It’s hard not to mock Prince Charles for converting his antique Aston Martin to run on the byproducts of surplus English wine and whey from cheese. And we’re not going to make the effort. Not because there isn’t a certain logic to his long-standing interest in organic farming and reducing waste, or because there must be some use for English wine, or because aristocratic snobbery is an easy target. Rather because it illustrates the absurd gap between climate alarmists’ diagnosis and their remedy. If the planet is in imminent danger of bursting into flames, running vintage cars on vintage food cannot possibly be a solution on a sufficient scale to put out the fire.
This mismatch is surprisingly common. Consider the Washington Post story that starts “A herd of “clever cattle” in Germany have successfully been potty-trained and can now relieve themselves in a designated area nicknamed the “MooLoo,” scientists say — a move that they hope will help lower greenhouse gas emissions amid the global warming crisis.” Can it seriously be maintained that whether the planet, or at least our civilization, survives or not depends on where German cows pee? Only if you take a remarkably skittish view of how fragile the planet is and how massive our own contribution.
In the novel Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton has Ian Malcolm contradict John Hammond’s fears that we are destroying the Earth in a long conversation well worth rereading, including Malcolm’s “to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try.” And his concluding “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet—or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
Not however by converting one of our antique cars to run on cheese. Particularly because Prince Charles, who we applaud for some of his quirky causes including his critique of hideous modern architecture, converted his car to run on a fuel called E85, whose name indicates that it’s 85% “bioethanol” and 15% um unleaded gas, the dreaded fossil fuel.
Most of us can’t afford to convert our favourite car in this way or, indeed, to have so many cars we can play favourites. But if we could we’d know that ethanol is problematic because it’s an even better solvent than gasoline. So the conversion is especially labour- and material-intensive. And ethanol is even more problematic because of the amount of energy that goes into producing it. Not to mention the amount of cropland, pushing up food prices and harming the poor, the marginalized and the usual list of people the “just transition” is meant to privilege by wrecking their household budgets. Seriously. A mind-boggling 40% of the U.S. corn crop is used for biofuel, putting serious pressure on food prices.
Now HRH might retort that since his car runs on surplus wine and alcohol from fermented whey, it’s more or less free energy as these things were already produced. But the answer to surplus wine is market mechanisms that bring supply and demand together. And in any case the idea that the UK could produce enough whey to power millions of cars is nonsensical.
As for our cheap shot at English wine, we do understand that it’s a lot better than it once was, which admittedly doesn’t narrow the field much. What did narrow the field, by contrast, was the post-Medieval Warm Period cooling that more or less destroyed an English wine industry that had flourished so dramatically that, Brian Fagan writes in The Little Ice Age, “Commercial vineyards flourished 300 to 500 kilometers north of their 20th-century limits. During the height of the Warm Period, so many lords quaffed prime English wines that the French tried to negotiate trade agreements to exclude them from the continent.”
Don’t tell the climate alarmists, who insist with Michael Mann that there was no Medieval Warm Period but add that if there was it was purely regional. And certainly don’t tell them that an England warm enough to grow fine wines even in Lincolnshire, as was done in the Roman Warm Period, was not a scorching flooded desert of hypertrophied nutritionless crops, but a green and pleasant land.