A Lightbulb Moment

So today I go into France’s biggest DIY chain to buy a lightbulb. The type I’m after is one of the small, spiral-wound fluorescent bulbs which fits neatly into a ceiling lamp. Only they no longer sell fluorescent light bulbs: they’ve all been replaced by LED bulbs, which are better. But they’re not the same shape, having a more bulbous glass piece (similar to the old incandescent ones) for the same connection size, and it doesn’t fit the lamp.

No doubt I can buy the bulb elsewhere, but answer me this: which fucking dickhead persuaded governments worldwide to force hundreds of millions of people to switch to fluorescent bulbs when LED bulbs, which would make them obsolete, were just a few years over the horizon? Can we get hold of them and string them up by the balls please, followed by each and every politician who went along with this idiocy?

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King Conned

From The Telegraph:

German car-makers have “blood on their hands” due to rigging diesel exhaust tests which led to the deaths of thousands of Britons, the Government’s former chief scientist has said.

Professor Sir David King said it was “simply astonishing” that Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler had performed rigged experiments on monkeys and that such duplicity had caused the deaths of large numbers of people in the UK.

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser until 2007, Sir David described being duped into believing diesel capture technology was safe during a trip to a British testing lab in 2004, prompting a policy shift in favour of diesel cars.

I can see why David King is so angry. He used to get paraded around in the Blair years as some sort of high priest of science, his words clung to by the political establishment even when he came up with such idiocy as suggesting ExxonMobil should move Fawley refinery inland to avoid being flooded by rising sea levels. I expect he also subscribed to the same view as much of Britain’s political establishment that Germans, when it comes to industry, can do nothing wrong and we should stand in awe of their brilliance (have a look at how the Remainer press fawns over Merkel and every pronouncement on Brexit from German “business leaders”).

And it turns out he’s had the wool pulled over his eyes. Leaving aside the irony that a government appointee who was instrumental in pushing the climate change agenda should now complain of being misled, there’s a bigger issue here than King’s ego. Sweeping legislation such as that which encouraged millions of British people to buy diesel cars ought to be based on something a little more robust than an individual’s opinion after visiting a lab with seemingly no interest in ensuring what he was seeing was a legitimate test. I suspect King didn’t enquire further because the lab told him what he, and his political masters, wanted to hear; the lab knew in advance what King and wanted to hear, and so rigged the test; and VW simply wanted to flog more cars while keeping politicians happy.

The lesson here is that governments, even ones containing extremely clever folk like Professor Sir David King, are susceptible to being hoodwinked by people who understand the details a lot better than they do, causing them to bring about disastrous policies. The answer is to get rid of positions such as Chief Scientific Adviser and sack politicians who put their beak into places where it doesn’t belong bringing harm to the rest of us.

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Plastic in the Ocean

Ocean plastic a ‘planetary crisis’

booms the UN.

Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned.

Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution.

I saw Lisa Svensson on TV this morning and she’s a rather attractive blonde-haired Scandinavian. Imagine how surprised I was to find a wealthy, middle-class white woman complaining about environmental degradation in Africa and not, say, an African.

Ms Svensson had just been saddened by a Kenyan turtle hospital which treats animals that have ingested waste plastic.

She saw a juvenile turtle named Kai, brought in by fishermen a month ago because she was floating on the sea surface.

Plastic waste was immediately suspected, because if turtles have eaten too much plastic it bloats their bellies and they can’t control their buoyancy.

Kai was given laxatives for two weeks to clear out her system, and Ms Svensson witnessed an emotional moment as Kai was carried back to the sea to complete her recovery.

I’ve run out of handkerchiefs already. But enough about Kai the turtle and his laxatives: where’s all this plastic coming from?

“It’s a very happy moment,” she said. “But sadly we can’t be sure that Kai won’t be back again if she eats more plastic.

“It’s heart-breaking, but it’s reality. We just have to do much more to make sure the plastics don’t get into the sea in the first place.”

Fuck me, I said enough about Kai! Okay, here we go:

There’s waste from down the coast as far as Tanzania – but also from Madagascar, the Comoros Islands, Thailand, Indonesia and even a bottle from far-away Japan.

Those famously littering Japanese, eh? Has anyone actually done any concrete research into where the bulk of this plastic is actually coming from? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the reports on plastic in the ocean steer well clear of actually identifying the source, but this one tells us (page 7):

Less than 20 percent of leakage originates from ocean-based sources like fisheries and fishing vessels. This means over 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from land-based sources; once plastic is discarded, it is not well managed, and thus leaks into the ocean. Over half of land-based plastic-waste leakage originates in just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, referred to in this report as the five focus countries for action.

I’d also hazard a guess that most of the plastic littering the beaches in Africa and giving poor Kai indigestion was discarded locally, either from the land or ships anchored offshore. Here’s a photo I took on a beach in Lagos:

How much of that lot do you think bobbed over from Japan or started life as a carrier bag in a supermarket in Paris? But of course, it is the behaviour of westerners that is the problem:

Tisha Brown from Greenpeace told BBC News: “We welcome that they are looking at a stronger statement, but with billions of tonnes of plastic waste entering the oceans we need much more urgent action.

“We need manufacturers to take responsibility for their products – and we need to look at our consumption patterns that are driving all this.”

“Our” consumption patterns are causing Asians to chuck plastic into rivers. uh-huh.

Finally the article gets around to the underlying problem:

Indonesia – the world’s second biggest plastics polluter after China – has pledged to reduce plastic waste into the ocean 75% by 2025, but some observers doubt legal rules are strong enough to make this happen.

What do they propose as an alternative? Military intervention?

Plastic waste is also on the agenda for this month’s China Council – an influential high level dialogue in which world experts advise China’s leaders on environmental issues.

The Chinese being famously receptive to foreign “experts” telling them what to do.

Kenya itself has banned single-use plastic bags, along with Rwanda, Tanzania and – soon- Sri Lanka. Bangladesh has had controls for many years, especially to stop bags clogging up drains and causing floods.

Ah yes, I wrote about the Kenyan ban on plastic bags here.

But bags are just one part of the problem – there are so many other types of plastic flowing through waterways.

“The UN process is slow,” Ms Svensson admitted. “It could take 10 years to get a UN treaty agreed on plastic litter and a further two years to get it implemented.

“We have to progress through the UN because this is a truly global problem – but we can’t wait that long.

We have five Asian countries chucking plastic into the sea, but we have to go through the laborious, ten-year process of getting a UN treaty because it’s a global problem?

“We need to get much stronger actions from civil society, putting pressure on business to change – they can switch their supply chains very fast. And we need more individual governments to take urgent action too.”

What this means, of course, is making goods and services more expensive and more difficult to obtain for reasonably conscientious and responsible westerners while ignoring those who are actually chucking the plastic in the sea. Oh, and providing cushy 10-year assignments attending UN briefings for a handful of wealthy, middle-class people like Lisa Svensson.

Ms Svensson said the ocean was facing multiple assault from over-fishing; pollution from chemicals, sewage and agriculture; development in coastal areas; climate change; ocean acidification; and over-exploitation of coral reefs.

“This is a planetary emergency,” she said. “I sense there is a momentum now about the need to act. We just have to be much faster.”

As we left Watamu after Kai’s joyous release, I turned back for one last glance at the Indian Ocean. A small boy tossed a plastic bottle over his shoulder into the sparkling water.

I have a feeling this article was written in the wrong language, and published in the wrong place. I get that plastic in the ocean is a serious problem, but why are they always nagging us about it?

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Deepwater Fishing

Bayou Renaissance Man brings us this report:

BEIJING has discovered a major threat to its new aircraft carrier: swarms of deadly jellyfish. Now it’s racing to develop weapons of mass destruction to beat them.

Masses of the creatures can be sucked through the warship’s water intakes necessary for cooling the vessel’s engines.

Once in the cooling vents, they get mashed into a thick, sticky soup.

This blocks the cooling system, causing the engines to overheat and bringing the warship to a halt.

It then reportedly takes days to clear the pipes.

Thus the urgent need for countermeasures.

The new jellyfish shredder consists of a net, several hundred meters long and wide, which is towed by a tugboat ahead of the carrier.

This funnels whatever falls within towards an array of steel blades.

What comes out the other side is no larger than 3cm wide.

The effect is so brutal researchers report the waters the shredder passes through become murky as the jellyfish — and other marine life — corpses begin to decompose. It takes up to a week to clear.

Bayou Renaissance Man adds:

I’m afraid the deliberate destruction of marine life to accommodate the ship is characteristic of attitudes towards nature in, not just China, but most of Asia.  The prevailing attitude in many of the countries and cultures there seems to be that nature exists to serve human interests. If it doesn’t, it must be tamed, reshaped, or removed until it does.

There are some folks in my industry who concern themselves with the design of subsea equipment, basically kit that we stick on the seabed to aid in the extraction of oil and gas from the reservoir. In shallow waters, such as those in the North Sea, they have always had to design them such that trawler nets can pass over them without becoming snagged (I heard one story from decades back that a fishing vessel snagged its net on a pipeline, turned the winch on max, and promptly sunk sank itself). In deep water, which is anything over about 600m, this hasn’t been a concern as the nets don’t go down that far. However, I heard a couple of weeks ago that a Chinese fishing ship operating offshore Angola passed its nets over some equipment a mile down.

I get the impression we’ll soon be shown that Africa’s environment, like so much else in the world, is a concern only of wealthy, middle-class white folk who are chiefly troubled by the activities of other white folk. This would explain why you don’t hear much mention of Chinese fishing boats in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series.

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Light Pollution

I confess, I’ve never quite seen what the complaint was here:

A study of pictures of Earth by night has revealed that artificial light is growing brighter and more extensive every year.

Between 2012 and 2016, the planet’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2% per year.

Scientists say a “loss of night” in many countries is having negative consequences for “flora, fauna, and human well-being”.

The only downside I can see about light pollution is that you can’t see the night sky, which is admittedly very pretty. If this is a cost of living in a big city, being able to see where you’re going, and avoiding being mugged or assaulted, then it’s a small one. If it means that much to you, or any other stargazer, you have options: go and live in mid-Wales, or drive to Scotland or Bodmin Moor. Or take a job on Sakhalin: the visibility of the night sky there was often spectacular, particularly when we went camping way out of town.

It showed that changes in brightness over time varied greatly by country. Some of the world’s “brightest nations”, such as the US and Spain, remained the same. Most nations in South America, Africa and Asia grew brighter.

Yes, they’re getting richer and people generally don’t like having to go to bed at sundown or remain indoors. Africa is still mostly in darkness, as is North Korea (famously). This is not generally considered a good thing.

The nocturnal satellite images – of glowing coastlines and spider-like city networks – look quite beautiful but artificial lighting has unintended consequences for human health and the environment.

Really?

In 2016, the American Medical Association officially recognised the “detrimental effects of poorly designed, high-intensity LED lighting”, saying it encouraged communities to “minimise and control blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare. The sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is particularly sensitive to blue light.

What’s this got to do with overall levels of outdoor lighting?

A recent study published in the journal Nature revealed that artificial light was a threat to crop pollination – reducing the pollinating activity of nocturnal insects.

That explains the reduced yields in inner-city wheat fields.

Research in the UK revealed that trees in more brightly lit areas burst their buds up to a week earlier than those in areas without artificial lighting.

Causing children to die of surprise.

A study published earlier this year found that urban light installations “dramatically altered” the behaviour of nocturnally migrating birds.

The BBC didn’t even bother linking to this one or naming the study. Which is a shame, because I was curious as to where these birds were ending up.

Prof Kevin Gaston from the University of Exeter told BBC News that humans were “imposing abnormal light regimes on ourselves”.

We’d much rather blunder around in the dark, we just don’t know it.

“You now struggle to find anywhere in Europe with a natural night sky – without that skyglow we’re all familiar with.”

Bollocks. Drive into the middle of France, or up into the Alps.

“For light, it’s just a case of directing it where we need it and not wasting it where we don’t.”

Presumably this chap thinks lighting is something just thrown up willy-nilly with barely any thought.

Dr Kyba said that we could make our urban areas much dimmer and not actually cause any problems for visibility.

“Human vision relies on contrast, not the amount of light,” he explained.

Something hithero unknown to those who make their living in the multi-billion dollar global lighting industry: they’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

If we’re reduced to complaining about light pollution, we’ve solved the big issues facing mankind, haven’t we?

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Paris according to a credulous journalist

One of the fun things about living in Paris is reading other people write about it and wondering if they’ve ever been here. Yesterday an article appeared in the Financial Times telling us why Paris will become the first car-free metropolis. Let’s take a look.

In Lima next Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will rubber-stamp Paris as host of the 2024 Games.

Oh, lucky Parisians! Can I be the first to predict pictures emerging in 2028 of a derelict aquatic centre that cost €3bn to build, the pools full of weeds and covered in graffiti captioned with “This is the pool where Michael Flipperfeet won his 38 golds in 2024”.

By the time the Games begin, Paris will be transformed. “Vehicles with combustion engines driven by private individuals” could well be banned from the city by then, says Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor, whose responsibilities include urban planning.

“Could well be”. Those words are going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting in this article, easily enough to win a gold medal in the snatch, clean, and jerk.

“Every inch of that road surface has to be maximised,” says Ross Douglas, who runs Autonomy, an annual urban-mobility conference in Paris. “The first thing the city will want to do is reduce the 150,000 cars parked on the street doing nothing. Why should you occupy 12 square metres to move yourself? Why should you use a big diesel engine to pollute me and my family?”

“Why should the workers have more than one pair of shoes?” said the Commissar. “Why should they eat meat which could be used to feed others?” 

Naturally, it doesn’t occur to such people that those 150,000 cars represent the residents of Paris deciding for themselves what their needs are and how they should spend their meagre salaries after careful consideration. Put it this way, nobody owns a car in Paris unless they really need it; a lot of my colleagues don’t have one, for example. Also, the French are not show-offs when it comes to cars and money, owning a car doesn’t imply status as it does elsewhere. In other words, anyone who owns a car in Paris and parks on the street has a pretty good reason for doing so. And no, they don’t have “big diesel engines”. The average car parked on a Paris street is a small compact with at least three dents in it. A big car won’t fit in the parking spaces.

By 2024, driverless taxis will be making ride after ride, almost never parking.

Firstly, anyone who says driverless taxis will be technologically possible in 7 years’ time is selling snake-oil. Secondly, I seem to recall Parisian taxi drivers rioting, tipping over cars, and burning tyres when Uber came to town, leading to the government caving in by lunchtime and banning the app in Paris. Presumably they’re going to take the introduction of driverless cabs without a murmur.

Paris’s parking spaces will become bike or scooter paths, café terraces or playgrounds.

Oh, so we’re going to replace cars with scooters, are we? There are already about a million of them in Paris as it is, and let me assure you they do not make for a silent utopia where children can frolic freely. Also, a lot of Paris’ car parks are underground. Will they become playgrounds or cafe terraces? Either sounds lovely.

The second reason Paris can change fast: France’s car industry has been steadily shedding jobs since the 1980s. It’s now too small to lobby hard against the future.

Okay, the reason Parisians own cars is not to keep people employed at Peugeot or Citroen. I think the author has spent rather too much time hanging out at the Sorbonne.

Third, France has a 39-year-old tech-savvy president.

You mean he owns an iPhone. What does he know about vehicles?

Whereas his predecessors spent their energy saving dying industries, Emmanuel Macron intends to grab pieces of new ones, such as driverless vehicles.

Oh yeah? Let’s see, shall we. He hasn’t experienced his first strike yet, and he’s already rapidly back-tracking on the promises he made when elected.

Fourth, Paris doesn’t need private cars because it already has the best public transport of any international city, according to the New York-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy.

Then there’s no problem, is there? There’s nothing left to do if nobody needs a car. Only the very existence of those 150,000 cars mentioned earlier seems to contradict this statement somewhat. Like I said, nobody in Paris owns a car for fun, and most would much rather do without. But hey, what do they know? Surely a clever FT journalist knows better!

Visitors from clogged developing cities ride metro trains here goggling in amazement.

They do? Shit, even the French complain about it, and I know: I work in a building of 3,000 people, many of whom use it to get to work. I have spoken to people from KL, New York, Caracas, Moscow, Istanbul, and a dozen other cities all of whom complained about the Paris Metro. It’s usually two things: the lack of air conditioning in summer and (more importantly) that it’s extremely difficult to access with a pushchair. Most of them prefer the London Underground which has improved massively over the past 10-20 years, particularly in regards to disabled and pushchair access. The Paris Metro isn’t bad, particularly Line 1 which uses driverless trains, but let’s not pretend people ride it “goggling in amazement”. I’m wondering if the author has actually used it himself. You can be damned sure deputy-mayor Missika gets chauffeured around in a massive car, and will do so long after the plebs have their own cars confiscated.

Already, nearly two-thirds of the 2.2 million Parisians don’t own cars, says Missika.

Yeah, which implies the third who do actually need them.

True, the 10 million people in the suburban towns outside Paris rely more on cars. But, by 2024, most of them should have been weaned off.

Should?

Wander around almost any suburb now, and somewhere near the high street you will find a billboard saying: “We are preparing the metro site.” Grand Paris Express — Europe’s biggest public-transport project — is going to change lives. It will bring 68 new stations, and thousands of homes built on top of them.

Yes, they’re upgrading the Metro – but to the extent nobody in the far-flung suburbs will need a car while adding thousands more homes? This is rather fanciful.

The Olympics will help ensure it’s delivered on time.

Because nothing speeds up complex infrastructure projects in major, developed cities than adding a giant politically-driven infrastructure project which an inflexible completion date to the mix.

New electric bikes will allow suburban cyclists to cover two or three times current distances, making long commutes a doddle.

Should be fun in winter with two kids to take to school.

The Périphérique — Paris’s ring road, which now cuts off the city from the suburbs — will become obsolete, predicts Missika. He looks forward to it turning into an urban boulevard lined with trees and cafés.

Because Paris is short of urban boulevards lined with trees and cafes. And has he actually been along the Périphérique? It goes through some of the worst areas imaginable. Who’s gonna want to sit there drinking coffee?

By then Paris and the suburbs will have merged into a single “Grand Paris”. Missika points out that the Olympic stadium and athletes’ village in 2024 will be outside Paris proper, in Seine-Saint-Denis, one of France’s poorest departments — just five minutes from Paris by train, but currently a world away.

Would that be the same Saint-Denis that was supposed to be rejuvenated in 1998 by the FIFA World Cup and the building of the Stade de France? The one which nobody wants to go anywhere near unless there’s a game or concert on, and the modern office blocks built nearby remain mostly empty? So what will be different this time?

Missika says, “For me, the Games are above all the construction of a Grand-Parisian identity.”

That’s all the Olympic Games ever are, a manifestation of a politician’s ego, funded with taxpayer cash.

I asked Missika if he expected Brexit to benefit Paris. He replied that he considered London and Paris a single city, “the metropolis”. You can travel between them in less time than it takes to cross Shanghai. Anyway, he adds: “I have the impression Brexit won’t happen, since the English are pragmatic. The moment when they say, ‘We were wrong, we’ll take a step back’ will be a bit humiliating, but it will be better than doing Brexit.”

At least if all these grand plans go horribly awry we won’t be able to blame it on hubris, eh? Such down-to-earth people these French politicians, aren’t they? But we knew that already. The real question is, why is a British newspaper felching them so?

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Kenya bans carrier bags

I now return to my second favourite niche blog topic after polyamory: carrier bags!

A friend points me towards this article as proof that banning carrier bags is not just a wealthy, middle-class hobby-horse. Let’s see, shall we?

Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.

The average monthly salary in Kenya is about $1,400 $76.

Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag.

I can’t see this being abused at all, oh no. This looks less like an environmental measure than a typically African method of keeping the peasants in line.

Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.

Kenya’s population is about 47m. It’s largest city is Nairobi with 3.1m, located about 480km from the sea. It’s largest port city is Mombasa with a population of 1.2m. I can well believe an awful lot of plastic gets chucked into the sea around there, but why the nationwide ban? Do plastic bags from Nairobi really end up in the sea? Has anyone studied this?

“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya.

Ah, right. This is all part of UN campaign, no doubt being pushed by wealthy, middle-class bureaucrats living in the swanky areas of Nairobi, assuming they even live in Kenya. Habib El-Habr, who I doubt is Kenyan, has been working in the UN since 1988. When do you think he last did his own shopping?

Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs.

I don’t doubt that there is awful plastic pollution in Kenya – I’ve seen the beaches near Lagos after all – but this is more to do with the country having no proper waste management system. This is a direct result of a culture of graft, corruption, and callous neglect on the part of the ruling elites (enabled and supported by the likes of the UN) so common to most of Africa, but nobody wants to address that. Instead, the ruling elites can earn applause from international bodies and western middle classes by passing draconian, blanket bans which won’t affect them.

It took Kenya three attempts over 10 years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.

So why did it take three attempts? Was it because the ban is being foisted on the people of Kenya by do-gooder outsiders with no stake in the country? Alas, the Guardian doesn’t say.

Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

Ah, but who cares about them? There is the greater good to consider. They can always go back to a life of peasant agriculture.

“The knock-on effects will be very severe,” Matonda said. “It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market – how will their customers carry their shopping home?”

And we’re at the same place we are in the west: wealthy middle-classes who live near shops, drive cars, or have domestic helpers lobby for laws whose impact will fall mainly on the poor in order to make themselves feel virtuous. But do these people lobby for a ban on disposable nappies? No, of course not. No way are these middle-class mothers going to rinse shitty nappies in the sink and boil them on the stove.

Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.

And those who can’t afford to shop in Carrefour will just have to risk crippling fines for carrying their yams home in a carrier bag from the market. The good news is they can probably get the policeman to waive the fines in return for sexual favours.

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Fog in the Atlantic, America Isolated

From the BBC:

Leaders of 19 nations at the G20 summit in Germany have renewed their pledge to implement the Paris deal on climate change, despite the US pulling out.

Deadlock over the issue had held up the last day of talks in Hamburg but a final agreement was eventually reached.

It acknowledges President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement without undermining the commitment of other countries.

Okay.

In her closing news conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she still deplored Mr Trump’s position on the Paris accord but she was “gratified” the other 19 nations opposed its renegotiation.

And French President Emmanuel Macron also remained hopeful of persuading Mr Trump to change his mind, saying: “I never despair of convincing him because I think it’s my duty.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when dealing with Trump is thinking it is all about him. This is understandable given Trump thinks everything is about him and so did his predecessor. But even Trump would probably acknowledge that on this issue, and several others, he is simply representing the interests of the people who elected him. That is his job after all, but Merkel, Macron, and the rest don’t seem to understand this: they talk of changing Trump’s mind as if he’s decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement just for the fun of it, instead of it being something he was specifically elected to do. I genuinely doubt they realise that the commitments they’re demanding must first be approved by the senate. The way Macron has kicked off his presidential career, he probably thinks everyone at the G20 can do anything they like, as if they’re medieval kings.

Of course, this is the problem with politicians today, they think they’re leaders of the people rather than mere representatives (a distinction which the Samizdata commenters weighed in on recently). I don’t recall anyone specifically asking the British or French electorates whether they wanted to sign up to this crap, the ruling elites simply agreed among each other that it would happen, and took silence from the masses as consent. Of course, this was only possible because the costs of the agreement are hidden and fall mainly on the United States anyway: as the world’s biggest producer of goods and services, an effective tax on economic activity will hit them the hardest. It’s easy to bully citizens into signing up to something if you hide or lie about the costs, just look at the Olympics. And it’s easier to get people to take a hit if somebody else is getting fucked over twice as hard.

With the USA being the elephant in the room without whose cooperation the whole exercise is pointless, politicians should have spent time and effort finding a solution Americans could accept. Instead, as with the Kyoto Protocol a generation earlier, they didn’t bother and now talk of America being isolated. This is the equivalent of Spanish football clubs forming a league without Real Madrid and Barcelona and claiming the two giants clubs are isolated. Or it’s like world cricket trying to pass reforms without the Indians on board, the folly of which took the blazered idiots in English cricket a long time to learn.

Of course, I think this was quite deliberate. These agreements are set up precisely so the USA will reject them, giving everyone else an excuse to drag their feet or explain why none of these expensive policies has made any difference. And if they do sign up, the Americans hobble their economy and hand over piles of cash. It’s a win-win except for Americans, which is why they keep rejecting it. Little wonder Trump cleared off early and got his daughter to take over.

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Politics, Technology, and Electric Cars

I suppose this is what passes for leadership these days:

France is set to ban the sale of any car that uses petrol or diesel fuel by 2040, in what the ecology minister called a “revolution”.

Nicolas Hulot announced the planned ban on fossil fuel vehicles as part of a renewed commitment to the Paris climate deal.

He said France planned to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Hybrid cars make up about 3.5% of the French market, with pure electric vehicles accounting for just 1.2%.

Firstly, a policy that will only come into force years after the government has left office should be ignored as a matter of course: it’s posturing, nothing more. It’s akin to the schoolkid who boasts he can do a double back-flip but not today, and tomorrow is a Saturday.

Secondly, the announcement implies that everything is on course for electric cars to eventually replace petrol or diesel cars, and all that’s needed is a government push to fund the infrastructure and overcome the inertia. Indeed, that’s what most people seem to think, that electric cars are inevitable and the only thing standing in the way of a wholesale switchover is the mindset of the public, hence the government should intervene to forcibly change it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are several massive hurdles to be overcome before electric cars will become widespread.

1. Where is the electricity going to come from? Charging a few thousand cars is one thing, millions is something else. Whatever energy is currently being expended by burning petrol will have to be generated as electricity, minus any efficiency gains. The current grid is woefully undersized to meet such a demand, probably by an order of magnitude when you consider peak loadings. We could build lots of nuclear plants, but the people who want electric cars don’t like them. Wind is never, ever going to generate much useful power and dependence on solar power requires a step-change in technology which I think will come, but we’re not there yet. Will we be there in 2040? I don’t know, and nor does anyone. Otherwise, we’ll have to build more gas-driven power stations. Will this be better or worse for the environment than the internal combustion engine? Nobody knows.

2. As I wrote here, the problem with electric cars is not so much their range but the charging times. Nobody is going to want to sit around for more than ten minutes waiting for their car to charge unless it’s overnight or while at work, but that seriously restricts the car’s use to regular, short journeys. To overcome this we need a step-change in battery or energy storage technology which isn’t even on the horizon yet. So that’s two technological step-changes we need by 2040.

3. Nobody has really looked at the environmental and economic costs of tens of millions of electric cars. The batteries are big, heavy, and expensive and contain nasty substances. They don’t last long, so how will they be disposed of? How much will they cost to replace? What effect will this have on the used value of the car? Electric cars require nickel, copper, and cobalt. Where do we get this from? Where are the mines? All these issues can be solved but only once the real costs and externalities are known and compared with the situation today. Right now nobody has a clue, but governments have picked a winner anyway. That rarely works out well. In their efforts to improve the quality of air in western cities, politicians might well be make the environment in the developing world worse, especially around the mines. Also, the upgrade of infrastructure to handle mass car charging is enormous. Thousands of miles of new copper cabling will have to be installed, but at what cost – both in cash and environmental terms? Apparently this is something governments think they can do – the same governments that can’t manage to install proper cladding on apartment blocks.

Some humility wouldn’t go amiss, would it? Slim chance of seeing any, though:

Mr Hulot, a veteran environmental campaigner, was appointed by new French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Macron has openly criticised US environmental policy, urging Donald Trump to “make our planet great again”.

I don’t know if today’s politicians are so thick they believe the bullshit they come out with, or they’re simply adept at saying whatever their core voters want to hear. What amuses me is so many people think this immature posturing is leadership, and cheer it loudly.

Norway, which is the leader in the use of electric cars in Europe, wants to move to electric-only vehicles by 2025, as does the Netherlands. Both Germany and India have proposed similar measures with a target of 2030.

None of this will happen. The idiots who proposed it will either start lying about what they promised, or they’ll be turfed out of office.

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The Reality of Organic Farming

How anything in this BBC article about organic milk should come as a surprise is beyond me:

Buy a pack of organic milk and generally you feel you have done the world and the environment a service – albeit a small, litre-sized one.

After all, you think, a happy cow in a grassy field is probably a good thing, environmentally speaking.

Which is probably why Arla decided to say its organic milk was “good for the land” and “a more sustainable future”.

Arla Foods is no small-scale outfit. It is a massive European milk co-operative ranked as the fourth-largest milk producer in the world.

The organic farming movement would have people believe that their products are grown in allotments or hand-reared in small farms of the type that appear in Famous Five stories. What is amusing is the dim middle classes, particularly professional women with a surplus household income, actually believe it.

Of course Arla Foods is an enormous corporation. If the consumption of organic produce is limited to a few hippies living in wigwams then sure, you don’t need any industrial-scale operation to meet demand. But once the numbers increase the suppliers are going to have to scale up, particularly if the customers are all living in cities (and they almost all do: most consumers of organically farmed products wouldn’t know a combine from a cattle grid). How many people consume organic products in London, say? Over a million, probably. This demand isn’t going to be met by farmer Giles on his local farm using practices from the 1950s.

It’s the same reason I get annoyed when people sing the praises of their jolly local butcher who is a little bit more expensive but is oh so much better than those nasty supermarkets. What they don’t realise is their local butcher is selling to wealthy, niche customers while the supermarkets provide for the masses. If the supermarkets weren’t there and the butcher was the only option, they’d be selling overpriced offal with tubes sticking out.

The argument for organic milk is not as straightforward as you might imagine.

Organic dairy producers do feed their animals with crops grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. They don’t use antibiotics. They use less energy in producing and carting around concentrates. All those are plus points.

But organic farms produce less milk per head of cattle. So they use more land and more cows per litre. And there is the awkward matter of methane, a greenhouse gas, which cows produce in abundance.

Firstly, why is not using antibiotics automatically assumed to be a good thing? Animals get sick just the same as we do, and treating them with antibiotics is as sensible as it is for humans. Would we think denying antibiotics to a child suffering from tonsillitis is virtuous? Probably not, but apparently letting a cow suffer from an infected sore is. Now I get that the agricultural industry has been irresponsible in its use of antibiotics, using them as preventive measures to stop intestinal infections caused by feeding them shite, and that practice should be eliminated. But a blanket ban on antibiotics is stupid.

Secondly, that organic farms are less efficient than conventional ones is something Tim Worstall was pointing out a decade ago. Almost by definition, organic farms need more land (meaning more hedges destroyed, more wetlands drained) and use more resources and energy (more weeding, larger areas to plough) to produce the equivalent yield of a conventional crop. As with everything, it’s a trade off:

“Organic farms perform better in terms of soil and water quality, and species biodiversity, but can perform worse in terms of methane emissions.”

And on a host of other criteria, I expect.

We’re going to see the same thing with electric cars if they ever actually take off (which I doubt, but I might be wrong). A few thousand virtue-signalling celebrities and public-sector employees in places like Norway might not produce much by way of externalities, but if that gets scaled up to the millions or tens of millions across multiple cities, what do things look like then? Where does the electricity come from? Where do the chemicals and metals in the batteries come from? How do we dispose of them?

From what I can tell, most environmental campaigns are designed to relieve the dim but wealthy middle classes of a portion of their income in exchange for making them feel good about themselves. I can only marvel at their effectiveness.

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