Two decades and still they don’t get it

It’s been twenty years since the US senate effectively rejected the demands of the Kyoto Protocol by the slim margin of 95-0. Amid the wailing and insults that followed, nobody stopped to consider that the proposals “would seriously harm the economy of the United States” and that getting the Americans on board ought to have been a top priority for anyone interested in getting it ratified. Alas, back then everyone thought they could shame and bully the Americans into hobbling their own economy in order to virtue-signal in front of third-world kleptocrats. Turned out they couldn’t.

It seems the lesson is taking some time to learn:

Six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord, the world’s first comprehensive deal aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

However, the US has refused to recommit to the agreement, saying it will make a decision next week.

As I said back in 2005 on my old blog:

In a democracy such as the US, it is not possible to browbeat a president into doing something which is deeply unpopoular with the general population. In tin-pot countries such as Azerbaijan, Congo, Djibouti, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, and Syria, the president can ratify anything he likes, because if he bothers with elections at all, they are mere formalities which simply prove that the incumbent should be in office for life. In short, if the world wants the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, they are going to have to make a decent case and sell it to the general population of the United States. (In Europe this has not been necessary, as thanks to the EU, sweeping decisions are made at a lofty and detached level guarded by a phalanx of bureaucratic jargon and overpaid consultants, meaning there is no longer a requirement to gain approval from the ignorant masses.) And in so far as the world has tried to sell Kyoto to the US population, they have failed miserably. Beyond repeating the mantra that the US is the “biggest polluter” and is responsible for the impending armageddon – and hence they must sacrifice their standard of living for the good of mankind – not the world, the UN, or anybody else has made a case at all. When the Yanks question the presented evidence, be it of the problem itself or the suitability of the Kyoto Protocol to address it, they are met not with reasoned argument but by howls of derision, insult, and abuse. This tactic of trying to browbeat the American public into sacrificing anything, as history would have told them, has not worked despite four years of the world’s great and good trying.

Tell me, dear readers, what has changed?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussion on climate change had been “very unsatisfactory”, adding “we have a situation of six against one”.

Poor old Merkel is used to strutting around Europe bullying lesser countries into doing Germany’s bidding, but now she’s come across a country that can’t be shoved around her powers of diplomacy and persuasion are found wanting. The very fact that she’s talking about numerical advantages shows she doesn’t quite understand the power dynamic at play here, and that America’s economic interests are not subject to majority votes cast by a bunch of foreigners who largely detest them.

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Mind Boggled

Commenter Simon Jester provides possibly the most ludicrous example of government stupidity that I have seen in a long while, and the bar is set high:

I once worked (in West London) in an office where there was an underground car park, in which half the spaces were cordoned off to prevent people parking in them – the local council insisted that only half could be used, as part of their efforts to combat Climate Change.

You can bet that the people at the council who approved this ensured their own personal car parking spaces remained close to the entrance of their nicely air conditioned offices.

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Decline and Fall, BBC Version

Good grief, the BBC doesn’t half peddle some shite. This is from an article entitled How Western civilisation could collapse:

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter.

So individual liberties suffer when the economy performs badly, eh? How do we explain the Blair years, then? And we’re always being told how Obama rescued the economy, yet social tolerance deteriorated markedly. If we’re sticking to the bicycle analogy, this article has gotten off to a wobbly start.

Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group.

Is this what happens in a recession? Some examples would be nice. But I suppose there’s no need: if it’s on the BBC, it must be true.

Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

I’m glad the lefties at the BBC have finally figured out that a functioning economy is essential to stop us descending into a chaotic, authoritarian, basket-case. If only they’d extend this awareness to Cuba and Venezuela we’d be getting somewhere.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end.

They have? Civilisations have collapsed due to the economy not growing? I suppose the Soviet Union might count but they had, erm, a rather particular approach to their economy which might not apply to us.

Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse.

Imagine how good this article would be with examples to support such bold assertions of fact.

What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

Oh, they’re talking about mass immigration! Now it all makes sense! Actually, no, they’re not. This is the BBC.

Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at the University of Maryland, uses computer models to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainability or collapse. According to findings that Motesharrei and his colleagues published in 2014, there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification.

Presumably his computer model rejected political stupidity as being too obvious a cause. And when he tried to enter ethnic hatreds as a factor his Twitter account reported him to the police.

The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom, especially in terms of depletion of natural resources such as groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests – all of which could be worsened by climate change.

With the possible exception of Easter Island, where has this ever led to the breakdown of society? It seems that this is “widely understood and recognised” only by those who for some perverse reason yearn for it to happen.

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour.

Boilerplate Marxism came as a surprise to a researcher looking at human societies?

Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour.

Well, yes. Marx was forever telling us this was imminent over a century ago. Did it ever happen?

The inequalities we see today both within and between countries already point to such disparities. For example, the top 10% of global income earners are responsible for almost as much total greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 90% combined.

Sorry, what? What have greenhouse gases got to do with dissatisfaction over wealth allocation? Is that really at the forefront of the minds of those eking out a living on a rubbish dump in Lagos?

Similarly, about half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day.

Things have improved, then: the metric used to be $1 per day. Must have been the roaring success of international socialism that brought about the change.

For both scenarios, the models define a carrying capacity – a total population level that a given environment’s resources can sustain over the long term.

Are they still talking about economic growth here? Or have they abandoned that entirely? I’m not sure. If the former, they’re making the fallacy that Tim Worstall makes part of a living pointing out, that of believing economic growth must involve the consumption of more resources. Which is bollocks. If not…well, they’re peddling Malthusian nonsense and Ehrlich’s utterly discredited Population Bomb. Apparently this passes for noteworthy research at the BBC.

If the carrying capacity is overshot by too much, collapse becomes inevitable.

This seems to rely on a model of society which is analogous to an engine draining a fuel tank.

That fate is avoidable, however. “If we make rational choices to reduce factors such as inequality, explosive population growth, the rate at which we deplete natural resources and the rate of pollution – all perfectly doable things – then we can avoid collapse and stabilise onto a sustainable trajectory,” Motesharrei said. “But we cannot wait forever to make those decisions.”

So the answer is increased political control over society with fewer choices and rationing. And we must act now. I bet you didn’t see that coming.

Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities.

The oiks won’t do what us experts think they should.

“The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School.

Those pesky citizens don’t want to respond to our doom-mongering by impoverishing themselves.

“The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”

In other words, the Paris “Agreement” wasn’t.

While we are all in this together, the world’s poorest will feel the effects of collapse first. Indeed, some nations are already serving as canaries in the coal mine for the issues that may eventually pull apart more affluent ones.

Venezuela? Zimbabwe? France?!

Syria, for example, enjoyed exceptionally high fertility rates for a time, which fueled rapid population growth. A severe drought in the late 2000s, likely made worse by human-induced climate change, combined with groundwater shortages to cripple agricultural production. That crisis left large numbers of people – especially young men – unemployed, discontent and desperate.

“Likely” made worse by human-induced climate change. Uh-huh. Anyway, poor governance, poor infrastructure, and a population with nothing to do but breed caused problems. Note that Israel – right next door – didn’t suffer the same fate.

Many flooded into urban centres, overwhelming limited resources and services there.

A rural society, then. Naturally, this is relevant to the West.

Pre-existing ethnic tensions increased, creating fertile grounds for violence and conflict.

Eh? What ethnic tensions? This may come as a surprise to the BBC, but the war in Syria is largely between the government of Bashar al-Assad and those who oppose him. It’s not Muslims v Christians v Kurds, is it?

On top of that, poor governance – including neoliberal policies that eliminated water subsidies in the middle of the drought – tipped the country into civil war in 2011 and sent it careening toward collapse.

Oh right. So insofar as there was appalling governance it was actually that which constituted sensible economics which caused the problems. And of course it was the drought which brought Syrians onto the streets in armed rebellion against the government, not decades of living under a corrupt dictatorship and the torturing of a bunch of teenagers by the regime’s secret police.

In Syria’s case – as with so many other societal collapses throughout history – it was not one but a plethora of factors that contributed, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada

Nobody thinks civil wars happen because of one thing. But if we’re going to list factors which led to the Syrian civil war, perhaps we ought to focus a little more on the regime of Bashar al-Assad and not so much on “neoliberal polices” regarding water subsidies?

Homer-Dixon calls these combined forces tectonic stresses for the way in which they quietly build up and then abruptly erupt, overloading any stabilising mechanisms that otherwise keep a society in check.

Which in the case of Syria was a ruthless and highly authoritarian government. Sort of like the one half these lunatic environmentalists want to foist on us. With them in charge, of course.

The Syrian case aside, another sign that we’re entering into a danger zone, Homer-Dixon says, is the increasing occurrence of what experts call nonlinearities, or sudden, unexpected changes in the world’s order, such as the 2008 economic crisis, the rise of ISIS, Brexit, or Donald Trump’s election.

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? Never mind civil war and depletion of resources, the real danger to society lies with citizens voting in ways not approved by the enlightened elites who peddle this crap. And the election of Donald Trump in a free and fair US presidential election is exactly like a murderous medieval Islamic cult seizing lands across the Middle East and slaughtering anyone in their path. In fact, the two are so similar I don’t know why we even bother to differentiate any more. We should just call them TRISIS.

The past can also provide hints for how the future might play out.

Well, yes. More so than Motesharrei’s bloody computer models at any rate. Hence my call for examples.

Take, for example, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

I won’t quote the whole lot, and I have no idea if the BBC has got any of this right, but the lesson seems to be that large empires are hard to maintain. How this is relevant to any Western country in 2017 is beyond me.

The Empire tried to maintain its core lands, even as the army ate up its budget and inflation climbed ever higher as the government debased its silver currency to try to cover its mounting expenses.

Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

One would think the lesson here is for governments to limit their size and spending and not debase their currencies. But the BBC doesn’t want its readers to reach this rather obvious conclusion and goes back to climate change doom-mongering. But before they do we get this rather bizarre history of the oil industry:

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices.

Eh? Here is a chart showing the oil price between 2008 and 2017:

The collapse in the oil price in 2008 game as a result of the global financial crisis stymieing demand, not hydraulic fracturing making oil production cheaper. Fracking only really started to play a role after the second collapse in 2015 – again caused by weak demand – when America became (theoretically) self-sufficient in oil production due to the new technology. But according to the BBC, fossil fuel production and hydraulic fracturing is what has kept Western civilisation going the way of the Roman Empire.

Which makes me somewhat of a hero, doesn’t it? Finally, a use for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says.

A minute ago we were being told about historical precedents and the Roman Empire. Now we’re being asked to imagine ludicrous future scenarios.

Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse.

I have no idea what that means, sorry. Was this article even edited? Perhaps with their £3bn per year guaranteed income, times are tough at the BBC.

That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”

This is what happens when you use a 2008 version of Google Translate when writing articles.

Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands.

You mean immigration will reverse? When?

As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states.

This doesn’t sound much like people retreating to their core homelands. It sounds pretty much like present day Europe.

Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing.

Expert academic solemnly predicts the future by stating what is already happening.

“It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

So less of a “retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands” than staying put with the fruits of their labour and keeping invading hordes at bay.

Meanwhile, a widening gap between rich and poor within those already vulnerable Western nations will push society toward further instability from the inside. “By 2050, the US and UK will have evolved into two-class societies where a small elite lives a good life and there is declining well-being for the majority,” Randers says. “What will collapse is equity.”

Well, yes. It was partly recognition that a wealthy elite are running the show for themselves at the expense of the majority that delivered victories for Trump and the Brexit campaigners.

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national.

Presumably this explains the rise of Black Lives Matter and the left-driven identity politics.

Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid.

A better description of the left’s reaction to Trump becoming president is hard to find.

Europe, with its close proximity to Africa, its land bridge to the Middle East and its neighbourly status with more politically volatile nations to the East, will feel these pressures first.

They’ve been feeling them for quite some time now. Only so-called leaders are in – what was that word you mentioned earlier? – denial.

The US will likely hold out longer, surrounded as it is by ocean buffers.

And with Trump at the helm, building his wall.

On the other hand, Western societies may not meet with a violent, dramatic end. In some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper.

Indeed. Unless we start hanging our current crop of politicians from lamp-posts (the French may use guillotines if they so desire), this is quite likely.

The British Empire has been on this path since 1918, Randers says, and other Western nations might go this route as well. As time passes, they will become increasingly inconsequential and, in response to the problems driving their slow fade-out, will also starkly depart from the values they hold dear today.

“Western nations are not going to collapse, but the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western society will disappear, because inequity is going to explode,” Randers argues.

He is right about the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western societies disappearing, but it has nothing to do with inequality. What will cause it is something the BBC and its supporters refuse to even discuss.

“Democratic, liberal society will fail, while stronger governments like China will be the winners.”

Then shouldn’t we be pleased that Trump is Hitler?

Some of these forecasts and early warning signs should sound familiar, precisely because they are already underway.

I want this guy’s job.

Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development, Homer-Dixon says.

Alternatively, we could just shoot those who are calling for a carefully-managed Utopia grounded in “science” and “extraordinary leadership” and let people get on with their lives. It seems to have worked pretty well so far.

Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth and dropping energy returns, we can maintain our societies and better them.

Particularly if we ignore rubbish like this.

But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason.

If we abandon our natural urges, we can live better lives. How very Soviet.

“The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” Homer-Dixon says.

Here’s my suggestion: allow British citizens to keep their money in their pockets instead of forcing them to shell out £3bn per year for the BBC to publish garbage like this. A more humane gesture I cannot imagine at this juncture.

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The Costs of the Paris Agreement Confirmed

There’s a rather stunning admission by Nicolas Sarkozy in this BBC report on the climate summit taking place in Morocco:

Away from the conference the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been calling for a carbon tax on US goods if President Trump follows through on his promise to walk away from the Paris deal.

“Donald Trump has said – we’ll see if he keeps this promise – that he won’t respect the conclusions of the Paris climate agreement,” Mr Sarkozy, who is a candidate for next year’s French presidential elections, told the TF1 television channel on Sunday.

“Well, I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1%-3%, for all products coming from the United States, if the United States doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies.”

So it is confirmed, then: this Paris agreement will impose costs of 1-3% on European companies and, by extension, consumers.  Thank goodness we are all so fabulously well-off and European (especially French) companies so unburdened by deadweight costs that a 1-3% arbitrary increase in costs will go unnoticed!

And retaliatory tariffs are always such a good idea, particularly if imposed because another country declines to regulate its own industries out of existence.

Remind me why Britain voted to leave, again?

This also amused:

The Paris climate agreement will survive a Trump presidency says the US special envoy on climate change Dr Jonathan Pershing.

US lead negotiator Dr Pershing told a packed news briefing that the passion and dedication displayed in the effort to deliver the Paris treaty was strong enough to withstand the impacts of Trump presidency.

Passion and dedication? This Dr Pershing sounds like an England football manager explaining away their latest defeat.  He might be in for a rude awakening in a few months.

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Begging Questions at the House of Lords

For some reason the House of Lords has decided to include me in the distribution of their media notices, so every few days I get a heads-up on what they’ll be discussing.  The one I received yesterday was entitled:

“LORDS TO QUIZ MINISTERS ON ENVIRONMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY AFTER BREXIT”

and the session will be as follows:

The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee will continue its short inquiry on environment and climate change policy after Brexit on Wednesday 16 November. The Committee will hear evidence from Ministers Thérèse Coffey MP and Jesse Norman MP.

The session will explore what action the Government intends to take to maintain current levels of environmental protection and climate action. The Committee will also examine what oversight and enforcement mechanisms the Government expects to apply to environmental legislation, and the means by which the Government will engage with the EU on environment and climate change issues in the future.

What made me chuckle  was this:

The Committee is likely to ask:

How does the UK intend to maintain its role as a global leader on climate change?

It’s often you find a sentence begging two questions instead of one, but the House of Lords has managed it.

Firstly, the assumption that the UK is a “global leader” on climate change.  I think that can be explained here.

Secondly, who says the UK intends to maintain any such role?

Can anyone tell me, is this what the House of Lords is supposed to be doing?  Grilling MPs over how they will tackle climate change post-Brexit?  I’m fairly certain this wasn’t in the original job description, was it?

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20,000 people scared of Trump

Sometimes I wonder if the authors of these articles sit back and read what they’ve just written.  From the BBC:

Concerns over a Trump presidency are set to dominate the early days of global climate talks in Morocco.

Some 20,000 participants will meet in Marrakech for two weeks, starting on Monday, to agree new rules to limit warming on the planet.

Signed by 193 countries in the French capital last December, the Paris Agreement is now international law, having been ratified by at least 55 countries representing over 55% of global emissions.

20,000 participants from 193 countries?  That’s over 100 delegates per country.  Are you sure they’re coming to reach an agreement?

Earlier this year Mr Trump said he would “cancel” the Paris agreement if elected. The deal was “bad for US business” and would allow “foreign bureaucrats control over how much energy we use”, he said.

Trump is probably as clueless on climate change as everything else, but you don’t need to know a damned thing about science to see that 20,000 people turning up in Marrakech doesn’t have much to do with mitigating the effects of climate change.

Concern over the rise of Mr Trump helped galvanise the global push to bring the Paris agreement into force. Now that it is operational and binding on countries, taking the US out of the deal would not be easy.

Trump’s support is made up largely of those who are utterly fed up of unaccountable, corrupt elites running things for their own benefit and to the detriment of the common man.  Stuff like this is hardly going to persuade them they’re mistaken.

However Mr Trump, who calls climate change a “hoax”, has vowed to cancel the deal if elected.

“The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years,” said Segolene Royal, the French environment minister who played a role in negotiating the treaty.

These lot haven’t quite got the measure of Trump yet, have they?

While Mr Trump would not be able to withdraw easily from Paris, his scepticism about climate science and his determination to revive the coal industry put him at odds with most international leaders.

“Electing a climate science conspiracy theorist like Trump would make America a global laughing stock and embarrassment, all the while relinquishing our leadership role in the world,” said Khalid Potts from US environmental group, the Sierra Club.

“The ice caps don’t negotiate, and neither do rising seas. Donald Trump’s moral failure to acknowledge the climate crisis might very well mean planetary disaster if he is elected.”

Damned electorate.  They get in the way of everything, don’t they?

One issue that could see sparks fly is the question of loss and damage. The question of compensation for the long term impacts of climate change is one of the most contentious as poor countries see it as a moral obligation of the rich, while the developed world is extremely wary of establishing a legal liability for the damage caused by their greenhouse gas emissions.

Would the USA – and by extension its taxpayers – be among those with a “moral obligation” to cough up under this agreement, then?  Good job they’ve been locked in and have no choice in the matter then, eh?

The most amusing thing about this is the BBC probably thinks Americans will read this and be persuaded not to vote for Trump.

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The False Start of Electric Cars

I have noticed that there is considerable optimism in some quarters about the future of electric cars, and many people are pointing to Norway as a sign that the internal combustion engine may be on the way out:

Norway may seem like an odd place for electric cars to thrive, but the 1,493 Tesla Model S new registrations last month set a new single-model sales record. That’s more than sales of the two next-best selling models, the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Leaf, combined. In fact, so far this year, the Tesla Model S is the best-selling car in a cold country that has quickly warmed to electric vehicles.

Only when you look a bit closer you find the underlying reason as to why Norwegians have taken to the Tesla in such numbers:

Unlike many European countries, where electric cars carry a huge price premium, there is no import tax or 25% VAT tax on [electric vehicles] in Norway. 

And that reason is the government has, through taxation (particularly import taxes, which are a function of horsepower), made the price of ordinary cars artificially high. From Wikipedia:

As an example, by early 2013 the price of the top selling Nissan Leaf is 240,690 krone (around US$42,500) while the purchase price of the 1.3-lt Volkswagen Golf is 238,000 Krone (about US$42,000).[9] Electric vehicles are also exempt from the annual road tax, all public parking fees, and toll payments, as well as being able to use bus lanes.

Plus what gets left out of the purchasing figures in Norway is how many of these cars are bought by government departments for whom image is more important than value for money.

Personally, I am of the belief that the uptake of electric vehicles in Norway doesn’t tell us anything about the future viability of electric cars.  When you look at the development of the motorcar in the US between the wars, the boom was driven by an overwhelming desire of individuals to move around freely and independently, and the car companies rushed to meet that demand whilst the oil companies competed with one another to build the infrastructure to support it.  I can’t think of anything further from this situation than a government taxing the hell out of something and shoving a population in the direction of their chosen product.  Would Norwegians be buying Teslas if ordinary cars were reasonably priced?  According to this Reuter’s article, Norway’s electric cars require an annual public subsidy of up to $8,200.  This is the future?

What we have here is a government picking a winner, and this rarely ends well.  The underlying assumption is that everyone driving electric cars is a desirable end, and I’m not convinced this has been proven.  Norway registered about 11,000 electrical vehicles in 2013, which might make Oslo’s air a bit cleaner and the streets quieter, but is in no way indicative of what might arise should even half of Norway’s 5m inhabitants eventually switch to electric cars.  11,000 electric cars quietly charging themselves off the grid at night won’t make much difference, but 2.5m of them?  You’re going to need a lot more power stations to cope with that sort of demand, and although Norway currently produces around 96% of its electricity using hydroelectric power it is far from certain that they would not need conventional power stations to meet the increased requirements.  In any case, it is somewhat unlikely that other countries, should they choose to emulate Norway in this regard, would be able to meet the increased demands using renewable energy sources.

In fact, the whole drive to use electric cars seems at odds with campaigns by Green organisations and politicians who are constantly nagging us to save negligible amounts of energy by unplugging phone chargers and not using TVs on standby mode.  I think when most people talk of electric cars, they think charging them is simply a matter of plugging them into a grid which is already in place, and I suppose this is true while their numbers remain small.  But an increase in just one order of magnitude – let alone two or three – is going to require a complete overhaul of the electricity generation infrastructure in a manner which is going to render unplugging phone chargers even more negligible than it is now.

Just where is this additional power going to come from?  Wind is a non-starter, suffering from the same physical limitations the Dutch faced on their windmills a couple of hundred years ago.  Tidal sounds great, except it is mind-bogglingly expensive to construct and maintain, and wrecks the local environment. Wave power suffers from the difficulty of converting uneven, irregular reciprocal motion into rotary motion and the fact that any wave powerful enough to be of any use is likely to have a big brother in the vicinity which will destroy any device used to harness its power.  Solar has potential, but the technology is likely a few decades away yet.  In 40+ years time I can envisage an efficient system whereby solar power is used to generate energy which is stored in cells, and converted to electricity in cars which is then used to power a motor.  But even with huge leaps in solar technology I don’t think we’ll ever be in a situation where:

Solar > electricity > battery > motor

is an improvement over:

Petrol > engine

either in terms of efficiency or overall effect on the global environment.  Not even close.  As I say, perhaps this might work:

Solar > energy cell > electricity> motor

with the energy cells being instantly replaceable, but until then I think this whole electric car concept is dead in the water.

Aside from the economics, the enormous appeal of the motor car is its flexibility, a large part of which it is its near-permanent availability.  The electric car, as currently envisaged, does away with this as it is unavailable for several hours while it charges.  Unless one can predict exactly when the car will be used and for how long then it won’t be much use, and although in theory this sounds ideal for regular commuting the shortcomings of such a system quickly become clear.

Even those who use their cars mainly for commuting also use them for unplanned or irregular trips, e.g. at weekends or in emergencies.  The non-availability of an expensive asset will become an issue to even the most organised of citizens, and some might even keep an ordinary car as a spare.  And supposing you hit traffic on the way to work?  You can switch off the car and conserve your battery, but let’s hope you don’t live anywhere too hot or too cold (like Norway!) otherwise it’s not going to be very comfortable.  One of the beauties of the internal combustion engine is the waste heat means even the crappest of crap cars is warm; people don’t realise how damned cold a car would be without the engine pumping out heat, and to generate the equivalent amount of heat from a battery will eat into the range considerably.  According to this calculator driving with an outside temperature of 21°C with no heater gives you a range of 283 miles; drop the temperature to zero and put the heater on and you’re at 234 miles, a reduction of 17% (and 27% with the smaller 60kWh battery).  And that’s for a new car, that reduction will increase only as the battery and heating elements start to wear.  You could find yourself thinking you’ve got enough juice to get to where you want to, and then hit traffic and find your destination is outside your range.  The advantage of the internal combustion engine is that they burn little fuel when the vehicle is stationary yet keep you warm with no additional fuel cost.

The limited range isn’t actually the issue, as petrol cars also have a limited range.  The problem is the charging time, which renders the vehicle unavailable for several hours.  If you run low on petrol, you spend 5 minutes filling up and you’re on your way again.  Anyone who relies on an electric car to complete a journey within 20-30% of the maximum range is going to have to be very well organised – which most people aren’t, particularly when it comes to travelling by car – and have luck on their side as well.  The whole concept on which the current breed of electric cars is based will collapse as soon as there are more than a handful of stories of people being caught out miles from home – children in the back, howling – and having to wait at a charging station for hours before being able to continue the journey start to appear on the internet.  Until electric cars can overcome this issue, perhaps by using instantly replaceable energy cells instead of recharging, I don’t think they’re going to make even a dent in the supremacy of the internal combustion engine.

Whatever the Norwegians think they’re doing, game-changing it ain’t.  I give it a year or two before we start seeing news reports of electric cars found abandoned by their owners between Bergen and Stavanger due to a flat battery and a desire to sleep somewhere warm that night.

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Kyoto Reprinted

What with the whole climate change thing still rumbling on, with several bloggers wading in with their thoughts on Kyoto, etc. as part of a discussion on the Euston Manifesto, I’m going to do a lazy blogger’s trick and recycle a post of mine from my old blog.  This post lays out clearly my own opposition to the Kyoto Protocol and the reasons behind it, and it got a fair bit of attention, especially from the US, when I first posted it a year or so ago.  So, I post it again just to voice my opinions once more, and to refer to it from this blog in future if necessary.

I think the overall aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions is a good one, as the consequences of continuing to pump millions of tons of it into the atmosphere each year may be dire. May be dire. This aim is probably achievable, but in order to do so a rational response is required. And this is where my objections to the Kyoto Protocol comes in.

Firstly, the US has not signed up to it, and we all know why: because Bush ripped it up in favour of getting a 2% increase in the value of Dick Cheney’s Halliburton stocks. Or something. Actually, in a democracy such as the US, it is not possible to browbeat a president into doing something which is deeply unpopoular with the general population. In tin-pot countries such as Azerbaijan, Congo, Djibouti, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, and Syria, the president can ratify anything he likes, because if he bothers with elections at all, they are mere formalities which simply prove that the incumbent should be in office for life. In short, if the world wants the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, they are going to have to make a decent case and sell it to the general population of the United States. (In Europe this has not been necessary, as thanks to the EU, sweeping decisions are made at a lofty and detached level guarded by a phalanx of bureaucratic jargon and overpaid consultants, meaning there is no longer a requirement to gain approval from the ignorant masses.) And in so far as the world has tried to sell Kyoto to the US population, they have failed miserably. Beyond repeating the mantra that the US is the “biggest polluter” and is responsible for the impending armageddon – and hence they must sacrifice their standard of living for the good of mankind – not the world, the UN, or anybody else has made a case at all. When the Yanks question the presented evidence, be it of the problem itself or the suitability of the Kyoto Protocol to address it, they are met not with reasoned argument but by howls of derision, insult, and abuse. This tactic of trying to browbeat the American public into sacrificing anything, as history would have told them, has not worked despite four years of the world’s great and good trying.

To the average Yank, and to a great many other people (including myself), the Kyoto Protocol looks as though it has been craftily developed by political parties wishing to hobble the US economy. Until such time that somebody steps forward and persuades them that this is not the case, the Yanks are not going to budge – and nor should they. This became evident when the US tried to incorporate a carbon trading system into the Protocol, which would enable them to purchase carbon dioxide allowances from those (usually poorer) countries with a surplus. A thoroughly sensible suggestion, one would have thought; the poor countries make money, the US is given an incentive to reduce its pollution, and the level of emissions is to some degree controlled. But No! cried the great and the good of the world. That would not do at all. Sneaky Yanks typically trying to buy their way out of their commitments! No, they must incorporate their commitments at home, thus hobbling their economy in return for little demonstrable benefit.

As the US is a highly developed country with a huge population, it is little surprise that they are the ones who produce the greatest amount of greenhouse gases, and hence would be most affected by the proposals. So one would have thought that any outside body wanting to persuade them to cut down on their emissions would have considered that perhaps they will be a little reluctant to do so, and a strong case would have to be made. And that is where the rest of the world has failed. The failure of the US to sign up to what is clearly a flawed agreement is not that of the Bush administration (especially when considering that the US senate rejected the Kyoto Protocol by 95-0 in 1997, when Clinton was president), but that of the people who tasked themselves with trying to get them to do it in the first place. As French winemakers are finding out, selling something requires more than hurling abuse at your sales target and bullying them into submission. That the UN, EU, and a gaggle of tin-pot dictators cannot sell an idea should surprise nobody.

Incidentally, when people refer to the US as “the world’s biggest polluter”, it raises some interesting questions. Firstly, how accurate is the data coming from countries like Russia and China? Are we to believe that the respective governments are open and honest about their emissions, in the same way that they used to be open and honest about their economy, political freedoms, etc.? Personally, I wouldn’t trust what the Putin government told me for one second. And secondly, the term “world’s biggest polluter” is somewhat misleading in itself. It may be the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but the two are not the same. In effect, the statement lumps together all kinds of pollution and fails to recognise that some kinds of pollution are worse than others. It is like referring to a town which is plagued by shoplifting as having the highest crime rate, when a town nearby is plagued with murders, albeit but of fewer number than that of shoplifters in the first town. Thirdly, does anyone honestly believe the likes of Russia is going to implement the carbon cutting measures, and truthfully report its emissions figures?

Even at this early stage, this UN plan is likely to go the way of the Oil-for-Food program in terms of effectiveness, transparency, and lining the pockets of despots, bureaucrats, and a select number of western politicians.

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