A surreal headline out of Britain is NBC’s “Britain urged not to panic as shortages close gas stations, threaten food supplies”. How can a G-7 nation, the fifth largest in the world, be facing scenes out of a zombie disaster flick, or a documentary on Zimbabwe’s economic collapse? Not that we in North America are safe. As Matt Ridley warned of this slow-motion economy wreck, it is just a taste of what is to come: “Yet this crisis is a mere harbinger of the candle-lit future that awaits us if we do not change course. It comes upon us when we have barely started ripping out our gas boilers to make way for the expensive and inefficient heat pumps the Government is telling us to buy, or building the costly new power stations that will be needed to charge the electric cars we will all soon require.” And not just “us” as in the British. Everyone where this madness is in charge.
We got where we are because governments deliberately, yes deliberately, attacked the energy sources that are the lifeblood of our economies. And yes, we told you so. We saw it coming, even when the best and brightest assured everyone it wasn’t. Which means our theory was better. If you look through the Climate Discussion Nexus’s newsletters, blog posts and videos you will find repeated warnings that without fossil fuels our way of life could not be sustained. And you’ll also find repeated, sometimes sarcastic references to the blithe assurances that if we just threw away what worked, something marvellous would appear over the horizon. In a very real sense the Green New Deal is a cargo cult. And as usual there is no magic cargo. And now it matters.
If you look at our warnings, you will also see very clear efforts to explain that the sometimes dry language of economics does not describe vague, unimportant abstractions unworthy of the attention of compassionate practical people. Rather, a collapse of prosperity means people are cold, hungry, sick and in many cases dead. This stuff is real. And now it’s here. Not in some poor, distant country synonymous with incompetent government. In Britain.
As we have also pointed out, for all the panic over heat waves, cold is statistically far more deadly to human beings. Even in many countries you might think of as hot, and certainly in ones like the UK. This winter, people who cannot afford adequate heating will die from cold, directly or because it weakens their resistance to illness and hunger, in far larger numbers than they should have. In Ireland alone the forecast is for heating bills to rise by €400, a sum people whose friends have names like Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson may shrug off but spell disaster for many a common person.
It gets worse. In the face of the disaster engulfing Britain the government of course says there’s nothing to see. “No 10 insisted that the UK was ‘resilient’ and Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said there was ‘absolutely no question of the lights going out, or of people being unable to heat their homes’.” Here let us again repeat the lesson of Hazlitt and Hayek for the socialists of all parties: Because economies are incredibly complicated ecosystems full of transcomputably complex feedback loops, central planners can never do anything other than blunder in and smash up supply chains. Which is the last thing you want on something as vital as energy. It is for this reason, we might add, that the continuation of Second World War food rationing in Britain into the early 1950s prolonged the shortages it was meant to alleviate. But this situation threatens to be far worse.
Part of the reason for the present catastrophe is sheer obtuseness. “A joint statement from Kwarteng and the energy regulator Ofgem on Monday night stressed that the crisis ‘was not an issue of supply’ and said the UK has capacity ‘that can more than meet demand’.” OK, where is it? Uh, the wind subsided. We forgot it bloweth where it listeth, a problem alarmists claim will get worse with warming but then seem not to comprehend the meaning of their own words.
There is, moreover, a bitter irony in that the proximate cause of the disaster is that policies based on demonizing CO2 have created a perilous shortage of… CO2. “The British Chambers of Commerce said factories were already discussing a ‘more permanent reduction in their operating capacity’, such as a three- or four-day working week, or reducing their hours because of high gas prices and the consequent shortage of CO2. Firms known to be considering such a move include energy-intensive industries, as well as the meat and fresh food packaging suppliers that rely on carbon dioxide.”
It turns out that one unsuspected use of CO2 is in vacuum-packing. It’s also important in freezing meat (as dry ice) and perhaps less surprisingly in brewing. And did you know that it’s important in some surgical procedures, to stabilize body cavities?
Another oddity is where industrial CO2 comes from. Far from being some nasty thing that just shows up uninvited, it takes energy to produce it and right now there’s not enough. (Energy or CO2). Again, it’s a complicated business. The owner of two major British food firms warned that Christmas dinner might be cancelled because there isn’t enough energy to produce fertilizer which, as a byproduct, generates CO2 needed elsewhere in the food industry.
But to all of the people in charge the answer is more of the medicine that caused the illness. As Melanie Phillips erupted, “Ye gods! How can such an intelligent man be so bone-headedly…dumb?? It’s Boris Johnson who needs to understand that the policy he is promoting of Net Zero carbon emissions is leading his country and the world off the edge of an economic and social cliff.” But of course a certain type of stupidity requires a powerful intelligence to perform the required mental gymnastics. As Orwell put it, “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”