No sooner had the G7 leaders flown back home in their private jets to pretend to implement their GHG pledges than a bunch of rotten politicians cranked up the coal plants. And who were these wretches? Xi Jinping? Well, yes. And Vladimir Putin, as Russia goes big on coal complete with slave labour, and also Arctic oil. As well as India and Australia, and Africa. Why even, Eric Worrall notes, the same G7 European leaders who just declared the end of coal. So pretty much everyone. And why? Because they were also facing the end of natural gas and nuclear, two self-inflicted wounds, and you have to get energy from somewhere. Can’t anybody here play this game?
We’re all for thinking big. But a major problem with Europe’s energy situation is that fracking was subjected to a progressive two-minute hate that went on indefinitely, even though in the United States it certainly contributed to a reduction in emissions by allowing natural gas to replace coal. In Europe they just got rid of the coal. And much of the nuclear, for similarly virtue-signaling reasons that seem to fit Bill Maher’s verdict on a poll finding that a third of Americans under 35 claim to favour abolishing the police altogether: “less of a policy position and more of a leg tattoo”. Thus fracking like makes tap water burn or something, you know man, and nuclear power is like the Simpsons’ three-headed fish or something, you know man.
As Jo Nova observed, stupid policies including banning fracking left European politicians with a choice between the coal they affect to despise and the old cliché about freezing in the dark. (Not least because of a cold winter, Hottest Year EverTM notwithstanding.) And if they didn’t see that choice coming, it might be because they actually believed the endless stories about how renewables are making the big breakthrough, becoming competitive, spreading like wildfire in a cooling world and so forth. Alas, they’re not. Alternative energy remains prohibitively expensive. Which is why, as Reuters did recently allow, “Global fossil fuel use similar to decade ago in energy mix, report says”.
It assures us that this weird result has occurred “despite the falling cost of renewables and pressure on governments to act on climate change, a report by green energy policy network REN21 showed on Tuesday.” And REN21 would never overestimate the progress of renewables. Still, “REN21 said the share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix was 80.2% in 2019, compared to 80.3% in 2009, while renewables such as wind and solar made up 11.2% of the energy mix in 2019 and 8.7% in 2009… The rest of the energy mix comprises traditional biomass, used largely to cook or heat homes in developing countries.”
That renewables are pushing out dung is good news for people no longer choking in their huts. But not an achievement comparable to outcompeting methane or even coal on a level playing field.
Of course Reuters insisted the enduring popularity of hydrocarbons was all a big mistake or passing fad: “in many regions, including parts of China, the European Union, India and the United States, it is now cheaper to build new wind or solar photovoltaic plants than to operate existing coal plants. Renewables also are outcompeting new natural gas-fired power plants on cost in many locations, and are the cheapest sources of new electricity generation in countries across all major continents, the report said.” And yet, mysteriously, no one seems to want them. “‘We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past ten years have mostly been empty words,’ said Rana Adib, REN21’s executive director.” But if they’re so much better and cheaper than traditional sources of energy, why do you need regulations to force them on people?
Journalists just can’t avoid letting the truth slip out occasionally. But they try hard to avoid it. Like when reporting on Europe’s lurch back to coal Bloomberg insisted no one really wants the stuff. “While it would be ‘fantastic’ if politicians came to a deal, coal is likely to be phased out anyway by 2030, 2035, said [Ursula] Tonkin. ‘Politics are important, but you also have the economics of the transition really kicking in within that timeframe,’ she said.” And who is this expert who says? Why “Ursula Tonkin, portfolio manager of the Whitehelm Capital Low Carbon Core Infrastructure Fund, the Australia-based company that has $4.4 billion of assets under management in all of its funds.” Though not, we hope, yours.
By the way, China seems to have bungled its coal-fired plans, especially after imposing an embargo on Australian coal over the origins of COVID. It is actually facing coal shortages due to sharply rising demand. (Parenthetically, China is one nation whose economy seems not to have been very hard-hit by COVID lockdowns, a topic the press has largely ignored.) And at least in Hawaii the push for 100% renewables will see electricity generated by oil in place of coal not the reverse. But there’s a strong sense of make-believe falling apart in all this stuff.