Friday, May 13, 2022

Net Zero nightmare

When I stated the obvious to the ABC recently, I didn’t think there would be much reaction. It had been clear for months that net zero was as dead as disco. Boris Johnson had asked for a ‘leave pass’ from his climate commitments, the German Chancellor had told the Bundestag that they needed to invest in ‘coal and gas infrastructure’ and Italy was reopening coal plants. None of this was news.

From the moment that Russian special forces landed at the Hostomel Airport, it was clear that Glasgow had been the most ineffectual global summit since the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments in Geneva in 1932. After Mariupol any further limitation on fossil fuel production would only help Russia and their allies like China.

Even while the Glasgow climate conference was underway the signs were clear. During the talkfest, which Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin mysteriously avoided attending, both China and Russia banned the export of fertilisers. Hardly any Western media covered these actions, instead deciding to focus on what the temperature would be in 2050 instead of how we would grow food in 2030.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, or they would be if more grain were available. Fertiliser prices have more than doubled since late last year forcing many farmers, especially in poorer countries, to cut back on applying them. Over the next year food yields will be markedly down. We have already seen food riots in Indonesia and Peru. Even US President Joe Biden has admitted that, ‘With regard to food shortage, yes we did talk about food shortages, and it’s gonna be real.’

Why do we rely so much on Russia for our food production and fertilisers? It is because the West relies too much on Russia to produce fossil fuels.

Some people fail to understand that around half the food you eat is only grown thanks to fertilisers that are made from fossil fuels. Natural gas is the main feedstock that is used to convert carbon dioxide, hydrogen and nitrogen into a fertiliser known as urea.

The development of synthetic fertilisers is the real green revolution. These fertilisers allowed yields to skyrocket – wheat yields have almost tripled over the past 60 years. Thanks to fossil fuels, hunger has effectively disappeared from the planet except in rare cases of political dysfunction.

If you complete a modern university education, you will no doubt learn much about fossil fuels. However, I bet that in the hours of instruction about coal, gas and oil there is not even a footnote devoted to their use in growing food.

How else to explain otherwise intelligent, and certainly university-educated bureaucrats, making such inane contributions to the emerging food supply crisis? For example, Biden’s Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, said on the weekend that, ‘fertiliser shortages are real… we are working with countries to think about natural solutions like manure and compost. And this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interests of farmers to make anyway. So never let a crisis go to waste’.

You may think the Ms Power has qualifications in agricultural science but, no, before being appointed as the US International Development Tsar, Ms Power was a journalist turned academic. She might not know much about food production but she does seem to be a specialist in manure, at least of the bull variety.

We do not have to look far to see what the impact of the au naturale approach to modern farming. In May last year the Sri Lankan government banned the importation of chemical fertilisers and President Rajapaksa declared that he wanted to make Sri Lankan farming 100 per cent organic.

Sri Lanka’s boldness was lauded by the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (Molnar) in Sri Lanka. In words that echo those of their net zero cousins, Molnar said that ‘the overuse of agrochemicals has also undermined food sovereignty, unravelled the ecological balance, and had led to the extinction of many animal and plant species’.

Within six months the decision proved disastrous. Rice production fell by 20 per cent and shops had to ration the staple. By November, the government had backed down and allowed chemical fertiliser use to resume. The damage had been done though and the decline in the production of cash crops like rubber and tea has led to a full blown financial crisis in Sri Lanka.

As one farmer named Anura said, ‘The government forced us to switch to organic farming all of a sudden and due to that, we could not produce anything. Now we are left with no money, survival is very difficult here’.

We will suffer the same fate if we continue on the naive net zero path written by people who have no idea how food is grown, minerals are mined, energy is made or metals are forged. If the entire world was headed down this primrose path at least we would all be in the school of hard knocks together.

Our problem is that China, Russia and many other countries that wish us harm are not drinking the green Kool-Aid. If we continue to aim for net zero emissions we will make the same mistakes that Europe did in the 1930s. Then the belief was that a de-militarised Rhineland, and an indebted Germany, meant that peace was assured. Military spending decayed and there was little investment in new war fighting technologies like aeroplanes. As Churchill remarked of this wishful thinking ‘conditions were swiftly created by the victorious Allies which, in the name of peace, cleared the way for the renewal of war’.

As the spectre of the 1930s looms large again, the longer we wait to wake from our net zero dream, the greater the nightmare will be.


EPA spent $7M in American Rescue Plan funds to replace diesel school buses with electric buses

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spent $7 million in funds from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package on a program to replace diesel school buses with electric ones in underserved communities.

The EPA’s 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) Electric School Bus Rebates program allocated $7 million in funds from Biden's American Rescue Plan Act to schools to replace up to four diesel buses with electric school buses totaling $1.2 million or $300,000 each.

According to the EPA, the ARP appropriated funds to the EPA are specifically for "activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in minority populations or low-income populations."

The school bus rebates program was tailored only to applicants in underserved school districts, tribal schools, and private fleets serving those schools, and the replacement buses had to be electric, according to the EPA. The approved schools, which were selected through a lottery, have until October to show that they’ve purchased the new buses and scrapped the old ones.

A webinar for applicants to the program, which was released last October, said, "Diesel engines emit harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and other pollutants," and that "while new buses must meet EPA’s tougher emission standards, many older school buses continue to emit harmful diesel exhaust."

In total, the program awarded funding for 23 electric school bus replacements and associated charging infrastructure at 11 different schools across the country. At $300,000 per bus, the EPA was left with $100,000 in leftover ARP funds, which the agency told Fox News Digital will be allocated "properly to another program or department" after consulting with its budgetary staff.

"The science shows a clear link between air pollution and the public health impacts of respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19," the EPA said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "Electric school buses provide cleaner air for children, school bus drivers, and the community.

"EPA delivers cleaner air using the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program which allows school districts to replace diesel engine buses with electric school buses along with other cleaner alternatives," it continued. "Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), Congress provided additional funding to EPA’s DERA program to address public health concerns in low-income and minority populations which bear a disproportionate burden of air pollution. The ARP funding provided to EPA’s DERA program is reserved exclusively for school districts in underserved communities, Tribal schools, and private fleets serving those schools while the annual DERA program is open to all eligible states."

Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated the EPA program during a White House event in March announcing the rebate winners.

"Imagine a future: The freight trucks that deliver bread and milk to our grocery store shelves and the buses that take children to school and parents to work; imagine all the heavy-duty vehicles that keep our supply lines strong and allow our economy to grow — imagine that they produced zero emissions," Harris said March 7. "Well, you all imagined it. That’s why we’re here today — because we have the ability to see what can be, unburdened by what has been, and then to make the possible actually happen."


Climate crisis? What climate crisis? Brazil poised for record corn production in 2021/2022

Brazil will likely produce a record amount of corn in the 2021/2022 cycle, even as dry weather in key states may reduce yields in some parts of the country, according to a Reuters poll with 10 forecasters on Tuesday.

According to the average of forecasts, Brazil will produce a total 115 million tonnes this year, including the first and second corn crops and a third smaller one.

If the projection is confirmed, Brazil’s total corn production will have jumped 32% from the 87.09 million tonnes produced in 2021.

Last season, Brazil’s second corn crop, representing 70%-80% of the country’s entire production in a given year, was hit hard by drought and frost.

The rise in corn production this season is being driven by area expansion of almost 7%, good prices and farmers’ ability to plant their second corn within the ideal climate window, according to analysts.

Despite the positive prospects, things can change before the second corn crop is actually harvested in the middle of the year.

“We believe that yields will be lower in Mato Grosso, as well as in Goiás, Minas Gerais and possibly in Mato Grosso do Sul…”, said AgResource analyst João Pedro Thieme, referring to dry weather affecting Brazil’s second corn crop in those areas.

Yet, any drop in yields will not be nearly as severe as last year’s, Thieme said.

S&P Global analyst Gabriel Faleiros said the consultancy initially forecast Brazil’s second corn crop at 93.5 million tonnes.

He currently expects a harvest of 90.5 million tonnes for the second crop, adding he sees a “reduction potential of around 2-3 million tonnes in the next forecast update for the second corn.”


Record gas prices haunt Biden

The price of gas in the U.S. broke another record again this morning, threatening to further imperil Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

The national average of cost per gallon climbed to $4.37 on Tuesday, according to AAA, a 17-cent spike from the previous week. That’s a new record nominal high, although prices would have to rise to about $5.50 to match the inflation-adjusted high of mid-2008.

Driver frustration over record-high gas prices heading into summer is exactly the problem that President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill have tried to address by various means over the past few months.

To that end, Biden has called on U.S. oil and gas producers to ramp up production, announced the release of 180 million barrels of oil from the U.S. emergency stockpile—the largest one-time release since its creation in 1974—and sought to characterize the high prices as an extension of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, referring to the soaring costs on multiple occasions as “Putin’s price hike.”

The administration also announced last month that it will resume lease sales for oil and gas on federal land (although it has taken pains to make clear it only did so because of a court order), sparking immediate criticism from some environmental groups.

The Biden team also has steered clear of the pro-fossil fuel moves the industry and Republicans have called for, saying that prices are instead driven by global factors. "It's simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production. That's simply not true," Biden said in March.

Rising prices are a major problem for Democrats: Voters have repeatedly ranked inflation as the top problem facing the U.S., as well as Biden’s top problem politically.

The percentage of Americans who viewed inflation as the top economic problem facing the U.S. more than doubled between January and March, a Gallup poll found, rising from 8% in January to 17% in March. Inflation was ranked in that survey as the second-worst problem facing the country overall, falling slightly behind “the government, poor leadership.”

A CNN poll released last week found that most Americans now have a dismal view of the economy, with just 23% of respondents rating economic conditions in the country as “somewhat good.” That’s a steep decline from the 37% of voters who said the same in December, and from last April, when 54% had a positive view of the economy.

Eight in 10 voters also said the government is not doing enough to combat inflation, according to the CNN survey.

Energy prices were up about a third over the past year in March, helping drive overall inflation to the highest rate since the 1980s, 8.5%, according to the Consumer Price Index. The CPI for April will be released tomorrow morning and is sure to add to the president’s woes.

The blame game: Biden, aware of the danger, delivered remarks on inflation rates in the U.S. as this newsletter was being written trying to place blame on Republicans, saying they have no plan.

Democrats in the House and Senate have also sought to cast blame on the oil and gas industry as a means of limiting political liability.

Last month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee summoned executives from six of the nation’s largest oil and gas companies, including BP America, Chevron and ExxonMobil, to testify at a hearing titled, “Gouged at the Gas Station: Big Oil and America’s Pain at the Pump.”




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