Know your enemy : the “green” politician.
Any time you make an assessment of a situation or a group of people, you have to be aware that it will have a certain shelf life. Things change, situations evolve and new factors appear as time moves on. Of all the groups I’ve looked at in this series, that consideration applies to politicians the most.
It’s the pragmatic nature of politicians that they rarely make irrevocable commitments, because they are only too aware they’ll sometimes be obliged by changing circumstances to alter their position on things and it’s for that reason that the adjective slippery is so often applied to them. That may be a disagreeable fact to people but it’s simply the way Realpolitik has always worked. On the rare occasion that they make an unconditional promise on something that really matters and break it, electorates tend to be unforgiving.
For instance, as climate hysteria has died down, they’ve been slowly repositioning themselves away from their apparently unconditional support of all things green, much to the chagrin of environmentalists, who were operating under the rather innocent assumption that they’d always have them in their hip pocket. The most they get nowadays are vague verbal commitments, which as Sam Goldwyn observed are worth the paper they’re written on. As I said, things change.
The other groups I’ve covered are fairly static or are on a predictable course. The fanatics will remain fanatics to their dying day and the youthful foot soldiers are ephemerals, who’ll move on to the next fashionable craze or just simply grow out of it.
Cast your mind back five years or so, and it’s obvious why all the politicians jumped on the global warming bandwagon. Climate hysteria was at a peak and if you believed the mainstream media, all the people appeared to be clamouring for government action to prevent a global disaster. The politicians all fought each other to claim the distinction of being the one who could save the planet the most, because quite simply it got them votes and any other position would have lost them votes. No other reason.
For a few of them, the solutions being offered to avert the catastrophe, such as the all-powerful centralised state, redistribution of wealth, anti-capitalism and anti-globalisation, appealed to what can only be termed their basic neo-luddite Marxist tendencies. There was also a certain element of wag the dog, since a predominantly left-wing mainstream media subscribed to many of those same noble sentiments and to swim against a tide that strong would attract a lot of negative coverage. Politicians know better than to go against such a tide and anyway, they also know tides have a habit of turning.
They all became greener than green. The only exceptions were the leaders of the essentially non-democratic countries, who did nothing at all to combat the illusory threat of global warming, which they rightly perceived as a transient but perhaps profitable aberration of the decadent democracies.
That was the situation then, but five years down the line the economic and political landscape has changed radically. Globally, we’re dragging along the bottom of the second dip of a double-dip recession, the world economy is still in a fragile state, the oft-heralded recovery appears hesitant to appear on stage, unemployment is high and the environment is now at the absolute bottom of the electorate’s concerns. It’s the economy, stupid.
This not so good situation has been exaggerated in the western European countries whose governments made big investments to green their industrial infrastructure when times were good. The wonderful new green giant industries, which were going to be boldly striding forth across the twenty-first century, are now yellowing skeletons inside decaying suits of once shining armour, fallen to their knees and just about held together by subsidies, which are themselves being slashed daily.
Given the fingers-burned withdrawal from the green sector by all the big manufacturers and the almost daily announcements of bankruptcies in the smaller firms, the only green jobs produced by the trillions of tax dollars spent to create it, would appear to be a few benighted individuals on street corners selling apples to get by.
Spain, that exemplar of the new green Jerusalem on the mystic horizon we were all told we should aspire to, is now learning all about the downside of first mover advantage and currently has a 25 per cent unemployment rate, 50% of which is among the young. There goes a generation. Things are so bad that the government there have been reduced to provoking a Franco era dispute with the UK over Gibraltar to gain some popular support. The last time that happened was when Charles, honeymooning on the royal yacht Britannia with Diana, was due to make a stop there. The Queen’s ballsy reply to their diplomatic protest was “My son, my yacht, my Rock” and that was the end of that. Not being an admirer of monarchies, I can still see how they can be useful at times.
Fuel poverty is now pervasive across Europe because of the stealth taxes on utility bills. An estimated 800,000 households in Germany have had their power supplies disconnected, because they just couldn’t afford the doubling of their power bill.
Even worse, 200,000 of those households are unemployed. Christ knows the pure misery those families went through last winter. If you want to get some idea of what that feels like, just try not switching on a light in your house for 24 hours, and then imagine what it’d be like for weeks on end enduring a bitter winter without heating, light, phone, television and internet, while all the time searching frantically for a job.
In the UK, 20 per cent of households are classified as being in fuel poverty but no worries; the department of the environment is changing its definition of fuel poverty, so a million or so will overnight ascend out of the fuel or food dilemma. The reality is that unless energy policies are changed, the countries of western Europe are going to have to rely on Vladimir Putin’s largesse if they want to keep the lights on in the coming years. The last country to argue with him over their bill, got their supply cut off for a few weeks and soon settled to his complete satisfaction.
It’s no wonder the Russians call their gas the energy weapon, and from their viewpoint, shale gas extraction is a threat to its dominant position. It comes as no surprise that there are credible rumours of them quietly pumping a bit of small change into the anti-fracking movements scattered around Europe. Old habits die hard.
Noticeably absent from the walking wounded of Europe’s green economies is France. They may not be in great shape but they’re quite happy selling their nuclear generated electricity to les autre invalids at a handsome mark-up. Their bitter memory of betrayal in WWII means they don’t rely on foreigners for anything of national importance.
Ever practical, they’ve been generating 70% of their electricity since the 1950′s using nuclear power, so a biblical disaster like Germany’s Energiewende, or transition to alternative power, was never a serious proposition. They talked a fantastic green revolution but they never actually did anything substantial. Ah, les Francais, you do have to admire their Gallic panache. You can see why it became the mandated language of international diplomacy. Parlez beaucoup, faire rien – talk a lot; do nothing.
The 400 lb. vaguely gorilla-shaped cherry sitting on top of the whole European energy cluster fuck, is the tectonic shock wave rolling across the Atlantic from America’s shale gas revolution. Despite the blundering interventions of an anodyne president who appears frankly clueless on most major policy issues, the relatively tiny fraction extracted has already been enough to slash energy prices in America to one-third of their European equivalents.
Dirt cheap energy means low overheads, which means cheap start-up and running costs, which means a cheaper more competitive product, which means more sales, which means taking on more workers, which reduces unemployment. It’s a no brainer. In the complete absence of any effective recovery policies by the Obama administration and half billion dollar renewable disasters like Solyndra, it is actually the unexpected miracle of the shale gas revolution which will propel the American economy out of recession. The same applies to any country fortunate enough to have substantial shale deposits and the political will to develop them.
While American energy prices have gone downwards, European prices are envisioned to keep rising because of scheduled green tax increases and the environmental lobby trying to strangle the domestic equivalent of any shale gas revolution at birth. Anyhow, knowing they can’t compete, never mind survive, against low manufacturing overheads like that, a lot of manufacturing concerns in Europe are actively considering relocation to more business friendly locations like Butte Montana, while reassuring the management infrastructure they want to take with them about its world-famous sandy beaches. To be honest, while it’s actually true that there’s lots of sand there, the tide went out sometime in the late Mesozoic.
In Australia, a change of government away from a particularly climate obsessed Labor Party looks likely, despite the odd bum note being struck by the opposition leader. The election was forced by an internal putsch of the Gillard administration, which was trying to ram a carbon tax down Australia’s throat, despite having given an explicit election undertaking not to do any such thing – see the second paragraph in this piece about broken promises. Though there were other factors, the result of Gillard’s stubborn refusal to rethink deeply unpopular environmental policies has not gone unnoticed by politicians overseas, so the odious creature may have served some useful purpose after all.
In the meantime, whole forests around the world are being chopped down and transported across the oceans by carbon belching ships to provide wood pellets to virtuously burn in Europe’s old coal plants, who consequently get a subsidy for burning a material that actually produces 14% more carbon. Subsidised windmills on lavishly compensated properties, sell compulsory amounts of outrageously priced electricity to unsubsidised consumers who can by this stage barely afford the stuff. Windmills chop the heads off supposedly protected rare birds like eagles and suck the lungs out of bats through their ears. Solar panels in Spain magically produce electricity at night and organised crime has now become a major player on the EU’s carbon trading market.
You’d never get away with writing comedy like that. Seriously though, you really wouldn’t.
What isn’t a laugh though, is the looming energy crisis that the countries who’ve tried to switch over to renewables are heading into. They’re starting to realise that closing their nuclear plants and regulating coal-based generation out of existence has a high cost and it’s not just the consumer’s power bill. You simply can’t run a twenty-first century economy in those opportune moments when the wind blows or the sun happens to shine, and they’re all having that wake up call now. All across Europe, the phones are ringing.
That’s roughly where we are at the moment, so given that changed situation, what new policies are the politicians putting in place to address it? America, as already outlined, is definitely on a realistic path to recovery fuelled by shale gas and oil, conditional on the non-interference of its hapless president tinkering with the situation. Europe, in the shape of that driving industrial juggernaut Germany and to a lesser extent the UK, have finally looked down into the blackout of the renewables abyss and are starting to draw back towards fracking and nuclear.
Cheap energy is the obvious way out of the economic doldrums, a simple fact acknowledged by the Czech government, who’ve just voted to end all subsides for new renewable projects by 2014, with all of the current subsidies to be thoroughly reviewed, which is government speak for cut. If the path back to prosperity is so clear, why do so many politicians still persist in throwing any government funding at all into proven money pit initiatives like renewable energy?
At first glance, you might think it’s because they’re concerned that any such moves would be fiercely resisted by a powerful environmental lobby, but that isn’t really much of a consideration in the current political climate. That lobby no longer commands the popular following it formerly had and therefore as it cannot deliver many votes to a politician nor lose him many, is being increasingly ignored. I discussed this loss of influence in a previous article but its indirect effect is plain to see in the reduction of alarmist headlines, as well as the culling of jobs in environmental journalism. Concern about the environment is simply not on the ordinary voter’s agenda.
It’s not the environmental lobby which is holding them back, but a number of less visible factors.
The first is momentum. After a decade of enacting a mountain of rules and regulations, a whole Kafkaesque bureaucracy of obscene proportions has been created, staffed worldwide by tens of thousands of administrators, regulators and inspectors. It’s easy to expand government, but notoriously difficult to slim it down. You do really have to be ruthless. Gordon Brown, the former and rather accident prone UK Prime Minister, boldly announced on taking office that he would cut 70,000 government jobs; by the time he was voted out, there’d been a net increase of 50,000 in the few years the blunderer survived in office.
The second factor is all the vested interests or to restate that more bluntly, the money. There are so many greedy pigs sucking on that bloated tit of government subsidies and grants, it’s by now their lavish livelihood and by God they’ll not lose it without a hell of a fight. Compared to them, the military-industrial complex that Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his parting speech was minuscule.
When you stop to list them, they seem endless. The manufacturers of poisonous solar panels, bird choppers and light bulbs with a lethal mercury payload. Whole industries being kept alive by nothing more than state intervention. That’s just the start of the list though. You’ve got the people operating the bird choppers who get premium rates whether they produce electricity or not and the landowners paid handsomely every year to blight the landscape with them. Those were just a selection of the major pigs but the number of piglets is legion; IPCC, climate research, NASA, Greenpeace, WWF, pressure groups, conservation groups, protest groups and a myriad of others, all of whom are sucking hard on that tit for all they’re worth.
When that amount of money is at stake, there’s no doubt that political pressure will be applied by the beneficiaries to keep it flowing for as long as possible. All their industry bodies scream blue murder at every cut while cynically funding various green protest fronts to do nothing more than defend their income stream.
The third factor is they’re taking a necessary political gamble, because they are strapped for cash. We’re at the bottom of a recession and as always happens in that situation, a government’s income tax revenues fall and its spending on such things as unemployment relief rises. The three classic ways of addressing the resulting shortfall in net revenue, is by floating sovereign debt on international bond markets, cutting back on non-essential spending, which actually means zapping the poor because they never vote anyway, and lastly but by far the most unpopular with the eligible voters who actually do vote, increasing taxation.
Calling a tax green is a very good alternative to just announcing an increase in ordinary taxes, since it comes with its very own virtuous spin. They need the money, so they won’t be cancelling any green taxes anytime soon, but they will in the end. As the renewables industry goes into the dustbin of history, the shale revolution impacts and economies improve, they’ll reduce them, especially as elections approach. Anything which reduces power bills will by then be a very popular move with the ordinary voter, who can give a politician a lot more votes than the shrinking number of climate obsessed individuals.
If I had the requisite accounting skills and access to the numbers, I’d like to find out just exactly how much money raised by green taxes just gets channelled into government coffers, rather than green projects. In passing, if you do have the forensic accounting skills required to track the flow of green taxes, subsidies and grants in and out of the big green killing machine, you’d be filling a much-needed specialist niche in the skeptic blogosphere, and given the sheer amount of money washing around, definitely land some hefty scoops. You might even put a few thieves behind bars.
On a slightly more optimistic note, there are a couple of plus factors which will enable or hasten the required policy changes.
The first is the seemingly modest effect the broader skeptic community has had on the whole climate question. While it never had the resources available to the opposition to indulge in the sort of carpet bombing they’re prone to, what it was able to do was more in the way of a few intelligent precision guided munition strikes against the nerve centres that really mattered, and that has proven to be very effective. When you go after a house of cards, it’s the base you aim at. Hit that, and the whole edifice comes tumbling down.
Despite being barred from the public debate, it has against all odds managed to do a lot more than just simply cast a doubt on the science underpinning the current policies. It has slowly but surely stripped any credibility from the alarmist science and that’s exactly what will be used in the end by politicians to justify the necessary policy changes, which will eventually be forced on them by the second factor.
The second factor is the foreseeable disaster which will inevitably occur if current policies are not altered, and it’s one no politician can afford to ignore. Quite simply, the lights will start going out, businesses will have to get used to blackouts and uncompetitive overheads or relocate to protect their profits, which they will do, consequently raising unemployment.
Most importantly, as more people sit in darkened homes, transitioning from fuel self-regulation into fuel poverty, they’ll vote for anybody who can fix the situation and to hell with saving the planet.
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