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A trillion-pound dawk klunk

27 Jan 2021 | News Roundup

Speaking of the obvious and logical, it somehow badly embarrassed the British government this week that they were ordered to release their calculations of the cost of achieving net zero by 2050. Not because the cost is large, though it certainly is. Nor because the calculations might well have shown the costs vastly to exceed the benefits, had there been any calculations. But because behind all the ponderous fog about experts say, following the science and so forth, it seems it may well have been just a wild guess someone stuffed into an email on the fly.

The starting point to this multi-layered embarrassment is that two years ago a warning from then Chancellor of the Exchequer to then PM Theresa May said net zero by 2050 would cost over a trillion pounds. Which is a lot even for a wealthy society such as Britain, whose pre-pandemic GDP was nearly £3 trillion per year, and also embarrassing, though only because a lot of fools were going about saying fossil fuels really weren’t much good anyway and chucking them would probably make us all richer. We’d all just switch to high-paying, high-tech, high-virtue-signalling jobs in the green energy sector or possibly government PR departments.

People are still making such claims, of course, with as little foundation in economics as in science. And as an aside we think it is not a clever PR strategy because once they are in a position to attempt to implement their plans, which Boris Johnson is, along with Justin Trudeau and now Joe Biden, people will quickly discover that they were fools, rogues or both to say abandoning the energy foundations of our civilization would actually make us richer, and being unmasked as a knave or a dunce is a damaging blow to your credibility.

Speaking of dunces, the looming embarrassment in the UK now is that the calculations themselves were apparently done on a napkin or a Post-it… if even that. We have yet to acquire the actual scrap of paper, digital or otherwise. But evidently the Treasury initially refused to release them on the grounds that they were “internal communications”, which sounds like an evasion since it is very hard to understand what else a discussion within a government branch might be. And it has now been backed into confessing that “communications” wasn’t quite the right word since there was just one email. Not a big long study or discussions back and forth. Someone just guessed and fired it off.

This happy-go-lucky approach is especially awkward because governments in the free world have a habit of justifying any policy or reversal of same, and shaming dissenters into the bargain, by insisting that they were following the science, a variant of the “experts say” meme news organizations now plaster on anything they want you to swallow whole. These politicians don’t tell you what the science said or which science said it, and in many cases their high school transcript would not justify faith in their capacity to understand anything science did say. They rarely even tell you who the scientists are beyond one convenient figurehead gifted with charisma or incomprehensibility.

We don’t only mean on climate, or the pandemic. When it comes to “economic science” their general tone is that a laboratory full of people running a computer that makes Deep Thought look like an abacus did a simulation you chumps couldn’t begin to understand that proves that whatever we were planning to do anyway is a brilliant idea.

Government budgets typically now run to hundreds of pages, full of charts and projections as well as electioneering prose, all of it designed to dazzle and intimidate. You are meant to think it was all done with careful attention to counterfactuals, margins of error, limitations on data, uncertainty about external shocks and so on. But it wasn’t. They had the verdict in hand before they began the trial. No government ever went to the boffins and said analyze our plan and were told it’s no good and put that verdict in the document. And on climate economics, the British government apparently deep-sixed the vital “Social Cost of Carbon” because it was too low to justify going nuts on emissions which, characteristically, the government had decided to do before looking at the science, so it then demanded science to justify a decision that, if it is not based on science, is very hard to see what it is based on.

So there’s something fishy about the expertise even when it’s real. But what if it’s not? What if there was no science or in this case no economic science? If it turns out the UK gambled its future on a few scribbles instead of a massive, dense wall of functions, it will cause red faces.

Of course no such thing could happen here in Canada. But only because no government would ever be forced to disclose the basis of its calculations, on the off chance there even were any.

6 comments on “A trillion-pound dawk klunk”

  1. I don’t understand. When evidence to support the decision to end fossil fuels was demanded, couldn’t they just go to the Royal Junk Science Library and pull something off the shelf?

  2. Christopher Booker warned of the tremendous cost of the 2008 Climate Change Act even before Parliament passed it. In recent years I've done my own back of an envelope calculations, and they're truly eye-watering - if anything, I believe the Chancellor's attempt to be a gross underestimation. The madness, though, is no longer the sole preserve of Westminster, as it appears to have percolated down to county level.

    Having declared a 'Climate and Ecological Emergency' in 2019 [1], my council (one among many) has produced a 'Carbon Management Plan'[2] outlining how they intend achieving Net-Zero. And yesterday, the General Scrutiny Committee reviewed the Task and Finish Group's report - 'Climate and Ecological Emergency Review'[3]. Read it if you want (item 7, Appendix A), but the opening few paragraphs set the tone:

    "Climate change is a reality now. It has already impacted on many of our residents in terms of the severe flooding experienced across the County. The damage caused to private homes, businesses and infrastructure has been immense and is only a foretaste of worse to come. Although extreme weather events may seem the worst of our worries, we can at least take actions to mitigate them and repair damage caused.

    "Climate change is also a main driver in the UK's massive loss of biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity is totally irreversible, once species are extinct no amount of money can bring them back. Overriding all of this is the acute need to prevent more erosion to our bank of Natural Capital, to reverse the damage, and not only to enhance it, but build it back up to pre-industrial levels.

    "The Council has declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency and the aim to get to net carbon zero by 2030. But this can only be achieved if very strong measures are embedded in every decision the council makes, in its policies, processes and actions. Moreover, the council needs to consider how it can take the lead in helping our communities and local economy to adapt to climate change and to become more resilient.

    "These might seem to be very lofty aims. But this Task and Finish Group are aware that in order to meet its declared commitments the council, and the residents of Herefordshire must raise their game."

    Rather than having to 'raise my game', I think some rational thinking and practical flood prevention measures will be more beneficial than attempting to cut the County's CO2 emissions in the hope such will stop it raining in Wales.

    [1] https://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/climate-2/climate-change
    [2] https://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/downloads/file/20530/carbon-management-plan-2020-21-to-2025-26
    [3] http://councillors.herefordshire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=809&MId=8059&Ver=4

  3. There really is no down side for them. When you control the Government, Media, Courts, and the hearts and minds of a significant portion of the population, they can spin anything to their eventual advantage. They ARE dunces with little in the way of ability to use logic and reason, or any scientific data in their ideology. However, the do have the native cunning and viciousness of a Wolverine in full hunt mode when defending their indefensible positions in this debate! "Politics Ruins Everything".

  4. I was sitting in my POV camp awaiting my weekly delivery from the Red Cross when I encountered an article by an ‘expert’. Pause for breath. It postulated that we would not require fusion as demand would be met from the ‘excess’ energy of solar panels and bird slicers which would be stored in batteries.

    Being interested in the search for intelligent life in the universe though only because it seems to be dying out on planet earth, I am aware of Drake’s equation.

    So I devised a formula on that basis for the battery requirement of the UK alone (being an interested resident) by the time it is carbon neutered in 2050. I call it Drunk's equation.

    The base of 1 unit is Tesla’s Australian back up (load balancer?) that provides 30,000 homes with 1 hour’s electrical energy.

    So the UK requires the following multipliers

    30,000,000 households (x 1000)
    1 day’s reserve, 24 hours (x 20 – to allow for efficiencies)
    1 week’s reserve, 7 days (x 5 – to allow again for efficiencies)
    A week must be the absolute minimum national strategic reserve. (Mid-winter with high pressure sitting over the land etc, never mind Icelandic volcanoes, and of course, as Canada knows (well some Canadians anyway), snow lies on solar panels)
    Domestic demand is about half the UK electrical demand (x 2)
    By 2050 we will have electric cars, buses, lorries, planes, thumb screws etc
    Demand increase (x4)

    The Drunk’s equations is for a battery requirement (in Tesla units or equivalents) of

    1 x 1000 x 20 x 5 x 2 x 4 = 800,000 units

    But maybe more efficiencies are available by then, so say 600,000 units

    Or over the 30 years, 20,000 a year, or 400 per week, ever week for those 30 years, fully installed, tested and charged up with ‘excess’ energy, not to mention, replacement for battery decline over the years. Better get the navvies into action.

    And of course, I am sure their construction will not lead to the spillage of plant food in those, soon to be very active, mines in China, Congo etc.

    Excuse me as I go to do my monthly check on my candle supply

  5. I subscribe all your reflections and crytics about the insane memes "experts say" or "scientists say" which are too often utilized (all over the world) by politicians and decision makers to justify the crazily expensive and unrealistic dream of net zero emission by 2050 .
    What surprizes me is the silence and complicity of many scientists who prefer to wash their hands and faces with indifference and resignation .

  6. Here in the UK, we are constantly told that the cost of producing offshore wind power is decreasing and will soon be 50% cheaper.
    The problem is that some clever economist has had the temerity to actually look at the accounts of these multi national companies- and it shows that costs are rising.
    If I had the choice to believe Boris, or an economist who has critically analysed the data, I know who I would believe.
    The problem is that Boris knows how to fool a lot of people a lot of the time- his tactic is to keep repeating the lie, over and over again and people believe it to be true.

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