Gone with the wind

It was Dr Samuel Johnson who said that nothing more wonderfully concentrates a condemned man’s mind than the sight of the gallows.

Fortunately, we have now put that sort of barbarity behind us and modern fashion is to dispose of the great and the good by way of the ballot box.

I suppose that makes the modern equivalent of the scaffold the thought of standing on the stage on election night and hearing the returning officer announce that the voters have decided that, henceforth, your seat on the gravy train will be occupied by the well-padded bottom of someone other than yourself.

Politicians’ minds seem to have been concentrated by the Uxbridge by-election result a few months ago, when, on a night when 20,000 Conservative majorities were being obliterated elsewhere, Labour failed to overturn a puny 7,000 Tory advantage.

Pundits seem to agree that what was, effectively, a Labour loss was caused by voters’ dislike of the Mayor of London’s plans to include their area in the controversial ULEZ scheme, and the Tory party seems to have concluded that watering down other environmental policies such as net zero might also be a vote winner.

Strictly speaking, ULEZ and net zero are entirely different things – one being about air pollution, while the other concerns global warming – but what they seem to have in common is that extreme measures designed to achieve perfectly reasonable objectives (clean air/climate stability) tend lose their shine once it dawns on the ordinary man and woman in the street that the cost of all this virtue-signalling will involve a raid on their wallets.

As a result, the Tories have now rowed back from their promises to ban the sale of internal combustion engined cars and oil-fired boilers by 2030, while Sir Keir Starmer has administered the last rites to the promise that an incoming Labour government will spend £28 billion a year on the transformation to a green economy.

He is blaming unaffordability resulting from the the economic incompetence of the present government for that U-turn, but it is also possible that he has been reading some of the papers listed at the bottom of this article and come to the conclusion that renewable energy is the road to ruin.

My prediction for 2024 is that peak net zero is behind us and all that remains is for politicians of various hues to find the words to extricate themselves from their earlier overblown promises.

And, though you won’t have read about it in the local papers (hard sums are not their preferred territory) something similar has been going on in Pembrokeshire County Council.

Back in 2019, inspired by a notice of motion submitted during a bout of virtue-signalling by Cllr Joshua Beynon, PCC declared a climate emergency and committed itself to net-zero carbon by 2030.

As I said at the time, this was likely to prove easier said than done – if for no other reason than that it would be ruinously expensive.

Unsurprisingly, the majority went along with this nonsense – politicians find it difficult to pass up the chance to do something as self-affirming as saving the planet, and, when I opposed it, I was labelled “a denier” – an allusion to those misguided people who deny the Holocaust ever happened – and had to suffer the indignity of being branded a ‘dinosaur’ by Cllr Beynon, himself.

I did manage to insert an amendment to the effect that any steps taken towards the implementation of this net zero fantasy should be accompanied by a cost-benefit analysis, though it didn’t escape my notice that even this perfectly reasonable proposal was opposed by the vast majority of the Cabinet.

Apparently unnoticed (at least unreported) by the local press, a cost-benefit analysis on the decarbonisation of the council’s housing stock came before the governance and audit committee in April last year. This was an interesting document because it gave some actual figures as to what is involved. For instance, the council was proposing to spend some £38,000 on a pilot scheme to decarbonise a single bungalow in Stackpole.

Multiply that near 40 grand by 5,000+ council properties and you’re looking at the thick end of £200 million, or enough to build some 800 council houses.

PCC is looking to the Welsh Government for help, but as it has other priorities (NHS waiting lists, rising care home costs, teachers’ pay increases, etc, etc) it is unlikely it will have any spare cash, especially if you consider there are 21 other Welsh local authorities in the same leaky boat and, as the mathematicians among you will already have worked out, 22 x £200m is, give or take a few bob, £4 billion.

And I also read in the same report that the cost of decarbonising PCC’s non-residential buildings is estimated at £47 million – another £1 billion on a Wales-wide basis.

As the American politician Everett Dirksen is said to have observed: “a billion here, a billion there, and before you know it you’re talking serious money” – so serious, indeed, that the council’s business risk management group had elevated the score for the probability of failure to meet the council’s housing decarbonisation goals to the highest level of 16, which, I understand, equates to near-certainty. It has recently been reduced to 12 by the simple expedient of postponing the date by which the transformation is to be made.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet and PCC’s webcast I was able to revisit the debate on the day we declared this climate emergency.

Easily the standout contribution in terms of planet-saving evangelism was that of Cllr Jon Harvey (at 3 hrs 39 mins).

Waxing lyrical, Cllr Harvey told the assembled throng:

“As an angry young man of 16 years of age, one of my heroines was the late Petra Kelly; one of the founders of the German Green Party.

As an angry 56-year-old now, it’s quite strange that one of my heroes is a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has opened the world’s eyes, certainly the European’s eyes, certainly the government’s eyes to the climate disasters that are potentially facing us. It has taken someone that young to cut through (and I won’t use the word I would normally use in my private life) cut through all the mess to get to the heart of the problem.

Now it could be argued: what can PCC do to actually improve the situation? Well, I think we can do a lot. The old argument is that we can’t do anything because the Chinese are burning fossil fuels, the Indians have a massive economic boost and they are not doing anything about it.

My approach has always been to think globally, but act locally.”

Interestingly, the futility of the UK acting alone was the subject of a speech last summer by none other than Tony Blair.

As Pembrokeshire makes up roughly one five-hundredth of the UK population this local climate emergency is even more futile than that.

However, there was plenty more in this vein before Cllr Harvey signed off with more soaring oratory:

“But to major in on the points before us: to declare a climate emergency – clearly there is a climate emergency so I think it will do Pembrokeshire a lot of good to be seen to be declaring a climate emergency as have a number of local authorities throughout the UK – as has the UK government.

It amazes me that Theresa May has actually condemned Greta Thunberg’s school strike saying it is disruptive and a waste of lesson time.

Well we’re not going to have any lesson time if we don’t have a planet.”

Council agreed to set up a Net Zero working group and soon after I sent all its members a link to an article by Prof Mike Hulme of Cambridge University – a mainstream climate warmist – who was cautioning against discussing this subject in terms of catastrophe and emergency.

I’m not sure if anyone bothered to read it, but, if they did, there is nothing to indicate that they ever allowed their strongly held opinions to be contaminated by Prof Hulme’s words of warning.

There are, of course, plenty of reputable scientists who agree with Prof Hulme and some who even go as far as to say the CO2 climate change scare has no scientific basis.

Take, for instance, this from the American scientist, Dr John Clauser:

“The popular narrative about climate change reflects a dangerous corruption of science that threatens the world’s economy and the well-being of billions of people. Misguided climate science has metastasized into massive shock-journalistic pseudoscience. In turn, the pseudoscience has become a scapegoat for a wide variety of other unrelated ills. It has been promoted and extended by similarly misguided business marketing agents, politicians, journalists, government agencies, and environmentalists. In my opinion, there is no real climate crisis. There is, however, a very real problem with providing a decent standard of living to the world’s large population and an associated energy crisis. The latter is being unnecessarily exacerbated by what, in my opinion, is incorrect climate science.”

Now, there are clearly differences of expert opinion in this area, but, when I tell you that Dr Clauser won the 2022 Nobel Prize for Physics, you might wonder whether we should regard the opinions of a half-educated Swedish schoolgirl as a more reliable guide on this extremely technical subject.

Under this green new deal, much of our future electricity needs will come from offshore wind which has been promoted as super-cheap. There have been several recent studies challenging this cheap wind power scenario. It is not clear whether wind power enthusiasts have been lying to us or whether they have simply been carried away by confirmation bias and wishful thinking. For anyone with the time to dig deeper, the following will reward closer study:

The myth of cheap renewables – Dr Kathryn Porter
The true cost of net zero – Prof Michael Kelly.
Net zero realism – Prof Dieter Helm
Wind power costs – Prof Gordon Hughes
Energy bills must rise to pay for net zero, says Siemens Energy boss – Joe Kaeser.

The difficulty is that almost all our leading politicians are heavily invested in the climate catastrophe narrative and it will be interesting to see how they manage to climb down from this particular tree without losing too much face.

By the way, I haven’t seen much of Labour’s leading climate warrior, Ed Miliband, recently. Hiding behind that stone, I wouldn’t be surprised.

As an example of how the wheels are coming off the net zero bandwagon see here.