Monday, July 06, 2020

Three Greenie heretics

First there was Michael Moore’s Planet of the Humans, then came Bjorn Lomborg’s False Alarm, and now Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never.  All three authors sound the common theme that the  hyper-green environmental activists who have captured, politicized, and monetized  the concern for the environment have, as Lomborg explains, created  a false climate  alarm  which has “costs us trillions, hurts the poor, and fails to fix the planet.”  To varying degrees, all three authors come from a strong environmental activist background, which observation makes their public revelations even more noteworthy.

Planet of the Humans, the recent film produced by Michael Moore, caused consternation and a considerable backlash from the green activists and their allied backers by pointing out how traditional energy companies had co-opted the environmental movement by donning a green alter-ego and embracing renewable energy.  By doing so, the corporations gained access to government funding/subsidies for wind turbine and commercial solar power installations and created a public relations victory for their vociferous eco-shareholders.  Moore’s revelation that the reality of needing to provide 24/7 reliable electricity to consumers ensures that fossil fuel plants will remain the primary energy sources because of the failure of wind or solar to provide power if there is no wind or sufficient sun.  Renewables do not displace reliable fossil-fuel power plants.  Consumers energy bills do not go down, but go up, when renewables are imposed.

Moore also documented that renewables require large amounts of rare earths, cement, and fossil fuel energy in their production.  They are both notoriously inefficient in land use, and impose destruction of large areas of native habitats.  Further environmental destruction is due to the fact that the best wind or solar location is often remote from the most needed consumer base, thereby requiring the construction  of massive electric transmission lines.  “Factories claiming to have gone ‘beyond coal’ again and again turn out to be relying on natural gas.”

The film notes that biomass/wood chip power plants in England now rely on American forests.  Rather than just using lumber waste as was first proposed, this has now turned into a major sub-set of the logging industry.  Our southern forests are leveled and the trees turned into wood chips.  The whole process of logging, processing, and trans-Atlantic shipping is all powered by fossil fuels.  The basic premise of using “renewable” lumber as a bio-fuel is that the carbon dioxide released upon its burning will become fertilizer for a new generation of trees and thus the cycle is carbon neutral. The basic fallacy of it is that the time scale of new tree growth greatly exceeds the day-to-day weather cycle.  No matter. Just imagine, American lumber keeping England eco-green -- a country well versed in cutting down its own forests.

With his recent book, False Alarm, Bjorn Lomborg continues to straddle the fence on global warming, aka climate change.  As the original “skeptical environmentalist,” Bjorn has argued that there are more productive ways to aid humanity than spending billions trying to influence climate change. He has argued for improving sanitation, clean water supplies, basic nutrition, and providing paths out of poverty for the millions living in underdeveloped countries.  In this book, he continues to press for a concerted effort to alleviate these ills, rather than accepting the decades of panic driven calls for “fixing the climate.”

He provides numerous references to substantiate his claims that climate change is real but is not the apocalyptic threat so widely advertised.  Science, he says, “shows that landfalling hurricanes in the US are not more frequent than in the past.  Droughts here have actually become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller area.  Seventeen times more people currently die from cold than heat, and these people will benefit from moderate warming.  In fact, global climate related deaths are an all-time low.”

He claims:

…the projections of Earth’s imminent demise are based on bad science and even worse economics.  In a politicized panic, world leaders have committed to wildly expensive, but largely ineffective policies, that hamper growth and crowd out other pressing investments in a better world, from immunization to education.

And yet, a schizophrenic-like mindset co-inhabits this rational evaluation of climate change and related issues.  Section 1 of the book is titled “Climate of Fear,” and evokes memories of Michael Crichton’s 2004 “State of Fear.”  A few pages into his introduction, Lomborg states, “Climate change is real, it is caused predominantly by carbon emissions from humans burning fossil fuels….”  No question that climate change is real; however, he gives no reference for this unsubstantiated claim of human causation, which is the basic UN position, and the foundation for much green eco-activism.  A few lines later, he seems to criticize the same UN:

After a 2019 UN climate science report led to over-the-top claims by activists, one of the scientists wrote: “We risk turning off the public with extremist talk that is not carefully supported by the science.” Media reports that we have to act by 2030 to solve the problem of climate change is the media defining what the science is.

Lomborg points out that this is indeed not science, but “what politics tells us.”  He does not clarify what the “problem” is with the climate, though his chapter 6 is titled “You Can’t Fix Climate Change,” and chapter 11 offers “Carbon Tax: The Market-Based Solution.”  Chapter 14 “Geoengineering: A Backup Plan” is recognized as “entering uncharted territory,” but “could play a role if we found that we needed fast action to avoid a looming catastrophe.”  After calling for consideration of this back-up plan, the chapter continues with an extended discussion of the pluses and minuses of actually implementing it.

The reader will have to evaluate this recent book to get the full import of Lomborg’s latest effort.  His most basic premise remains that there are better ways to alleviate human misery than spending taxpayer subsidies than on panic-driven, political non-solutions to a changing climate.  Few would argue with that goal.

Michael Shellenberger has green activist credentials going back to his high school years.  Yet over the ensuing years, he has had an environmental reality epiphany which now has manifested itself most clearly in his recent book “Apocalypse Never,” and with his starting the ecomodernism movement. The subtitle of the book, “Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All,” echoes the similar conclusions of Moore and Lomborg.

Shellenberger had a few road bumps on the way to his current reality check.  Notable was his 2002 support of the “New Apollo Project,” which called for a major global science and economics research program to make carbon-free baseload electricity less costly than electricity from coal by the year 2025 at an expenditure of $150 billion over a decade. The Obama administration adopted many of the renewable energy proposals, but Shellenberger documents that much of the money went to “companies that enriched donors to the Obama campaign” but failed to produce the promised renewable energy advances.

Disillusionment gave way to reality, and in 2017, Shellenberger told The Australian: "Like most people, I started out pretty anti-nuclear. I changed my mind as I realized you can't power a modern economy on solar and wind....  All they do is make the electricity system chaotic and provide greenwash for fossil fuels."  He has made numerous efforts to support nuclear power.

His current book skewers many of the claims of eco-environmentalists, including mass extinctions, saving of the whales by Greenpeace, waste plastic fouling the ocean for thousands of years, and increases in extreme weather events.

He reflects upon his early devotion to environmentalism as a manifestation of an “underlying anxiety and unhappiness in my own life that had little to do with climate change or the state of the natural environment.” It became a quasi-religion offering “emotional relief” and “spiritual satisfaction” for those, like him, who may have lost the guidance of traditional spiritual faiths.

Shellenberger concludes with the observation that “the trouble with the new environmental religion is that it has become increasingly apocalyptic, destructive, and self-defeating.”

So here are three environmentalists with different degrees of eco-activism in their past, but all now willing to speak out against the incessant climate propaganda of human-related guilt, the purveyors of anxiety, and the poisoners of childhood joy and wonder.  Climate change is the norm; it is not mankind’s original sin.  The readers here are encouraged to read the works of these climate realists.


Why the World's Most Advanced Solar Plants Are Failing

The government’s leading laboratory for renewable energy has released a new report detailing the strengths and flaws of concentrated solar energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published the report with the stated goal of using very mixed feedback on existing concentrated solar projects to create a list of suggested best practices going forward.

The NREL report “is titled CSP Best Practices, but it can be more appropriately viewed as a mix of problematic issues that have been identified, along with potential solutions or approaches to address those issues,” it begins. What’s inside includes problems shared across concentrating solar power (CSP) projects as well as general issues of large-scale construction. There are also issues with specific kinds of CSP plants based on their designs.

Parabolic trough CSP plants use solar collectors to heat water and generate steam heat, the same as a traditional coal or even nuclear power plant. But in between is a stage called heat transfer (HTF), where a fluid medium like oil or liquid metals carries the heat from the collection area to the turbine.

The CSP report says some of the issues with these systems are the extreme and dangerous heat of the HTF and the waste hydrogen produced by these processes. Designers have also positioned elements vertically at a higher cost, when most CSPs are built in rural places with plenty of space.

The other kind of CSP plant is a tower design, where mirrors concentrate the solar power directly into a central reservoir usually made of molten salt. These plants take a very long time to come to temperature and are subject to leaks and underperformance. All of these factors mean that molten salt plants have not yet reached their performance goals or the numbers their builders have often promised locals served by these grids.

The report says these plants have often exceeded their planned operating budgets because of surprise maintenance costs as well as poor understanding of what the true operating costs will even be. NLER writes:

“There tend to be issues that are not fully considered, and it generally falls to the owner to pick up the additional costs. Some of these issues are related to obtaining and keeping quality O&M staff; lack of understanding of regional cultures; and availability and timeliness of spare parts and services.”

Even with just a few dozen CSP plants in the U.S., the report notes that many of these are placed on poor sites. At the Crescent Dunes solar facility in Tonopah, Nevada, hundreds of birds were killed in just the first 18 months. “That's just the number of dead birds biologists have seen,” E&E News reported in 2016. But site selection also includes making compromises about how far a construction crew must travel to make onsite repairs, or even how to find a qualified workforce to work on the project in the first place.

The bottom line? CSP contractors and operators are doing their best, but the technology isn’t uniform or understood enough for the approach these builders have been taking. “The very nature of fixed-price, fixed-schedule, full-wraparound performance-guarantee EPC contracts has likely been a main reason for issues experienced at existing CSP plants,” the report concludes.


Environmentalism: a racist ideology

Green neo-Malthusianism is the last redoubt of racist eugenics in mainstream society

As reported on spiked last month, it did not take long for green ideologues to seize on the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic. And in recent weeks, racial politics has exploded, putting the Black Lives Matter movement at the centre of global attention. In its wake, jealous greens have sought to capture the narrative of racial grievance. But by highlighting what they claim are the racial dimensions of climate change, what greens have instead exposed are their deep contradictions and a callous indifference to the plight of the world’s poor.

At the end of May, having only just been reinvented as an expert on coronavirus, Greta Thunberg tweeted: ‘Centuries of structural and systematic racism and social injustice won’t go away by itself. We need a global structural change. The injustices must come to an end.’

It is an interesting claim, not least for its remarkable resemblance to her claims about climate change. In a more recent tweet she opined: ‘The climate and ecological crisis can no longer be solved within today’s political and economic systems. That’s not an opinion. It’s just simple maths.’ This is not a coincidence.

As I have long argued on spiked, environmentalists’ preoccupation with ‘systems’ and global institutions to oversee their regulation belies their ability to identify and locate environmental problems. What is motivating their search is less a desire to understand the natural world than a desire to systematise the human world.

It was ‘simple maths’ which took the neo-Malthusians of the 1960s and 1970s to their demands to turn the clock back on population growth, economic growth and technology, lest their dire prognostications of apocalypse came to pass. Yet it was also simple maths that showed these prognostications to be false, dangerous and misleading.

Greta was not the only green to jump on the racial bandwagon. George Monbiot did the same in his review of Planet of the Humans – the new film from Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. The film makes a number of vague references to overpopulation, which Monbiot believes marks it as belonging to the ‘far right’. ‘Population is where you go when you don’t have the guts to face the structural, systemic causes of our predicament: inequality, oligarchic power, capitalism’, he writes. There’s that word ‘systemic’ again.

But Monbiot’s attack on population-environmentalism isn’t quite the commitment it seems. David Attenborough, patron of Population Matters (formerly the Optimum Population Trust), has never been called a ‘far right’ by Monbiot, despite Attenborough’s many explicit statements on population reaching vastly more people than Planet of the Humans has. Moreover, it was not the ‘far right’ which put Malthus back on the political agenda; it was Monbiot’s fellow green campaigners – the neo-Malthusians – back in the mid- to late 20th century.

If Planet of the Humans is ‘far right’, then so is the Guardian. In a 2018 interview, which was sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, Paul Ehrlich, author of Population Bomb, told the Guardian’s Damian Carrington that the ‘collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades’ (again).

In the interview, Ehrlich claimed that he rejects the idea that the desire to control population is racist and that he is hurt by the allegation. But aren’t we constantly being told by the likes of the Guardian that it is not enough to say you are not racist, because racism lingers in systems and structures?

The Rockefeller fortune has played a large role in funding the neo-Malthusian cause over the years. And it has a long history of racism. The Rockefellers were among the first ‘philanthropists’ to use their vast wealth to support eugenics programmes. According to Professor Stefan Kühl, ‘the Rockefeller foundation played the central role in establishing and sponsoring major eugenic institutes in Germany’ in the 1920s. Its funding kept them afloat through the depression and well into the Nazi regime.

After the Second World War, eugenics became less fashionable. Malthusian ideas became a more acceptable vehicle for racism. In 1952, the Rockefellers founded the Population Council, which established the population-control agenda on the global stage via the United Nations and the World Bank. Between the 1950s and 1990s, green billionaires – the Rockefeller and Ford foundations – were funders of mass sterilisation programmes across the world.

This obnoxious agenda asserted itself most aggressively in India, where millions were coerced and forced into sterilisation camps to ensure that brown people would not overrun the world. In a single year, more than six million Indian men were sterilised – more than 15 times the number sterilised by the Nazis. Thousands died from botched procedures.

It is not merely blindness to green neo-Malthusianism – arguably one of the few lasting legacies of racial eugenics – which troubles Monbiot’s attempts to distance himself from it. The problem is that all green thinking is intractably bound to it.

In the 1970s, Ehrlich and colleagues proposed a formula known as IPAT, stating that Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology. In other words, they believe that policymakers have three levers for combating environmental problems: reducing population and / or affluence and / or technology. Today’s greens have not transcended this rubric. ‘High consumption is concentrated in countries where population growth is low’, argues Monbiot: ‘Almost all the growth in numbers is in poor countries largely inhabited by black and brown people.’ Poor people do not consume so much, you see. Science!

If it is racist to tell black people not to breed, it is surely racist to tell black people they cannot be wealthy. Rejection of population control might well sound principled, but it is not in itself a rejection of the neo-Malthusian formulation. The IPAT, to its believers, is an expression of fundamental relationships, not a menu – greens who adhere to any part of it can in reality no more pick and choose than a Catholic can worship the Father and the Son but not the Holy Spirit.

Monbiot may not wish to slow population growth. But he does wish to make us all live in ecological austerity. We are talking here about what greens claim are the systems and structures of society. They claim that the system which produces climate change is racist. But what is revealed by a closer look at society’s tangible structures and systems is that it is environmentalism – not environmental degradation – that has been imposed on the poor. Green NGOs run riot in the developing world. Many, such as the World Wildlife Fund, are implicated in the murder, torture, rape and violent eviction of the world’s poorest people. Where is Monbiot’s condemnation of the WWF?

Greens do not even consider the possibility of these wretched souls of the developing world one day having their own shopping malls, domestic appliances, SUVs or intercontinental holidays. In ruling out the possibility of the poor becoming wealthy, environmentalism rules out the poor becoming a political force who might be able to speak for themselves.

Some climate activists have rebranded climate change as ‘climate justice’, in an attempt to marshall the lives of the world’s poor in their mission. ‘We can change our lifestyles, we can move’, says one self-styled ‘climate communicator’. But the poor cannot, of course: ‘Within countries and between continents, it’s people of colour and it’s indigenous people that bear the brunt of environmental destruction’, he adds.

But life in close dependence on ‘nature’ – poverty, to give it its real name – has always been precarious. Indeed, it is not climate change that is the real worry here – it’s poverty. Economic participation and wealth are what allow people to weather what nature might throw at them. And it is this wealth which greens are determined to deny to the world’s poor.

The green ideology is racist. It presupposes that others’ poverty and others’ futures are determined by weather rather than by the changes that can be brought by man-made technological, economic and political development. The disparity between the wealthiest and poorest people in the world allows this presupposition to become an imposition.

Despite green attempts to keep people in their places, there are far fewer people now living on the edges of global society than before. Contrary to Greta, Ehrlich and Monbiot’s understanding, diseases of poverty are on their way to being eliminated. Far fewer people die in natural disasters today than a century ago, when the population was a quarter of what it is now and when the world was considerably less industrialised.

Progress has not come fast enough, of course. But the claim that ‘stable’ weather will improve anyone’s living condition is a lie. Countless greens argue that, without rises in CO2 emissions, there would be no conflict, no poverty, no hunger, no inequality. But this is oblivious both to the present historical lows of all of the above, and to the implications of a political order that imposes ‘sustainability’ on a population – and one of those consequences is racism.

One problem we face is that so many ‘development’ agencies are dominated by environmentalist anti-development thinking. The boast of the World Bank’s ‘sustainability’ agenda, for example, is epitomised by this video, in which a family in Tanzania is ‘liberated’ from the necessity of buying or collecting firewood for cooking. Instead, wife, mother and housekeeper, Judith, must collect animal shit to put into a vat, which then produces gas the family can use for cooking. It’s not even shit generated by an industrial process. It’s shit from someone’s backyard.

If this strikes you as an improvement, and as a mark of success by a global political institution in abolishing poverty, you need to ‘check your privilege’. Judith’s domestic natural-gas reactor is a Heath Robinson contraption, not development. It ‘abolishes’ poverty only at best in a palliative sense – not in a structural or systemic sense. Where is the electricity grid? Where is Judith’s car? Where is Judith’s aircon, washing machine, dishwasher? If Black Lives Matter, then the grid matters, the car matters and the domestic appliances matter. Would you accept daily shit-collecting as a solution to your family’s energy needs?

Meanwhile, the World Bank and other global political and financial institutions, on the instructions of the United Nations, green billionaires and their pet NGOs, have withdrawn financial support for fossil-fuel-fired power stations for developing economies. Energy infrastructure, which has in recent decades proved essential to the rapid development seen in China and India, is being explicitly denied to the people who need it most. Their desire for a better life is not ‘sustainable’, you see.

And yet it is micro-aggressions, not macroeconomics, which trouble today’s anti-racist radicals. For all the talk of ‘systems’ and ‘structures’, it is ‘symbols’ which preoccupy them. As activists tear down statues of history’s racists, it is the present that they ignore.

Tycoons, who made vast fortunes from oil, gas and coal, and who built global institutions in their own image, have spent billions on PR campaigns to recast themselves as green philanthropists, who can buy favourable coverage in the Guardian, and are free to assert themselves and their designs over billions of people with impunity. This is ignored by Black Lives Matter and green activists alike. Environmentalism is racist.


Costly green deals are no pandemic panacea


After the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, the world will be spending trillions of dollars to get us back on track. Increasingly, campaigners and policymakers demand this spending be tied to climate goals.

International Monetary Fund chairwoman Kristalina Georgieva urges “we must do everything in our power to make it a green recovery”. The Australian Greens, US Democrats, the European Com­mission and many countries are pushing “green new deals”. These could cost us tens of trillions and, unfortunately, will be one of the worst ways to help us recover.

The pandemic has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and led to widespread disruption. According to the IMF, the loss could easily top $US20 trillion ($29 trillion) this and next year. That is $US20 trillion of food, healthcare and opportunities for people around the world that we can no longer afford.

Similarly, school closures have had little effect on COVID-19, according to medical journal The Lancet, but they have left the next generation less educated. Because better-schooled children are more productive and help advance their countries, this will hamper the world’s growth for decades.

Norway estimates that every day a pupil is out of school steals $US160 from each child’s future. The World Bank estimates that school lockdowns for 1.5 billion children have taken $US13 trillion from these children’s future.

Now, nations will borrow trillions to help alleviate the current suffering. And we are told that a green recovery can quickly create plenty of jobs and economic growth, along with fixing the even bigger problem of climate change. This is mostly incorrect.

Climate change is a major problem and we must tackle it smartly. But climate policies also have enormous costs. Unfortunately, most current climate policies cost more than the benefit they deliver.

The Paris Agreement is wasteful, as it will cost $US1 trillion to $US2 trillion a year but reduce climate damages by only 10 per cent of its cost. It will not fix climate but reduce temperatures at century’s end by an almost immeasurable 0.2C. Moreover, studies show it will increase poverty and quadruple European power prices.

The biggest studies of the 2050 European Green Deal show enormous costs of €1 trillion ($1.6 trillion) to €2 trillion a year by 2050 just for Europe. This cost exceeds what governments across the EU today spend on health, education and environment, yet it will reduce global climate damages by only less than 10 per cent of its cost.

But surely green spending will produce more jobs, right? In the US, it takes 39 solar workers to produce the same amount of electricity as produced by one worker in natural gas. Hence, generating more solar power will create many more jobs.

But this is wasteful. Choosing to employ 39 people to do what one person can do means 38 people can’t help elsewhere in the economy, providing elderly care, education, better infrastructure and the thousands of other needs for society’s future. Moreover, green spending works slowly and creates almost no jobs in the short run, when jobs are needed most. It also doesn’t help those who most affected. It generates green jobs in construction and manufacturing, whereas most of the job losses due to COVID-19 occurred in services.

Finally, subsidised jobs from green deals will have to be financed by higher taxes, leading to fewer jobs elsewhere.

As the US National Bureau of Economic Research concludes in a new study, overall employment effects from environmental policies “are likely to be small, especially in the long run”.

Sometimes it is suggested that going green will make us richer. This not only fails the giggle test, it also is contradicted by the climate economic literature: energy is the main driver of economic growth, so making it less effective, less reliable and more expensive has real costs. Campaigners often misquote one OECD report to suggest climate policies can increase growth. The report actually shows that climate policies drag down growth, whereas smart non-climate policies such as investments in infrastructure and education, along with a more flexible labour market, increase growth.

Maybe we should pick the growth-enhancing policies first? To tackle climate, we need to spend less resources better on ramping up green investment to innovate the price of green energy down below fossil fuels.

But today we need to spend most of our scarce resources on the urgent needs: investments in healthcare to tackle the huge backlog and increase resilience to future epidemics; getting children back on track and in school; and helping the billions worldwide who have less food, less income and more insecurity.

As we begin our global climb out of the coronavirus depression, we shouldn’t start by letting bad green deals make us poorer, help climate little and ignore the many other urgent needs of the world.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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