Fossil Fool

A couple of days ago I listened to Joe Rogan’s podcast with Bernie Sanders. The thing with Sanders is he’s actually pretty good at identifying genuine problems. In 2016, what he was saying about blue collar America wasn’t much different from Trump’s message, which is partly why so many of the Bernie Bros couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary. However, Sanders’ solutions to the problems he identifies are terrible, consisting of top-down authoritarianism presiding over a command-and-control economy, much like what he saw in the Soviet Union on his honeymoon. Take for example his proposals for tackling climate change around the hour mark of the podcast:

Sanders has bought wholesale into the nonsense that we have 12 years left to save the planet, but his solutions are even more daft. His proposal is to “tell the fossil fuel industry that their short term profits are not more important than the future of the planet”. He then goes on to say “you cannot keep producing a product which is destroying the planet.” Rogan asks him whether this means he will tell the fossil fuel companies to stop selling their products, and Sanders replies that yes, “this is the bottom line”.

It’s hard to know where to begin with such stupidity. The only major oil and gas companies the US government would have some degree of control over should it issue such an order are ExxonMobil and Chevron. While most international oil companies work overtime not to fall foul of the US government in ordinary circumstances, faced with what amounts to closure orders from a President Sanders they’d cease all cooperation immediately. Sanders talks about the need to work with Russia and others but it’s hard to imagine Gazprom and Rosneft shutting down production because a septuagenarian multi-millionaire from Vermont deems it necessary. Although if Theresa May were still British Prime Minister you could well imagine her closing down BP in order to seal her “legacy”.

But the impossibility of implementing the policy isn’t even the most stupid part. Sanders speaks as though the fossil fuel companies sell products with no utility, as if they don’t underpin the entire way of modern life. He seems to think they’re luxury products we can do without if only the right leadership is shown. I see this with a lot of people: they think cars should be electric, and electricity generated by solar, wind, and hydro power and therefore we don’t need fossil fuels any more. What staggers me is the ignorance among the general public about what fossil fuel products are actually used for. Even making the ludicrous assumption we could switch our cars to electric and generate all electricity from renewables, how do we power planes, ships, and tractors without fossil fuels? Even my erstwhile environmental engineer friend didn’t seem to understand that a demand for fossil fuels will likely remain until the very end of human existence. She didn’t seem to consider the economics of her preferred policies at all, let alone the effects at the margins (i.e on the poor), which puts her in good company with Bernie Sanders and most of the public who subscribe to swivel-eyed environmentalism. One minute Sanders is bemoaning the difficulties low-paid workers face in America, the next he’s saying we should make basic energy products as expensive as diamonds.

As I’ve said before, I have a theory that when a certain number of generations have taken the bottom two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for granted, the society starts to self-destruct. A critical mass of people simply lose connection with the foundations which prop up their society, start meddling with them, and eventually call for their destruction. I’ve tried to think of a similar instance from history, and the closest I can find is China’s decision in the 15th century to destroy their ships in an effort to isolate themselves from the perils of free trade. And even that doesn’t come close to ordering a halt on fossil fuel production. What’s that saying that whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad? We’re here, folks.

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26 thoughts on “Fossil Fool

  1. After hearing Sanders fatuous declaration that ‘no one needs a choice of 18 different pairs of sneakers’ I realised that he is an ignorant socialist idiot whom I no longer need to take seriously. His notion being that if only some intellectual authoritarian such as himself decided what footwear the population deserved or required, economic Nirvana would surely follow. You know, just like in the USSR.

    The idea that a multi-millionaire who has almost certainly never shopped for a pair of his own shoes in his life, that being first the job of his nanny and latterly of his interns, should centrally manage the shoe economy, let alone his own bedtime is a complete joke. What a clown!

  2. “And electricity generated by solar, wind, and hydro power and therefore we don’t need fossil fuels any more”
    Good luck with that after yesterdays events:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49302996
    “He said the near-simultaneous loss of two generators was more than the grid was routinely prepared for”
    Well if you expect to reduce the safety margins (i.e. the reserve capacity available), and try and run wind flat out in the middle of a storm, perhaps you damn well SHOULD expect things to go pear shaped. Loss of a medium size gas plant shouldn’t be an issue, but when 2 out of 3 units at Hornsea wind farm subsequently disconnect because the grid frequency drops below limits you are rapidly heading for lights out…

  3. “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.”

  4. The only analogy I can come up with is Britain’s (and America’s) relationship with food. For a long time now, the majority of Brits have been disconnected from rural life entirely. Living in a city, I could go my whole life without ever seeing a tractor or a cow. The notion that a farmer requires chemicals to grow crops, or that a combine harvester requires smelly diesel, is not intuitive to them. Hence the calls for bans on pesticides, on certain fertilisers, on fox-hunting, and all the rest.

    France, which urbanised later and which has smaller (less productive) farms, retained that link with farming and even today still has good food in restaurants.

    The fact that farming has survived at all in the UK constantly surprises me. It certainly isn’t in a good state:

  5. @Tim

    “He seems to think they’re luxury products we can do without”

    Alternatively, he might think these are inferior products HE can do without. And he might be right: I suppose enough “green” energy can be produced for multimillionaires not to feel any discomfort. As for the peasants – the more poverty, the more votes for socialism, “democratic” or otherwise. Win-win all around.

  6. He’s like Tony Benn, in that his analysis is quite good but conclusions for what should be done are mad.

  7. “The fact that farming has survived at all in the UK constantly surprises me. It certainly isn’t in a good state:”

    The only reason farming is still (just about) a going concern in the UK is down to farm subsidies, which have kept the industry ticking along. Without them it would have gone the way of all the other extractive and primary industries in the UK, ie virtually non existent. And the only reason the farm subsidies continued to exist was that they were outside the control of the UK State, being part of the CAP, which in turn largely exists because French farmers will burn France to the ground if their subsidies are threatened. So because the EU cannot reform the CAP without French consent it has stayed much the same for 30 years.

    Now were are leaving the CAP(regardless of what form of relationship the UK has with the EU in the future, the one thing just about everyone agrees on is that we won’t be in the CAP) we will soon see subsidies removed (possibly to be replaced by some sort of lower level environmental payments) and that will pretty much finish large sections of the industry, the livestock production certainly. There is no way little 200 acre livestock farms in upland areas can compete on price alone with tariff free beef and lamb shipped in from Brazil or NZ. A good proportion of UK cereals production may be able to compete at world prices but it would require a massive rise in exports – home demand for feed grains would nosedive as foreign produced meat replaced UK produced meat. Dairying should be less affected, particularly as importing liquid milk in large amounts is not as easy as other foodstuffs.

  8. In 1982 the UN said that “the world faces an ecological disaster as final as nuclear war within a couple of decades unless governments act now.”

    In 1989 the UN said that “entire nations could be wiped off the map by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000. Coastal flooding and crop failures would create an exodus of eco-refugees threatening political chaos.”

    In 2007 IPCC Chair Dr R Pachauri said “If there’s no action by 2012, that’s too late…This is the defining moment.”

    Bernie needs first to explain why the latest alarmism deserves to be believed given the 100% failure of the UN’s previous alarmism to approximate to reality. Except, I suppose for the UN’s success in manufacturing an exodus from less desirable places.

  9. The thing with Sanders is he’s actually pretty good at identifying genuine problems… However, Sanders’ solutions to the problems he identifies are terrible

    I’ve noticed this about a lot of socialists & their fellow travelers. They were saying that conservative types were being manipulated by plutocrats long before TARP & the ExIm bank got Trump voters to agree with them.

    Thing is, the solution they propose will make things worse. Maybe — maybe — when it first came out, you could believe it would be an improvement, but that age has long past. Frankly, I think it was always generous to allow that aggregating complete control of an economy under the government would somehow decrease inequality.

  10. As the world becomes more sophisticated, systems grow more complex and people’s jobs and life experience become more specialised. So much stuff gets done in the background that underpins modern lifestyles, and most of us never even get a glimpse of it beyond what we see in our own fields, and even there we only grasp a small part of what’s going on. The way the world works has become a mystery to us.

    On one level this means politicians having no idea what they’re meddling with. On a broader level it means electorates are often going to be ignorant of second or third order effects, and simplistic, intuitive yet actually counterproductive “solutions” will always be popular.

    I don’t know what the answer for this is, aside from increased respect for Chesterton’s Fence. Sadly “leave things to the experts” has proven a very poor response to complexity, since experts are capable of having agendas and these do not always match our own.

  11. @Jim,

    We should return to the system we had before we entered the EEC, (now “EU”).

    Basically, farmers were given price support for the difference between their average cost of production and the world market price. The more efficient made more money, the least efficient went bust and were taken over by those more efficient.

    That way we kept market competion AND local food production.

  12. Tim,

    When it comes to environmentalism and calls to abolish fossil fuels, I don’t think most people are swivel-eyed loons. Rather I think it’s a mixture of ignorance and piety, along with a belief that they won’t personally be impacted.

    Yesterday I had lunch with some friends, all of whom profess to believe in climate change. Yet they all drive daily 30+ miles each way to work in powerful, gas-guzzling cars and SUVs. Are they going to stop? Of course not; they expect other people to make the sacrifices. Assuming, of course, that they really, truly believe in climate change. I agree with you when you say that environmentalism is a modern religion. Perhaps they are just expressing environmental pieities, in the same way that, in previous centuries, people were expected to express Christian pieities, regardless of whether they really believed.

    Those who haven’t got the green religion, but support abolishing fossil fuels anyway, are almost certainly ignorant of maths and physics. Fossil fuels persist, not because of some dastardly plot by the oil companies, but because they are energy dense and easily moved. I remember a friend saying how all cars should be electric, their batteries recharged by windmills. I explained to him that a single US gallon of petrol (gasoline) contains about 45 kilowatt-hours of thermal energy, which a typical internal combustion engine converts into about 15 kWh of mechanical energy. Windmills cannot generate remotely enough energy to replace that on a national or global scale. Then there’s the question of recharging – or refuelling – your electric car. It’s possible to draw a maximum of about 3kW from a domestic electrical outlet. Assuming an electric motor is near-enough 100% efficient, and that it converts 15kWh of electricity into 15kWh of mechanical energy, your recharge rate this equates putting one-fifth of a US gallon of petrol into your car per hour. Even that slow rate of charge, multiplied across millions of households, is going to impose a huge strain on the electrical grid. “You understand the maths behind this, don’t you?” was his reply.

    I do, but most people don’t, and why should they? It’s pretty arcane knowledge; geek stuff, if you prefer. Not that that makes the situation we’re in any less dangerous. Politicians seem to have been co-opted by environmental extremists. Meanwhile, a majority of the public goes along with along with what the politicians propose, presumably because it makes them feel good and they don’t understand the implications the extremeists’ demands. Like Rome, an energy infrastructure cannot be built in a day. (As I’m sure you know very well, Tim!) By the time we realise we’ve effectively destroyed ours, and are truly in a very bad place; it will be too late to do anything about it.

    Interesting times, as in the old Chinese curse, may be upon us.

  13. “We should return to the system we had before we entered the EEC, (now “EU”).Basically, farmers were given price support for the difference between their average cost of production and the world market price. The more efficient made more money, the least efficient went bust and were taken over by those more efficient.That way we kept market competion AND local food production.”

    Not really. Don’t forget that prior to joining the EEC (and for 10-15 years afterwards) public policy was still a backwards looking WW2 attitude of ‘We must produce more food to prevent rationing and U-boats starving everyone’. So yes we did have the system you describe (known as deficiency payments) and its stated aim was to increase UK production and reduce reliance on imports. For every extra tonne of grain or extra beef animal you produced, you got extra money. Yes, the efficient took over the inefficient, but the overall aim was to increase production, not drive down the price for the consumer.

    We aren’t trying to increase production now, as the experience of the 1980s is there for all to see – mountains of unwanted grain, butter, meat and wine. So subsidies were decoupled from production and made purely area based (this done in the early 90s) and then 10 years later they were decoupled from production entirely – you no longer had to produce anything in order to qualify. This latter change was done to comply with (ironically given the current situation) WTO rules. WTO rules do not permit production based farm subsidies, so the post Brexit WTO rule accepting UK would have to comply with that stricture. It can subsidise farming if it wants, but not in a way that encourages UK farmers to produce more and thus artificially affect the market for food commodities.

    It could do what we do now, and pay subsidies with no strings attached, and hope that farmers will use the money to help produce food, which they almost universally do. Very few farmers take the cash and sit back and produce nothing. Or you can make payments for other things like environmental outcomes, thats fine under WTO rules. But you can’t directly pay farmers based on their food output.

  14. “So much stuff gets done in the background that underpins modern lifestyles, and most of us never even get a glimpse of it beyond what we see in our own fields, and even there we only grasp a small part of what’s going on. The way the world works has become a mystery to us.”

    This is one of my bug bears about modern life – I get that a lot of technology is to all intents and purposes magic to the average person, but its the total lack of interest in how even pretty basic stuff works (and thus can be fixed if it goes wrong) from anyone under the age of about 40. Everything is a Black Box now to people. It either works or it doesn’t. They don’t care a jot how it does what it does, and if it stops doing it they just throw it away and buy another one.

  15. any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology as the saying goes, and what is your excuse for refusing to do magic? would be nice if the ppe had to pass a basic physics test. i (sadly) side with those who think the impact of a poor grid will be sufficiently remote from policy so that from a voting perspective pressure to do things properly is weak.

    farming. subsidise biodiversity and humane conditions, those being the two parameters that get optimised away by full bore competition.

  16. “… the closest I can find is China’s decision in the 15th century to destroy their ships in an effort to isolate themselves from the perils of free trade.”

    Well maybe. There was a line in the referenced article from the ‘Independent’ about a discussion with the author which pushed my Abort! Abort! button: “Over coffee at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year …”

    Obviously none of us were in China back then, and it does seem like there was a conflict going on between competing groups at court — but throwing in the “free trade” element is definite revisionism. Did the author mean the kind of free trade that happens when a massive Chinese fleet with hundreds of soldiers & cavalry lands on your beaches? Did the author mean that the Chinese state did not take a cut from the imports brought back?

    Apparently, while the debate about the sailing expeditions was going on, the Chinese Emperor’s palace was struck by lightning and burned down. This was taken as a sign that the Mandate of Heaven would be withdrawn unless the Middle Kingdom ceased corrupting itself with outside influences. “Free trade” really did not figure.

    In the more basic Chinese society of those days, abandoning voyages of exploration did not lead to collapse, only to stagnation — which left the Chinese very exposed when 19th Century Brits decided China needed opium. In today’s much more complex inter-dependent world, it is indeed likely that turning our backs on technology would result in societal collapse and massive human die-off. It all starts with the failures of our educational systems.

  17. Farming is expensive in the UK, because farms are expensive. Remove subsidies and the first thing that will happen is land values fall.

    Yes some small farms will struggle. But the biggest hoggers of subsidies are large monoculture farms. They’re the ones that will really struggle. Smaller less intensive farming will quite possibly make a return when you are producing for quality, not bulk.

    NZ has zero subsidies. Yet it is economic to produce stuff to ship across the world! And yet England has better land than NZ. You can easily cope.

    For some reason free marketers go all misty eyed about farms. They should no more enjoy subsidies than any other business. And free markets work far better than subsidised ones in other fields. So it is with farming, once the nostalgia drops away.

  18. Schrodinger’s Dog

    “Meanwhile, a majority of the public goes along with along with what the politicians propose, presumably because it makes them feel good and they don’t understand the implications the extremeists’ demands.”

    Not only feel good, but feel superior. Don’t underestimate the need for many to feel that they are better than others, be it via recycling or not using plastic straws or driving a Tesla. That is by far the most powerful force driving the environmental movement.

    That is how children of the rich can justify their extravagant lifestyles while preaching that they plebs should live like paupers for the good of the environment.

    Sadly, my own niece (14yo) has been party brainwashed by the Greta Thunberg cult, lecturing me about there only being 12 years to change the world, and it’s her generation that has the most to lose etc. while also telling me how much she enjoyed her safari to Africa to see all the animals. The propaganda these kids are exposed to is relentless and nothing more or less than a religion.

  19. “Those who haven’t got the green religion, but support abolishing fossil fuels anyway, are almost certainly ignorant of maths and physics.”

    Absolutely and just like Bernie Sanders many aviation fueled chartered flights, ye cannae change the laws of physics, and they wont be powered by fans either.

    Hydrocarbons supply 80% of the worlds ever growing energy needs, thats after we have seen the massive and heavily subsidized (by you and I) growth in the renewables market, renewables will never ever touch the sides, simple physics. Plus renewable technology has advanced to such a stage now that most of the super improvements in efficiencies have been taken up, not long now before they are near peak performance and looking at very small incremental % efficiency improvements from now on in, then what?

    Aint gonna happen, even the most pessimistic forecast from the IEA clearly shows this to be the case. By all means invest in lithium and other minerals and small EV’s and no doubt you will do well, but anyone that tells you that hydrocarbons wont command the lion shares of the worlds growing future energy supply equation is dreaming. Or in Sanders case took to much acid at Woodstock and overdone the bong at yooni.

    As for UK farm land values dropping, that wont happen either, it doesn’t work that way, plus they don’t cop the dreaded inheritance tax which has the unintended consequence of attracting more investment into it.

  20. isp001: It would be nice if the average PPE understood basic physics. You can try to educate them but they won’t listen, and even if they do, they won’t understand it. Even basic physics needs some algebra and even a bit of calculus to fully understand. There will always be enough of us nerds who find that stuff fascinating to keep the technologies going in the face of the ‘black box’ view by most. We can only hope that some politicians dimly realise that this stuff is important enough to listen to the techies from time to time. The recent failure in the UK electricity grid you might expect to be a small prod, but I’m not hopeful.

    When I was younger I read the odd sci-fi story that had the theme of the small number of technologists becoming high priests in a society of largely tech ignoramuses, with the power that goes with that. However it’s much more likely that we’ll fill the Morlock role even more than we do now. There are certainly a lot of Eloi about:(

  21. This is what happens when the regulator shuts down perfectly well established and functioning conventional energy production in an area that has an abundance of coal, gas and uranium and puts all of its eggs in the renewable basket instead, which in this case is wind.

    It fails outright, people and business suffer damages, everybody blames someone else, the courts fill up, lawyers get rich, everything gets dragged out and nothing gets fixed.

    Its just as well that hardly anyone lives in South Australia and its Mad Max country, imagine the impact this type of failure could have on a high urban density location with critical facilities depending on feed source.

    ………………………………………………………………………………….

    SA blackout blows wind farms into court

    The Australian Energy Regulator has launched court action against four wind farm operators over South Australia’s statewide blackout in 2016.

    The Australian Energy Regular will take four South Australian wind farm operators to court accusing them of failing to perform properly during SA’s statewide blackout in 2016.

    The action in the Federal Court will allege AGL Energy Ltd, Neoen SA, Pacific Hydro Ltd and Tilt Renewables all breached the National Electricity Rules.

    “The AER has brought these proceedings to send a strong signal to all energy businesses about the importance of compliance with performance standards to promote system security and reliability” chair Paula Conboy said.

    “These alleged failures contributed to the black system event, and meant that Australian Energy Market Operator was not fully informed when responding to system-wide failure.”

    The allegations relate to the performance of wind farms during the severe weather event that swept across SA in September 2016 and which ultimately triggered the statewide power outage.

    The storms damaged more than 20 towers in the state’s mid-north, bringing down major transmission lines and causing a knock-on effect across the state’s energy grid.

    About 850,000 customers lost power, with some in the state’s north and on the Eyre Peninsula left without electricity for several days.

    A report from AEMO released about a month later found nine of 13 wind farms online at the time of the blackout switched off when the transmission lines came down.

    It found the inability of the wind farms to ride through those disturbances was the result of safety settings that forced them to disconnect or reduce output.

    https://www.news.com.au/national/breaking-news/court-action-over-2016-sa-blackout/news-story/56b800aaa147f737927e35eb0c9acc99

  22. I should have mentioned the other negative impact of a reliance on renewable energy. It comes at a far higher cost to the consumer and businesses than the conventionally produced electricity that was shut down to make way for it.

  23. “when a certain number of generations have taken the bottom two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for granted”

    Socialism is a cargo cult. People, especially socialists, need to understand this. It goes beyond Thatcher’s point that eventually you run out of other people’s money. These people have no sense of history, no sense of reality. Yet many of them, and I see a lot of this in the younger..well actually all generations of the software business, don’t grasp the cognitive dissonance that is their perception of reality. They write off all disagreement with them as some form of unthinking knee jerk conservatism. As one X-er co-worker said to me when discussing this very issue, “Do you believe in dinosaurs, dude?” Yet it is they who have a religious faith in “science”. It’s like arguing with creationists but instead of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” it’s “97% of scientists said it, I believe it, and you’re a moron for arguing with me and 97% of all scientists”. I really don’t see a way out of this as younger people have been so brainwashed, especially the “smart” ones. They’ve been patted on the head for memorizing what someone else (supposedly) figured out. Any questioning can only be done so long as it agrees with The Narrative.
    As Bill Maher told them, “The younger generation is supposed to rage against the machine, not for it. They’re supposed to question authority, not question those who question authority.”

    As the rest of us rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  24. “As for UK farm land values dropping, that wont happen either, it doesn’t work that way, plus they don’t cop the dreaded inheritance tax which has the unintended consequence of attracting more investment into it.”

    Which is precisely why UK farmland prices are ripe for a big fall. Take away the tax advantages (which is a Chancellor’s pen stroke away) and what do you have? An asset that will no longer get farm subsidies soon (the one thing everyone agrees on about Brexit is leaving the CAP), be competing with far cheaper food coming in tariff free from around the globe, and gets swinging taxes every generation, and is also ripe for falling foul of a wealth tax by politicians desperate for extra tax revenue. You could easily be in a situation where you can’t give it away, its that much of a burden on the owner.

  25. I can think of a similar disastrous policy. Maoist china’s decision to attempt to wipe out sparrows as they are a small amount of corn.

    Of course they also are crop killing insects, so famine ensued as a result.

    Furthermore did anyone see the group of ER protestors in April lying on the floor of kings x waitrose?

    They held placards complaining that the UK imports 49% of its food as if this was a bad thing. We shouldn’t be kind to such stupidity as they effectively are agitating for 1/3rd of us to starve to death the human hating stupid petite bourgeois idiots

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