investors by allowing inflation to revive; cautious pragmatic Tories by “big government” projects on an almost Napoleonic scale such as Net-Zero; even Brexiteers by the long-drawn-out negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol; and much else. (My emphasis).
That’s a formidable list of disasters, but the one that will spring out at The Pipeline readers is the reference to Net-Zero and more broadly to Boris’s passionate embrace of a radical, expensive, and life-altering program of left-wing environmentalism and global redistribution. He was the impresario of the COP26 U.N. conference at Glasgow that was meant to entrench Net-Zero as a legally-binding international obligation on the West. It failed in that, but he probably hopes to revive that campaign as soon as he can. Should global “lukewarmers” (i.e., those who think, like The Pipeline, that the costs of climate alarmist policies are heavier than the costs of climate change) want therefore to see Boris brought down over party-gate on the grounds that Net-Zero would perish with him?
That’s a serious question because the fall of Boris would be a major international sensation and some of the commentary on it would cite Net-Zero as a contributory factor in his demise. Having made two recent visits to London, however, I would argue the opposite case on four grounds:
To sum up, a world in which the Government is urging voters to travel by bus, cut down on foreign vacations, eat less meat, and accept colder homes in the winter while ministers and CEOs travel by official cars and private planes to pleasant climates where they discuss the sacrifices that must be made to realize Net-Zero looks awfully like a world in which “there’s one law for Them and another law for Us.” Boris is acutely vulnerable to—and so most anxious to avoid—that suspicion at present.
My conclusion therefore is that climate realists should not be too keen on seeing Boris ousted any time soon. The argument is moving in our direction and Boris is losing the authority and perhaps the desire to halt or reverse that.
Since classical physics seemingly clashed with quantum mechanics, scientists have tried to find an overarching theory. Searching for the Theory of Everything is the catchiest way to describe the grand quest. My quest is more base than grand, being steeped in political calculation. Yet it has a commonality of sorts with the theory of everything. I’m after a common factor which explains the loss of public support for three political leaders. Each quite different from one another.
My three subjects are Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, and Scott Morrison. According to the polls, support for each of them has plummeted since they were elected. If elections were held today each of them and their respective parties would be routed.
On the political spectrum, Biden has gone from (supposedly) moderately left to green-new-deal junkie. Johnson has gone from an irreverent, freedom-loving Brexit hero to a tax-raising, Covid-panicking, climate zealot. Morrison, true to expedient form, has embraced net-zero to appease wets among his colleagues, to assuage corporate carpetbaggers and, so I understand, to please Scandinavians.
In the past, the issues of the day were more bread and butter than they are now. Generally, the state of the economy determined whether a government was returned or kicked out. "It’s the economy stupid," used to be the theory of everything.
Clearly, inflation is affecting the popularity of Biden. A touch of the past there. But that certainly isn’t playing out in the U.K. or in Australia to nearly the same extent. Nor does the dreaded Wuhan virus tip the balance either way in my view.
My impression is that those seeking safety, and astonishingly they are in their legions, are happy enough with their government. That’s because all three leaders have reacted with feckless paranoia at the least sign of sickness. Moreover, those hardy folk who are prepared to take a risk or two for freedom’s sake have largely been battered into submission by media and government propaganda machines. Being constantly told that your freedom poses a deadly risk to the vulnerable is unnerving. Who wants to be accused of recklessly killing grannies and grandpas? No one. Game, set and re-election.
Biden has a border problem, as does Johnson to a lesser extent. This undoubtedly affects their popularity. But among which voters? That’s key, as I’ll come to.
Australia has the advantage of being an island continent. It’s easier to keep so-called asylum seekers out. Boats have to travel a fair way. Still, you have to be prepared to turn them back. Under Tony Abbott, prime minister from 2013-2015, they were turned back. If they scuttled their boats, hoping to be rescued and brought ashore, they were provided with life boats and pointed seaward.
Of course, the usual suspects were outraged. However, no political party, except the delusional Greens, has ever risked going to an election promising to overturn the policy of turning back boats. They would like to. But they sniff the votes. The votes they’re sniffing are not those of the inner cities, the professional and corporate types, the public servants, the educators. They’re all now overwhelmingly left-cum-green voters. The votes at risk are in blue-collar outer suburbia, and in regional and rural towns.
John Howard, Australia’s prime minister from 1996 to 2007, won repeatedly by attracting the “Howard battlers.” Voters who in days past would have voted for the Labor Party. This section of the voting block also brought Boris Johnson his victory in 2019, as the so-called “red wall” of Labour constituencies in the Midlands, Northern England and in parts of Wales fell to the Tories. This story applies in similar measure to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 and also to Scott Morrison’s come-from-behind win in 2019.
It’s not so much the issue as the constituency. Trump appealed to America first; in other words, to old-fashioned patriotism. A lot followed from that. Defending the southern border; protecting American industry from predatory international competition and from onerous regulations; and withdrawing from draining foreign military engagements.
Johnson also keyed into patriotism. Brexit was won on patriotism not on financial calculations. Who's patriotic anymore? You’d mostly search in vain in white-collar inner-suburbia. Patriotism lives among blue-collar workers and in regional and rural communities.
It wasn’t patriotism per se that Morrison tapped into in 2019 but it was related and the constituency was the same. Climate-change apocalypticism threatened the coal industry in Northern New South Wales and Queensland and, with it, the livelihoods and way of life of surrounding communities. The common factor in the victories of Morrison and Johnson and Trump before them was their appeal to the national interest. Their thinking was spot on.
From spot on to derangement. Climate-change apocalypticism has finally had its way. Nobody illustrated that better than Biden in New Hampshire at the end of 2019:
Anybody who can go down 300 to 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well...Give me a break! Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for god's sake!
Of course, the extent of Biden’s derangement is a special case. Nonetheless, the common factor in the falling popularity of all three leaders is their embrace of globalism in the place of the national interest. And, hence, their willingness to sacrifice the well-being of multitudes of their citizens in a quixotic quest to cool the planet. Maniacal, inexplicable, but true.
Maybe Biden didn’t really have much of a choice with AOC and Bernie Sanders snapping at his throat. Not so with Johnson and Morrison. Though I suppose, in part excuse, Johnson has his leftist wife, Prince Charles, and David Attenborough to deal with. I can’t find much of an excuse for Morrison.
Last time he did a Trump and put Australia first. There was a big contrast between his Party’s climate policy and the opposition Labor Party’s. Now they are both aiming for net-zero; bizarrely dependent on unknown future technologies. In the meantime, onward with wind and solar boondoggles; and to blazes with Australia’s fossil fuel industries and the communities which live off them. There will be a comeuppance. As the votes of such communities drift away to conservative-minded independents, Morrison can forget about winning.
By and large, most Republicans understand today’s political landscape, I think. Johnson and Morrison seemingly don’t. Johnson has more time to change course. He won’t. His party needs to change him. Morrison, having swallowed the poisonous climate bait will likely meet his doleful fate. Dispatched to the opposition benches in the forthcoming May election.
I’ve often thought I should start a new kind of psychological therapy, one I call the Get Real School. Instead of listening to neurotics moan about their childhood toilet-training traumas, I’d have them discuss what their adult beliefs are, and we’d explore how sensible their concerns and plans are. If it took off, I’d expect that California’s and the European Union’s energy supplies would benefit greatly from this therapy if only I could get their leaders into my office.
They have ignored utterly the need for energy reliability, discounted cost to consumers, overestimated the capacity of renewable energy, and underestimated energy demands. They do so based on the ridiculous concept that man can control the climate. To that end everything from cow flatulence to clean-burning natural gas must be stemmed in place of wind, sun and water. In the process, of course, they increase their own power over virtually every aspect of life within their domain.
It’s still mild in Europe right now, though winter is coming, a time when demand is always greater, and yet even in a more benign fall there’s been a substantial shortage of energy and as a result an incredible increase in energy costs to consumers.
Blame it on the North Sea winds which suddenly stopped blowing if you wish. I blame it on ludicrous energy policies. What do you do when the wind stops blowing (one-twenty fourth of its normal electrical production) and the windmills stand still? You rely on fossil fuels. To make up the shortfall, gas and coal-fired electrical producing plants are forced into play as backups.
British political geniuses counted on the wind farms to do away entirely with net carbon emissions by 2050. This may seem odd to officialdom’s deep thinkers, but just as man can’t control climate, so also he cannot control wind or sunshine or rainfall, either. Well, you might say, the U.K. is lucky to still have backup fuels to pick up the shortfall. But, no, the same central planning that counted on wind has also set up a system of purchasable carbon credits to offset the use of such fuels. Quite naturally, the price of those "credits" is soaring as the need for them increases. More sensible planners would have provided for suspension of the carbon-credit system when there’s an urgent need for them, but, of course, they did not.
How substantial will the hit to the pockets of U.K. consumers be? At the moment electricity prices in the U.K. are seven times higher than they were last September -- up to $395 a megawatt hour for power to be dispatched the next day. France, Germany and the Netherlands are also seeing substantial energy cost increases. Here’s how this works:
Gas is in short supply right now and renewables aren’t pulling their expected share, so utilities must buy more coal, and when they do they have had to buy more emissions allowances as well. And the increased costs have to be passed on to consumers -- directly for electricity (and indirectly through the higher costs of goods and services). So, wherever possible, energy producers have returned to gas and that meant gas prices have also shot up. Still, they are able to generate some electricity using these backups right now. But, despite this experience, the U.K. demands that all coal plants must close by 2024. When and if they do, the situation will certainly be more dire.
At the moment, the only companies that profit from the shift to wind power are U.S. exporters of liquified natural gas and Russian gas exporters. This winter, if the North sea wind blows, they better pray it doesn’t at the same time freeze the windmills or blow them down.
California is also suffering from an electricity shortfall. And its plan is to allow more air pollution for 60 days. That state has been relying heavily on solar energy and wind. It also relies on hydroelectric power but drought and wildfires have limited the capacity of that source. The summer heat increases demand for electricity. So much so, that the state predicts a shortfall sufficient to power 2.6 million homes in the coming months.
To avoid that, it has requested that six natural gas units throughout the state be permitted to operate at maximum capacity “notwithstanding air quality or other permit limitations.” It will certainly be ironic if we see that closing some gas plants that operated under emission controls to save the environment now results in greater emissions because renewables proved insufficient, and the remaining gas plants were allowed to operate outside emission controls. While it seems not to have considered the consequences of its closure of fossil fuel generating plants, California suddenly seems to have noticed a cost-benefit issue, arguing to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm that the power outages posed “a greater risk to public health and safety” than the greater emissions. The request was granted September 10. Let’s see what happens after the 60-day reprieve is up and the rest of the state’s green energy plan is implemented.
On a higher political level than California and the U.K., the game continues. John Kerry, the U.S. "Climate Change" envoy has been shuttling back and forth to India and China, the world’s greatest producers of carbon emissions in what is certain to prove a vain attempt to persuade them to shortchange their countries of vital reliable, affordable energy. At the E.U., despite rocketing carbon-offset prices due to the insufficiency of renewable resources to meet demand, their climate czar Frans Timmermans, the European Commission vice president, blathers on about that bloc cutting gas emissions “by at least 55 percent by 2030,” and offers up some big new thinking:
Even in Brussels there’s an occasional bright light. In this case it was Poland’s Anna Zalewska who noted citizens unfortunately will “pay for the ambitions of the E.U.” And the chair of the Parliamentary committee on the environment, who was all for the banning gas and diesel fueled cars, has contended that the notion of extending the carbon market to transport and buildings went too far. "Because we believe that the political cost is extremely high, and the climate impact is very low.”
What he’s really afraid of is massive social protests against such loony fiddling of something as basic to life as energy. And he should be. Winter’s just around the corner, European gas supplies are short and it’s a struggle, in any event, to get their older gas plants back on line. It may well prove that a E.U. Christmas means there will either be coal in the people’s electric plants or in the E.U. bigwigs' Christmas stockings.
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:
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 shots—even 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.