Somewhere a couple of decades or so ago, the rich parts of the world embarked on a program of replacing energy from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) with energy from intermittent “renewables” (mainly wind and solar). In trendy academic, journalistic, and otherwise progressive circles, the idea took hold that this was the way to “save the planet.” This program was undertaken without any detailed engineering study of how or whether it might actually work, or how much it might cost to fully implement. In the trendy circles, there took hold a blind faith in the complete ability of the government, by dispensing taxpayer funds, to order up whatever innovation might be needed to move us forward to this energy utopia.
The latest UN-orchestrated effort to implement the renewable energy program, known as COP 26, has just broken up. To read the verbiage emanating from the affair, all is on track, if a bit slower than one might have hoped.
But I have long predicted that this program would come to an end when (absent some miraculous innovation that nobody has yet conceived) the usage of the renewables got to a sufficient level that their costs and unworkability could not be covered up any longer. Until very recently the pressure of elite groupthink has been able to maintain a united front of lip service to the cause. But consider a few developments from the past few weeks, just since the end of COP 26:
Japan tends to keep its head down in international affairs, and at COP 26 signed on to the happy talk group communiqués without raising any particular issues. But there is no getting around that Japan has the third largest economy in the world — after the U.S. and China, and larger than any European country — so its actions in energy policy are inherently significant. Also, Japan has relatively little energy production of its own, is heavily dependent on imports, has harsh winters, and has a growing Chinese military and economic threat right on its doorstep. Is Japan really going to trust its fate to intermittent wind and solar energy?
On December 1 Bloomberg reported: “Japan Is Backing Oil and Gas Even After COP26 Climate Talks.” It seems that this rather significant country may be seriously re-thinking the move away from fossil fuels. Excerpt:
Government officials have been quietly urging trading houses, refiners and utilities to slow down their move away from fossil fuels, and even encouraging new investments in oil-and-gas projects, according to people within the Japanese government and industry, who requested anonymity as the talks are private.
What is motivating Japan to break from the world groupthink? According to the Bloomberg piece, the main motivator is security of energy supply — which wind and solar obviously cannot provide:
The officials are concerned about the long-term supply of traditional fuels as the world doubles down on renewable energy, the people said. The import-dependent nation wants to avoid a potential shortage of fuel this winter, as well as during future cold spells, after a deficit last year sparked fears of nationwide blackouts. . . . Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry declined to comment directly on whether it is encouraging industries to boost investment in upstream energy supply, and instead pointed to a strategic energy plan approved by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s cabinet on October 22. That plan says “no compromise is acceptable to ensure energy security, and it is the obligation of a nation to continue securing necessary resources.”
(Emphasis added.). Well, if “no compromise is acceptable” on “energy security,” that pretty much rules out principal reliance on wind and solar for powering the Japanese economy, at least until some magical new inventions come along.
In the U.S., Republicans have only very gradually caught on to the idea that fossil fuel restrictions in the name of “climate” are becoming a political liability for the Democrats. Up to now, there have been some politicians willing to speak out in opposition to such restrictions, but little in the way of concrete steps taken in opposition. Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to move forward with initiatives at the SEC, Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to pressure banks and other financial institutions to reduce their participation in the fossil fuel industries.
So this is a big development: On November 22, a coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to large financial institutions threatening to end relationships, including the deposit of state and pension funds, with institutions that cut off financing for the coal, oil and natural gas industries. National Review reports in a November 22 piece headlined “Fifteen States Respond to ‘Woke Capitalism,’ Threaten to Cut Off Banks That Refuse to Service Coal, Oil Industries.” Excerpt:
A coalition of financial officers from 15 states sent a letter to the U.S. banking industry on Monday warning they plan to take “collective action” against banks that adopt corporate policies to cut off financing for the coal, oil, and natural gas industries. . . . The letter puts the financial institutions that have “adopted policies aimed at diminishing a large portion of our states’ revenue” on notice, saying the banks have “a major conflict of interest against holding, maintaining, or managing those funds.”
According to the NR piece, the state treasurers signing on to the letter include those from West Virginia, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Alabama, Texas and Kentucky. Recipients of the letter included JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs. Between the states’ own accounts and their pension funds, the amounts at issue would be well into the multiple hundreds of billions of dollars, if not approaching a trillion.
Meanwhile, over in Europe . . .
Another Bloomberg piece, this one from November 28, describes the sense of impending doom hanging over Europe with the combination of low natural gas supplies, price spikes, and complete inability to coax more production out of proliferating and essentially useless wind and solar generators. The headline is “Europe’s energy crisis is about to get worse as winter arrives.” Excerpt:
The situation is already so dire this early in the winter season because of a blistering rally in natural gas prices. Stores of the fuel, used to heat homes and to generate electricity, are lower than usual and are being depleted quickly. Analysts have warned that gas stores could drop to zero this winter if cold weather boosts demand. Rolling blackouts are a possibility, warned Jeremy Weir, chief executive officer of Trafigura Group, a Swiss commodity trading house on Nov. 16.
And then there’s this comment:
“If the weather gets cold in Europe there’s not going to be an easy supply solution, it’s going to need a demand solution,” said Adam Lewis, partner at trading house Hartree Partners LP.
I think that a “demand solution” means some combination of either blackouts or intentionally cutting people off and, I guess, leaving them to freeze. The “supply solution” mentioned by Lewis would be allowing fracking in the extensive shale formations underlying Western Europe. Such fracking is currently banned. Even if those bans were lifted today, it would be way too late for this winter.
Predicting the date when the Europeans will wake up to their ridiculous energy folly is a lot like predicting the date of the demise of the regimes in North Korea or Venezuela.