Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Boris would have banned steam engines

British prime minister Boris Johnson announced this week that he would make it illegal to sell petrol or diesel-driven automobiles from 2030, pushing the British into a fleet of electric cars. He proclaimed this would lead to a “green industrial revolution.” Fat chance! If Boris had been around in the 1780s, he would have had equally good “environmental” reasons for banning steam engines – and would thereby have snuffed out the real Industrial Revolution.

Britain’s most important problem, to an environmentalist 1784-Boris, is the sudden rise in the numbers of heavily polluting, noisy steam engines. Vast swathes of the countryside are being desecrated by the things. From a humble but modest role in pumping water out of mines, which they have had for 70 years (and few of 1784-Boris’s friends spend time in mining districts) they appear to be proliferating all over the place, in both towns and the countryside, with London especially blighted by their appalling dirt and smoke. Surely government can do something to regulate these menaces!

There is a further problem with steam engines, also. 1784-Boris’s climate scientists have calculated that global temperatures in the preceding 200 years have declined by about 1 degree on the new temperature scale pioneered by the Swedish scientist Anders Celsius. Londoners have taken to holding “frost fairs” on the frozen Thames every few years, but the first such fair was held only in 1608. Climate scientists have also theorized that the cooling effect of the sulphates released from coal fires and coal-burning steam engines are causing the problem. After all, widespread use of coal in domestic heating started quite suddenly in the second half of the 16th century and has spread ever more widely since; it makes sense to assume that the two developments were closely related, and the experts’ knowledge of sulphate chemistry has suggested a mechanism for such a relationship.

To 1784-Boris, there is too close a fit between the two timescales to be a coincidence. Global cooling, or “climate change” as he prefers to call it, is a menace that could wipe out civilization if it continued. On present trends, if coal usage continued to increase, global temperatures would drop another 4 degrees Celsius by 2000, which would be enough to destroy British agriculture and starve the rapidly growing British population. For Boris, the only solution is sharp restriction on coal burning, limiting domestic use of coal and banning dangerous new applications such as steam engines. The new-fangled economist Adam Smith has suggested a “sulphur tax” to reduce the use of sulphur-emitting coal, but Boris believes it is much more effective for the government to issue decrees than to rely on a complicated and inefficient “free market” to achieve necessary social goals.

1784-Boris is confident that even though the use of steam engines is growing, they are no more than peripheral to the British economy. The Dutch have developed windmill technology to a high level, using them to pump water out of mines. This could be done in Britain; the intermittent nature of wind power is not a problem, since if water accumulates, it can be pumped out when the next windy day occurs. Water-mill power also is used in the newly growing textile industry and seems perfectly satisfactory. Yes, Boulton and Watt are selling a few steam engines to that industry, but their engines appear to have only modest advantages over water-mill power, and they are far more difficult and indeed dangerous to work with. 1784-Boris has heard that James Watt is working on a steam engine with a condenser, which would be more efficient, and has patented some new ideas, but so far the advantages of steam engines are pretty marginal. Thus, the costs of a ban on steam engines are modest, while the environmental benefits are of great importance. All 1784-Boris’s friends, whose London town houses and country estates are made filthy and noisy by the new devices, will thank him for this new decree.

1784-Boris’s new regulation is relatively easy to enforce. There are only a few factories making steam engines, which can be forced to close, and the engines themselves are so noisy they can be heard half a mile away. The mines will adapt, though mines that have been using Newcomen engines since 1710 or so have a justified case for compensation, and some flood-prone workings will have to be abandoned. The textile business can easily continue with water-mill power, although its growth will be steady rather than spectacular.

In our timeline Britain eventually won the Napoleonic Wars, through its strong and growing economy, which brought tax and borrowing capacity that after 1809 was harnessed against French military power by Liverpool and Wellington. In the Boris-1784 timeline, Britain with its more sluggish economy would probably have lost that war. Win or lose, in the post-war depression the burdens of Britain’s debt would have become intolerable on an economy with no steam and little innovation. At that point economic collapse would have occurred and just as in Ireland thirty years later, starvation would have faced the rapidly increasing population, as Thomas Malthus predicted. The sufferers from the repeated famines of the 19th century, as British economic power went into decline, would never have known about the railways and steamships they would have lacked, because 1784-Boris halted the development of their motive power.

What this fable demonstrates is that the Industrial Revolution was by no means inevitable and would have been derailed by policies that were anything like Boris Johnson or other politicians pursue today. It took two centuries of remarkably good British economic policy to produce the Industrial Revolution, and 21st century economic policies would have prevented it. The “command and control” approach to economic policy, beloved of Gosplan bureaucrats, can destroy innovations and positive developments that the bureaucrat, cocooned in his Moscow dacha, knows nothing about.

If Boris Johnson wants to combat climate change, he should impose a carbon tax, like the “sulphates tax” that Adam Smith recommended to 1784-Boris in the myth above. With Smith’s sulphates tax, steam engine progress would have been retarded, but once truly superior steam engines appeared with James Watt’s condenser and high-pressure boilers, they would have overcome the economic hurdle of any plausible sulphates tax and would have produced the Industrial Revolution, if a few years behind schedule.

By forcing the adoption of electric cars rather than imposing a carbon tax, Boris Johnson is today substituting government fiat for a market mechanism, putting an absolute bar on some directions in which innovation might appear. Whether or not a particular social objective is sensible, regulation is always the most damaging way of attaining it. Far from causing a “Green Industrial Revolution” Boris Johnson may well be preventing a new Industrial Revolution from appearing, whether green or any other color.

Carbon dioxide levels are still at a record high despite factories closing, planes being grounded and energy use reducing during Covid lockdown

So could anything reduce them?

Levels of carbon dioxide in the world's atmosphere did not dwindle as a result of the widespread cessation of industrial activity throughout 2020, official data shows.

The coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to close, grounded flights and saw people stay at home instead of venturing outside.

As a result, emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2 and the more potent but less prevalent nitrous oxide and methane, dropped dramatically.

However, the World Meteorological organization (WMO) says this global drop of up to 7.5 per cent is insufficient to impact on the amount of CO2 already trapped in the atmosphere.

Scientists say several human activities are to blame for the soaring levels, including coal mining; oil and gas production; cattle and sheep farming; and landfills.

Stanford University researchers and the Global Carbon Project assessed emissions from 2010 up until 2017, the last year complete data was available.

It found that in 2017 Earth's atmosphere absorbed nearly 600 million tons of the colourless, odourless gas that is one of the most potent pollutants.

Methane traps almost 30 times more heat than the same amount of carbon dioxide and more than half of all methane emissions now come from human activities.

In 2019, the global average for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere breached the threshold of 410 parts per million (ppm).

Before the Industrial Revolution, the average amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was around 278ppm, with fossil fuel burning, cement production and deforestation to blame as primary drivers for a 148 per cent spike.

This figure continued to rise in 2020 according to official data from the World Meteorological Organization.

The WMO's annual greenhouse gas bulletin looked primarily at the amount of greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere as of 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, but did include insight from data gathered already in 2020.

Preliminary estimates for this year indicate that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, global annual emissions of CO2 fell by between 4.2 per cent and 7.5 per cent.

But these kinds of reductions will not cause the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to go down, the WMO warned.

Carbon dioxide levels will continue to go up, and while the rate of growth will be slightly reduced by the fall in emissions, it will have no more effect than the changes seen from year to year as a result of natural variability in the system.

Once released into the atmosphere from processes such as burning fossil fuels for power, transport and industry, as well as deforestation and agriculture, greenhouse gases trap heat.

'Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer,' said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

Nitrous oxide levels increased by a THIRD over the past 40 years

Widespread use of nitrogen-based fertiliser is jeopardising ambitious climate targets and putting the world at risk of overshooting the Paris Agreement.

Common synthetic fertilisers, used by farmers to increase crop growth, produce huge amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas.

It is less prevalent than carbon dioxide, but is 300 times more potent as a contributor to global warming.

The dangerous gas depletes the ozone layer, which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun, and remains in the atmosphere for a century.

A landmark study has found human-induced emissions of the chemical have surged since the 1980s, increasing by 30 per cent over the past four decades.

Annually, humans now create 7.3 trillion grams (Tg) of nitrogen a year and more than half (3.8 trillion grams [3.8Tg]) comes directly from agriculture.

This figure is increasing every year at a rate of around 1.4 per cent, according to the data.

'The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. But there weren't 7.7 billion inhabitants.'

The data shows annual emissions of carbon dioxide was about 410.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019, up from 407.9 parts ppm in 2018.

In the last ten years, almost half (44 per cent) of all CO2 emitted into the atmosphere stayed there and was not absorbed by either land or sea.

'We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm,' says Professor Taalas.

'Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records. The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve.'

Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide also climbed to new highs in 2019, the annual greenhouse gas bulletin from the WMO showed.

Hybrid cars emit way more pollution than advertised

Top auto brands are getting smoked by environmental analysts who have found that their carbon emissions are much higher than what carmakers had reported.

The European group Transport and Environment (T&E), which campaigns for renewable energy in transportation, found three top-selling plug-in hybrid SUVs — BMW’s X5, Volvo’s XC60 and Mitsubishi’s Outlander — are emitting 28% to 89% more carbon dioxide than advertised, even under ideal road conditions.

“Plug-in hybrids are fake electric cars, built for lab tests and tax breaks, not real driving,” Julia Poliscanova, T&E’s senior director of clean vehicles, said in a press statement. “Governments should stop subsidizing these cars with billions in taxpayers’ money.”

Hybrid vehicles are those that combine a combustible fuel engine — one that is smaller than conventional cars — with an electric motor and rechargeable battery. The car is thus able to toggle between using electric power and gasoline. While plug-in hybrid car emissions are lower than those for gas or diesel vehicles, T&E found CO2 levels in real-world tests were typically two to four times what the auto brands reported.

These companies haven’t copped to the findings, according to Reuters: Volvo and Mitsubishi denied the results, while BMW declined to respond to its inquiry.

Last week, the European Union announced an emissions proposal that would narrow which cars can be deemed “green” vehicles. Under the new rules, hybrid vehicles, such as the three makes tested, would no longer be considered sustainable automobiles, beginning in 2026.

Despite a potential $7,500 vehicle tax credit up for grabs, Americans overall have been slow to adopt electric cars. Overall last year, only about 727,000 new partial- and all-electric cars were sold in the US, which is just over 4% of the 17 million total sales in new “light-duty” vehicles, including SUVs and small passenger trucks, according to, a nonprofit data resource, with statistics from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Sales of hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) about doubled between 2011 and 2013, from approximately 266,500 to 495,500 units sold, prompted in part by Tesla’s move to go public in summer 2010.

All-electric varieties lag far behind HEVs, which experts have claimed is a result of consumer concern over their viability for long-distance driving. In 2019, only about 241,000 all-electric cars sold, adding to the 1.4 million total since they were first introduced in 2010. Plug-in hybrid vehicles, like those studied by T&E, are a steppingstone between HEVs and all-electric, with a slightly larger battery that requires more juicing, but which make up the smallest share of the US market.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency released their new rules for US-based car manufacturers’ fuel economy standards. The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient vehicles rule requires carmakers to improve fuel efficiency in all cars, including hybrid electric and gas-powered, by 1.5% per year, to reach an average of 40.4 miles per gallon by 2026. These standards were recalibrated after an initial proposal, announced in 2012, would have required a 5% annual increase in fuel efficiency, for an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Australia: Why NSW power bills could surge by $400 a year under government's new 'electricity tax' to pay for renewable energy plan

Power bills could increase by $400 a year under the New South Wales government's energy roadmap, Mark Latham has warned.

The NSW One Nation leader slammed the plan to encourage $32billion of private investment in renewable energy projects by 2030 as a 'stitch up'.

The state government wants wind, pumped hydro and solar projects to replace four coal-fired power stations which are due to shut over the next 15 years.

Energy Minister Matt Kean says then plan - which will create Renewable Energy Zones in Dubbo and the south west - will cut household bills by $130 and small business bills by $430 a year between 2023 and 2040.

But Mr Latham fears bills may increase as the government plans to offer a minimum electricity price to companies that build the renewable projects.

If the electricity price were to fall below that level, the government would levy cash from providers who would temporarily increase household bills.

Mr Latham told Daily Mail Australia the plan represents 'guaranteed income for renewable energy companies and their lobbyists, paid for by electricity consumers.'

He described the plan as a new tax and criticised Mr Kean for intervening in the electricity market.

'He's planning personally to levy amounts on the electricity distributors that they pass on to consumers,' Mr Latham told Sydney radio station 2GB.

'So that's a new NSW electricity tax where the minister gets to levy the money on the distributors... it goes straight on to the electricity bill.

Why might power prices increase?
The NSW government wants wind, pumped hydro and solar projects to replace coal-powered electricity.

Under the plan the government will offer a minimum electricity price to companies that build the renewable projects through a Long Term Energy Services Agreement.

The government's consumer trustee will then sell the energy to retailers and companies, with any shortfall made up by enforced 'contributions' from distributors who would push up their prices for consumers.

The government says these payments will only be triggered if consumers are already benefiting from low energy prices - and they would be repaid once prices increase and the renewable projects are making cash again.

'We're talking huge amounts of money and probably power bills going up by $100 a quarter,' Mr Latham said, without explaining where he got the figure from.

The 59-year-old has vowed to oppose the plan, which the Coalition government introduced in early November with support from Labor and the Greens.

'I think we should slow this down and make sure we can guarantee to people the lights stay on and the prices come down,' he said. 'This is the whole future of the energy sector in NSW and they won't have a committee that's commonplace in other areas. 'It's a stitch up, it's a cover up and we're going to oppose it.'

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor also fears the plan will push up prices and has demanded to see the NSW government's modelling.

'I'm concerned about models and analysis including unrealistic assumptions that don't translate into the real world,' he said in a speech at The Australian Financial Review Energy and Climate Summit on Monday.

'The Commonwealth would like to see the modelling behind that policy. I'm confident that we can work through it, and NSW has indicated its strong intent to get to a sensible outcome.'

The Australian Energy Council warned the government's intervention may encourage too many energy assets to be built in places where they may not be needed. 'This would ultimately mean higher costs for households,' it said in statement.

Tony Wood, energy director at the Grattan Institute, said the plan takes risk away from investors and transfers them to consumers who would potentially foot larger bills.

The plan will support 12 gigawatts of renewable energy and two gigawatts of storage, such as pumped hydro, and reduce carbon emissions by 90 million tonnes to 2030.

Landholders are expected to pocket $1.5 billion in rent by 2042 for hosting new infrastructure.

More than 10,000 construction and ongoing jobs will be created by 2026, with an estimated 2800 ongoing jobs in 2030, the government says.

Coal-fired power made up 77 per cent of NSW's total electricity generation in 2019 - higher than the national average of 56 per cent - but four of the state's five plants will stop by 2035. Renewables made up 19 per cent.




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