Natural gas and electricity markets were already surging in Europe when a fresh catalyst emerged: The wind in the stormy North Sea stopped blowing. The sudden slowdown in wind-driven electricity production off the coast of the U.K. in recent weeks whipsawed through regional energy markets. Gas and coal-fired electricity plants were called in to make up the shortfall from wind. Natural-gas prices, already boosted by the pandemic recovery and a lack of fuel in storage caverns and tanks, hit all-time highs. Thermal coal, long shunned for its carbon emissions, has emerged from a long price slump as utilities are forced to turn on backup power sources.
The episode underscored the precarious state the region’s energy markets face heading into the long European winter. The electricity price shock was most acute in the U.K., which has leaned on wind farms to eradicate net carbon emissions by 2050. Prices for carbon credits, which electricity producers need to burn fossil fuels, are at records, too... At their peak, U.K. electricity prices had more than doubled in September and were almost seven times as high as at the same point in 2020. Power markets also jumped in France, the Netherlands and Germany.
So the transition to so-called renewable energy has really been raking European energy markets over the coals. Literally, in fact, as coal-fired power plants are having to increase production to meet energy demands. And it's making Russia into a one nation OPEC, the only country in the region with an excess of natural gas which will happily export it.... for some significant diplomaticconcessions.
Quite the bind the E.U. finds itself in. Perhaps they might consider changing course, accepting that shutting down their natural gas and nuclear power plants, not to mention banning fracking, is a mistake?
Doesn't sound like it! Reuters -- "Record high power prices in European Union countries show the bloc must wean itself off fossil fuels and speed up the transition to green energy, the EU's top climate change official said on Tuesday." That official -- first vice-president of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, who has appeared in these pages before, always singing the same one-note tune -- argues that, in fact, it is because they haven't transitioned quickly enough that things are so bad! "Had we had the Green Deal five years earlier, we would not be in this position because then we would have less dependence on fossil fuels and on natural gas," he said.
Never mind that the transition itself helped create the shortage by causing a shortage of the fuels that, for the foreseeable future, the continent continues to run on. That, and the fact that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun sometimes fails to shine.
Anyway, you heard it from Frans first -- renewable energy causes problems that can only be solved by... more renewable energy. Is there anything it can't do?
In Locked-Down Australia, Bad News Good, Good News Bad
Disdain for the progressive media cuts me off from 95 percent and more of news commentary. Luckily, from very little that’s true or uplifting. How do I know, you might ask, if I don’t read or watch it? Well, I have to admit to occasionally refreshing my disdain.
Living in the hermit kingdom of Sydney under yet another dystopian Covid stay-at-home order, replete with troops on the streets, I had time on my hands and switched idly from watching Fox News to BBC World News. As it happened, the presenter was interviewing Professor John Thwaites, chair of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and of Climate Works Australia; a professional climate alarmist. Why was Thwaites being interviewed? Basically, to add to the gloating about Australia earning a wooden spoon; having been awarded last place in taking “climate action,” according to a U.N. sponsored report.
Notice something about those alarmed by the impending climate catastrophe. They get immeasurable sanctimonious pleasure from bad news. Whether it is bush fires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, etc.; or, as I will come to later, coral bleaching. Bad news is good news for them.
A face only a mother could love: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
The report, issued by a bunch of economists calling themselves Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), evaluated the “sustainable development” performance of almost 200 countries across 17 categories; climate action being one of the categories. Oh yes, I should mention, Thwaites is one of the co-chairs of a council overseeing the work of SDSN.
Climate action, we are informed by SDSN, is judged on four criteria: CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production; CO2 emissions embodied in imports and, separately, in exports; and progress in implementing carbon pricing. Being the second largest coal exporter obviously didn’t do Australia any favours. At the same time, I can’t work out how Australia managed to beat Indonesia, the exporter of the largest amount of coal, and China, the builder of most new coal-power stations, into last place.
Last in terms of taking climate action, really? Those disquieting reports of wind and solar farms being built across the Australian landscape must be gross exaggerations. I looked at some numbers. To wit, per capita generation of electricity from wind plus sun in 2020. Lo and behold, Australia (1584 KWH) outdid the USA (1421 KWH), the UK (1284 KWH), Canada (1006 KWH) and China (505 KWH). I’m beginning to feel aggrieved that our magnificent achievement in erecting ugly, inefficient and intermittent energy totems is not being sufficiently appreciated.
I think the U.N. and their hangers-on have it in for Australia because we won’t agree to go along with the globally-woke in-crowd and voice commitment to zero-net emissions by 2050. My advice to Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is to just say it. You know you want to but for those few pesky conservatives still clinging on in your party room. And, best of all, you don’t have to mean it, nobody else does. Nobody else has a clue about how to get there either.
Morrison: good thing he's a "conservative."
Coming last on climate action was compounded by more bad news. Or, was it? And then there was relief from good news. Or, was it? Again, it all depends on your point of view.
UNESCO threatened to declare the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) “in danger;” which would give this highly politicised and compromised organisation license to busy-body itself into Australia’s climate affairs. You might recall that Donald Trump sensibly withdrew the United States from UNESCO. Not a chance Australia will have the gumption to follow suit.
A first view was that China put UNESCO up to it. Australia is firmly in Xi Jinping’s bad books for wanting an inquiry into the Wuhan lab, among other wanton anti-Chinese provocations from another of America’s running dogs. Though it turns out that hypocritical oil and gas exporter, pipsqueak Norway (pop. 5½ million) was the principal party behind it.
Anyway, Australia’s marine scientists were overjoyed at this “bad news.” Nothing they would like better than the reef being declared in danger. After all, they have spent decades foreshadowing its imminent demise. Keeping the research funds coming depends on keeping the reef endangered.
Then just as things were going swimmingly, ill-timed “good news” from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). It reported an upsurge in coral on the reef. Whether it’s the Northern part of the reef (up 27 percent since 2018/19), Central (up 26 percent), or Southern (up 39 percent), it’s all on the up and up. And that indeed was “bad news” for marine scientists, coming shortly before UNESCO was to pronounce judgement. Sure enough, UNESCO backed off, for now.
Peter Ridd, former professor at James Cook University, and expert on the reef, averred that coral on parts of the GBR was at a “record level” (The Australian 23 July, paywalled). The real danger he said is that the coral, as a matter of normal course, will fall from this record level, providing a fresh pretext for alarmism. But then he’s an outcast. He criticised the quality of his colleagues’ scientific research on the reef in 2017; maintaining that the reef was robust and healthy. He was sacked in 2018. Toe the party line or be cancelled.
His case for unfair dismissal has now reached the Australian High Court and will be decided shortly. At stake is the free speech of a dwindling sub-species: academics wedded to evidence rather than to an activist agenda.
We're still all right, mate!
And, as for the evidence on the state of the GBR? It’s unequivocal. The reef’s blooming. Ridd has been proved right. Ergo, those who’ve been relentlessly propagating scare stories recanted? Wrong! They immediately went into face-saving mode. Some examples.
Coral reef scientist Susan Ward: “another heat wave could wipe away this good progress.” Marine scientists James Cook and Scott Heron: “signs of recovery should not distract from the underlying threat to the reef.” And here is chief executive of AIMS Paul Hardisty, no doubt feeling guilty about his organisation’s upbeat report: “There is some encouraging news in this report and another good year would continue the recovery process, but we also have to accept the increasing risk of marine heatwaves that can lead to coral bleaching and the need for the world to reduce carbon emissions.”
There it is. When bad news is good news and good news bad. This is the perverted worldview I prefer not to have streamed into my living room, as I said at the start.
Heinrich's New Mexican Boondoggle
Earlier this summer Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), one of the most ardent environmentalists in national politics, wrote a typically brainless Op-Ed in the New York Times on electrification and the push for net-zero in the Democrats' multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill. Over at Capital Matters, Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation does us all a favor by thoroughly demolishing it.
Gessing opens with an important clarification --
Unfortunately, in Heinrich’s parlance, “electrification” does not mean bringing much-needed electricity to impoverished corners of our country, including the Navajo Reservation right here in New Mexico. No, the legislation he’s pushing in Congress — and the funding he’s advocating in the infrastructure bill, specifically — do nothing of the sort. By “electrification,” the senator means that he’d like federal, state, and local governments to phase out or completely ban your natural-gas stove, oven, and furnace, thus requiring you to use electric heat and stoves.
Which is partly to say that the bill itself is almost the antithesis of an infrastructure bill. Instead of putting government money towards what were once called "internal improvements" with the goal of raising the standard of living and improving economic conditions in neglected parts of the country, this bill ignores those forgotten places while seeking to lower standards of living and weigh down the economies across the board. This is what the Left calls "equity."
Gessing points out that, until a few years ago, environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club actually supported natural gas, due to its cleanliness compared to coal. He mentions that Barack Obama even touted its potential for reducing atmospheric CO2. But now major American cities like Sacramento, Seattle, and New York have begun the process of banning natural gas in new construction.
The environmentalists had it right the first time. As regular Pipeline readers know, the United States has led the world in carbon emissions reduction since the year 2000. Senator Heinrich and his allies, meanwhile, imagine that it can be entirely replaced with electricity generated by so-called renewable resources. That would be quite the trick, considering the fact that only about "10 percent of current electricity production comes from wind, solar, and geothermal combined" while this proposed transition "would increase U.S. electricity consumption by 40 percent." No surprise that Germany's attempted wind and solar transition has resulted in an increased reliance on coal, not to mention skyrocketing energy rates.
It's worth noting that the politicians pushing these policies are often working against the interests and preferences of the citizenry. The majority of people even in liberal cities want natural gas because it is "clean, affordable, and reliable energy," in Gessing's phrase. And Heinrich's home state of New Mexico is a major natural gas producer -- his own constituents would suffer if his preferred policies were fully enacted! In saner times, the residents of these communities would simply vote the bums out, but nowadays extreme partisanship protects activists masquerading as representatives.
It's quite the boondoggle. Just like Senator Heinrich's electrification proposals.
Whom to Believe: Big Brother or Your Lying Eyes?
Professor emeritus Ivan Kennedy, faculty of science at Sydney University, tells me he has been doing some work on the effect of turbulence engendered by wind turbines. Among other things, he hypothesizes that this may have a drying effect extending beyond the immediate area. The outcomes: a fall in the productivity of arable land and more water vapour in the atmosphere.
You’ll note, I said, he hypothesizes. Importantly, he also points out that his theory is testable using technology such as ground-based sensors and satellites. Being a scientist of the old school, he doesn’t rush to conclusions even provisional ones. Greenies are not nearly so constrained; operating comfortably in fact-free zones.
As an exercise, let me take each of the two hypothesized outcomes in turn and see where they lead. You will see that they lead realists (putting modesty aside) like us, and greenies in diametrically opposite directions.
Let us suppose there is a measurable fall in the moisture in agricultural land surrounding wind farms. Our take: build fewer wind turbines near agricultural land. (Build none at all actually but you get my drift.) Their take: climate change is causing droughts. Build more turbines.
Build fewer, senor. No, Sancho, build more.
Water vapour is by far the dominant greenhouse gas. Suppose it is found that the uplift of water vapour is greater, the nearer are turbines to bodies of water; those, particularly, in seas or close to irrigated areas. Our take: build fewer turbines close to water. Theirs, CO2 is causing the oceans to warm. Hence more water vapour. Build more turbines.
The bitter or delicious irony, depending where you stand, is that the more deleterious effects turbines have on the natural world, the more must be built to counter such effects. Wind turbines, and solar panels too, are bulletproof. They both make lots of money for powerful people and big businesses and, not least, for China. And they appeal to the gullible; who, at whatever cost to reason and the public purse, see them combatting the imminent imaginary climate Armageddon.
Even despoiling landscapes and seascapes hardly rates a mention now that Prince Phillip is not around to express his displeasure in his own blunt way. In case you've missed it, Prince Charles is not a chip of the old block. Mind you, that aside, alarms have been raised about the enormous quantity of materials and energy required for the manufacture of turbines and solar panels; for their use of rare earths; their relatively short life spans; and the problem of their disposal. Really? Among whom?
OK, only among those who deal in facts. In other words, not among the much vaster number of people, including government ministers and their apparatchiks throughout the Western world, who deal in fancies. Among the minority who deal in facts is Mark Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. If you haven’t already, it is well worth while keying in to his presentation on February 9, 2021 to the U.S. House Energy Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. Here’s just a taste:
Building a single 100-MW wind farm requires some 30,000 tons of iron ore and 50,000 tons of concrete, as well as 900 tons of nonrecyclable plastics for the huge blades.
A storage system to back-up such a wind farm would require using at least 10,000 tons of Tesla-class batteries.
The tonnage in cement, steel, and glass is 150% greater for solar than for wind, for the same energy output.
Under the scenarios for clean energy imagined by the World Bank, the 700 tons of neodymium currently mined would need to increase by between 1,000 and 4,000 percent. Indium by as much as 8000%. Cobalt by 300 to 800%. Lithium by more than 2,000%.
The Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, concluded last year that the supply of elements such as nickel, dysprosium, and tellurium will need to increase by 200 to 600%.
As Mills explains, while the minerals required are there, digging them up will be daunting and pricey. Count among the costs: environmental degradation; increased threats to the West’s national security in view of China’s dominance in many of the supply chains; the use of child labour in countries not so sensitive to human rights; the massive amounts of energy required to mine, transport and process these exotic minerals; and, the bottom line, the demise of reliable and affordable hydrocarbon power.
On hearing all of this, the Democrat members of the subcommittee, including the chairman Paul Tonko (NY), recanted and became RE-skeptics overnight. I’m fabulising. Inconvenient facts don’t impact dullards or zealots.
Prof. Kennedy’s hypothesis might be true. So what? It would just sit atop of the existing enormous pile of inconvenient facts. Rafe Champion, another friend fond of facts, continually pesters Australian politicians, all 837 of them in this over-governed land, about the inconstancy of wind. No wind no power, he says. Follow up tricky question: if it takes 1,000 turbines to power a particular town when the wind is blowing, how many turbines does it take when the wind isn’t blowing? Alas, arithmetic isn’t the strong suit of the political class; except, that is, when counting prospective votes.
It took exquisite torture on the part of O’Brien to convince Winston Smith that two plus two equals five. Childs play for greenies. To wit, when the wind stops blowing a big battery can take over, they claim, with the conviction of megalomaniacs.
One of the biggest lithium battery installations in the world at Hornsdale in South Australia can reportedly deliver 194 MW for an hour. Though electricity usage has spiked above 4,000MW, South Australia (pop. 1.8 million) generally uses from 1,000MW to 2,500MW depending on the time of day and season. Ergo, the battery would generally run out in 12 to 5 minutes if required to take over.
Mind you, as deluded as they are, look at us. We persist in using logic, facts and figures. Might as well babble for all the influence we have. And then again, what else is there to do? We are condemned, Sisyphus-like, to make the same arguments over and over again. Captors, as we are, of reality.
The one saving: real life is our pal. As the paranoid delusions and lies increasingly hit the road they’ll be undone. For example, when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining that illustrative town I mentioned will last ten minutes or so on batteries before the lights go out. QED.
John Kerry in La-La-Land
"Climate czar" John Kerry made a particularly tin-eared comment recently which demonstrated how ignorant liberals are about the world outside of their utopian fantasies. Kerry was asked what he would say to oil and gas workers who would "see an end to their livelihoods" should the Biden administration's climate agenda be fully implemented. He responded, "What President Biden wants to do is make sure that those folks have better choices... That they can be the people to go to work to make the solar panels."
This was justly mocked as a modern-day rendering of the apocryphal Marie Antoinette quote, "Let them eat cake." But it's worth noting that there's something more shocking about Kerry's blockheadedness. Does he really not know how ridiculous it is that Green Energy jobs could replace the natural resource ones he wants to disappear?
The U.S. government subsidizes wind and solar power to the tune of $7 billion per year to make it even somewhat competitive with traditional energy sources. Even if the Biden administration doubled that, so-called renewables wouldn't come close to filling the gaping hole left by lost oil and gas jobs. In an editorial about green jobs, the New York Post offers a relevant anecdote:
[Andrew] Cuomo spent $950 million in public money to put up a solar plant in Buffalo. The first tenant, SolarCity, went bust; Elon Musk had to have Tesla take SolarCity over. Panasonic was lured in to help Tesla make a go of the plant, only to flee a year ago. With nearly a billion bucks down the drain, the project has never come close to offering the jobs once promised for it.
Pouring money into renewables isn't going to create the jobs they claim it will, and certainly not in Appalachia or the Rust Belt, which would be hit hard by a fracking ban.
Which is to say, whatever his intentions, Kerry's energy preferences don't amount to blue collar job creation, but to increased American investment in Chinese renewables in order to subsidize China's addiction to coal. Maybe if he came down off his private jet for awhile he'd realize how crazy that is.
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.
Net Zero: Cost, Costs, and More Costs
Getting accurate estimates of the costs of going "Net-Zero" from the governments and global institutions that adopted the policy has been a difficult task from the first. That would have been so even if they had been honest and transparent in their accounting. Moving economies from dependence on cheap reliable fossil fuels to reliance on electrification fueled by renewables (i.e. wind and sun) would require massive expenditures on almost every aspect of life.
It also has the potential to be very alarming. If voters learn that the policy will result in higher fuel prices, higher taxes, and the need for them to spend large capital sums to transform their household economies by, for instance, replacing gas-fueled heaters and petrol-driven cars with electricity-fueled ground storage heaters and EVs, they may take fright and decide that the game isn't worth the dim flourescent bulb. Managing voters' opinions has therefore become an important element in the policy. It has to be "sold."
As it happens, the United Kingdom -- which has reduced carbon emissions more substantially than any other country -- has also put together the strongest political coalition in support of the Net-Zero policy. All the political parties represented in Parliament back it. So, overwhelmingly, does the media. So do all the major cultural institutions such as the BBC. Even bodies apparently remote from politics such as the National Trust (which looks after Britain's stately homes) are keen to be seen as relevant to the cause. When the Climate Change Act setting out legally-binding targets for carbon emissions reduction was passed, only five MPs voted against it.
That legislation created a climate change committee, rooted in parliament but independent of the government, and gave it the task of holding ministers to account over whether they have met the carbon reduction targets written into law. Its sixth annual report was issued at the end of last year. And it offers a very useful glimpse into the lifestyle changes and probable costs of the Net-Zero policy which most governments and agencies have been reluctant to publish or discuss in detail.
That's understandable. When wind and sun still contribute only a measly 1.5 percent of global energy consumption, as Matt Ridley pointed out recently, it's hard to estimate the costs of expanding that share to the 94 percent now contributed by fossil fuels of one kind or another. But the costs won't be small. And there will be a great many of them spreading into every area of life since the mere act of living consumes energy and is sensitive to its cost.
To prevent this article becoming an encyclopaedia, I'll examine only three kinds of cost: lifestyle costs, economic costs, and political costs. I have to admit that the committee's report is relatively honest about the lifestyle consequences of net-zero, though it wraps up its admissions in honeyed phrases. Here, for instance, is its cheerful summary of how "we" will reduce demand for carbon-intensive activities:
The U.K. wastes fewer resources and reduces its reliance on high-carbon goods . . . Diets change, reducing our consumption of high-carbon meat and dairy products by 20 percent by 2030, with further reductions in later years. There are fewer car miles travelled and demand for flights grows more slowly. These changes bring striking positive benefits for health and well-being.
And here's my grouchy response to it:
But what if our diets don’t change voluntarily? Or consumers don’t actually like the new low carbon foods predicted here? Or they want to use their cars and fly on vacation more often than the planners predict? Those "striking positive benefits for health and well-being" sound alarmingly like the medical authoritarianism currently running our lives in the fight against Covid-19. Will doctors and other planners change their presciptions if we don't like the medicine? Or will they ration the foods, car trips, and vacations that the consumers (who are also voters) are determined to enjoy?
My sarcasm notwithstanding, these recommended (a.k.a. imposed) lifestyle choices imply heavy economic costs as industry and agriculture change what they now produce in response to market demand to quite different goods and activities prescribed by ministers and civil servants. The U.K.'s decision to prohibit the sale of petrol-driven automobiles from 2030 in order to require a switch to electric vehicles will force both the taxpayer to finance the electrification of the entire country and the driver to buy a much more expensive car.
When we see the scale of this economic and industrial transformation, it's plain that it's a very expensive project indeed. As I pointed out last month, even the committee chairman concedes that if it is to make us richer rather than poorer, then "[l]ow carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver Net-Zero." Not to worry, however, because he also assures us that "our central estimate for costs is now below 1 percent of GDP throughout the next 30 years."
But these estimates were immediately challenged by Dr. John Constable, energy editor of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, as "entirely divorced from reality":
Some of them are out by several hundred percent, meaning that the claim that we can decarbonise painlessly doesn’t stand up to even cursory scrutiny. Offshore wind is twice as expensive to build as the CCC assumes, and two to four times more expensive to operate. The resulting electricity will be many, many times more expensive than they claim, making the use of heat pumps and Electric Vehicles utterly unaffordable.
So the estimate that net-zero costs will be less than 1 percent of GDP annually for the next thirty years is a fanciful one. Almost all other estimates are higher, some several-fold. Net-zero is a plan fueled not by fossil deposits but by optimism.
And that takes us to the third cost: political costs. These are obvious. Everyone has accepted at the back of their minds that there'll be a price to be paid by governments in power when the higher taxes and energy prices fall due. But that won't be tomorrow or, with luck, before the next election. So MPs never seem to have done the calculation of how heavy the political costs might be -- until last week when the Onward think-tank in London produced an analysis of the political impact of net-zero and discovered that it would be formidably high.
In particular the carbon-intensive industries most reliant on fossil fuels are concentrated in the Midlands and North of England -- the very regions where Boris Johnson broke Labour's "Red Wall" and won a slew of traditionally Labour sets to swell his parliamentary majority to eighty seats. Johnson has since acknowledged that he had only "borrowed" those voters and would have to justify their trust in him by leveling up their economic prosperity to that of Britain's booming South-East.
What the Onward report suggests is that Johnson's green industrial revolution risks pushing the poorer regions further down the prosperity index rather than levelling them up. Boris Johnson's green agenda is completely at variance with its post-Brexit policy of an infrastructure build-up to as well as being economically regressive
Some of the biggest concentrations of polluting jobs are in Conservative-won seats West Bromwich West, with 59pc, as well as Hyndburn in Lancashire and Stoke-on-Trent North with 55pc each, according to the Road to Zero report.
The East Midlands has the highest share of jobs in high-emitting industries at 42pc compared to London, the lowest, with 23pc.
The research suggests that up to 10m jobs could need to be replaced, or see workers retrained, as the UK aims to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.
What makes this report so interesting is that Onward, a progressive Tory think tank, and the GWPF, a Thatcherite one, now agree on at least one aspect of the net zero policy: It's a political suicide note.
The Green Covid 'Relief' Bill
On Sunday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer announced that they had come to an agreement on the details of a second Covid-19 relief package. There had been a lot of public wrangling over what the bill should look like, with senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling for $1,200 payments to Americans to compensate them for the economic disruption of the government-imposed lockdowns, a provision which President Trump supported but which was ultimately thwarted by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).
There was debate about whether businesses should be granted immunity from Covid-related lawsuits (to which the Democrats objected), and whether state and local governments adversely effected by the pandemic should be bailed out (to which the Republicans objected). In the end, after a number of compromises, senators were left with a neat, tidy bill which they could all be happy with.
Or at least, that was what leadership expected them to say. In fact, the text of the bill was more than 5,000 pages long, and wasn't released until two hours before it was to be voted on. For once, AOC is right:
This is why Congress needs time to actually read this package before voting on it.
Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5000 pages, arrived at 2pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours.
Not reading it didn't stop Congress from passing the $2.3 trillion legislation by huge margins on Monday. To echo AOC's leader on another massive bill, I guess they had to pass it for us to find out what's in it.
The huge pandemic relief and spending bill includes billions of dollars to promote clean energy such as wind and solar power while sharply reducing over time the use of potent coolants in air conditioners and refrigerators.... The energy and climate provisions, supported by lawmakers from both parties, were hailed as the most significant climate change law in at least a decade. “Republicans and Democrats are working together to protect the environment through innovation,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The sprawling legislation also extends tax credits for solar and wind power that are a key part of President-elect Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to generate 100 percent “clean electricity” by 2035. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware... said the bill would cut pollution from school buses, air conditioners, refrigerators and more, while creating thousands of American jobs and helping “save our planet from the climate crisis.″ “Make no mistake,″ he said, the new legislation “will soon be some of the most significant climate solutions to pass out of Congress to date.″
For all of the hand wringing over this being the second largest bill in American history, as well as attempts by Johnson and others to trim down benefits to individual Americans, Republicans and Democrats conspired to shower taxpayer dollars on questionable and controversial green priorities which have nothing to do with the virus, without saying a word about it in public.
It's almost as if the pandemic is just an excuse to do whatever they already wanted to do to begin with.
Canadian Ecopoets' Dream Is Albertan Nightmare
Seamus O’Regan, Newfoundland pseudo-nonce-poet, Canada’s natural resources minister and all-round “weightless politician” (as Rex Murphy dubs him), has turned to poetry, offering a homiletic assessment of Canada’s bright Green future once Canada’s oil-and gas giant, the province of Alberta, has been economically destroyed. In a poem, or rather, a piece of anaphoric doggerel, entitled ALBERTA Is, the poet- minister informs us:
Alberta is hydrogen. Alberta is batteries. Alberta is carbon capture technology. Alberta is geothermal energy. Alberta is electric vehicles.
Obviously, Alberta is, and can be, none of these. Hydrogen, batteries, geothermal, and electric vehicles are all dead letters. They are unworkable. The evidence is incontrovertible. Moreover, in a cramp of logical thinking, if Alberta is everything O’Regan says it is, then capture technology has no place in his catalogue. The Twitter post capping this feeble attempt at poetic afflatus, Alberta is vital to [Canada's] clean energy future, is an emblem of perilous inanity. As Michael Shellenberger has shown in article and book, clean energy is remarkably dirty. A functioning Alberta is vital not to a non-existent “clean energy future” but to Canada’s energy independence, industrial survival and national prosperity. O’Regan’s Alberta is a radical environmentalist’s baleful fantasy.
O’Regan may not be a poet in any meaningful sense of the word, anymore than he is an effective minister, but he has the backing of Canada’s poetic community. Acclaimed Canadian versifiers like Dionne Brand, Michael Ondaatje and George Elliott Clarke have signed on to an ecological movement known as The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another, which has targeted Alberta for destruction by transitioning Canada away from fossil fuels.
A poetically influential school known as ecopoets or wilderness poets have added their collective voice to the call for deep-sixing the energy sector and replacing it with abortive renewables like wind and solar, which are known to be unaffordable, inadequate and environmentally disastrous.
For example, in “At the Center, A Woman” from Tourist to Ecstasy, voluminously published ecopoet Tim Lilburn revives an indigenous fable enjoining us to return to the feminine source of unspoiled existence and the spirit of nature—
Her voice is black water under wheat’s erect earth. Uh. Uh. Her teeth are armies. Uh. Her throat’s flex, tree, flowing mass. Cottonwood, beech. She songs the forest. Energy mezzos. Mmho Mmho Mmho Ho Ho Ho Ho
Apparently, the time for a new understanding has arrived. We have come to “the edge of the known world,” he informs us, “and the beginning of philosophy.” The beginning of philosophy entails the end of the energy sector and the apotheosis of water, wheat and forest. O brave new world that has such poets in it.
Ecopoetry’s most famous Canadian practitioner, award-winning Don McKay, argues in an essay for Making the Geologic Now, "[T]he intention of culture… has been all too richly realized, that there is little hope for an other that remains other, for wilderness that remains wild.” In order to assure a revivified nature, we must cease “digging up fossilized organisms and burning them, effectively turning earthbound carbon into atmospheric carbon, drastically altering the climate.
Rather we must affirm “the visionary experience of wilderness as undomesticated presence”—though domesticated, it turns out, by much scarred terrain where “rare earths” are mined and featuring landscape-devouring and soil-poisoning solar panels, 285 feet high wind turbines, unrecyclable blades and masts, bird hecatombs and, as Jean-Louis Butré writes in Figarovox/Tribune, lamenting the despoliation of the French countryside, “new concrete blockhouses to maintain these monsters.” The result is “le déversement de tonnes de bétons dans nos campagnes.”
O nature, pleine de grace.
The costs of eventual land reclamation will be, as he says, “pharaminous” and an insupportable burden on municipalities. How this fact consorts with McKay’s environmentally-conscious urging to “amend our lives, to live less exploitatively and consumptively,” and to honor spirit of place remains an open question.
Indifferent poets have also contributed to the wilderness-inspired trashing of reliable energy production. To take one example, in Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry, Mari-Lou Rowley presents us with “Tar Sands, Going down”:
Look up! look way up- nothing but haze and holes. Look down! bitumen bite in the neck arms thighs of Earth a boreal blistering, boiling soil and smoke-slathered sky.
Environmental Catharism is now the name of the game. As Abraham Miller explains, lamenting the deterioration of California’s infrastructure, the Green mandate has shifted state expenditures to providing renewable energy rather than maintaining power lines. Rolling blackouts are the result. In addition, the environmental lobby has prevented prudent clear cutting in order to ensure “nutrients for the soil,” creating forests of highly combustible underbrush and dead trees. The trouble is, Miller warns, “What happens in California never stays in California.”
Very true. Once Alberta is decommissioned, California Dreamin’ is Canada’s future. So much for wilderness, the virgin bride of Canada’s poetic suitors. Unfortunately, Mmho Mmho will not take us very far.
Just ask a real poet.
In his celebrated essay, A Defence of Poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley, among the great Romantic poets of the early 19th century, claimed that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Shelley was determined to refute the thesis of his friend Thomas Love Peacock, who in The Four Ages of Poetry had argued that poetry had become useless in the era of the Enlightenment. Rather, Shelley asserted, poets are innovators, revolutionaries, visionaries of the “highest order,” and the source of “those social sympathies [and] elementary laws from which society develops.” The true poet runs counter to the shibboleths of the time, rejecting the modish fancies and social trends that imbue the culture. His mandate is skepticism and critique.
Regrettably, our poets no longer challenge the fads and superstitions of the day. Like the politicians, journalists, and academics who have plunged headlong into Green, they have become supine followers of the climate mandarins, lobbying for renewable energy and the abolition of the oil and gas industry. Alberta bad. Energy disaster good. They have become Seamus O’Regan.
There may yet be hope. W.H. Auden, one of the best and most intelligent poets of the modern era, wrote that “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Alberta has a mighty struggle on its hands but, if Peacock and Auden are right, it need not worry about its poetic adversaries—except when, like O’Regan, they happen to be politicians.
With the Climate, Some Things Are Uncertain, Some Not
I attend a local Anglican church in a middle-class suburb of Sydney. As is common these days, most congregants are of an age. Churches were allowed to open in New South Wales some weeks ago, albeit with social-distancing rules and sans singing. Hymn singing along with playing wind instruments is well known, apparently, among epidemiologists advising governments, to speed transmission of the dreaded virus. And no, before you ask, no evidence has been adduced.
Who needs evidence to back scary talk? Make it scary enough and people are too busy worrying to think for themselves. In any event, in the mind of the church, St Paul (Romans 13:1-5) dispels any thought of rebelling against civil authorities. Yes, but how about Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Nelson Mandela? Weren’t they right to rebel, you might query? Never mind, that’s a story for another day.
Currently only half the congregants have returned. Evidently, the other half remain too scared to return. This is not surprising. Most will have been brought up on public broadcasting and remain umbilically attached. Funded wholly by tax payers, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as media watcher Gerard Henderson (The Sydney Institute) often observes, is a conservative-free zone. Its staff-elected director aside, the government appoints the board, but the board has never, ever, shown itself to be anything other than the very model of a toothless tiger. A green/left staff collective runs the ABC. Alarmism is its forte, stirring grievances among supposed oppressed minorities its specialty.
For years climate alarmism has taken centre stage at the ABC. A hot day for the weatherman or woman is code for climate change. On the other hand, a cold day is just a cold day. Unusually, spring snow fell in parts of south-eastern Australia in late September. Nothing to see there. Incidentally, I’ve just clicked onto the ABC website. The first story I see is titled: “Human evolution and climate change.” Safer for one’s state of mind not to venture beyond the title.
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the highest temperature yet recorded in Australia was 50.7 C at Oodnadatta Airport on 2 January 1960. Incidentally, the third highest was in January 1939. The people at my church wouldn’t know that and would have no interest in finding out, I suspect. Thus, I often have to put up with prayers on Sunday to save the environment from mankind. And, in this tremulous Age of Covid, prayers for those afflicted by the virus, which they have been taught by the ABC to regard with the same trepidation as the imminent apocalyptic collapse of ecosystems.
What about children dying of cancer, I whisper under my breath. But death, has become focussed on ‘the invisible enemy’ or, as I saw in my morning paper in a letter from a group of learned physicians living in premier Daniel Andrews’ fiefdom of Victoria, ‘the silent enemy.’ The virus is both invisible and silent. Who knew? What an extremely clever virus is this?
What I particularly notice about those about me at church is a lack of questioning on the issues of the day. My doubts about climate change or the virulence of the virus or, for example, about the factoid we have in Australia (and in the schools) that part-Aboriginal children were ‘stolen’ from their families, are met with absolute incredulity. I believe they think I’m simply eccentric and to be treated kindly (they are Anglicans after all) but condescendingly.
But, let me issue a challenge. Who is self-reflectively questioning in these days of sharply divided opinions? I spent some time some years ago, when I still could stand mixing with those on the left, with a chap who was at the time vice president of Australian Skeptics. I challenged him as to why he wasn’t the least bit skeptical about the received view on climate change. He was gracious enough to issue a mea culpa but remained obdurate; totally without doubt when it came to his certainty that mankind (personkind in Canadian English) is overheating the world.
In case you think I am picking on the Left -- which I admit to often doing -- I meet with a group of conservative friends each Friday morning over coffee. They are equally certain that CO2 is not heating the atmosphere to any material extent. One short-circuits the argument by denying that the recorded increase in CO2 has much, if anything, to do with burning fossil fuels in the first place. I believe I heard Richard Lindzen, or maybe it was another well-known skeptical climate scientist, express a similar view on a YouTube video, so I assume it isn’t outlandish. You notice I say assume because, really, I have no idea.
This brings me to a point. How can we be certain that we are right, particularly on matters outside of our expertise? Obviously, I am not referring to religion where faith is the defining arbiter. Take climate change.
Do I personally know, absolutely, and without possibility of error, that man-made CO2 is not destroying the planet? After all, David Attenborough and Prince Charles think it is; not to mention Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; and lots of other people, some of whom might actually have expertise in climate science. I believe I can say with certainty that the alarmist position is unproven. Thereafter, my opinion tends to be on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond doubt.
However, all is not lost in equivocation. Sometimes it's cloudy and the sun always goes down in the evening. The wind doesn’t always blow. Renewable power based on these two sources is therefore intermittent and unreliable. Of this, there is no doubt. Batteries cannot fill the gap. Of that there is also no doubt. If there were, I am sure Michael Moore (Planet of the Humans) would have said so. What this means is that wind and sun power need back-up; mostly, in practise, from coal, gas, or nuclear.
And, the more the wind and sun feed power to the grid, the more back-up is needed. And that, to speak colloquially, is the bleeding obvious. It is one thing to have the wind become still when providing about 7 percent of power, as it did on average in Australia in 2019. Quite another, if in the future, in green dreamland, it is providing 37 percent and more.
It is no accident that South Australia, the state relying most on wind and Tesla batteries, suffered blackouts in 2018. Blackouts have been avoided since by sourcing power, as needed, from Victoria which still has coal power. South Australia has none. The option of sourcing interstate power will progressively diminish as coal-fired power stations (providing 56 percent of the electricity supply nationwide) are demolished. Nine have closed in the past ten years. Of the twenty-four remaining, only six are less than twenty years old. One of the oldest, Liddell in the Hunter region, coal country in NSW, is scheduled for closure in early 2023. This, in a land which is the second largest exporter of thermal coal. Someone, somewhere, must be burning it?
It says a lot about the mess we’re in that prime minister Scott Morrison (15 September) threatens to build a government-owned gas-fired power station, unless one or other of the electricity-generation companies replace Liddell with enough dispatchable power to keep the lights on. Gas in coal country you say? Well, that’s as good as it gets. And, of course, instructively, gas better backs up intermittent wind than does coal. Wind calls the tune.
My friend Rafe Champion, among other pursuits, is an avid wind watcher; while cautioning that “wind watching can be time-consuming and habit-forming.” He takes on the onerous task of informing any half-receptive politician he can find, that it isn’t the average amount of wind power delivered to the grid over any period of time that counts, but the minimum amount. Obvious, when you think about it, as the demand for power must be met continuously. Not so obvious to the political class.
It would be nice if those diametrically opposed on global warming could at least agree, if there is a problem, that wind and sun won’t solve it. Then we could put aside differences and work on effective (least-regret) solutions, which would likely include HELE-coal power, gas and nuclear. Alas, differences can’t be put aside. I need to go back to religion.
Faith, as I said, is the final arbiter when it comes to religion. In the final analysis, it is not subject to non-transcendental arguments. It is evident that renewable energy has become totemic of the new ersatz religion of climate change -- aka saving the planet from human pollution. Its dogma lives loudly within climate alarmists, the Extinction Rebellion crowd and the like; and, of course, within the ABC. Questioning the dogma is heretical. My fellow parishioners who listen to and/or watch the ABC need to understand that while high priests are indeed at its helm, their line can’t be traced to the Apostles.