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Losing the green bet

02 Dec 2020 | News Roundup

Even super-green British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s finance minister, aka Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak is warning the PM and anyone who will listen that the economy is in trouble and it’s no time to spend money on things that don’t work. With so many people lecturing us about the glorious opportunities presented by the new new economy the retort “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” is entirely appropriate. In general terms, if greens knew the secret to beating the stock market they’d be beating it, not grubbing for subsidies to finance their latest perpetual motion machines. And when it comes to specifics we have one piece of advice about renewables: Don’t invest unless they have got those government subsidies locked in, because from wind and solar to electric cars, these tailpipe dreams of the little ball landing on green are going up in smoke.

As Bjorn Lomborg, the “skeptical environmentalist”, just warned Britons in The Telegraph, “electric cars will achieve only tiny emissions savings at a very high price.” Why? Because “Electric cars are certainly fun, but almost everywhere cost more across their lifetime than their petrol counterparts. That is why subsidies are needed. And consumers are still anxious because of their short range and long recharging times.” What’s worse, given how the Great Reset is all about prosperity and equity and anti-racism and pro-climate and all other good things combined, “almost all the support goes to the rich” who alone can afford even a subsidized electric car. Proof of which, Lomborg continues, is that “Ninety per cent of electric car owners also have a fossil-fuel driven car they drive further. Indeed, electric vehicles are mostly a “second car” used for shorter trips and virtue signalling.” Will we really save the Earth by buying rich people a trendy second vehicle? Or the economy?

Certainly not. Andy West wrote a long and technical analysis of renewables on Judith Curry’s “Climate Etc.” blog that began with this searing quotation from Michael Schellenberger, another “skeptic” who is no “denier” though we hope to recruit him: “For me the question now is, now that we know that renewables can’t save the planet, are we going to keep letting them destroy it?” West says to some extent we might because of the powerful cultural, one might even say tribal, impulse to virtue-signal at other people’s expense. But when the chickens come home to roost, it will probably change their attitudes because it will change their cost-benefit calculations.

Our friends at the Global Warming Policy Forum complained that Britain’s alternative energy policy involves contracts going to foreign firms. But on this point we must demur in part. It would not improve a green-energy scheme to make it mercantilist or protectionist. If windmills are the answer to power generation, get the best value you can regardless of source. To repeat a very old point, when we spent Canadian dollars or in their case British pounds abroad it does not “export jobs” because the only place they can ultimately be spent is back home; behind the veil of money the whole point of exporting, in which we give up valuable goods and services to foreigners for promissory notes, is to import valuable goods and services from foreigners by returning those notes. And it doesn’t matter which happens first though of course in today’s globalized economy both are going on simultaneously on an enormous scale.

On the other hand, if what is being purchased is not a valuable good or service trade is a bad idea period. If the government is taxing its citizens in order to give the money away to hucksters who have convinced them they can get sunbeams back out of cucumbers, or if the government has deceived itself on this point and has found people willing to take them at, and for, their word, it’s even worse than if the money were being wasted at home.

The money is being wasted in increasingly obvious ways because renewables just aren’t working out. David Middleton had a good laugh at a credulous 2007 Guardian article saying “Wind energy to power UK by 2020, government says”. (By contrast the noise of wind farms is no joke to some of those near them.) And in Germany the governing coalition’s supposed green consensus is unraveling as costs shoot up and performance is shot down, and there is actually a lurch back toward coal there.

To be fair to Boris Johnson, he does back nuclear power as part of his plan to force his once-free people to abandon petrol-fueled cars (sale of gasoline and diesel cars will be illegal in 10 years though hybrids may persist). But he does not grasp that the grid can’t charge them all, they don’t work very well, they cost a lot to charge, most people can’t afford them, banning new and better petroleum cars will keep older less efficient ones on the road and, as Eric Worrall adds, forcing marginal employees out of affordable cars onto dodgy late-night transit compromises their safety into the bargain. Which is a lot for one man to overlook no matter how keen his new young girlfriend (she’s 32, he’s 56) is on this sort of stuff.

He also doesn’t grasp how much harm these things have already done the economy and instead wants to do more. As a former Chancellor, Lord Lawton, noted tartly, “If the Government were trying to damage the economy they couldn’t be doing it better. Moreover, the job creation mantra is economically illiterate. A programme to erect statues of Boris in every town and village in the land would also ‘create jobs’ but that doesn’t make it a sensible thing to do.”

The problem is everywhere; Pennsylvania’s governor is pushing an energy plan that will drive up costs dramatically for the poor. Ontario’s power system is a dreadful mess thanks to years of one regime throwing money at renewables and another throwing it at consumers to try to hide the costs instead of facing them. The Quebec government plans to ban sales of gasoline cars by 2035. France (of all places) is rebooting coal plants because it went anti-nuclear, wind doesn’t work and it’s trying to get out of its hugely expensive solar subsidies to firms that, it is widely believed, would promptly fold without handouts. Some investment opportunity those are.

In the midst of this mess Canada’s Green Party wants us to adopt the older French strategy. And perhaps here at least there’s a bargain to be had at least up front as the French are liable to say we can have it for free. But the maintenance costs are far too high.

6 comments on “Losing the green bet”

  1. Losing the green bet.
    Love your letter, but your reference to France going anti nuclear is wrong. The article you reference is confusing, but it is commenting on Germany.

  2. Well the WEF sees a future where 'you own nothing and you are happy' so following along on that, the whole idea of a personal car, electric or otherwise, is likely a moot point. Travel in the future might be very limited.

  3. That's Lord Lawson not Lawton. What a cradle snatcher Mr. Johnson is! Old Bjorn Lomborg strikes home yet again. I keep hearing several different figures for the percentage of UK cars that are electric running from 0.3% to 5%. Looking around, since August I have seen one Tesla & two Nissan Leafs ( or should that be Leaves?) so the 0.3% figure is probably more correct. Hybrids have never taken off, one sees very few, even less than electric, though I think that hybrids are a better idea, use them electrically in town to reduce exhaust fume pollution & use fossil fuel for long journeys. The Nissan Leaf claims on a rear sticker to be 'zero emissions', a claim that is of course totally fraudulent. However these politicians, having chosen their course, are intent on ramming this green rubbish down our throats regardless of the consequences. We see the same pig-headed attitude in operation in the desperate clinging to the idea of the European Union & its dysfunctional currency the Euro. France IS going anti-nuclear. According to Shellenberger, France has reduced its nuclear from 80% of its electricity generation to 71% & plans to reduce it to 50% (Apocalypse Never p146). The French have just failed to realise that they were onto a better thing than so many other countries.

  4. BBC today broadcast an announcement by Global Carbon Project, that carbon emissions have dropped by 2.4 billion tonnes during the pandemic, but somehow forgot to mention that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise at the same rate as for the last few decades, disproving the hypothesis that human emissions are significant to global carbon dioxide levels ...

  5. Lomberg's comment on electric cars was outdated soon after he made it. Changes in power generation caused by Fracking and the switch to gas and renewables in many countries, advances in battery technology, improvements in reliability etc have decreased the amount of CO2 that an electric car produces. the mileage before charging has also increased.
    Lomberg also only compared to diesel cars and not petrol. Curiously LPG powered cars which have a lower co2 emission than either petrol or diesel cars. The only way his argumentt may stand up is if the subsidy for electric cars (which also has been lowered) is used for diesel/LPG cars to purchase carbon offset. Nevertheless advances in the technology (which Lomberg advocates) will soon obliterate even that difference. This does not overcome the problem that most do not have new cars but second hand ones and until there is sufficient number of second hand electric vehicles it would seem foolish to ban all fossil fuels. Given the cheapness of gas
    it would perhaps be better to convert intially to LPG.

  6. well the article was written in French. I note some of the other sources quoted are hardly credible scientific journals or articles. Such sloppy research undermines the basic point of the article.
    People arguing against the climate consensus have a duty to provide verifiable and not sensationalist posts. As the old russian proverb said A spoonful of tar will destroy a barrel of honey.

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