As far as many politicians and voters are concerned, “going green” is the equivalent of “motherhood and apple pie.” Typically, the “transition to a green economy” is presented as a major step toward solving issues connected with the environment. For example, on May 1, 2019, the British Parliament declared a “climate change emergency.” According to the report in Nature (May 9, p. 165): “The declaration is not legally binding and there is no clear definition of what it means, but it is taken as a signal of Parliament’s intention to act.”
And what was the particular emergency or crisis that led to this declaration? There were some major demonstrations about climate change in that country in April. That may have been the emergency. In any case, there is no doubt that the U.K. politicians mean business. And the U.K. is not alone in this endeavor.
The next day following the declaration of an emergency, a British think tank on climate change issued a major statement. This group recommended that the U.K. should aim for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions – including international flights and marine shipping – by the year 2050. That should prompt a question: how exactly can society fuel jets, and ocean transport ships, without burning high-intensity fossil fuels? The think tank recommended that Britain should spend 1-2% of Gross Domestic Product (about $26-52 billion US per year) to achieve a result where emissions of carbon dioxide from industry and transportation and domestic heating and cooling are completely eliminated.
Interest and support for the “green transition” is a major concern of many governments worldwide. For example, an intergovernmental agency, International Renewable Energy Agency was founded in 2010. With headquarters in Abu Dhabi, it works closely with the United Nations to make recommendations on ways to achieve the green economy. As far as specific countries go, Germany seems particularly keen to support studies on the economic implications of adopting renewable energy on a worldwide basis. For example, the German Federal Foreign Office funds a Geopolitics of Energy Transformation project out of Berlin.
Climate change as a reason to abandon democracy?
Four experts concerned with the worldwide political and economic ramifications of a move towards green technology, and away from an economy based on fossil fuels, published an article on this issue on in the May 12 edition of Nature titled: “How the energy transition will reshape geopolitics.” They consider four scenarios with respect to energy use up to the year 2100. The one they favor, which they entitle the “Big Green Deal,” involves a wholesale abandonment of fossil fuels. The scenario they really don’t want to see is called “Dirty Nationalism” which really refers to the status quo.
Labels are powerful things. That’s why the activists who brought us the term “dirty oil” to refer to Alberta’s production of oil from oilsands, now bring us “dirty nationalism” to disparage any emphasis on national concerns (as opposed to an international agenda). These authors define the status quo as a situation when “Politicians want to protect local jobs and incumbent industries such as coal and manufacturing.” Note that they seem to consider that manufacturing is on the chopping block along with fossil fuels like coal.
They then continue to list what they don’t like today: “Elections bring populists to power in world’s largest democracies and nationalism grows. Nation-first policies put a premium on self-sufficiency, favoring domestic energy sources over imported ones.”
The problem is, of course, that voters obviously desire an economy which will allow them to make an adequate living. But, the experts declare: “abating carbon will create losers.” They take this as a given. There are few people, however, who want to vote themselves into a loser category. Therefore top-down totalitarian measures may be necessary, these people declare. For example “China has scaled up renewable energy through top-down rule and state planning.” Indeed Western support for democracies should be questioned, they insist.
Causing a crisis
So what kind of costs is society facing as, or if, they contemplate a transition to using renewable resources for energy production? For a start, economies that produce oil and gas could lose a total of $7 trillion US in the next twenty years. (p. 30). Some oil companies and some states could go bankrupt. Oil exporters might lose global influence whereas importers will be empowered. We see that already in regional conflict in Canada. None of this is at all appealing to voters in oil-exporting jurisdictions. There is no point crying to government that such measures will cost many jobs. That is all part of the plan!
The Yellow Vests movement in France is a case in point. In October 2018 large demonstrations took place to call attention to the high cost of fuels which was making life so difficult for ordinary working people. Wikipedia calls it a “populist grassroots revolutionary political movement for economic justice.”
Similarly, we can consider the controversy over a carbon tax in Canada. A headline in the June 14 Edmonton Journal read “Carbon Tax must double to meet targets.” Apparently parliamentary budget officer Yves Giroux calculates that for Canada to meet her Paris agreements (on climate change) by 2030, the carbon tax must increase to $102 per tonne compared to the present $20 per tonne and it would have to apply to all sectors of the economy. At present, large industries pay on only a fraction of their emissions. This is so that Canadian manufacturing can compete internationally. The objective of the tax, however, is to make it expensive to generate energy from fossil fuels, and that will impact anyone who drives, or wants to heat or cool their homes, or works in industries. Who are the desired losers? Of course, it is the ordinary citizens who will not be able to find jobs or pay for necessities. That is what the carbon tax is supposed to achieve. Platitudinous declarations that there will be other jobs, are not at all convincing.
Alternatively, however, the zero-carbon world is not appealing either from a geopolitical point of view. A zero-carbon world does not do away with the conflict over access to fossil fuels, it merely produces different conflicts. Thus the authors point out: “In a low-carbon world, the struggle will be how to finance the infrastructure and to control the technology needed to harness wind, solar and other renewable power sources, and how to secure access to the materials required for the manufacture of that technology.” (p. 31) Significantly the rare earth metals lithium and cobalt are very important for battery manufacture and only a few countries can supply these.
Even more concerning is the issue of land use under the new regime. The authors point out that “Competition over the use of land for energy production will have implications for food and water security.” (p. 30) We are already seeing some of this kind of conflict. Solar farms, for example, cover large tracts of land and yet yield quite low energy. There are no crops, no natural plant or animal communities under solar collectors. Wind farms produce their own problems including bird and bat deaths and noise. These sources of energy are so dilute and sporadic that huge tracts of land would be required. The climate modification (cooling) that natural communities provide, would be lost. This is not the way to a greener ecology!
The interesting thing is that governments are, presumably, aware of the costs of a green transition. Yet they have been so overwhelmed by the declarations of “the established science of climate change” that they press grimly onward with the green agenda, spending billions of dollars in the process. There are, however, a number of exceptionally qualified experts who deny that carbon emissions and climate are tightly linked. Let us not act like the people of the U.K. with their declaration of a “climate emergency.” Perhaps they are like the fabled Chicken Little who fooled everyone into believing that the sky was falling. It is to be hoped that more governments will display the courage needed to review the issue of climate change in a critical light. The money saved from the green agenda would be put to much better uses.