Monday, September 26, 2022

The trouble with ‘bourgeois’ environmentalism

"The left needs to shake off its ‘bourgeois environmentalism’. It needs to distance itself from the ‘bourgeois environmental lobby’ and make the case for fracking and the building of new nuclear power stations".

Who do you think said this? Some contrarian commentator? A right-winger irritated by eco-loons? Nope, it was Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB trade union.

In an explosive intervention in left-wing discourse, Smith has accused Labour of a ‘lack of honesty’ and of ‘not facing reality’ on the energy question. We are living through a severe energy crisis and yet still Labour is sniffy about fracking and down on nuclear power, he says. All because it is in thrall to bourgeois greens who just don’t like industry and modernity very much.

Yes, climate change is a problem, he says, but we need energy. ‘We import a huge amount of fracked gas’ from America, he points out, so why don’t we just frack our own? We should get serious about developing nuclear power too, says Smith.

The GMB represents 460,000 working people, including the majority of workers at the UK’s nuclear-power stations. So it is logical – and good – that Smith would defend the nuclear industry. But his broader point is even more important.

‘(The) question’, he says, ‘is where is the electricity going to come from? We cannot do it by renewables and we cannot rely on energy imports.’ In short, we should get cracking – and fracking – on generating our own abundant sources of energy.

His killer comments concern the aloof, elitist tendencies of green activists. The renewables industry – ‘and many of those who espouse it in politics’ – have ‘no interest in jobs for working-class communities’, he says. He continues:

‘(We) should stop pretending that we’re in alliance with them. The big winners from renewables have been the wealthy and big corporate interests. Invariably the only jobs that are created when wind farms get put up, particularly onshore wind, have been jobs in public relations and jobs for lawyers.’

This is really important stuff. Smith has laid down a gauntlet to the modern left – are you on the side of working-class communities who benefit from well-paid jobs in the energy sector and from the domestic production of energy, or are you on the side of ‘bourgeois’ greens who are offended by any kind of human intervention in nature, whether that’s digging down for gas or unleashing the awesome power contained in uranium?

For far too long, Labour and left-wingers more broadly have been embracing the ideology of environmentalism. This has always struck me as utterly bizarre, because it seems pretty clear that green politics run entirely counter to the interests of working-class communities.

It is not a coincidence that environmentalism is the favoured political pursuit of the upper middle classes, posh influencers, privately educated columnists and even our new King (God save him). Because this anti-industrial worldview, this ideology that looks with such horror upon our mass consumer society, and the masses who partake in it, is the perfect vehicle for the expression of an older aristocratic disdain for modernity.

Environmentalism is a modern manifestation of the 19th-century Romantic reaction against the Industrial Revolution. Only back then it was more honest – it was all puffy-collared rich folk shocked that the serfs who once worked their lands were now headed into teeming new cities to work in factories. Today, the misanthropic scorn for modernity tends to be more deceitfully dressed up. It’s less ‘Who will toil my farmland now?!’ and more ‘What will happen to the air I breathe if millions of gammon are driving to Aldi every day?’.

Smith, who made these comments in an interview with the New Statesman, is dead right: ‘bourgeois’ is exactly the right word for modern environmentalism. It is alarming that the left has bought into all this middle-class green nonsense. I trust Spectator readers will forgive me for quoting Trotsky, but he did say that the task of left-wing revolutionaries was to bring about the increase of ‘the power of man over nature and the abolition of the power of man over man’. The modern left does the precise opposite of this. It seeks to shrink man’s power over nature and to boost man’s power over man, via new forms of authoritarianism and censorship. Please, right-wingers, I implore you: stop calling modern leftists ‘Trots’.

Gary Smith has done something incredibly important. He hasn’t only put pressure on Labour to think seriously about fracking and nuclear. He has also forced the left to ask itself why it has lost touch with working-class concerns and found itself so beholden to posh pursuits like ‘saving the planet’. A left that represents bourgeois interests is of no use to anyone. Except, of course, the bourgeoisie.


NY governor's insane green power scheme likely to raise New Yorkers’ power costs

The green-energy movement has been very good for Wall Street, and not so good for consumers. Energy prices remain stubbornly high because environmentalists control vast swaths of government on both the federal and state levels mandating inefficient windmills, solar panels and other costly boondoggles.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street cash register keeps ringing. Money managers sell high-cost funds investing in environmental causes to unsuspecting buyers, and banks tap into businesses that receive green subsidies.

The latest example of Wall Street’s green cash machine at work: Blackstone’s investment in so-called “clean hydropower” that will bring this allegedly spotless electricity to New York City residents. The project is being sold as a clean and cost-efficient way to put a cap on our skyrocketing energy cost

The reality might be much different.

Gov. Hochul and the state Public Service Commission recently approved a plan that was 10 years in the making. A decade ago, Blackstone, a private-equity firm with $881 billion under management, made a hydro-transmission outfit known as Transmission Developers Inc., or TDI, one of its portfolio companies, with a grandiose vision of making it a player in the state’s utility market.

Now that’s playing the long game, and it gives you an indication of how the people at Blackstone smartly bet that the left’s obsession with everything green would be a huge business opportunity someday.

That day is now. TDI will soon be laying 338 miles of transmission cable lines from hydro stations in Canada through the floor of the Hudson River, all the way to New York City — to provide power to some 1 million homes when the project is completed in 2026.

It’s pretty complex stuff that is made even more daunting given the costs involved. Just a few months ago, the project was slated to run no higher than $4.5 billion. It’s now at $6.1 billion because of the immense amount of infrastructure and manpower necessary to carve cables through hundreds of miles of land.

But it’s happening. Financing terms, as Fox Business was first to report last week, will be announced later this month or next. They include Blackstone cobbling together bank loans to cover $5 billion in costs. Blackstone is responsible for another $1 billion, comprising the only equity stake in the transaction.

That’s a lot of money for a private-equity firm that has traditionally prospered by taking private companies in tech or hospitality, fixing their operations, and then selling them at a profit. But Blackstone thinks it’s well worth it. People there privately estimate they will easily double their investment in a couple of years.

One big reason Blackstone is so giddy is New York’s embrace of everything green — virtually guaranteeing it a huge payday. Recall former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shuttering of the Indian Point nuclear plant and his plans to slash fossil fuels in the state to be replaced by green substitutes that Hochul has fully embraced.

That is leaving a huge hole in the state’s power grid. TDI and its transmission line — dubbed the Champlain Hudson Power Express, or CHPE — will become one of the only games in town as city dwellers face surging electricity costs amid shrinking supply.

Yes, a sweet return for doing God’s work on the environment, and I don’t begrudge Blackstone for cashing in. A spokeswoman said “this project . . . will deliver consistent, reliable, clean power to New Yorkers.”

My beef is with New York state officials who have failed to level with consumers over why they want to embrace a Rube Goldberg-like approach to energy when simpler solutions exist (i.e., clean and increasingly safe nuclear and, yes, natural gas, which is cleaner than coal).

First: There’s no guarantee that transmission lines running under the Hudson will work as envisioned and reach the near 100% efficiency of Indian Point. Also, the project might not be that environmentally sound. Hydro power sounds clean since it comes from water flowing through dams way up in Canada. Still, some green groups are raising a stink because the construction might endanger fish and cause pollution.

State officials are also not telling New York consumers that this whole effort might do little to stop the spiraling cost of energy, people with direct knowledge of the project tell me. Project supporters say while reducing CO2 emissions, CHPE will lower rates by $17.3 billion over 25 years. Sounds like a lot until you put it through a little logic: The “reduction” will be more than offset by massive increases in energy costs because of the inefficient green push, and Hochul won’t dare increase the supply of energy through more efficient nuclear power or she will face the wrath of the Democratic party base. Ditto for more natural-gas-created electricity.

Blackstone as a green savior also comes with a significant caveat: Hydro-Quebec, the Canadian utility supplying the power to TDI, is allowed to throttle some of its power supply during the winter months. Canadian winters are notoriously harsh and when power is needed closer to home, less energy might flow to New York City. (Hydro-Quebec says it can only throttle “capacity,” which it calls an “insurance product,” and will deliver power all year.)

As we all know, winters in New York are also no bargain. Thus this deal is no bargain — unless you’re Blackstone.


UK: Net zero rules watered down in scramble to boost North Sea drilling

Jacob Rees-Mogg has significantly watered down net zero restrictions on North Sea oil and gas projects as ministers push for a drilling spree to boost Britain’s energy security.

In a victory for fossil fuel companies, a “checkpoint” that new developments must pass to get approval will no longer feature tests requiring regulators to take account of the carbon emissions they could generate.

The quiet shelving of the proposal comes as the Government prepares to open a new licensing round that could grant more than 100 permits for drilling in the North Sea.

Oil and gas companies said the decision would ensure “more control over our own economy” and make the UK “less dependent on other countries”.

But the revised checkpoint was branded a “sham” by green campaigners, who have called for a halt to all new oil and gas licences and threatened a barrage of legal action.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary, said the need for domestic energy production had become more urgent after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil and gas prices soaring.

Under Liz Truss, the Government has vowed to make the UK energy independent by 2040.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production – so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas."

The original “climate compatibility checkpoint” proposed last year included six tests that new developments would have to meet.

These would measure the oil and gas industry’s efforts to reduce the emissions created by extraction itself, the UK’s status as a net importer or exporter of energy, progress in moving to greener sources of energy and whether extracting fossil fuels from new developments was consistent with the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The fifth test would have specifically considered indirect carbon emissions – known as “scope 3” – created when companies further down in the supply chain burned the oil and gas that had been extracted.

And the sixth would have considered the “global production gap”, or whether the proposals for further drilling would prevent United Nations climate targets from being reached.

The Government said it had decided to scrap the fifth test because it “understands that North Sea operators do not control the final destination of crude oil that they produce, or how it is used once it arrives at its final destination”.

On the six test, it said: “The government accepts that producers globally will ultimately need to leave some oil and gas in the ground in order to meet global climate targets.

“However, in practice, global carbon emission reductions are far more likely to be attributable to reductions in global consumption of oil and gas rather than a proactive curtailment of global production, unilateral or otherwise.”


Climate models ‘a global bank risk’

Bank regulators could cause “major systemic risk to the global financial system” if they continue to use climate models with little understanding of the uncertainty inherent in model projections, some of Australia’s most senior climate scientists have said.

The warning, published in the August issue of the journal Environmental Research, comes as ­efforts to assess risks to the financial system associated with climate change are growing.

Lead author Andy Pitman, ­director of the ARC Centre of ­Excellence for Climate System Science, told The Weekend Australian: “Climate models are very valuable tools for many applications but they are not something I want used to decide investment strategies for my superannuation.”

The central issue is the difference between weather and climate and the inability of models to predict weather events at city scale.

Professor Pitman said attempts to use dynamical downscaling to get far higher resolution data was “excellent science but not science designed for the financial sector”.

Climate risk is a growing concern for financial market regulators and central banks.

In 2017 a group of central banks and financial supervisors formed the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), to work out how to future-proof the global financial system from climate change.

The network hypothetical scenarios provide a common reference point for understanding how climate change (physical risk) and climate policy and technology trends (transition risk) could evolve in different futures.

The network’s climate-risk methods are rapidly emerging as the de facto standard.

The Reserve Bank has said it will use network-derived climate scenarios in its internal analysis of climate-related risks.

According to the Environmental Research paper, the network’s efforts commonly combine the use of integrated ­assessment models to obtain changes in global mean temperature and then use coupled climate models to map those changes on to finer spatial scales.

But the UNSW scientists, warn that deep uncertainty exists in climate projections, at local scales, that cannot be ignored.

The paper said “if all central banks use a methodology that is systematically biased, this could itself lead to major systemic risk to the global financial system”.

The main problem is that climate models are not designed to predict the weather.

“While it is understood that ‘weather’ (the day-to-day variability) and ‘climate’ (the average of the day-to-day variability over several decades) are not interchangeable, and despite acute risks being weather-related, ‘weather and climate’ tend to be combined when discussing material risks to the financial sector,” the paper said.

“Unfortunately, physical climate models do not represent weather-scale dynamical responses or how weather changes the interactions between the thermodynamic and dynamical responses to global warming ­reliably. This is linked, in part, to the spatial resolution used by the models (approximately 100 × 100km pixels) which are too coarse to capture weather-scale processes.

“Broadly, this introduces a ­serious limitation in determining future climate risk for the financial sector.

“Material extremes will almost always be weather-scale phenomena which are least skilfully simulated by existing global climate models.”

The paper said the current NGFS scenarios do not represent the range of plausible climate outcomes at a country level and most banks, insurers and investors are using these scenarios without fully accounting for uncertainty.




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