Environmental extremism starts self-destructing – maybe now we can start thinking about a realistic energy transition plan

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Maybe you’ve never had a similar experience, but I have one that recurs more often than I care to admit. Back in high school, teachers would make us read “literature” which was torture (as opposed to, say, a car magazine). How was Shakespeare or Hemingway ever going to improve my life?

Of course, a few years on, the teachers’ wisdom is apparent, and some of those stories turned out to be parables with lifelong value.

One that has stuck in my head forever and seems more relevant now than ever is James Thurber’s “The day the dam broke”.  Thurber gives a very funny account of one fine day in Ohio when a rumour started that a local dam had given way and that the town was about to be flooded. The story is well over half a century old and sort of quaint that way in terms of references to walking and automobiles and, gasp, no internet. So word of mouth predominated, and a whisper at one end of downtown became a roar at the other. It started with people walking away from the river, then jogging, then gaining momentum as escapees trotted past businesses and warned them to flee. Soon shopkeepers were abandoning their stores and joining the gentle jog to higher ground.

After a few minutes, the crowd loses its steam and slows to a walk, then gradually realizes that the whole reaction was unwarranted and, embarrassed, they quietly turn around and head back to whatever they were doing, with no one wanting to talk about it.

Why is this relevant today? Because we are now at the environmental equivalent of the crowd jogging in one direction at peak speed, and wondering why they are running. The marker of this apex must surely be the Green New Deal that is gaining traction in the US. I wrote about GND a few weeks ago and don’t want to make a habit of it, but its scope is of major significance.

The plan is so wildly bonkers that it may well mark the turning point in the current climate change wars. Climate change activists should be working double time to wipe everyone’s memories of GND, but they aren’t, and that means the beginning of the end.

What makes that observation so obvious is the right-angle abandonment of any pretext of a sound plan to go “all green”. In the past decade, environmental activists have pushed hard for a full-on switch to renewables, but usually with an acknowledgement of the challenges. Even the mighty IPCC acknowledging the difficulty; for example, the organization has always factored in significant reliance on carbon capture and storage to meet its targets, and acknowledged that the changes it deemed necessary were “unprecedented in scale and scope”.

The GND says to hell with all that negativity, let’s do it all and do it now. And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that some people simply don’t want to bother working, and that’s cool, we’ll just throw them some money.

GND talks about retrofitting every building in America to make it more energy efficient, rendering air travel obsolete, completely going off fossil fuels (with no carbon capture allowed), and implementing the most generous social safety net the world has ever seen, all within less than two decades. They propose doing this when the US national debt clock is flirting with $22 trillion. The whole thing is an epic joke, and will cause the average person to step away from anything associated with it. Unfortunately, this will set back the cause of true environmentalism enormously.

A supreme irony is at play here also. The original FDR New Deal included work on a national highway system that became the US Interstate Highway system. This system of roadways did play an incredibly large role in opening up the country to travel and trade. It also ushered in the golden age of the automobile and a massive spike in oil consumption. That irony left aside, the Interstate highway system transformed US commerce and created thousands of businesses.

The GND, on the other hand, seeks to destroy the existing system, quickly, and replace it with a less efficient one. Construction jobs would be created, the benefits of which will be more than negated by handing money to those who don’t want to work (a population that one can reasonably presume will grow rather rapidly). The the cost to the country would be off the charts, as anyone who tries to build infrastructure these days knows all too well.

The rapid rise of the GND may well mark the tipping point where people realize they’ve been hypnotized and are acting like chickens. We needed to get to this stage before we can start thinking rationally about laying the groundwork for even thinking about transitioning energy systems.

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