The people are revolting. In the Netherlands, Poland, Italy and Germany. Also in Sri Lanka where the situation has become dangerously unstable with mobs invading the presidential palace and forcing the occupant to step down. In the Netherlands, with a tradition of good government and consequent political legitimacy stretching back to the long and painful expulsion of Imperial Spain in 1648, the populace is reacting more calmly. But still firmly. Massive protests are taking place, particularly by farmers, over plans to cut nitrogen emissions, of all things, in the name of climate. And not even those who denounced the “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa can really claim that the people involved are a “small fringe minority”. Especially with Mick Jagger apparently backing them. But what else can they say? It has become painfully clear that, as with Boris Johnson in Britain, their governments have broken their compact with the people by forcing on them a dramatic lowering of their standard of living without their consent. And, especially in the case of the Netherlands, apparently for nothing; as we discuss at length in another item this week, a new study has managed to model Dutch temperature changes over the past two centuries remarkably accurately by… excluding so-called greenhouse gasses entirely.
We say these policies were imposed without their consent. But they’re not totally off the hook because it’s remarkable the extent to which voters in Canada, Britain, the United States and elsewhere have ignored, or not taken seriously, very plain statements from politicians over many decades about the climate plan. Specifically, the climate plan to make conventional energy unaffordable and to force them to abandon normal activities to save us all from the sky catching fire then falling in blazing fragments on our heads. But they did say it, over and over, echoed by most academics, journalists and to a surprising degree corporations including those producing fossil fuel energy, and they were serious.
On the other hand, the same politicians, academics, journalists and corporate PR departments told voters from the Netherlands to New Zealand that it wouldn’t hurt. And while people may have been fools to believe it (and yes, here we shake our dusty economic locks at them), they were promised that what is now happening would not happen in anything like the way that it did. Now it has, and if they are not pleased (and with Dutch protests now spreading across Europe they clearly are not), they have good reason, both in terms of their personal situation and of governance. Particularly since normal methods of changing policy seem entirely ineffective in this one area given that a huge portion of the elite in most western countries has climate fever.
Thus an outfit called Clean Prosperity, which reports being “funded through the generous support of individual donors and private foundations” somehow just put out what cannot be distinguished from a government press release: “New carbon tax rebate payments keep climate action affordable for Canadians”. We the people beg to differ.
Incidentally Dutch emissions of GHGs barely exceed those of Algeria and lag those of Argentina. They constitute under 0.7% of the human total. So shutting the place down, or going back exclusively to windmills, wouldn’t save the planet even if it would be quaint. Which it wouldn’t, given the massive suffering. Certainly a massive cut in emissions of a few secondary greenhouse gasses would do nothing for the cause, and massive harm to the people.
As we note elsewhere in this week’s commentary, Sri Lanka has a very good ESG score. Including that in April 2021 the president announced a forced march to organic farming in the form of a total ban on chemical fertilizer. Unfortunately it also has a collapsing economy where fuel is not just unaffordable but in many cases unavailable entirely, and its already fragile polity seems to be crumbling as well.
Sri Lanka’s painful history, including a long bloody civil war that ended not in the 17th century but the 21st, makes politics there far more volatile, as does the much smaller margin of survival given its poverty relative to advanced European economies. But even in the Netherlands the situation is becoming positively non-Dutch. Police have even fired on protestors though mercifully only a tractor was hit. The crisis is no joke. And it won’t be resolved by thinking a few hicks were bitten by rabid Trump supporters or something, and if this outburst can just be suppressed they can go back to the business as usual scenario.
No, not RCP8.5. The one where a Deputy Prime Minister can get away with babbling “from my perspective this price increase in fuel costs is a reminder of why climate action is so important, and why as a country we have to work even harder and move even faster towards a green economy. It’s an insurance policy against higher energy prices.” Which was Canada not the Netherlands, but typical of the out-of-touch elite.
Even a Liberal strategist allowed that “This summer might be a good opportunity to do a communications audit, a test to see how their message is landing with average Canadians”. But sometimes the problem is content not spin. As for instance when you try to ban farming.
If you’re wondering why that elite is targeting nitrogen in the Netherlands just now, since those following the science know it comprises around 78% of the atmosphere so if it causes runaway warming we might as well spread ourselves with butter because we are toast, it’s because they have convinced themselves that both nitrogen oxide (a blanket term for gasses including nitric oxide or NO, nitrogen dioxide or NO2, nitrous oxide or N2O and others) and methane (NH4) are greenhouse gasses, and want to cut fertilizer use and livestock numbers by as much as 70% in some areas by 2030 even at the expense of, you know, giving up the food we like in favour of bugs or something.
In a helpful sign that some are taking the matter seriously, Newsweek ran an Opinion piece by a German professor of economics and political science under the headline “A Popular Uprising Against the Elites Has Gone Global” that warned that:
“A popular uprising of working-class people against the elites and their values is underway—and it's crossing the globe. There is a growing resistance by the middle and lower classes against what Rob Henderson has coined the ‘luxury beliefs’ of the elites, as everyday folks realize the harm it causes them and their communities. There were early glimmerings last February, when the Canadian Trucker Convoy pitched working class truck drivers against a ‘laptop class’ demanding ever more restrictive COVID-19 policies. You saw it as well in the victory of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who ran on parents' rights in education and went on to win both suburbs and rural areas. You can see it in the growing support of Hispanic voters for a Republican Party, which increasingly identifies as anti-woke, and pro-working class. And now we're seeing the latest iteration in the Netherlands in the form of a farmer's protest against new environmental rulings that will ruin them.”
And even the Guardian reports that “Europe is in danger of highly damaging ‘very, very strong conflict and strife’ this winter over high energy prices, and should make a short-term return to fossil fuels to head off the threat of civil unrest, the vice-president of the European Commission has warned.” The fact that the VP, Frans Timmermans, is as Dutch as his name suggests might have helped focus his mind. But whatever it takes, it’s both necessary and urgent.