Just months after Germany’s chancellor was sent packing by Canada’s Prime Minister when he came seeking natural gas, with a jibe about there being no market for the stuff in Europe, the first shipment from North American shores arrived. From the United States. But even there a certain kind of green zealot insists that methane may be better than coal but rather than making a prudent transition we should leap into the freezing dark. Just as so many of them are irrationally hostile to the extremely low GHG, reliable base power available from nuclear energy.
Canary Media, for instance, insists that methane is evil: “The potent greenhouse gas remains in the atmosphere for just over a decade, but cutting methane emissions is a critical step in slowing short- and long-term global warming.” It sounds optimistic, maintaining that:
“we should bend the curve of that trajectory by tackling the causes of short-term warming. High up on that list is methane. Once released, it stays in the atmosphere for only 12 years, but in the 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, it causes about 84 times more warming than carbon dioxide does.”
On a tonne-by-tonne basis it may be true. We didn’t check the math, or the assumptions behind it. But in any case it is essentially a consequence of methane levels being so much lower in the air than those of carbon dioxide. Since the warming effect is nonlinear, and specifically logarithmic, with every increment upward of methane in the atmosphere, as with CO2, the next tonne does progressively less and less warming. Likewise if we reduced methane levels in the atmosphere the global warming potential of each tonne of the remaining emissions would tilt upwards.
Meanwhile the consequence of finding any old stick to bash natural gas with is that nations will burn coal instead. Or just ignore the zealots and move forward rapidly to produce, export, and import methane. While Canada’s elite stands there slack-jawed going but what about our solar hydrogen?
Among the points worth noting here is that, as the Wall St. Journal headline rightly put it, “German Facility, Built at Breakneck Speed, Accepts Gas Shipment From U.S.” Western societies still have the capacity to achieve miracles of productivity. Perhaps “still” is the wrong word given the improvements in technology and sheer productive capacity over the last half century. If we often seem paralyzed, unable to accomplish basic tasks, it is because of a failure of nerve and guiding ideology not capacity.
Japan is now begging Canada for natural gas as well. (Story behind paywall.) Having foolishly shut down their nuclear industry over wildly overwrought safety fears, that hydrocarbon-poor nation is now so dependent on Russia for energy that it got an exemption on the ataxic G7 move to limit the prices people can pay for Putin’s oil. And while scrambling to reactivate its reactors they’re also watching anxiously whether Canada will manage to built its first LNG export terminal, scheduled to come online in Kitimat, British Columbia in 2025, given our wobbly record on all megaprojects recently and our particularly feeble performance on those involving energy.
It is also important that green zealots insist that we could build their fanciful new economy at the same pace in the same spirit as we could once build familiar stuff, this time involving windmills and “green hydrogen” and all manner of high-tech ecomarvels. Thus for instance new British Prime Minister (for now) Rishi Sunak recently burbled that “major challenges like energy security and net zero will be solved by innovation.”
We say burbled because the context was one of those goofy 1990s “information economy” buzzword bingo claims that:
“The change we need is to put innovation at the heart of everything we do. New jobs are created by innovation, people’s wages increased by innovation, the cost of goods and services reduced by innovation, and major challenges like energy security and net zero will be solved by innovation.”
Yet Sunak fails to see that his ode to innovation is itself the very opposite of innovative: it is a tedious and robotic rehash of every banality the UK state bureaucracy habitually generates. By way of comparison, we asked the computer algorithm at ChatGPT (https://chat.openai.com/chat) to “write a speech by Rishi Sunak promoting innovation.” In less than ten seconds this is what it produced:
“Ladies and gentlemen,
I stand before you today to talk about innovation and its crucial role in driving economic growth and prosperity.
Innovation has always been at the heart of what makes our country great. From the Industrial Revolution to the tech boom of the 21st century, we have always been a nation that embraces new ideas and pushes the boundaries of what is possible.
But in these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we continue to foster a culture of innovation in our country. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our economy, and it is only through the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our businesses and entrepreneurs that we will be able to bounce back and rebuild.
That is why the government is committed to supporting innovation in all its forms. We have launched a range of initiatives and programmes to help businesses access the funding, expertise and resources they need to turn their ideas into reality.
We are also investing in research and development, both in the private and public sectors, to help drive the development of new technologies and ideas that will shape the future.
But innovation is not just about technology or business. It is also about finding new and better ways of doing things in all walks of life. Whether it is in healthcare, education, or the arts, we must always be looking for ways to improve and move forward.
So let us embrace the spirit of innovation, and together we can create a brighter, more prosperous future for all.
Especially in a nation with Britain’s glorious tradition you’d think someone claiming to be conservative would have something to say about relying on the tried and true, from hard work to honesty to leaving innovation to the private sector driven by customer satisfaction not activist zealotry, and could say it in a way that didn’t end up sounding indistinguishable from a robotic computer program. But you’d be disappointed. So let’s talk instead about the fact that despite all this chatter, the subsidies poured into new forms of energy have produced remarkably disappointing results.
Back when Western nations were dramatically expanding food and energy production, bringing a comfortable life within reach of the middle classes, and winning two world wars, the energy, can-do spirit and innovation were driven by a relentlessly practical orientation. You tried things and if they didn’t work you tried something else. Thus apparently promising early steam cars were ditched for internal combustion… as were the electric kind.
Nowadays a very different approach is de rigueur, in which politicians, bureaucrats and activists who will pay no price for being wrong decide in advance that something will work and the more of other people’s money they pour into it without benefit to citizens, the more determined they become to pour yet more in.
P.S. One typical takedown of Sunak’s fatuity included “So why are we subsidising medieval technologies like windfarms to the tune of ten billion pounds per year?” But back in the Middle Ages, when windmills really were a dramatic breakthrough that replaced backbreaking manual grinding of grain, sawing of wood and pounding of cloth with efficient machine power, they were erected by local entrepreneurs one at a time because they represented a better way. It is modernity, not our dumb old ancestors, who can’t seem to figure out how anything works.