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If only they knew that they don't know

29 Jun 2022 | News Roundup

A “news” item also labeled “Business” in The Washington Post recently complained that “an energy crisis and $5 gas aren’t spurring a green revolution”. They seem annoyed that a lack of affordable energy is causing people to demand more of the affordable kind of energy rather than the stuff that costs a lot and doesn’t work. Just as the news that “Quebec not on track to meet GHG reduction targets: report” might lead some people to conclude that, since those in power clearly want to meet the targets even to the extent of triggering a massive lawsuit for expropriating property from conventional energy producers, yet they’re still failing, they don’t know how. Nor does the Canadian government, whose decades of faceplants on actual GHG targets, missing every single one since 1993, does not bring humility. It merely spurs politicians to make loftier promises with an even more patronizing explanation that, given our superior understanding of how the world works, we will succeed this time for sure. But if your theory of how the world works keeps leading you to actions that do not bring anything like the results you confidently anticipate, there comes a point where you have to revisit the theory instead of just restating it dogmatically.

In the first chapter of his Autobiography John Stuart Mill recalls vividly the rebuke he received from his home-schooling father for saying something could be true in theory but not in practice, “leaving me fully persuaded that in being unable to give a correct definition of Theory, and in speaking of it as something which might be at variance with practice, I had shown unparalleled ignorance.” It is a passage on which climate alarmists particularly need to reflect at this point, as their theories increasingly fail to predict or explain what really happens.

Thus, for instance, the Post green brick by a guy with a B.A. in Rhetoric and an M.S. in Journalism says approvingly that “U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry suggested that nations are falling prey to a flawed logic that fossil fuels will help them weather this period of instability, which has seen gas prices climb to a record-high national average of $5 per gallon.” But whose logic is flawed given the evidence? More fossil fuels will help nations weather this period of instability, and in the short run renewables can’t. You may not like it, but not liking something doesn’t make it go away.

Recently the Canadian deputy Prime Minister met United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and made a pro-forma appeal to reconsider the Keystone XL pipeline to bring our oil to their refineries to lower prices. But Yellen pooh-poohed that kind of economics. According to the Globe & Mail “Ms. Yellen indicated she did not view it as a solution to high prices. “I don’t see it as short term measure to address the current situation. And longer term, we remain committed to our climate-change objectives” she told reporters.

Not that we have realistic plans for any of it. As the Post author also complained, “The country’s lofty goals for all carbon pollution to be gone from the electricity sector by 2035 and for half the cars sold to be electric by 2030 are jeopardized by years of neglect of the electrical grid, regulatory hurdles that have set projects back years, and failures by Congress and policymakers to plan ahead.” And again, there are those who would say that if government turns out in practice never to be as clever nor as disinterested as your theory predicted, your theory needs a serious overhaul. And others who would say it’s not “the country’s lofty goals” but those of the far left in politics, academia and culture.

Thus the piece asserts as fact that:

“Consumers are eager for more wind and solar. Companies looking to go carbon-neutral are facing growing waitlists for access to green energy, and a Pew Research Center poll in late January found that two-thirds of Americans want the United States to prioritize alternative energy over fossil fuel production.”

But ask them to pay more for it and see how well those pious, cost-free poll responses correlate with their real preferences, because when “lawmakers have balked for more than a decade at making most of the fundamental economic and policy changes that experts widely agree are crucial to an orderly and accelerated energy transition” it’s a fair bet voters aren’t willing to let experts tell them how to give up their current lifestyle in painful and pointless ways.

Thus, and not incidentally, polling finds that Quebecers’ famous hostility to fossil fuels may have been an elite artefact. As Dan McTeague of Canadians for Affordable Energy observes, “A May 2022 Leger survey of Quebecers conducted for the Montreal Economic Institute found that 85% of Quebec residents believe gasoline prices are too high. Likewise, 76% of those surveyed believe that taxes on fuel are too high.” If you asked them whether combating climate change was important they might well still say “Ouais”. But not on our dime, and that last part matters.

As Bjorn Lomborg just wrote in the New York Post, the problem with the standard plan isn’t that it’s never been implemented. It’s that it has and it didn’t work:

“For three decades, climate campaigners have fought to make fossil fuels so expensive that people would be forced to abandon them. Their dream is becoming reality: Energy prices are spiraling out of control and will soon get even worse. Yet we are no closer to solving climate change. Energy costs increased 26% across industrialized economies last year and will rise globally by another 50% this year. While Western governments are blaming Russia’s war on Ukraine, prices were already rising because of climate policies designed to choke fossil-fuel investment. Since the 2015 Paris agreement was inked, the world’s 1,200 biggest energy corporations have slashed capital investment in oil and gas by more than two-thirds. Huge price rises are the inevitable result of forcing more energy out of an increasingly starved system. The climate-policy approach of trying to push consumers and businesses away from fossil fuels with price spikes is causing pain with little climate payoff, for two reasons. First, solar and wind are still only capable of meeting a fraction of global electricity needs. Even with huge subsidies and political support, solar and wind delivered just 9% of global electricity in 2020. Heating, transport and vital industrial processes account for much more energy use than electricity. This means solar and wind deliver just 1.8% of global energy supply. And electricity is the easiest of these components to decarbonize: We haven’t yet made meaningful progress greening the remaining four-fifths of global energy. Second, even in the rich parts of the world it is clear few people are willing to pay the phenomenal price of achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Soaring prices are hiking energy poverty in industrialized economies, and prices are set to climb even further. Germany is on track to spend more than a half-trillion dollars on climate policies by 2025 yet has only managed to reduce fossil-fuel dependency from 84% in 2000 to 77% today. McKinsey estimates getting to zero carbon will cost Europe 5.3% of its GDP in low-emission assets every year — for Germany, more than $200 billion annually. That’s more than Germany spends annually on education and police, courts and prisons combined. Western leaders can’t continue to push expensive policies without a backlash. As energy prices soar, risks grow of resentment and strife, like France saw with the ‘yellow vest’ protest movement.”

The Quebec government has walked into a massive liability by shutting down fossil fuels. It just hasn’t reduced emissions. So something is wrong with its approach.

This news hasn’t reached NBC yet. It recently produced a similar fatuity to that of the Washington Post, reporting that “President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are announcing new initiatives Thursday at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles that aim to combat climate change while creating jobs throughout the hemisphere. The initiatives ‘will help us and our partners tackle the climate crisis while harnessing the opportunity for countries in the region to create good-paying jobs, grow clean energy economies and build resilient communities,’ a senior administration official said ahead of the announcement.” But if it were true, wouldn’t there be some evidence of it by now? And if not, isn’t it time to rethink the assumptions instead of repeating them?

Instead this sort of journalism is curiously circular and hermetically sealed off from unwelcome details. For instance the Post piece says “The problem is not entirely unique to the United States. Across the globe, climate leaders are warning that energy shortages prompted by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and high gas prices driven by inflation threaten to make the energy transition an afterthought – potentially thwarting efforts to keep global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius.” But why? Because the energy “transition” isn’t working, except to transition from enough to not enough, and from affordable to not affordable. Which is not what was meant to happen.

4 comments on “If only they knew that they don't know”

  1. Does it make sense for Europe to sacrifice 5.3% of its GDP each year, now, so as to stave off an "environmental catastrophe" that will reduce Europe's many-times-higher GDP in 2112 by, on the worst-case scenario, only about 2.5%? Discounted to present value, the future GDP loss is practically zero, yet politicians want us to sacrifice a very real 5.3% of our spending power today? Insanity.

  2. "Does it make sense for Europe to sacrifice 5.3% of its GDP each year . . " Yes it does -- to China. Does anyone really believe that China is genuinely concerned about reducing fossil fuel emissions except as a means of goading the rest of the world into hastening their own economic decline and China's ascendency?

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