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Reflections on Earth Day

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Today is Earth Day, a day on which we are taught to feel guilty about our allegedly destructive impact on Earth—above all from our mass-use of fossil fuels.

But note that Earth, before we started impacting it on a large scale through the use of fossil fuels, was long a terrible place for the typical human being to live—and once we started using fossil fuels, rapidly became a far, far better place for the typical human being to live.

As I explain in Chapter 4 of Fossil Future,

While there are no perfect metrics of the world’s livability from a human flourishing perspective, three excellent ones are average life expectancy, average income, and total population…

If today’s narrative about fossil fuels destroying our delicate, nurturing planet were true, then a chart of fossil fuel use, life expectancy, income, and population would be a sad story. As fossil fuel use went up, life expectancy would go down as fossil fuels depleted the Earth of nourishment and created myriad new dangers. Income would also go down as resources became scarce—and the scarcity would become worse and worse if population went up.

But when we look at an actual chart of these metrics of a livable world, we see that these metrics are going up in an unbelievable “hockey stick” that exactly correlates with fossil fuel use, including the CO2 emissions that are supposedly destroying our world…

One of the key phenomena this chart shows is that each of the metrics of livability—life expectancy, income, population—stagnated at a very low level for thousands of years, meaning Earth was a barely livable place from a human flourishing perspective. While these charts go back only two thousand years, we know from historical records that they were preceded by tens of thousands of years of even less flourishing and progress. Then, some two hundred years ago, everything started improving dramatically. Earth went from what we would consider an unlivable place for the average human being to an increasingly livable place, continuing through to today—with the world being what our ancestors would consider to be an unimaginably livable place.

Human flourishing Hockey Sticks

The incredible improvement in Earth’s livability should be the number one story we talk about when we talk about our relationship to our environment. It should be the subject of fascination, enthusiasm, and aspiration—the aspiration to continue our overall positive direction.

Instead, the incredible improvement in Earth’s livability is the subject of disinterest and evasion by our knowledge system, to the point that most people think that Earth today is a less livable place than it used to be…

we must eagerly seek to understand the causes of today’s unprecedented livability, especially its most fundamental causes.

While an incredibly strong direct correlation between CO2 emissions and the world’s livability doesn’t prove causation, such correlations are often reflections of causation. And in this case, the relationship is causal to a degree that almost no one appreciates: the ultra-cost-effective fossil fuel energy emitting the CO2 is literally driving the world’s unprecedented, increasing livability.

I want to distinguish my view from the position that fossil fuel energy is incidental to or even merely important to the unprecedented and growing livability of our world. When the improvement of our world is, all too rarely and incompletely, acknowledged, it is invariably ascribed to crucial factors that are treated as unrelated or barely-related to fossil fuel use, such as scientific discoveries, technological innovation, improved medical care, and improved sanitation. While scientific discoveries, technological innovations, improved medical care, and improved sanitation are indeed crucial contributors to the world’s livability, they are not unrelated or barely-related to fossil fuel use. In fact they have overwhelmingly depended on and will continue to depend on ultra-cost-effective energy production from fossil fuels or their equal.

I love today’s fossil-fuel-dominated Earth, because with the aid of billions of fossil-fueled machines today’s humans are able to create a world of unnatural abundance, safety, and opportunity.

While I am not participating in any Earth Day events this year, I want to share with you for the first time an Earth Day conversation I had last year with former Texas Governor and US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry at last year’s EarthX (the largest Earth Day event in the world). I hope you enjoy it.

What follows is the video and complete transcript of the event, edited only for clarity (including avoided repetition).

If you’re hungry for more Earth Day content, check out the other event I did with Rick Perry last year: a debate he moderated between me and climate scientist John Nielsen-Gammon.


Rick Perry:

Hi, Rick Perry, former Governor of the State of Texas at the Fair Park in Dallas, Texas, the side of the State Fair of Texas. Actually, on the 21st day of April of 2023, which is a big day for Texas. It’s the day we started our independence in the State of Texas, not our actual Independence Day, but the Battle of San Jacinto when Texas won its independence. And so, freedom’s really important to people in the State of Texas.

We’ve fought for it, we’ve been fighting for it ever since. Which brings me to the opportunity to have Alex Epstein with us today, the author of Fossil Future, one of the great books about fossil fuels and the great raging debate about whether or not fossil fuels are good, whether we ought to be using them or not. And anyway, I want to say thank you for being here and joining us at EarthX, the largest Earth Day event in the world. You think about it, it’s pretty exciting. So I’m glad you’re here.

Alex Epstein:

I thought it was very exciting that they invited somebody who’s wearing an I Love Fossil Fuels pin and is known for writing Fossil Future.

Rick Perry:

Yeah. Well, you’re really a great example of what I admire. You and I met… Gosh, I think it was six years ago in Cape Town at an energy conference.

Alex Epstein:

Exactly right.

Rick Perry:

In a place where, if they know what lack of energy, lack of access to fossil fuel can do to you, they know about it in South Africa, in the whole continent of Africa.

Alex Epstein:

Yeah, for sure.

Rick Perry:

So what I’d like for you to do here, Alex, is just talk a little bit about not only your book, about what the passion is. As a matter of fact, just a little bit of the background. There was a time when you might’ve been on the other side of this raging debate about the climate until you educated yourself and became very knowledgeable about truth. And that’s what we’re after today in the pursuit of freedom and truth.

Alex Epstein:

I had an interesting journey because in a sense, I’m the last person you would expect to be the world’s biggest champion of fossil fuels. I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, which is a liberal place right outside Washington DC. I went to one of the top math, science high schools in the country, and I went to Duke University. I learned zero positive about fossil fuels. The only thing I quote learned is that “fossil fuels are causing climate catastrophe.” And I think this is typical of the education—or miseducation—people get, which is that fossil fuels essentially have no benefits, and they only have side effects. And those side effects are catastrophic to the point where we should be in real fear of looming apocalypse.

And what really changed is I just randomly ended up studying the early history of the oil industry. And I learned that in 1859, right, when the oil industry was beginning—I’ve never told you this story actually—in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the countryside in that area was dark. Even though there were many technologies for illuminating your home, there were like half a dozen alternatives to oil, and yet nothing illuminated the countryside because nothing was cost-effective. Within five years of the beginning of the oil industry, the countryside was bright.

And it just occurred to me, “Wait, I could have been one of those people.” Imagine what it would be like to go from darkness to light. And it’s not just about having the technology that works, it’s about having the technology that’s cost-effective. And it occurred to me, “Well, maybe the reason we’re still using fossil fuels for 80% of our energy, maybe the reason it’s still growing is because they’re still the most cost-effective alternative for billions of people.”

And then I learned that there are 6 billion people who are kind of like those people in the countryside where they have very little energy by our standards. 6 billion people use an amount of energy we would consider unacceptable. A third of the world is using wood and animal dung for their heating and cooking. 3 billion people are using less electricity than a typical American refrigerator.

So I just saw the world, it’s totally underpowered. And what are we doing? We’re focused on getting rid of our number one source of energy, instead of—how do we expand the availability of energy? And that’s part of the passion is: I understand what energy has done for me and I would like that opportunity for the rest of the world, and I would not like it to be taken away from me.

Rick Perry:

Yeah. So it’s really interesting that you bring us to this point. And you talk about the benefits of fossil fuels. Seems like every time we turn on the TV or we see a newspaper article, or we see some rally somewhere, all they want to talk about is the evils of fossil fuel. Here’s the negative side of fossil fuels. And they never talk about the positive side of fossil fuel and how it’s allowed the people of the planet to flourish when they’ve had access to it.

Alex Epstein:

And it’s really a crazy thing because I’ve said this a million times. Do you agree that whenever you’re evaluating a product or technology, you should carefully weigh the benefits and side effects? Do you agree with that? Of course you do.

Rick Perry:

Of course.

Alex Epstein:

Nobody has ever disagreed, ever. I’ve asked this question countless times, nobody has ever disagreed. So you think, “Okay, I’m taking a prescription drug. I carefully weigh the benefits and side effects.” And yet almost nobody does it with fossil fuels at the highest level.

I mentioned in my book that Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate activists, he’s a climate scientist. He has a whole book on fossil fuels and climate, and he only talks about, for example, agricultural negatives—which, that’s fine to look into that, but he never once mentions diesel fuel for agriculture or natural gas for fertilizer, even though those make it possible to feed 8 billion people.

If we’re totally ignoring the benefits of something, we’re going to make terrible decisions. But it’s even worse than that because the main concern about fossil fuels has to deal with climate and making climate more dangerous. But one of the key benefits of fossil fuels is it allows us to neutralize climate danger. This is why climate disaster deaths are at all-time lows. We can irrigate to alleviate drought. We can heat when it’s cold. We can cool when it’s hot.

So fossil fuels, unlike a prescription drug, they can cure their own side effects. So imagine you’ve got a life-saving prescription drug. It can cure its own side effects with its benefits—but you ignore its benefits. That’s how we can be trying to get rid of the thing that’s saving the world and that billions more people need. I’m very emphatic about it cause it’s so clear and it’s so important.

Rick Perry:

Yeah, that’s it. Matter of fact, I got a copy of Fossil Future right here that you wrote, and that’s the most important—from my perspective—the most important message that comes out of this book is not only to help people understand the positive aspects of fossil fuels historically and going forward in the future, but it talks about the flourishing of mankind, if you care about humankind.

Alex Epstein:

And I think it might seem like, “Why are you bringing that up? Doesn’t everyone care about the flourishing of humankind?” And I think most people when pressed, if you say yes or no, they’ll say, “Yeah.” They’re not going to say, “I don’t care about it at all.” But here’s what happens: when they’re thinking about the Earth, when they’re thinking about the planet, for example, on Earth Day, they’re not actually focused on the flourishing of mankind because we’ve been taught that our number one goal with respect to the Earth should be to not impact it, to minimize or eliminate our impact.

And yet—this is what I learned when I was 18, this changed my life. I didn’t know anything about energy, I only learned that later, but this changed my life—I realized, “Wait a second. The modern environmental movement, its core goal is to eliminate human impact on Earth and humans survive and flourish by impacting Earth.”

So our goal with respect to Earth is an anti-human goal. And that’s why the key message you mentioned, the number one aspect of my book is that it looks at the Earth from a human flourishing perspective, and it says it’s good for us to build buildings. It’s good for us to build roads. It’s also good to enjoy beautiful nature. But guess what? You need a lot of energy and a lot of roads to do that. It’s good to have clean air and clean water, but it’s because it’s good for humans.

And so I look at the Earth and everything in it from a human flourishing perspective, and that really is radical, unfortunately.

Rick Perry:

I look at it from a—I’m a Christian—a biblical standpoint, and in Genesis, it clearly says that man is supposed to subdue the environment, but do it in a righteous way. And so clearly in our biblical teachings, it says that we’re supposed to use this environment for the flourishing of mankind, if you will. Be wise about it, do it in a righteous way, which pretty much is what you’re saying.

Alex Epstein:

Yeah. But I’m not coming from that background at all.

Rick Perry:

I understand that. I know that.

Alex Epstein:

But it is notable, I think, because it’s true I think in this case that the kind of Judeo-Christian religion with respect to this thing is unfortunately much more rational than the so-called scientific view because unfortunately, the quote, “scientific view” is actually an anti-human primitive religion cause it’s really a belief that the Earth without us is this, I sometimes call it, the “perfect planet premise.”

So, the unimpacted planet is this perfect thing. So it’s stable. It doesn’t change too much. It’s sufficient. It gives us enough—unless we’re too greedy—and it’s safe. And this is not at all true. We live on a very imperfect planet if you’re judging it from a human perspective; that’s why life was terrible for most people. So rationally, if you are just a human being who wants to live and you want your fellow human beings to live, you should be for looking at Earth from a human flourishing perspective, and you should embrace intelligently impacting Earth, and I argue fossil fuels is a big part of that.

Rick Perry:

Yeah. So you bring up a really interesting point about, what would the world be like today if you didn’t have human innovation, if you didn’t have human impact? And so, talk a little bit about the data that’s out there on climate-related deaths, climate-related injuries that occur historically. And my instinct is, the world’s a lot safer place today because of the fossil fuel engines that we have.

Alex Epstein:

Yeah I mean, it’s true of every metric of human life. So one of my favorite statistics that I use in Fossil Future is what I call the human-flourishing hockey sticks. Cause you see, life was just bad for thousands of years. So you have, for example, life expectancy is around 30, and then suddenly 200 years ago, for some reason, it starts going up like a hockey stick. And then you have income, which is how much resource an average person has access to. And it’s like this. And then population is like this cause everyone was dying so much before.

And a big part of it, not all of it, but a big part of it was climate. Climate is naturally deficient, as in it doesn’t always give us what we need, say in terms of rainfall. This is why drought was historically such a killer and people prayed to weather gods. It’s not actually a perfect planet at all.

And the climate is incredibly dangerous. It’s just constantly ravaging us and terrorizing us. So when people say, “Oh, the climate, save the climate.” You don’t want to save the climate. You want to master the climate, and fossil fuels have been essential to mastering the climate. Your instinct is right.

Just think about drought: so drought used to be a killer. You can look back in the ‘20s and ‘30s and see headlines of “2 million Chinese die from famine after drought.”

Rick Perry:

Well, think about the Dust Bowl and right here in the central part of the United States back in the ‘30s.

Alex Epstein:

Yeah, just think about what it means. 2 million in the past is, that’s like 8 million today adjusted for population. Drought related deaths are down 99% plus.

Rick Perry:

Wow.

Alex Epstein:

So that means you have a one in 100 chance of dying from drought. Why is that? Well, think about: we have modern irrigation. So, even when you have a drought, you can irrigate. So it’s as if you didn’t have a drought. We essentially have zero drought related deaths in the United States now.

You think about crop transport. So this happens a lot, particularly in Africa where they still, they’re not fully industrialized unfortunately. But now if they have a really bad harvest, including due to drought, we can use machines powered by oil to transport them crops. And of course, we grew the crops using oil and then natural gas for fertilizer.

So the climate and the Earth is so much more livable from a human flourishing perspective. That’s why I say the whole thing is looking at the world from a human flourishing perspective. You just feel like, “Oh my God,” to use maybe a biblical expression, like, “The scales come off.” You can see what’s true.

Rick Perry:

Yeah. So one of the things that I’d like to transition to here is to talk about: why is this such a conflictual issue? Why has there become people choosing sides over here—if you’re a climate denier, you’re a Holocaust denier, you’re put in the same camp. And why has this become such an issue that has caused such great division and angst? Can’t we be more in pursuit of the truth?

I use the IPCC, for instance, and I think their data and what their data says… And we look back on it historically, and they’ve missed the mark on this pretty substantially from time to time. But you’re read on: why do we find ourselves at this rather conflicting moment in history dealing with the climate and why this disdain for fossil fuels?

Alex Epstein:

I think part of it is, there’s a legitimacy in that it’s a high stakes issue. Now, I think the main way it’s viewed as a high stakes issue is not the way in which it’s actually high stakes. The way in which it’s actually high stakes is, “Does the world have cost-effective energy and thus do humans have the opportunity to flourish?” That, for me, is the high stakes issue because that’s life or death. That’s having an opportunity-filled life versus no opportunity.

You mentioned when we met in Africa, you just see that all over the place, making the right or wrong decisions is going to affect the fate of hundreds of millions of people for sure. Do they have the ability to have anything resembling a life like ours or not?

So now the other way thinks of it as high stakes in terms of they think we’re destroying the planet. You remember when AOC said that thing about “Scientists are telling us we have 12 years left, and you’re talking about the cost.” So for me, the cost of energy is actually, that’s the thing that matters. For her though, they have this view of the perfect planet, and I think this is, our educational system has taught people that we live on a perfect planet and then we’re parasite polluters who just ruin the planet.

And so they’re always expecting a new apocalypse. That’s why we’re supposed to run out of resources—we have more resources than ever. We were supposed to pollute the planet into oblivion—most of the planet is cleaner than ever. We were supposed to have catastrophic global cooling, catastrophic global warming—fewer climate-related disaster deaths than ever.

But they have this false view of the planet and of human beings and so they always expect apocalypse and then they feel like, “Hey, Rick Perry, Alex Epstein, you are leading to the apocalypse because you’re allowing us to use evil fossil fuels when the planet is going to be destroyed.”

It has a very religious narrative. It’s actually a Hell kind of narrative. And what I’m trying to get people to do is to think of it in a scientific way where you weigh pros and cons instead of treating it as though it’s an infinite con and the Climate God is going to punish us. That’s how we view it now.

Whenever you view there’s an infinite risk, it creates infinite fear and then infinite hostility toward anyone who seems to get in the way of your agenda.

Rick Perry:

Yeah. So again, I want to remind people, Alex’s book here, Fossil Future. It is truly, I think, full of truth.

Alex Epstein:

Thank you.

Rick Perry:

And as I said earlier, as we started this in the great State of Texas, which is where we are at Earth Day, as we’ve always been in the pursuit of freedom and truth. And, Alex, I think your book does that.

Alex Epstein:

Thank you.

Rick Perry:

So thank you for participating and being here with us today. God bless You.

Alex Epstein:

Thank you. I came here because of you for sure. You asked me to do something, I’ll do it, because you have helped me spread the word about this book better than anyone, and you certainly didn’t get paid to do it and I really appreciate that.

Rick Perry:

It’s all about the truth.

Alex Epstein:

Thank you. For me too.

Rick Perry:

Alex Epstein. And so anyway, here we are finishing up at Earth Day, a great beautiful day in downtown Dallas, Texas at the State Fair facilities here at Fair Park in Texas. And God bless you. And may God continue to bless the great State of Texas.

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Energy

Halfway Between Kyoto and 2050: Zero Carbon Is a Highly Unlikely Outcome

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From the Fraser Institute

By Vaclav Smil

The global goal to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050 is impractical and unrealistic, finds a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

“The plan to eliminate fossil fuels and achieve a net-zero economy faces formidable economic, political and practical challenges,” said Vaclav Smil, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and author of Halfway Between Kyoto and 2050: Zero Carbon Is a Highly Unlikely Outcome.

Canada is now also committed to this goal. In 2021, the federal government passed legislation mandating that the country will achieve “net-zero” emissions—that is, will either emit no greenhouse gas emissions or offset its emissions through other activities (e.g. tree planting)—by 2050.

Yet, despite international agreements and significant spending and regulations by governments worldwide, global dependence on fossil fuels has steadily increased over the past three decades. By 2023, global fossil fuel consumption was 55 per cent higher than in 1997 (when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted). And the share of fossil fuels in global energy consumption has only slightly decreased, dropping from 86 per cent in 1997 to 82 per cent in 2022 (the latest year of complete production data).

Widespread adoption of electric vehicles—also a key component of Ottawa’s net-zero plan—by 2040 will require more than 40 times more lithium and up to 25 times more cobalt, nickel and graphite worldwide (compared to 2020 levels). There are serious questions about the ability to achieve such increases in mineral and metal production.

Although the eventual cost of global decarbonization cannot be reliably quantified, achieving zero carbon by 2050 would require spending substantially higher than for any previous long-term peacetime commitments. Moreover, high-income countries (including Canada) are also expected to finance new energy infrastructure in low-income economies, further raising their decarbonization burdens.

Finally, achieving net-zero requires extensive and sustained global cooperation among countries—including China and India—that have varied levels of commitment to decarbonization.

“Policymakers must face reality—while ending our reliance on fossil fuels may be a desirable long-term goal, it cannot be accomplished quickly or inexpensively,” said Elmira Aliakbari, director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute.

Summary

  • This essay evaluates past carbon emission reduction and the feasibility of eliminating fossil fuels to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.
  • Despite international agreements, government spending and regulations, and technological advancements, global fossil fuel consumption surged by 55 percent between 1997 and 2023. And the share of fossil fuels in global energy consumption has only decreased from nearly 86 percent in 1997 to approximately 82 percent in 2022.
  • The first global energy transition, from traditional biomass fuels such as wood and charcoal to fossil fuels, started more than two centuries ago and unfolded gradually. That transition remains incomplete, as billions of people still rely on traditional biomass energies for cooking and heating.
  • The scale of today’s energy transition requires approximately 700 exajoules of new non-carbon energies by 2050, which needs about 38,000 projects the size of BC’s Site C or 39,000 equivalents of Muskrat Falls.
  • Converting energy-intensive processes (e.g., iron smelting, cement, and plastics) to non-fossil alternatives requires solutions not yet available for largescale use.
  • The energy transition imposes unprecedented demands for minerals including copper and lithium, which require substantial time to locate and develop mines.
  • To achieve net-zero carbon, affluent countries will incur costs of at least 20 percent of their annual GDP.
  • While global cooperation is essential to achieve decarbonization by 2050, major emitters such as the United States, China, and Russia have conflicting interests.
  • To eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, governments face unprecedented technical, economic and political challenges, making rapid and inexpensive transition impossible.
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Energy

Reports of the Impending Death of Petroleum Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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From EnergyNow.ca

By Jim Warren

There is a good chance climate activists smugly celebrating the collapse of conventional energy production within a generation are wildly mistaken. It is just as plausible that the time between today and ‘sunset’ for petroleum will run several decades beyond ‘net zero day’ in 2050. Actually, both predictions are suspect. History has shown people are rarely able to foresee conditions three or more decades into the future with any great precision.

Yet it seems sections of the investment community and the legacy news media assume our geopolitical future will be governed by the race to achieve net zero. They see the green transition as inevitable as death and taxes and presume oil will be sidelined accordingly.

A CBC news item that aired on March 16 boldly led with the prediction that the recently completed Trans Mountain pipeline is “likely the last new oil export pipeline the country will ever need.” The reporter was clearly caught up in a chicken and egg conundrum. He mused that due to declining production over the next decade we wouldn’t need any new pipelines. Here’s a thought, if increases in production do indeed taper off it will likely be because we can’t get enough pipelines built. Of course some CBC reporters and their fellow travellers in the climate alarmist camp never let logic get in the way of writing jubilant obituaries for the fossil fuel industries. One of the problems for conventional energy producers is that lots of people, including potential investors, have been drinking the same Kool-Aid as the media.

If the climate alarmists really have won the day, the window of opportunity is closing or has already closed on significant oil sands plant expansions, new pipelines to tidewater and any future boom in conventional oil production. After all, who wants to invest in infrastructure projects that will take a decade or more to be approved, could later be cancelled, or taxed into insolvency well before the end of their productive life spans?

No matter how long the window for viable investments remains open, one thing is clear—the Justin Trudeau government has already shortened it by a decade or more. During the eight year oil price depression that began in late 2014, new pipelines to tidewater were the one glimmer of hope for an improvement in the prices received by Canadian exporters. With more than 90,000 jobs lost in oil and gas production, manufacturing and construction by 2017, there were a lot of unemployed people in the producing provinces looking for a break. Northern Gateway, Energy East and Trans Mountain would of course allow Canadian producers to avoid the steep discounts they were subject to in the US for a significant proportion of their exports. The Trudeau Liberals cancelled any hope for that modestly brighter future.

Trans Mountain was the exception. It was the consolation prize to make up for the cancellations of Northern Gateway, Energy East and the Keystone XL. And yes, amazingly, the federal government finally got it built. It was touch and go. We were always just one bird nest away from another lengthy delay.

But wait, take heart. There is mounting evidence to suggest the hand wringing climate activists and cautious investors could have it all wrong. The goals of the green transition will probably take many more decades to achieve than they imagine.

In fact, recent events suggest the whole green transition project could actually be coming off the rails. Europe’s Green politicians are being clobbered at the polls while climate change skeptics from populist and conservative parties continue to attract voters and win elections. Green transition initiatives have been postponed and cancelled in several EU countries and the UK. The principal cause of the retreat is popular resistance to green transition initiatives that contribute to what is already an unacceptably high cost of living.

For instance, the Yellow Vests protests in France forced President Emmanuel Macron to forego a number of unpopular fuel tax measures including a carbon tax. But that wasn’t until after 11 people died and over 4,000 were injured as a result of the protests. The protests began in November 2018 and have continued sporadically to the present.

Protests by farmers in the Netherlands in 2019 beat back GHG reduction measures which would have restricted nitrogen fertilizer use and cut the national cow herd by one-half. Farmers refused to accept the assault on their incomes and plugged the country’s highways with their tractors. One of their demonstrations was reported to have caused 1000 km of traffic jams. In another protest they shut down Eindhoven airport for a day. Members of one of the more militant groups participating in the protests, the Farmers Defense Force, threatened civil war.

A new political party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (Dutch: BBB), arose out of the Dutch farm protests. In March of 2023, the BBB won the popular vote in Netherlands’ provincial elections (they are all held on the same day) and the majority of seats in each of the country’s 12 provinces. The victory is all the more significant because the provincial governments choose who sits in the national Senate which has the power to block legislation. Protests by farmers over similar green transition projects have been occurring in France, Belgium and Germany.

The German government’s ambitious heat pump mandate had to be postponed and rethought. The ineptitude of environmentally-friendly bureaucrats who came up with the scheme was evident in the fact they still hadn’t figured out which type of heat pumps would work best under different conditions. For example, the heat pumps’ inability to operate effectively in cold weather was one of the details planners had overlooked. Additionally, they neglected to train enough technicians in heat pump installation to actually put them in people’s homes. Green politicians and their allies in government were blamed for the technical debacle and high costs for consumers. As a result, populists and likeminded conservative candidates have been defeating the Greens and Social Democrats in regional elections.

The October 2023 state elections in economically and politically powerful Hesse and Bavaria provided two of the more significant (and startling) losses in support of Germany’s three party governing coalition that includes the social democrats and the Greens. What the coalition parties lost, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) and conservatives won. (The Greens claim the AfD are “climate change denialists.”)  The AfD is now the second largest party in terms of voter support in Hesse and the third largest in Bavaria. The online publication Energy Wire observed that the AfD platform featured concern for the flagging German economy, high energy prices, climate policy, the energy transition and immigration (in that order). More recently the Greens were the biggest losers in this May’s vote in the city state of Bremen. The Green’s 11.7% share of the vote was their poorest showing in 25 years.

Last year’s auction of UK government contracts for new offshore wind farms failed to receive a single bid. Under the auction scheme companies who purchased permits to build wind farms would receive a guaranteed premium price for the electricity they produced. The premium offered was too low to attract any interest. The Sunak government was simply not prepared to weather the consumer backlash that would accompany raising the guaranteed premium price high enough to attract bidders. Increasing the premium would require increasing electrical bills and/or taxes paid by British voters.

Melting glaciers are apparently not enough to convince some Europeans to open their wallets in support of achieving net zero. This applies even in the heart of the Alps in Switzerland. The 2020 Swiss referendum on a plan for achieving net zero GHG emissions by 2050 was soundly defeated. A significantly revised plan was later approved, but only after carbon taxes had been removed in favour of a carbon offset system and a number of other tax measures had been withdrawn. The Economist reported that one of the loudest lobby groups opposing the first referendum was the organization for Swiss resort and hotel owners. The carbon tax threatened to raise the cost of making artificial snow.

Europe’s Greens hoped to take a victory lap after recent increases in the number of solar power farms being built across Europe; especially in Germany. They have been woefully disappointed. Their promises about the thousands of new jobs that would be created by the transition to renewables proved empty and voters are not impressed. It turns out 95% of the solar systems installed in Europe are imported from Asia, mostly from China. With the exception of some local installation work, the lion’s share of the economic benefits and jobs go to Chinese firms.

No less embarrassing is the fact that one third of the essential components for Chinese solar systems are sourced from Xinjiang Province where manufacturers are known to be using forced labour. Members of the region’s Uyghur minority, who are being held prisoner in “reeducation camps,” provide the captive labour. Europe’s own solar panel producers are lobbying for relief in the form of trade restrictions on Chinese imports and/or EU subsidies. Solar system advocates in the west are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. To create the promised jobs will likely require stiff tariffs that will in turn increase the cost of solar energy and contribute to the public backlash over the already high cost of living.

Europe’s solar power dilemma echoes the French populist, Marine Le Pen’s, critique of global free trade: “Globalization is when slaves in China make things to sell to the unemployed in the west.” Le Pen came second in the last French presidential election. She has a shot at winning the next one which will be held three years from now. Le Pen is an EU skeptic who is unlikely to readily buy into its suite of exceedingly zealous GHG reduction targets and green transition policies; especially those relying heavily on foreign imports.

European auto makers have geared up their electric car production capabilities in anticipation of the EU ban on the manufacturing of new internal combustion passenger vehicles set for 2035. They are currently worried Chinese electric vehicle makers (EVs) are going to eat their lunch. The zippy little EVs made in China are far less expensive than European models. Chinese EV exports grew by 70% last year to just over $34 billion. As is the case with solar systems, the employment benefits associated with the transition to electric vehicles will be enjoyed in China not Europe. Apparently, European auto makers are frantically lobbying their governments to follow Joe Biden’s example and impose hefty tariffs on Chinese made EVs. If the car makers get their wish, jobs will be saved in Europe but the costs to European car buyers will be higher than they would be if they could buy Chinese autos. Europe’s EV problems involve the same sort of high costs versus jobs Catch 22 plaguing the EU’s solar system manufacturers. Whichever way things go, a lot of voters will be unhappy.

The growing list of failed and failing green transition initiatives is in part responsible for the surge in support for populist and conservative parties in Europe (Poland’s general election being a recent exception). And, most of Europe’s populist politicians are openly opposed to measures that increase taxes and the cost of living on behalf of combating climate change. The electoral success of the right-wing populist party, the Party for Freedom (Dutch: PVV) in the Netherlands’ November 2023 federal election is a case in point. The PVV is led by the infamous anti-immigration populist, Geert Wilders.

Wilders is not a climate change denier. He just doesn’t want to ruin the Dutch economy to combat it. Dutch environmentalists warn sea level rise caused by climate change warrants a significant reductions in GHG emissions; particularly in a country where 26% of the land is below sea level. Wilders’ solution is to just build the dikes higher.

The PVV won more seats than any other party in 2023 giving it the plurality but not a majority in the Dutch parliament. On May 16, four parties including the PVV and the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) finally cobbled together a coalition government. Geert Wilders will become prime minister sometime this June. Obviously, neither the PVV or the BBB are fans of the EU’s climate change mitigation policies.

Closer to home, should Donald Trump win this November’s U.S. presidential election, progress toward net zero will virtually cease in the US for at least the next four years. And, in Canada, if current federal polling numbers hold up until Trudeau finally calls an election, we can expect the cancellation of a number of Liberal environmental initiatives; presumably, the No More Pipelines Bill and the carbon tax in particular.

The foregoing examples of recent setbacks, along with stories told by the tea leaves, indicate the road toward a green transition will be pitted with potholes and subject to roadblocks. Achieving net zero by 2050 is far from a slam dunk. Oil production is just as likely to prove far more robust than the environmental movement imagines.

Then again, if science figures out how to contain fusion reactions for extended periods of time in the next decade or so, all bets are off. Nobody knows for certain what the future holds when it comes to geopolitical conditions and energy production thirty to fifty years from today. The economist, John Maynard Keynes, claimed the only consolation for those foolishly trying accurately to predict events over the long run, was that “In the long run we are all dead.”

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