Is Net Zero a giant step backwards?

With the nation having just laid to rest one 96 year old national treasure, I’m loathe to pick a fight with another.

But the subject matter is too important to allow such squeamishness.

Sir David Attenborough is a towering figure in British broadcasting. His career has been as long as that of Elizabeth the Great and, in its own niche, just as impressive. I was in short trousers when he launched BBC2 in 1964, already an icon for his work in bringing the natural world into our living rooms.

He’s been cuddling gorillas and swimming with dolphins right up to his latest series, Frozen Planet. He’s become so strongly identified with nature that he has seamlessly adopted the role as spokesman in chief for all things environmental. He is the national symbol for our collective green conscience. And, by an eerie process of osmosis, the embodiment of all the arguments for how mankind is destroying ‘his’ beloved natural world.

But what if many of those arguments are false? What if the ‘science’ behind some of the drastic measures being proposed is as reliable as the evidence for lockdowns and vaccines that has caused unquantifiable damage to so many people? We’ve all been seriously misled by blindly ‘following the science on Covid – the physical, mental and economic scars will take many years to heal. Surely we owe it to ourselves to fully evaluate the arguments this time around. As Pete Townshend might say – ‘We won’t be fooled again…’

The trigger for these thoughts is Fossil Future, the new book by Alex Epstein. He makes no claim to be a climate scientist – he’s a philosopher, which means his stock-in-trade is analysing and dismantling arguments to see if they stand up to scrutiny. He describes how our ‘Knowledge System’ and the experts appointed as its spokesmen, have for decades made a series of catastrophic claims that have proved to be completely wrong.
In the 1970s they warned us that a new Ice Age was coming. The New York Times reported in 1978 that there was ‘no end in sight to the 30 year cooling trend in the northern hemisphere’. Arguably a more prescient claim came from Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich who claimed that ‘by the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands inhabited by some 70 million hungry people’. He obviously predicted our lack of a coherent energy or agricultural policy…

The focus on reducing CO2 emissions ignores the enormous benefits that cheap, reliable energy has brought to mankind. In China and India it has enabled hundreds of millions to escape poverty. Back in 1980 our fossil fuel use was half of today’s level but 400% more people were living on less than $2 a day. There are still billions of people trapped in extreme poverty, mainly because of the absence of cheap, reliable energy. Their welfare does not seem to figure in the anti-fossil fuel argument that wants to force us to reduce our energy consumption by putting vague environmental benefits ahead of tangible human need.

Epstein also points out the inconsistency of the green army in denying a role for nuclear power and hydro-electric energy, both of which are clean, safe and reliable. These days reactors are built in a very different way to Chernobyl and have not caused any deaths or lethal radiation leaks since that disaster. Germany is now paying the price for Angela Merkel’s decision to close all their nuclear facilities while France is looking like a visionary in its long term promotion of what has become their most important energy source.

Once regarded as a crackpot idea, Net Zero has become the dominant policy narrative in the developed world. The impact of a sudden cessation in fossil fuel use will be catastrophic – the transition to cleaner energy requires increased use of reliable energy to make up for when the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine. If an idiot like me can see that, why can’t the United Nations or the WEF? Epstein concludes that Net Zero is an anti-human policy that should be resisted by we the people.

That resistance involves challenging the so-called experts and recognizing the enormous benefits that cheap, reliable energy has brought to our standard of living. And yet governments across Europe (including our own) are bribing farmers to produce less food or even retire from the profession. France, a powerhouse of farming in the 1960s, is now a net importer of food and has seen its number of farms fall by 21% in the last decade.

Holland, the world’s second biggest exporter of agricultural products, is taking the vendetta against farmers to a whole new level. Long serving PM Mark Rutte is a key lieutenant of Klaus Schwab and between them they have dreamt up an arbitrary goal of halving nitrogen emissions from the Netherlands. This means 11,200 farms will close completely and 17,600 will have to significantly reduce their livestock. Massive protests by farmers have resulted in shots being fired at them by the police and a total lack of coverage on the mainstream media. What is going on?
Where will the food come from to replace this lost capacity? What will be the specific benefits of the reduced emissions that offset the hunger caused by the loss of food and the increase in state benefits to redundant farmers? While you’re sitting in the cold and dark, try some of this insect pie – it’s delicious.

Is Net Zero simply virtue signaling on the grand scale? COP26 showed that China and India were unwilling to reduce their fossil fuel usage any time soon. Importing food from places like Brazil and Ukraine is to accept that it may have been grown in countries where protection of the environment and animal welfare are given less priority. After all, we seem comfortable with ignoring slave labour in Far Eastern sweatshops if it keeps Primark full of throwaway fashion.
How does keeping billions of people in poverty chime with the green conscience? The goal seems to be for us to lower our standard of living to match theirs rather than raising them up to more prosperity. If we ignore these developing countries they will come increasingly under China’s sphere of influence as its Belt & Road policy trades infrastructure investment for access to vital minerals. All powered by good old fossil fuels.

Epstein argues that human flourishing should be our key focus, and that we have the ingenuity to counter the worst side-effects of fossil fuel use. Before deciding which side of the argument you are on, I urge you to read this eye-opening book.

Of course, you could always do as the government says and trust the science.
Until next time.