Madmen of La Mancha

A friend of mine of scientific pedigree, who I won’t name on the off chance I am misinterpreting him, suggests we might madly burn coal to make electricity and then scatter the residual ashes over the oceans to make them more alkaline. More alkaline oceans apparently absorb more CO2. And, Bob’s your uncle, problem solved. Another friend says this won’t do because the oceans are so vast it will make no difference. I also worry about the fish. Is all of this outlandish in any event?

Well, recall the suggestion by some scientists in 1975, when global cooling was the scare du jour, that soot might be strewn across the Antarctic to absorb heat from the sun. That rates more highly in the outlandish stakes, I think. But if you were to stand back and imagine something really, really, mad, then might you not come up with thousands upon thousands of giant windmills?

Imagined madness is reality. I googled, I’m ashamed to say, given the wokeness of that cancel-culture organisation, and found a figure of 341,000 wind turbines in the world as at September 2017. I found it hard to get an updated figure but, obviously, it will be bigger. The height of these totem poles (term used advisedly), including blades, is 100 metres and more. And, they’re getting taller. Reportedly, there is one in Germany, near Stuttgart, which soars some 246 metres. Now that’s got to be an eyesore.

As it’s windier the higher you go, who knows where it will end. Birds and bats won’t be the prey. Watch out aircraft and drones. And please parachutists be careful.

Apparently a 2-megawatt wind turbine requires a total area of about half a square kilometre, to allow for the circumference of the blades, the need for considerable space between each turbine and the need for a wind farm to have a buffer zone. So, on that basis, the area of land occupied by 341,00 turbines would be about 170,000 square kilometres, give or take. Michael Shellenberger (Apocalypse Never) refers to research which found that wind farms require “roughly 450 times more land than a natural gas power plant.” How that computes in acreage I don’t know, but you get the drift.

"Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them."

Wind now supplies around 5 percent of the world’s electricity (7 percent in Australia -- a pyrrhic boon indeed). If it were to supply 35 per cent -- which I am confident is the lower end of the range desired by green activists and certainly by the subsidy-addicted carpetbaggers on the gravy train -- then about 1.2 million square kilometres would appear to be required.

That is equivalent to Tasmania or Switzerland or West Virginia, times eighteen. That’s a lot of land when you consider the need to keep wind farms fairly close to power grids to keep transmission costs manageable. Of course, there is the sea. Even so, the blot on landscapes (and seascapes too) will surely be insufferable except to those whose pagan religiosity is excited by the sight.

What benefit have these towering monstrosities brought, you might ask innocently, if you’re abjectly un-woke. Presumably, they have reduced CO2 emissions. It’s too hard to lay bare this presumption.

You would need to calculate the amount of CO2, and perhaps other greenhouse gasses, which result from the mining of the minerals and ores used in their making, their manufacture and transport and installation, and their maintenance and eventual disposal. And you have to add in the emissions from the back-up power that is essential to have when the wind doesn’t blow. Where the sum ends up, I don’t know. But, as I say, I presume over a period of the life of a turbine, say, 20 years, a saving in CO2 emissions will accrue.

However, thus far, the saving is not visible on the world stage. CO2 emissions worldwide continue to grow year-on-year, at least they did up until 2020. Covid has done a splendid job of reducing emissions in 2020. But, relying on governments reacting panickily to a pandemic is not, hopefully, an enduring strategy. Of course, it is plausible to argue that CO2 emissions would have been even higher but for wind, and that may be true. Still, the overall picture doesn’t look impressive. Where’s the tangible gain for the pain?

"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?"

Part of the pain has been felt in electricity prices – not to mention blackouts. Residential electricity prices in Australia have near doubled in the past ten years, as cheap coal power has been driven out by intermittent wind power (and solar). Alan Moran, Australian commentator on all things climate, in a recent report (The Hidden Cost of Climate Policies and Renewables, 19 August 2020) estimates that “government-imposed climate policies and renewable subsidies account for 39% of householders’ electricity costs.” And that is not the end of it. Government subsidies should logically be added back into electricity prices to get a true price. After all, those who consume electricity pay taxes to pay for the subsidies.

Part of the pain is the loss of competitive advantage and, thus, manufacturing jobs. The competitive advantage Australia used to have in generating cheap energy from coal is now lost. Using International Energy Agency figures, the average price per kWh for residential electricity is roughly twice that of the United States and Canada, and three times that in China; which, surprise, surprise, imports lots of Australian coal. As does India. Both are building new coal power stations as Australia’s are closing. Incidentally, Germany’s prices are over 40 percent higher again than Australia’s.

Taking a lead from research in Spain, Moran argues that for every green job created 2.2 others are lost. It is obviously hard to back up this estimate. At the same time, it would be surprising if a country with a relatively small population, suffering a tyranny of distance, yet with an abundance of high-quality easily extractable coal, could afford to give away that latter advantage and have its manufacturing sector remain unscathed. It was bad enough, as it was, without the onset of ruinously high energy prices.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported (10 December 2019) on job growth in Australia over the 25 years from September 1995 to September 2019. Total jobs filled increased by 64.6 percent. In contrast, manufacturing jobs fell by 270,000; from 13.4 percent of total jobs to just 6.3 percent. Manufacturing has been significantly offshored. The last remnants of car manufacturing in Australia disappeared at the beginning of this year. High energy prices won’t help keep what remains of Australian manufacturing. The steel and aluminium industries, heavy users of electricity, are always on the brink.

Want to go all Greta Thunberg and penalise the whole world and all of mankind by going to wind and solar? Fine, muttered dubiously, if self-denial is ubiquitous, omnipresent, universal. But western industrial nations should be wary of getting too far ahead of the pack, or ahead at all. In Australia, sadly, both sides of politics differ only in their degree of enthusiasm for striding out and embracing national self-harm.

What’s Behind The Green Door?

Looking up environmental sources under the variable heading “Green,” I came across a reference to a 1956 pop tune, “Green Door,” which had soared to the top of the hit parade charts. The question it posed was, “what’s behind the green door” and the answer it gave was a boisterous group of party animals who “laugh a lot” and whom the singer wished desperately to join: “All I want to do is join the happy crowd behind the green door.” The song’s open sesame “Joe sent me” didn’t cut any ice since “hospitality’s thin there.” The correct password, proleptically speaking, would have been “Al sent me.” After all, Al Gore has sent so many people through the green door that a vast new edifice has become necessary to house the “happy crowd” that grows by the day.

True, the Greenies by and large cannot be portrayed as a merry band of revelers. They are generally earnest and forbidding to a fault, self-righteous and censorious. They don’t laugh a lot and are certainly not a perky, convivial crowd. They are proud of their ostensible bona fides and redemptive proclivities as Mother Nature’s savior and mankind’s conscience. Many of the Greenies are academics draped in diplomas which they take as an infallible sign of prescient wisdom, but are really of no more value than ink stamps that allow them into the club.

Still, this is not the issue. The issue is that, competent or incompetent, charlatans or believers, they find the party too good to pass up. They want in and they want to stay in, even at the risk of eventually bringing their credentials into disrepute. The perks, awards, government subsidies, academic fellowships, scientific laurels, corporate subventions, endowments and research grants just keep rolling in to keep the party going. And the green door has swung wide open to welcome the climate beneficiaries while it remains shut tight to the uninvited. Hospitality’s thin there.

As the song puts it, “they play it hot behind the green door.” According to Green lore, the earth is warming catastrophically. Oceans will rise. Polar bears will soon become extinct. Snow will cease to fall. Greenland will melt. The Himalayas are puddle-bound. Land and sea will be despoiled by pipeline spills. Whole populations will starve. The world will come to an end if we don’t change our habits of consumption and our expectations for a viable and prosperous future. Only wind and solar can save us from the looming eco-apocalypse.

Get mean, think Green.

That’s the party mantra. If we ignore the portents, then one thing is certain. The end is nigh!

Predictive failure does not deter ideological zealots. A disaster must arrive someday to confirm their forecast and justify their program for salvation. It matters little if their timetable is off by ten, twenty, or a thousand years since, under the aspect of eternity, a cataclysm is bound to happen in seculae seculorum. The mathematics can always be redone in the light of a grisly but accommodating future to which only they have privileged access. It is they who stand before the burning bush of the world and hear the voice of the Lord. For this pixilated mentality, being wrong over and over is a sure sign that they will be right once. The end-of-the-world fanatics merely keep revising their calculations, relying on a new revelation to perfect their reckoning and reinforce their delusion. They have managed to turn science into divination.

The problem is that wind and solar don’t work as they should or are projected to. The reason for many of the failures in green energy-production companies—Spectrawatt, Ener 1, Abound Solar, Solyndra,  etc.—is simple. As noted environmental consultant, author, and Pipeline contributor Rich Trzupek, author of How the EPAs Green Tyranny is Stifling America, explains, the energy density of convertible wind and solar is risibly low and dispersed, which renders green, electricity-generating power plants, whether large or small, “the most inefficient, least reliable, and expensive form of power we have.” As Trzupek jestingly remarks, “‘climate change’ is a figment of a computer’s imagination.” 

But this has not prevented the climate models from becoming the Authorized Version. The Global Warming meme continues to circulate in defiance of accumulating evidence to the contrary, which leads one to wonder who the real “deniers” are. “Warmist” foundations and nonprofits are determined to continue issuing environmental fatwas, in particular to tie up state-of-the-art, economically productive oil pipelines in endless litigation, impacting national revenues and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs, as well as innumerable spin-off markets and enterprises. 

Unsightly government approved wind farms are killing birds in hecatombs, disfiguring the landscape, leading to wildlife habitat loss, polluting the soil and ground water, adding steeply to electricity bills and literally driving people crazy (Wind turbine Syndrome). Government and industry supporters of solar panels base their projections on the presumed success of the German solar model. But the German wind and solar experiment is tanking fast. It may soon become obsolete and is gradually being wound down.

With respect to solar, researchers at Utah State University have found that solar power “cannot sustain itself in the energy market… it is intermittent, inefficient and cannot meet demand,” as is also the case with wind. Mandates and subsidies cannot save these faltering industries. Pipedreams are no substitute for pipelines. Solar alchemy is as embarrassing as breaking wind.

None of the renewable proposals are feasible. The physics limit for wind turbines (the Betz limit) is too puny for anything but computer games. The same is true of the physics limit for solar cells (the Shockley-Queisser limit). Moreover, wind and solar function only when nature permits, which renders them unreliable. Even lobbying sites like iea wind (the Internet is awash with viridian proclamations) cannot hide the variability factor in wind and solar production. As Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute concludes, “[T]he physics and economics of energy combined with scale realities make it clear that there is no possibility of anything resembling a radically ‘new energy economy’ in the foreseeable future.”

It’s time to face the truth. The global warning refrain is now a tiresome tune being played on an “old piano,” though they’re still “playing it hot.” The song concludes with the question: “Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?”

The secret is that demonizing traditional forms of energy extraction and application has become a recipe for economic debacle. The secret is that carbon is not a malefic agent but a chemical miracle that actually greens the world. Finally, the secret behind the green door is that some of the party-goers are surely aware that their testimony is spurious, but the party is just too good to leave. That’s a secret that must remain secret.