A Liberal Projects onto Conservatives (again)

According to Adam Serwer of the Atlantic, Elon Musk Isn’t Buying Twitter to Defend Free Speech. Does Serwer have a close personal relationship with Musk? How does he know that Musk is lying about his motivation?

Conservatives on Twitter have greeted Elon Musk as a liberator. The mega-billionaire is in the process of purchasing the social-media platform and reorienting it toward what he calls “free speech.” The conservative columnist Ben Shapiro celebrated the news of the new free-speech era by insisting that Musk engage in politically motivated mass firings of Twitter workers based on their perceived political leanings.

While Shapiro’s framing of all those who will need to be fired to change Twitter’s culture as “woke progressives” does show his political biases, he is not wrong in saying there are people currently employed by Twitter who will impede the kinds of changes Musk has talked about, and will likely need to be shown the door.

For those who are not terminally online, a little explanation is in order. Compared to the big social media giants, Twitter is a relatively small but influential social network because it is used by many people who are relatively important to political discourse. Although the moderation policies of a private company don’t implicate traditional questions of free speech—that is, state restriction of speech—Twitter’s policies have played a prominent role in arguments about “free speech” online, that is, how platforms decide what they want to host.

One of the few redeeming things that Twitter is used for is journalism (though some may find even this debatable). There is a lot of useless opinion, political propaganda, and faux outrage. Overall, it has little to redeem it. Musk’s claim that Twitter is the modern day public square exaggerates it’s importance, in my view.

When people talk about free speech in this more colloquial context, what they mean is that certain entities may be so powerful that their coercive potential mimics or approaches that of the state. The problem is that when private actors are involved, there’s no clear line between one person’s free speech and another’s: A private platform can also decide not to host you if it wants, and that is also an exercise of speech. Right-wing demands for a political purge of Twitter employees indicate just how sincerely conservatives take this secondary understanding as a matter of principle rather than rhetoric.

Freedom of association (a business person’s right to associate with (or not) whoever they want to does not extend to services that are offered to the public. Companies do not have the right to exclude access to their products under the laws of many countries and states. Like laws preventing the state from curtailing individuals freedom of speech, these are legal frameworks. Freedom of speech is a principle and a fundamental human right. Confusing the laws that attempt to uphold them with rights themselves is either foolish or maliciously deceitful.

The fight over Twitter’s future is not really about free speech, but the political agenda the platform may end up serving. As Americans are more and more reliant on a shrinking number of wealthy individuals and companies for services, conservatives believe having a sympathetic billionaire acquire Twitter means one less large or influential corporation the Republican Party needs to strongarm into serving its purposes. Whatever Musk ends up doing, this possibility is what the right is actually celebrating. “Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored.

Elon Musk is not a conservative. Conservatives want a level playing field. You are a liar.

Conservatives maintain they have been subject to “censorship” by social-media companies for years, either by the imposition of terms of service they complain are unfairly punitive to the right or by bans imposed on particular users. There is ample evidence though, that social-media networks consistently exempt conservative outlets from their own rules to avoid political backlash, a fear seldom displayed when it comes to throttling left-wing content. And despite the right-wing perception of liberal bias on Twitter, an internal audit found that the site’s algorithms “amplify right-leaning political content more than left-leaning content.” The evidence suggests that for all their outrage, conservatives consistently receive preferential treatment from social-media platforms, but are so cavalier about disregarding the terms of service that sometimes they get banned anyway.

More lies. Conservatives are banned: Alex Jones, Milo Yianmopolous, Donald Trump. The Babylon Bee was banned over a joke. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter are allowed to advocate for violence against the police with impunity. Being neither a conservative, a liberal, or a progressive, I have no stake in the argument over which side Twitter favours, but it seems very clear to me that radical progressives are not banned the way conservative provocateurs are.

Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be surprising that many conservatives still complain that they are being censored even as these platforms’ algorithms continue to favor right-wing content. Indeed, the success of these complaints explains their persistence—if conservatives stopped complaining, the favorable treatment might cease. Musk is a sympathetic audience, even if that does not necessarily determine the direction Twitter will take under his ownership.

While it’s true that companies fear conservative backlash (hence Disney initially refusing to take a stand on the Florida parental rights in education bill), they clearly fear progressives more (e.g. Disney turning about and going all in against the bill after criticism). I’m glad Musk is a sympathetic audience. All companies should listen to their customers.

Liberal users on Twitter have greeted the news of Musk’s pending acquisition of the platform with everything from indifference to despair, while conservative reactions run the gamut from optimistic to worshipful, with some right-wing praise of Musk echoing the unending North Korean style flattery of the Trump years. For his part, Musk has said his priority is “freedom of speech,” a framing that some mainstream media outlets have credulously repeated.

What evidence is there that his statement is not credible? Until Musk takes the company private and starts making changes, I see nothing to contradict his stated goal.

Musk’s subsequent tweets, stating that Twitter should ban only “illegal” content and that “If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect,” suggest that he has not thought all that much about the issue. The state broadly banning certain forms of expression is a much greater infringement on free speech than the moderation policies on a private platform, which anyone can choose not to use.

Wrong. What he is saying is that if the state doesn’t make something illegal, Twitter should not ban it. He is not asking for the state to ban anything.

Every major right-wing Twitter alternative has imposed moderation policies while presenting itself as a “free speech” alternative to Twitter; most comically, posting disparaging comments about Trump originally violated the terms of service of Trump’s own app, Truth Social, which itself continues to ban “filthy” content, harassment, language that is “abusive or racist,” and “profanity.” The moderation of privately owned platforms is itself a form of protected speech; Musk’s ownership of Twitter simply means he will get to decide what those policies are.

True. Particularly disappointing was Gab’s banning of some content, including discussion of Marxism. However, Gab’s policies are much more open that Twitter’s.

And that’s precisely the point. Users on both the left and the right assume that during Musk’s tenure, Twitter’s policies will amplify conservative content and throttle left-leaning content. Both sides suspect that Twitter’s moderation policies regarding harassment will be altered to allow users to more frequently employ disparaging language about religious and ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. The extent of these changes depends on the balance between Musk’s financial concerns and his ideological ones.

If Musk had financial concerns, he wouldn’t be buying a money losing website. If he follows through with allowing pretty much any speech that doesn’t break the law, users will be free to say anything that doesn’t violate libel laws. Twitter users have always been able to block other users that they don’t want to deal with.

Right-wing alternatives to Twitter have failed to take off because conservatives want to make liberals miserable, not build a community in which there are no libs left to own. If conservatives successfully drive their targets off Twitter, or if the network becomes an unusable cesspool, it will become similarly worthless, both financially and politically. Social media platforms’ attempts to deal with harassment and disinformation have less to do with liberal political influence than making their platforms useful to advertisers.

Absolute nonsense. Conservatives don’t want to drive anyone off Twitter, but they do want to be free to criticize bullshit on Twitter. If Musk moves Twitter away from it’s dependence on advertizers, as he has suggested he will, he can tell advertizers who don’t like it to take a hike.

The fact that conservative concerns about Big Tech vanish the second a sympathetic billionaire buys a social-media platform, however, illustrates the shallowness of their complaints about the power of Silicon Valley. Conservatives are not registering their concern over the consolidation of corporate power so much as they are trying to ensure that consolidation serves their interests. Put simply, conservatives hope that Twitter will now become a more willing vehicle for right-wing propaganda.

Conservatives seem pretty wary to me. Why wouldn’t they want a site that gives them more of a voice?

Even if the platform tilts further in their direction, they will be motivated to continue to insist they are being censored—their criticisms likely exempting Musk himself in favor of attacking Twitter’s white-collar workers, whom conservatives paradoxically perceive as the “elite” while praising their billionaire bosses as populist heroes. The insincerity of right-wing populism is represented by the fact that such “populists” find it preferable to be ruled by ideologically sympathetic barons than share a democracy with people who might put their pronouns in their email signatures.

Conservatives are being censored. If Musk changes Twitter so that they are no longer being censored, why would they still insist that they were? Progressives are the ones who find it preferable to be ruled by ideologically sympathetic technology companies. Next, you’ll be saying white is black.

In Republican-controlled Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis boasts of punishing Disney for its opposition to recent legislation forcing LGBTQ teachers to remain in the closet on the job.

Only teachers of children 5 to 8 years old are affected, and they are merely required to tell parents if they intend to teach these young children about these topics. Whether you agree with this policy or not, it has been completely misrepresented by the media.

Last year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned of “serious consequences” if the party’s corporate benefactors continued to issue anodyne statements in opposition to GOP legislation aimed at disenfranchising Democratic constituencies. The Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates to unlimited corporate cash in American elections bears McConnell’s name, but apparently money qualifies as constitutionally protected speech only when that money can be relied upon to serve the Republican Party. As concerned as they might be about social-media moderation, conservatives are currently engaged, along with this kind of strong-arming, in the largest campaign of state censorship since the second Red Scare.

McConnell is a neo-Conservative scumbag. The Democrats are just as guilty of accepting massive donations from Pharmaceutical, Defence, and Agriculture industries as his Republicans. All government that is censorious is to be opposed.

Conservative propagandists have represented their demand that corporate America advance the interests of the Republican Party as a populist “break” with Big Business, when it is simply an ultimatum: Serve us, or suffer. The current ideological vanguard of the conservative movement isn’t breaking with business, but with democracy, seeking to keep labor weak, the state captive, and corporate power and religious institutions subservient to its demands. Money is speech, as long as you fund our interests. You have the right to vote, as long as you vote Republican. You have freedom of speech, as long as you say what the party would like you to say.

Everything you say here applies to both parties. Biden’s new Ministry of Truth is a perfect example of the state directly defying its own constitution.

Corporate consolidation has made the Republican Party’s turn to authoritarianism much easier. Liberals focusing on how Musk’s acquisition of Twitter might affect their experience on the platform should look at the bigger picture. Corporate America has filled the void in civil society left by the weakness of organized labor, leaving a tiny number of extremely wealthy people with outside influence. All the right-wing “populist” rhetoric in America is geared not toward weakening this influence but toward harnessing it.

Democratic mask and vaccine mandates, however well intentioned you might believe them to be, are authoritarian. You are projecting your own flaws onto those who you oppose.

Many media outlets have curiously described Musk as a “free-speech defender,” a term Musk enthusiasts have interpreted as a euphemism for someone with a high tolerance for bigotry against historically marginalized communities.

What? No they haven’t.

But Musk has been perfectly willing to countenance the punishment of those engaging in speech he opposes. Tesla, for example, was disciplined by the National Labor Relations Board for firing a worker who was attempting to organize a union. Similarly, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but his commitment to free speech falters when it comes to unionizing the warehouse workers who are essential to his business.

Musk is not Tesla. Tesla is a for profit business whose board is legally bound to act in the best interests of its shareholders. Similarly, Bezos is not Amazon. Given that the Washington Post is a newspaper, which is responsible for the content it produces, whereas Twitter is a carrier, and is protected from legal liability for statements made by its users, these are hardly comparable.

Business moguls tend to be big on “freedom of speech” in this more colloquial sense, when it comes to the kind of speech that doesn’t hurt their bottom line. When it comes to organizing their workforces, however, a form of speech that could act as a check against their power and influence, that tolerance for free speech melts away. Workers fearful of how their wealthy bosses intend to use that power should take that reality into consideration.

Some people actually have principles. Believing in free speech in the public commons while wanting to control speech in their private endeavours is not a contradiction. We will see if your cynicism is warranted in the case of Musk in due time.

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Review of “The King’s Man”

* D

The King’s Man is a prequel to the Kingsman movies, the first of which was good fun, and the sequel entertaining, but mediocre. Unfortunately, the prequel is terrible. It serves as an origin for the Kingsman organization, and is set in the era of the first World War, in the second decade of the twentieth century. The film fails as a compelling origin story, fails as a historical romance, and worst of all, fails to be fun.

In the first act Ralph “Voldemort” Fiennes, Lord Oxford, coddles his son Conrad while a mysterious Scotsman manipulates world figures to start the war and keep the Russians and the Americans out of it. The pace is glacial, but finally, Oxford and Conrad set of to Russia to stop the evil Rasputen (well played by an unrecognizable Rhys Ifans).

The second act has Conrad joining the army against Oxford’s wishes, retrieving intelligence from a British spy, and being killed by his own men when he gives them the name of the man who he swapped places with to enlist. After moping around for a while, Oxford sets out to foil the enemy’s plot to blackmail the US president. He, his servant Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and nanny Polly (Gemma Arterton) lay siege on their enemy’s mountain fortress, save the day, and, in the denouement, found the Kingsman organization.

The film spends far too much time on the dull relationship between Oxford and Conrad. I might have cared more had Harris Dickinson, who played Conrad, had a tenth of the charisma of Terence Edgerton, and not been killed before the final act. This left Oxford, who was a lame old man until Rasputin cured his limp at the end of the first act (how?) to be the action lead. Fiennes does an adequate job, but there is nothing like Colin Firth’s church scene to let him really shine.

Shola is a serviceable sidekick, but Polly in an insufferable mary sue. She is not only an amazing cook (fair enough), but also a brilliant cryptographer and an incredible marksman. Please. Another very annoying aspect of the film is its attempt to weave the royal families of Europe into one with the ridiculous claim that King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas were all cousins.

If you want to watch a Kingsman film, just rewatch the first one.

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Review of “The Eternals” (spoilers)

* D

Marvel’s third film of 2021, The Eternals, has just been released on Disney+. I went into it with low expectations, and it managed to fail spectacularly to meet them. This is certainly the worst Marvel film in the MCU, and I’d say it’s also worse than Fant4stic, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Blade 3.

The film is long and slow. After a quick introductory act where the concept of the Eternals is introduced, a massive second act spends what feels like hours jumping back and forth between present day and the distant past, introducing the interminable list of characters. None of them are interesting. Their leader (Selma Hyack), who has the power to regenerate, is found dead at the end of the first act. The remaining Eternals are bland, and their abilities are things we’ve seen before.

Gilgamesh and Thena (Angelina Jolie) are fighters. Thena is mildly interesting because she has memories of a previous life the others don’t have. Circe, the main protagonist, can transform inanimate things. Her sidekick Sprite can create illusions. Her love interest, Icarus, is Superman: he can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes. Other characters are a technology expert, a Flash clone, a mind controller like Professor X, and a Pyro clone.

The villains are the deviants, who are mostly mindless beasts. Their leader has the ability to absorb the powers of the Eternals he kills, like Siler in Heroes, but is a completely dull character, unlike Siler. This whole subplot is then thrown away as a mere accident, and the real villain is revealed. The final act ensues, and the world is saved in a big set-piece battle between the villain and the Eternals, which is muddled by the reappearance of the leader of the Deviants.

Nothing of interest happens in this film. The minor references to events and other characters in the MCU seem incidental, as if they were mandated to make the film an MCU movie. The tone is neither fun, like Guardians or Thor Ragnarok, nor exciting, like the best of the Avengers films or Doctor Strange. Instead, we get dull characters, turgid pacing, and a messy ending that left me hoping that the Eternals never return.

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Turning Climate Change into a Losing Battle

‘Climate journalist’ Amy Westervelt claims that telling people to ‘follow the science’ won’t save the planet, but they will fight for justice. She goes on to say that the climate emergency has clear themes with heroes and villains and that describing it this way is how to build a movement. While that may be true, it is also a great way to build your opposition.

The biggest success of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign to push doubt about climate science is that it forced the conversation about the climate crisis to centre on science.

Come again? Just like the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry was as quiet as a mouse. It wasn’t until people like Al Gore started spreading knowledge of global warming to the masses that oil companies began their propaganda campaign. Yes, they are very biased, presenting only what will support their own profits. Then again, the environmental movement are highly partisan as well.

It’s not that we didn’t need scientific research into climate change, or that we don’t need plenty more of it. Or even that we don’t need to do a better job of explaining basic science to people, across the board (hello, Covid). But at this moment, “believe science” is too high a bar for something that demands urgent action. Believing science requires understanding it in the first place.

“Believe science” is pure propaganda. Science is about understanding. It is not handed down on high from an ivory tower. The “believe science” crowd have a long history of hurting science, from germ theory to the heliocentric solar system. Even Einstein poo pooed quantum mechanics because he couldn’t believe that God would play dice with the universe, and turned out to be wrong.

In the US, the world’s second biggest carbon polluter, fewer than 40% of the population are college educated and in many states, schools in the public system don’t have climate science on the curriculum. So where should this belief – strong enough to push for large-scale social and behavioural change – be rooted exactly?

Elitist snobbery at its finest. The college educated do not have a monopoly on understanding science. In fact, most college educations do not include STEM. Most tradesmen (e.g. plumbers, electricians, mechanics) know more science than many college graduates. Social change must be rooted in the people, assuming one wants to avoid tyranny. This means that change must be in their interest.

People don’t need to know anything at all about climate science to know that a profound injustice has occurred here that needs to be righted. It’s not a scientific story, it’s a story of fairness: people with more power and money than you used information about climate change to shore up their own prospects and told you not to worry about it.

We all benefited (and continue to benefit) from the cheap energy provided by fossil fuels. There is nothing unjust about radically improving quality of life of nearly all of mankind. That the benefits were not evenly distributed is a symptom of reality. Life is not fair.

That story is backed up by not only the internal memos of various oil companies, and the discrepancies between those internal communications and what they were telling the public, but also by their patents. In 1973, Exxon secured a patent for an oil tanker that could easily navigate a melting Arctic. In 1974, Texaco was granted a patent for a mobile drilling platform in a melting Arctic. Chevron got a patent for its version of a melting-Arctic-ready drilling platform that same year. Shell was a bit behind; it got its melting-Arctic drilling platform design patented in 1983.

Why wouldn’t fossil fuel companies promote themselves and take advantage of the changes our consumption of their products were leading to?

When she was shown this evidence of oil companies’ preparations for a warming world, Lori French was shocked. French’s… family and several other crabbers had signed on to support a lawsuit by their trade association against the 30 largest oil companies in the world for their role in delaying action on climate. Not because of science, but because of fairness. They were shown various documents detailing how the fossil fuel industry had been preparing to not just weather climate impacts but continue to profit as the glaciers melted.

I hold governments responsible for managing the commons, including international waters via treaties, for the benefit of all. If companies are breaking laws, governments should be punishing them. Instead, governments are still subsidizing these industries.

Meanwhile, in the same decade during which scientists’ warnings about climate change have grown more dire, social science researchers have discovered that there is almost no correlation between public understanding of climate science and risk perception, and thus little to no relationship between grasping the science of climate change, believing the scientists’ warnings, and doing anything at all about it.

This makes sense. The average person doesn’t care about climate science; the average person who does doesn’t understand it; and those of those few that do, many have no interest in change, because they are not personally being affected by climate change. Science alone is not a powerful lever.

There is a relationship, though, between Americans’ awareness of inequality or injustice and their willingness to support social change. A Norwegian study surveying the impact of various climate stories found that those with heroes and villains had “a large persuasive impact” on readers. A study of students in six countries found that a justice framework spurred young people to act on the climate.

Making propaganda more effective will motivate people. But just as those who feel heroic are moved to act, those who are demonized will be motivated to resist. A movement not based on fact is easy to resist.

For more evidence that a righteous sense of indignation, rather than a scientific understanding of problems, drives social change, you need only look at history. The US entering the second world war (the war effort people most like to compare with what’s needed to address climate change)? Check. The civil rights, consumer protection, women’s rights, anti-war and gay rights movements? Check again. All driven by moral outrage at the power being wielded by the few over the many.

The American decision to enter WWII was enabled by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, not moral outrage against American elites. Consumer protection and anti-war movements have largely failed in America. The equal rights movements succeeded because they didn’t affect the elite’s ability to profit from their positions. Making climate change a moral issue will fail if the one’s who are demonized are the ones with power.

Climate crisis is not a scientific or technical problem, it is an issue of justice and political will. Acting on it calls into question not just our energy source, but our power structures, catalysing widespread social change. The only thing that’s ever really succeeded in doing that are justice movements – public outcries over blatant injustice and a demand for change. If progressives and climate activists want to have any hope of spurring the kind of movement necessary to shift political and economic interests away from fossil fuels, it’s time to put aside “believe science” and instead embrace a broad fight for justice.

Justice for who? For farmers, who rely on fossil fuels to make their livings? For construction workers, who rely on cement, steel, and heavy equipment? For those who must commute to work, and can’t afford to replace their gasoline powered vehicles? For those who live in cold climates, and rely on natural gas to cost effectively heat their homes? A “justice” movement that places unjust penalties on all these people and more is doomed to fail.

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A Deranged Communist’s Climate Solution

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams writes At last I have good news on the climate crisis: all of us really can do something about it. What does she prescribe?

People across the political spectrum broadly agree on the fundamentals and the urgency of the climate crisis, and yet we probably won’t do what we need to do because we’re just too useless. Society is too fractured for people to make altruistic choices.

While there may be broad agreement that human CO2 emissions are one of the causes of global warming, the urgency of the problem and what we need to do are far from agreed on.

Poverty is too endemic for many to be in a position to make changes.

This I agree with.

Financialisation has subverted democracy, so even if the demos was able to make a good, collective decision, it would be thwarted. Even if, by some miracle, the UK managed to overcome these obstacles to make good on its net-zero pledges, the same problems would play out on a global scale to prevent other nations from doing the same.

Pure democracies can be very evil via the Tyranny of the Majority. This is why systems like the American republic and Canadian confederation are not pure democracies. If the majority of Canadians (who live in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver) could directly control policy, Alberta would secede. If the majority of Americans (who live in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle) could directly control policy, Texas would secede. Direct democracy does not work for a large heterogeneous country. My government, which was elected by a minority, makes commitments that have dire consequences for the people, I hope that they fail to overcome the obstacles to meeting them.

The first two components of reaching net zero are basically in the hands of the government: cleaning up the energy supply, and becoming more efficient in the energy we use. Throughout the 2010s, we assumed that both the major parties were equally committed to tackling the climate emergency and merely differed on whether the state or the market should pay for it. This seemed like a reasonable assumption – the Conservatives in opposition, after all, were behind the Climate Change Act, an inspiringly strong piece of legislation – except for the fact that it was plainly not true.

The government can’t clean up the energy supply. They can try to use regulation to incentivize industry to change and for consumers to favour more energy efficiency. The incentives use to promote electric vehicles currently subsidize the rich in their purchase of new vehicles that, even with discounts paid for by all of us, are unaffordable to most.

Conservatives committed to arresting the climate crisis wouldn’t have talked about “green crap”. Nor would they have wasted five years on Brexit, or wanted to leave the EU in the first place.

A lot of the so called “green agenda” is crap that has nothing to do with the environment. Needing to support the globalist EU’s labyrinthine bureaucratic policies is likely to make government less able to influence the energy industry and consumers, so I would guess Brexit could be a huge benefit to a government wanting to take action.

The price of entry to the grownups’ conversation was to pretend that all politicians wanted broadly the same thing, by a different route. This was a peculiarly low point for common sense, and it squandered time, fostering a sense that even when those in power wanted to tackle the climate crisis, still nothing constructive could be achieved. Even as recently as September, when Rachel Reeves described at her party’s conference the state spending a Labour government’s green new deal would entail, it was still normal in climate policy circles for people to describe the parties as equally committed to constructive, large-scale change.

Politicians are mostly committed to their reelection to power. Tackling climate change is only a means to that end. As soon as people start realizing the damage that Labour’s green new deal will do to them, they will drop their support for it like a rock.

But it is no longer necessary to pretend that the Conservative government means well, keeps promises or has any long-term plan for tackling the climate crisis. Removing it from power has become more urgent than ever. Accepting these facts is now, paradoxically, less daunting than the effort of papering over reality.

Long term plans are useless. If large scale nuclear fusion were achieved, pretty much anything else the government is doing would become a waste of time and money. We would have cheap electricity to power homes, industry, and electric cars. With the cheap green hydrogen, which we could generate via electrolysis, we could replace oil and natural gas for heating, and power hydrogen fuel cells in long range electric vehicles. But if we don’t achieve fusion, we might be better to invest in more efficient heat exchangers, better battery technologies, kinetic energy storage, and safer nuclear fission. It’s important to be agile, and quickly adapt to changes in technology. This is were industry excels, and government fails.

The third plank towards net zero has always been behavioural – are people prepared to stop flying and eating meat, and change to bikes and electric cars? And even if you are personally committed to these things, what about those who don’t care, or can’t afford to make adjustments, and what about young people and their fast fashion, and didn’t Greta Thunberg once buy a salad wrapped in plastic? There is a tendency to respond to every climate aspiration with a darting list of the insufficiencies of humankind.

Videoconferencing has finally become common and inexpensive enough to help make business travel much less important than it was. Expecting people to stop eating meat when there is no cost effective alternative is foolish. I know plenty of people who stopped being vegetarian because it was too expensive. Bikes are useless for anyone who doesn’t live within a short distance of their place of work, which is most people who aren’t rich enough to afford to live in the city. Electric cars are not affordable. As long as being green requires being rich, it’s not going to be mainstream.

Yet the granular work done by the Climate Change Committee shows the lifestyle changes this crisis will ask of us are in fact pretty manageable. The most demanding will probably be the switch to battery-powered cars (60% of vehicles by 2035). Otherwise, the number of miles per driver will need to reduce by 4%; plane kilometres per person by 6%; meat and dairy consumption by 20%. Arguably, this is the time to start new conversations – is net zero, in this time frame, ambitious enough?

The mass transition to electric vehicles may happen, but it won’t until they are cost effective and charging infrastructure is ubiquitous. Reducing travel via telecommuting and videoconferencing seems feasible. Here is one area where government can help, by funding public rapid transit projects for those unable to telecommute. Meat and dairy will be consumed until there are cost effective substitutes. As Beyond Meat and other companies continue to ramp up, this may soon be a reality.

Can the disproportionate carbon usage of the affluent somehow be reflected in redistributive policy, so everyone has an allocation of plane miles and those who can’t afford to use theirs can sell them instead? Would it make sense to subsidise meat and dairy alternatives in the same way renewables were initially supported? Is it feasible to make a carbon budget, as a nation, that doesn’t take into account the footprint of your imports? (Not really.)

Who would enforce redistribution? Big government? No thanks. I would rather my taxes were not used to subsidize yet another product that only the wealthy can afford. I wouldn’t be against imposing tariffs based on the CO2 emissions required to produce imported goods. This might help convince India and China to start moving away from coal, on which they currently rely heavily.

What is now unarguable is that all this is within our grasp. Radicals and progressives may maintain the longterm goal of bringing down capitalism and re-evaluating what life is for, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing constructive that we can do in the short term. I’m not sure that I would make a different or more certain prediction of what life will look like in 30 years’ time. But the idea that the changes required are too radical or the people who need to make them too timid, I’ve completely put aside.

I’m arguing. Elimination of fossil fuels is not currently within our grasp. Currently, returning to net zero emissions would require a massive genocide. If that’s what you mean by “in our grasp”, you will be fought. Bringing down free market capitalism is just another way of saying “implementing communism”. If that’s your idea of being constructive, you need to be locked up.

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COP26 Was a Blow to Globalism, Hopefully

Columbia history professor Adam Tooze, writing it the Guardian, declares The Cop26 message? We are trusting big business, not states, to fix the climate crisis. Not trusting the state is sound advice. If what you want aligns with their profit motives, trusting big business makes sense, but otherwise, it too if foolish.

Cop26 delivered no big climate deal. Nor, in truth, was there any reason to expect one.

Agreed. Politicians know they can’t get away with making big commitments that go against the best interests of the voters.

The drastic measures that might – at a stroke – open a path to climate stability are not viable in political or diplomatic terms.

There are no drastic measures that government can take that will stabilize the climate, short of actions that would starve millions.

Like climate breakdown itself, this is a fact to be reckoned with, a fact not just about “politicians”, but about the polities of which we are all, like it or not, a part. The step from the scientific recognition of a climate emergency to societal agreement on radical action is still too great. All that the negotiators at Cop26 could manage was makeshift.

There is no good plan for radical action, so I’m glad that we are not rushing into it.

When it comes to climate finance, the gap between what is needed and what is on the table is dizzying. The talk at the conference was all about the annual $100bn (£75bn) that rich countries had promised to poorer nations back in 2009. The rich countries have now apologised for falling short. The new resolution is to make up the difference by 2022 and then negotiate a new framework. It is symbolically important and of some practical help.

As long as we have homeless people in our own country, I would rather the government didn’t waste the money they take from me on poor people in other countries.

But, as everyone knows, it falls laughably short of what is necessary. John Kerry, America’s chief negotiator, said so himself in a speech to the CBI. It isn’t billions we need, it is trillions. Somewhere between $2.6tn and $4.6tn every year in funding for low-income countries to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. Those are figures, Kerry went on to say, no government in the world is going to match. Not America. Not China.

How the hell can they say this, when they have no idea how to actually divert that much money from the economy without making things worse?

We should take the hint. There isn’t going to be a big green Marshall plan. Nor are Europe or Japan going to come up with trillions in government money either. The solution, if there is to be one, is not going to come from rich governments shouldering the global burden on national balance sheets.

Solutions don’t come from governments.

So, how does Kerry propose to close the gap? As far as he is concerned, the solution is private business. Hence the excitement about the $130tn that Mark Carney claims to have rallied in the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, a coalition of banks, asset managers, pension and insurance funds.

If financial institutions want to invest their customers’ money in this way, they’re more than welcome to. I have my doubts whether they’ll find investments that pay off if their focus is on net zero rather than getting the best returns, but that’s their customers’ problem.

Lending by that group will not be concessional. The trillions, Kerry insisted to his Glasgow audience, will earn a proper rate of return. But how then will they flow to low-income countries? After all, if there was a decent chance of making profit by wiring west Africa for solar power, the trillions would already be at work. For that, Larry Fink of BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, has a ready answer. He can direct trillions towards the energy transition in low-income countries, if the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are there to “derisk” the lending, by absorbing the first loss on projects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Of course industry will invest in questionable endeavours if governments agree to take their risks for them. Then, when they fail, the people pay the price, with either austerity or currency devaluation.

Even more money will flow if there is a carbon price that gives clean energy a competitive advantage.

Money that will be paid for by the poor in higher costs. Wealth always flows in one direction.

It is a neat solution, the same neat neoliberal solution that has been proffered repeatedly since the 1990s. The same solution that has not been delivered.

Neoliberal ‘solutions’ always help their donors.

Talk of carbon pricing evokes the bitter memory of shock therapy in eastern Europe and the developing world. BlackRock’s backstop idea is the logic of the 2008 bank bailouts expanded to the global level – socialise the risks, privatise the profits.

The 2008 bank bailouts where one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich of all time. BlackRock is evil.

At this point those promising trillions in private funding to fight the climate crisis reveal themselves to be the true utopians, just utopians of a neoliberal variety. Carbon pricing – a fee placed on emissions – may be the economists’ favourite. The one place where it may work, ironically, is in Europe, where energy is already heavily taxed and the most sophisticated welfare states in the world can cushion the impact. China is experimenting with the largest carbon market yet. But as a global proposition, a single minimum carbon price is a non-starter, first and foremost in the US, whose economists invented the idea.

Good. Carbon taxes are not solutions. When the government puts its thumb on the scale, the results are generally minimal, but the cost to the people is great.

Nor is Congress or any European parliament about to vote in favour of hundreds of billions of dollars to backstop BlackRock. Western states carried out bailouts in 2008 and again in 2020. But those were desperate efforts, faute de mieux, to save the status quo at home. And that was toxic enough. Stretched to a global scale, it has zero political appeal.

The 2020 bailouts, which consisted of the US federal reserve and other central banks printing trillions to give to corporations, were an even more massive wealth transfer to the rich than the 2008 bailouts. Central banks steal our money by creating “new money”, which is really just a way of devaluing our money, allowing government to take it from us without having to raise taxes.

However, the risk is not that Cop26 opens the door to some gigantic neoliberal climate stitch-up, but instead that we remain locked in our current impasse, careening towards catastrophe.

I’d rather we remain as we are. The neoliberals are globalists who are in league with communist China. They are evil.

Faced with that prospect, both the US and the EU seem less preoccupied with grand schemes of carbon pricing and blended finance, than with pushing a case-by-case approach. Four separate initiatives show the direction of travel.

Good. Carbon pricing and blended finance are crap.

The deal on aluminium and steel announced by the EU and the US ends one of Trump’s more absurd trade wars and turns it into a process for agreeing on accounting rules for carbon. What seems to be envisioned is a hi-tech, clean-steel trade zone, with tariffs imposed on high-carbon imports from China, Russia and Ukraine. It isn’t a global carbon price, but a sectoral rich-country buyers’ club.

This will increase costs. The current process for making steel without coal requires hydrogen, which we currently can’t generate cost effectively without emitting CO2. Here in Canada, where my province, “green” British Columbia, exports the coal used to make steel in Asia, I’d guess we’d be unlikely to impose tariffs on our customers.

On coal, though the final declaration was disappointing, the US is working with India to promote the rollout of renewables. This involves a three-way partnership with the UAE to provide technical assistance and finance to speed up the move away from coal. India is not the only emerging market with a coal problem.

China is a massive consumer of thermal coal.

One of the best pieces of news out of Cop26 was the multinational $8.5bn package to support the winding down of coal burning by Eskom, South Africa’s bankrupt and dysfunctional power utility.

In South Africa, after being take over by the communist ANC, government has become bankrupt and dysfunctional. What a surprise. I’m glad Canada is not involved.

To accelerate the pace of industrial change, history tells us that the key is to incentivise first movers – leading firms that adopt new technologies and thus send the message to their competitors: innovate or be left behind. In unleashing a race to the top, the announcement of the First Movers Coalition in November, backed by the US and the World Economic Forum and involving firms like shipping giant Maersk and Cemex and Holcim, two of the world’s leading cement makers, is potentially a significant step.

Ah, the World Economic Forum. Globalism incarnate. The same forum who predicted the end of property rights. No thanks.

Finally, there is the deal to cut emissions of methane, the long-neglected but deadly greenhouse gas, by 30% by 2030. That will involve a technological push across the oil and gas industry worldwide.

Methane is only deadly if it explodes. In Canada, where cold weather makes heat exchangers impractical, we heat our houses with methane (AKA natural gas), which is much cheaper than electric heating. While methane can be replaced with hydrogen, we currently don’t have sufficient electricity to generate hydrogen by electrolysis. Hydrogen can be separated from methane, but that process produces CO2, which defeats the purpose of replacing methane.

Advocates of the Green New Deal have long urged big government-led industrial policy. The approach of Kerry and his team seems to follow a more low-key, pragmatic script. As Danny Cullenward and David Victor write in their book, Making Climate Policy Work, rather than attempting a contentious grand bargain, the key is to find coalitions of the willing and drive change sector by sector, raising ambition through repeated rounds of bargaining.

Big government is bad. The Green New Deal in the US was full of communist ideals like wealth equalization that have nothing to do with the environment. Government is not competent to lead industry. Those willing to change in a sector (for example, the automotive industry, who seem to be committed to electric vehicles, though they haven’t gone “all in” yet), will do so because they see advantage in it. In the case of electric vehicles, they are cheaper to run, and because they are far simpler mechanically, they should be cheaper manufacture and to maintain, assuming their batteries are cost effective and reliable.

Like the Paris agreement of 2015, which first demonstrated this pragmatic approach in action, the Kerry initiatives face two big questions. Will a series of ad hoc measures add up to an adequate overall solution? Furthermore, not every deal can be win-win. How will the tough trade-offs be fought out? Whose interests will be served? The reply by the pragmatists is that no general answer can be given in advance. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is not much of an answer. But, as Cop26 attests, it may be the only realistic one.

The Paris accord allowed China and India to massively increase their emissions, until the two countries account for more than a third of the world’s emissions. There is no general answer that can be given in advance. If fusion power is demonstrated tomorrow, it could change everything, making clean electricity and hydrogen from electrolysis possible. Without such a breakthrough, we need to keep trying new things, figuring out what works, and stop doing things that don’t.

If that is the case, then the response of the climate movement should be to keep up the pressure. In political terms, pragmatic ad hocery may be realistic, but there is no negotiating with the dwindling carbon budget. Given how deeply entrenched the status quo is, the temptation to conservative wishful thinking is everywhere. Someone has to pound the message home. The biggest risk is not to change.

There is no “carbon budget”. There is no magic number on one side of which everything is peachy, and on the other, the world becomes a fiery inferno. Technologies that can replace fossil fuels will be developed, but it will take time. Until then, we need to burn fuel to heat our homes, grow our crops, and, for at least the short term, to commute to work and transport goods.

Moving to hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear power should be prioritized by government, along with supporting telecommuting and public transit. Encouraging retrofitting of homes with better insulation and double glazed windows is a good way to reduce fuel consumption, though such subsidies (like the subsidies offered on electric vehicles) tend to benefit the wealthy, and not the poor.

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Statism Is No Match for Economics

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, opines that After the failure of Cop26, there’s only one last hope for our survival. I’m curious, George, what is it?

Now it’s a straight fight for survival. The Glasgow Climate Pact, for all its restrained and diplomatic language, looks like a suicide pact. After so many squandered years of denial, distraction and delay, it’s too late for incremental change. A fair chance of preventing more than 1.5C of heating means cutting greenhouse gas emissions by about 7% every year: faster than they fell in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

If we shut down our economies the way we did during the height of the pandemic, it really will lead to a fight for survival. We are already at 1.3C above preindustrial levels. The idea that if the temperature increases any more than 0.2C, the world will end, seems ridiculous.

What we needed at the Cop26 climate conference was a decision to burn no more fossil fuels after 2030. Instead, powerful governments sought a compromise between our prospects of survival and the interests of the fossil fuel industry. But there was no room for compromise. Without massive and immediate change, we face the possibility of cascading environmental collapse, as Earth systems pass critical thresholds and flip into new and hostile states.

Thinking that we will be able to move entirely off fossil fuels in eight years is pure foolishness. If we are lucky, we’ll have a significant portion of light vehicles running on electricity. Short haul trucking may also move to electricity. Long haul trucking could perhaps be moved to hydrogen, but today, producing hydrogen in the quantities needed would require its own emissions. This still leaves heating, farming, steel making, and cement for construction without emission free alternatives. In eight years, a start might be made in moving to heat pumps for heating, at least in new construction, but it will be hard to make a dent in retrofitting all the existing homes that don’t use radiant heating.

So does this mean we might as well give up? It does not. For just as the complex natural systems on which our lives depend can flip suddenly from one state to another, so can the systems that humans have created. Our social and economic structures share characteristics with the Earth systems on which we depend. They have self-reinforcing properties – that stabilise them within a particular range of stress, but destabilise them when external pressure becomes too great. Like natural systems, if they are driven past their tipping points, they can flip with astonishing speed. Our last, best hope is to use those dynamics to our advantage, triggering what scientists call “cascading regime shifts”.

This sounds like the World Economic Forum’s plan. Problem is, free people are not going to agree to it.

A fascinating paper published in January in the journal Climate Policy showed how we could harness the power of “domino dynamics”: non-linear change, proliferating from one part of the system to another. It points out that “cause and effect need not be proportionate”, a small disturbance, in the right place, can trigger a massive response from a system and flip it into a new state. This is how the global financial crisis of 2008-09 happened: a relatively minor shock (mortgage defaults in the US) was transmitted and amplified through the entire system, almost bringing it down. We could use this property to detonate positive change.

Mortage defaults in the US did not cause the global financial crisis. It was caused by derivative investments that offered high interest but were based on sub-prime lending. Mortage defaults merely lit the fuse on the bomb of bad investments that the banks were sitting on. These same banks should have been allowed to fail. The bail out did more harm than the crash, leading to multiple rounds of quantitative easing (AKA printing money) that devalued everyone’s savings. Intentionally triggering such a financial collapse could kill millions.

Sudden shifts in energy systems have happened before. The paper points out that the transition in the US from horse-drawn carriages to cars running on fossil fuels took just over a decade. The diffusion of new technologies tends to be self-accelerating, as greater efficiencies, economies of scale and industrial synergies reinforce each other. The authors’ hope is that, when the penetration of clean machines approaches a critical threshold, and the infrastructure required to deploy them becomes dominant, positive feedbacks will rapidly drive fossil fuels to extinction.

I expect that when it comes, the move to adoption of electric vehicles will indeed be a tornado. EVs alone will not do away with fossil fuels, and they will actually require CO2 emissions by the equipment that extracts and ships the resources to make them, as well as in the production of steel and the vehicle manufacturing process. While there may be further waves of adoption of battery technology, for example in short range shipping and for power buffering used in concert with unreliable solar and wind power generation, there will still be many industries (steel, resource extraction, long haul shipping, farming, and construction) that will continue to require fossil fuels and emit CO2.

For example, as the performance of batteries, power components and charging points improves and their costs fall, the price of electric cars drops and their desirability soars. At this point (in other words, right now), small interventions by government could trigger cascading change. This has already happened in Norway, where a change in taxes made electric vehicles cheaper than fossil-fuel cars. This flipped the system almost overnight: now more than 50% of the nation’s new car sales are electric, and petrol models are heading for extinction.

Batteries performance will not continually improve. There are potential technologies that could lead to future jumps in battery efficiency, but the gains to be had in Lithium Ion technology are minor, though their cost will doubtless continue to decrease for some time as methods of manufacture improve and scale increases. There are two factors that have to be overcome before mass adoption will occur. First, the cost must be low enough that the savings offered by the simpler, more reliable electric vehicles is greater than their additional cost. Second, charging infrastructure must be sufficient to allow people to live with their relatively limited range. The government can move the needle a small amount by spending large numbers of tax dollars. Once the tipping point is reached, government will only be in the way.

As electric cars become more popular, and more polluting vehicles become socially unacceptable, it becomes less risky for governments to impose the policies that will complete the transition. This then helps to scale the new technologies, causing their price to fall further, until they outcompete petrol cars without the need for tax or subsidy, locking in the transition. Driven by this new economic reality, the shift then cascades from one nation to another.

People won’t stop driving gasoline powered vehicles because its socially unacceptable. They will switch to electrics when they are more affordable and convenient than gas vehicles. As electrics become ubiquitous, gas stations and traditional engine mechanics will close, and those who still have gas powered vehicles will find them more expensive to run and maintain. As usual, the poor will bear the burden, as even after electrics become cheaper to buy than new gas powered vehicles, they will be stuck with their old gas powered vehicles, unable to afford to upgrade.

If governments are seen as egging the shift to EVs on, they may face retaliation at the ballot box. Finesse will be required, something that the average politician seems to lack. Even then, in the end, the state has little to offer in terms of ability to make positive change. Attempting to force change requires giving up our freedom. Statism inevitably leads to totalitarianism, and totalitarianism to genocide. Global warming seems preferable to this.

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COP26 is a Political Failure: Quelle Surprise

On the heels of the COP26 summit, John Vidal writes in the Guardian that It could have been worse, but our leaders failed us at Cop26. That’s the truth of it. While I don’t disagree that COP26 was a bit of a dud, I disagree with almost everything else Vidal has to say.

Where now? Governments have agreed a weak climate deal which gets us a smidgen closer to holding temperatures to a rise of 1.5C. But as regards all the most important pledges to phase out coal, reduce subsidies and protect forests, Glasgow failed.

A bunch of politicians met. What did you expect?

The fossil fuel lobby, led by India, held its line, dramatically succeeding in watering down – at the last minute and without due, transparent process – the move to ‘phase out’ coal power, pledging instead to ‘phase down’. The poor came away with next to nothing, there was little urgency and we are still heading for catastrophe. Any chance of halving fast-rising emissions by 2030 – the declared aim of the talks – is now negligible.

India relies heavily on coal for its electricity, as does China. Not surprising that they should balk at agreeing to immediately phasing out coal.

The UN climate process must be reformed to become more nimble. It is slow and measured and requires consensus and compromise. This is usually admirable, but it works against the scale and speed of action needed in a global emergency like this when millions of lives are at stake and every year of inaction counts.

Government is not nimble. Intergovernmental agreements are useless without consensus, and impossible without compromise. Governments have no ability to solve problems; they can only clear the way. Even enacting policies to accelerate change will have limited impact.

Soon we may have to accept that even when faced with flood, fire and famine, some countries will never act in the wider interest and will hinder the progress of others.

How is any country hindering any other from making progress?

So, short of locking leaders in a room and not letting them out until they have agreed something better, the only way 1.5C can be achieved must now be for those countries who want progress to work outside the UN process. That China and the US will meet next week is possibly the most positive development of the meeting.

If you locked them in a room, they still wouldn’t be able to find their asses with both hands, far less achieve 1.5C. Countries should work outside the UN process.

Leaders may not agree, but they can force the changes they could not make in Glasgow. Because most climate actions devolve to lower tiers of government, mayors, local authorities, counties and states can be enabled to slash transport and building emissions and help households.

If the government wants to slash transport, they’d better start building more public transit. People need to work, and we need our goods transported. Carbon taxes don’t change this. They are a wealth transfer to corporations, who then kick back money to their political cronies. Government subsidies that make retrofitting homes more affordable might help, but they won’t help people who can’t afford any retrofit, nor will they help those who are renting.

Most are well able and willing to take the initiatives that prime ministers and presidents resist. Glasgow will have helped give them the confidence and legitimacy to propose new ideas, and to act together. All it needs is backing and money.

Premiers and governors must borrow, raise income taxes, or cut other programs to be able to take such initiatives. None of these things will be popular. Mayors will have to make the same hard choices. Given the history of government waste, I’m against most new government programs that spend my money.

Equally, governments can take the gloves off, treat the few countries who are preventing climate action as criminals and reward those who do with trade deals, contracts, investments and aid.

Why not impose tariffs on heavy emitters? Revenues could be used to reduce taxes on our own businesses, and we could stop punishing our own citizens with carbon taxes.

Other strands of possible future action became apparent in the Glasgow halls. One was for an emergency Marshall-style “plan for the planet” to catapult ambitious countries into a sustainable future.

Sounds like a great way for politicians to waste more money and reward their friends.

If trillions of dollars can be found to sort out the banking crisis or the Covid pandemic in a few weeks, then it can surely be found to help countries transition into a low carbon world, starting with the $100bn (£75bn) a year that rich countries offered the climate vulnerable in 2009.

The banking crisis is a bad example. The bail out of the “too big to fail” banks was a huge theft from the people. Banks involved in risky derivatives should have been allowed to fail. Comparing the pandemic to climate change is like comparing cancer to a leaky roof. If my child is dying, I’m going to pull out all the stops. On the other hand, if my roof leaks, I may patch it, or possibly throw a tarp over it until I can save the money to have it fixed or replaced.

The shameful refusal of the rich to keep their promise to the world’s poor poisoned climate negotiations for a decade and may go down in history as one of the biggest diplomatic blunders of the age.

It’s shameful that the rich are making promises to spend their citizens’ wealth to support the citizens of other countries when we have problems at home that haven’t been dealt with.

Besides, it is pointed out, there is no shortage of money for action. There are now more than 2,700 billionaires, 600 more than one year ago. They, too, can be cajoled, bullied and taxed to make them act in everyone’s interests and commit to restore damaged nature.

If people are able to take advantage of the system to become billionaires, the system should be fixed. If people become billionaires fairly, due to their merits, what right does the government have to steal from them? Unlike the rest of us, who governments can bully without fear, billionaires will push back, or leave.

And finally, the World Health Organization must declare an immediate health emergency, making the link between the pandemic and the climate crisis, and explaining to politicians that climate change really is a life or death issue and will soon become the greatest challenge to human health that the world has ever known.

And in doing so, it would lose what credibility it has left after it’s botched handling of the pandemic. Covid and global warming are not linked. The WHO has no credibility when it comes to the climate.

World leaders failed us again in Glasgow, but the summit showed that countries with the vision to act in the interests of all will shape the future and benefit the most.

Countries in cold climates will benefit the most. Countries in desert areas and low lying island countries will benefit the least. The vision of politicians is worth little. Fortunately, it looks as though electric vehicles will give us the benefits of lower total cost of ownership, which will all but guarantee that they become the dominant form of transport in the future, though they aren’t there yet. If fusion becomes viable, large scale electrolysis to produce hydrogen could make it nonpolluting replacement for natural gas and diesel.

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What is the Governments Role in Electrification?

Nisha Patel of CBC talks about Why advocates say Canada needs to rev up its electric car adoption. Advocates are typically biased. What do they have to say?

When Judy Goodwin wanted to test drive an electric car, she didn’t head to a dealership. “They’re hard to come by,” she said of electric vehicles (EVs). “My sister tried to buy one and she couldn’t find one that was available.”

There are three reasons this might happen. The first is regulation, which can presumably be ruled out since government is trying to encourage EVs. The second is supply. Since Chevy’s Bolt and Nissan’s Leaf have been around for years, its hard to believe that if the demand was there, the companies wouldn’t have scaled up manufacturing. That leaves demand. With the higher cost of EVs, even with government subsidies, I can believe that demand is still very low.

Instead, she went to a non-profit facility in north Toronto called Plug’n Drive. Not only does Plug’n Drive have a showroom where people can test drive zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs), its staff are also trained ambassadors who will answer questions about how to charge the vehicles, their range and their costs. Plug’n Drive, which seeks to accelerate the adoption of EVs in Canada.

Sounds like things are still in the technology enthusiast state. I see a lot of Tesla’s in Vancouver, where relatively warmer temperatures make them more practical, at least for city driving. However, even here, even our mild winter reduces the range of electric vehicles by 30%. The problem with Tesla’s are their high cost.

Whether driven by high gas prices or a sense of climate change-fuelled urgency, more Canadians are thinking about making the switch to electric vehicles (EVs). According to a recent survey by KPMG, nearly 70 per cent of Canadians planning to buy a new vehicle in the next five years are likely to buy electric.

Will they be able to afford to? This is a Crossing the Chasm moment for EVs. Mass adoption will drive lower costs, but will require charging infrastructure. At some point, cost and availability of infrastructure will reach a tipping point, and then mass adoption will occur.

We saw this with DVDs, which reached the magic $500 price point and exploded onto the market because the cost of producing discs was also reduced to the point where they were affordable. The same could not be said for laservision players, whose media never dropped below $100 a pop. Hybrids live in a similar place, forever stuck on the far side of the chasm.

But at the same time, electric cars made up just under four per cent of all vehicle sales last year — even as Canada set a mandatory target for all new cars and light-duty trucks sold in the country to be zero emissions by 2035.

This leaves 14 years for electrics to cross the chasm, or for some other technology (hydrogen, perhaps) to take their place. I would put money on EVs, but there are going to be applications that they just aren’t suited to. That will leave people who need or want the range and ability to travel completely of the grid either buying used, or upgrading to heavier duty (and higher polluting) work grade vehicles. Perhaps gasoline will be replaced by electric and diesel for a time.

Nearly two-thirds of dealerships in Canada do not have a single electric vehicle available to purchase or test drive, according to a 2020 study commissioned by Transport Canada. Now with the pandemic causing issues in the supply chain, it has become worse.

If they had large numbers of customers walking away because of this, they would be working hard to make sure they had electrics. I bought a used vehicle last year, and was surprised to hear that my Ford dealer could hardly keep vehicles in stock. This was before the supply issues with new vehicles.

Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a program housed at Simon Fraser University says the federal government needs a strong, national mandate around zero-emissions vehicles, requiring the country’s car dealerships “to have the cars and to sell a certain percentage of [electric] cars.”

The government should not be forcing businesses to sell a certain product. What will the government do if a dealer doesn’t meet the quota? Fine them? Canada is not (yet) Soviet Russia.

While prices for zero-emission vehicles are falling, they remain more expensive than their gas counterparts — as much as $20,000 more, according to a recent TD report. The cheapest EV on the market, the 2022 Nissan LEAF, comes with a price tag of $37,498 before discounts.

And with used EVs almost impossible to find, this means they are out of range for all but a monied few. In my case, I bought a 3 year old Ford Edge, and with trade in, paid just over $20K. I was able to pay for part of the vehicle in cash, and still, the monthly payments make a noticeable dent in the monthly cash flow. Those who are living pay-check to pay-check are not going to be buying EVs any time soon.

The federal government offers a rebate of up to $5,000. Smith said those incentives should continue until there is cost parity between electric and gas-powered cars, and they should also be targeted to low-income families.

Low income families don’t buy new vehicles. Smith is completely out of touch with the average person.

“They often are the ones that can’t quite afford that extra $5,000 or $10,000 that it’s going to take to get the EV. But they’re the ones that are going to benefit from the savings,” she said.

What savings? Any savings in running an EV are going to be eaten up by higher loan payments, higher repair costs, and high costs for parking in a location that provides charging. Low income earners are typically exactly the people who have the longest commutes, and will need to charge their vehicles during the day for the return trip home after work.

Meanwhile, provincial rebate programs vary widely. Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut currently don’t offer incentives to purchase new zero-emission vehicles, but the other provinces and territories have strong programs. And the numbers suggest incentives work: Quebec and B.C., which each offer healthy EV incentives, also lead the country in electric car adoption.

It’s not surprising that when the government uses tax revenue to subsidize a business, that business is more successful.

Another roadblock to adoption is the availability of infrastructure for charging electric cars, whether the driver is going on a road trip or lives in a crowded urban centre. According to Natural Resources Canada, there are over 6,000 publicly available charging stations across Canada, but some 12,000 gas stations.

And a gas station can typically handle many cars at once, and filling time is a fraction of the time required to charge an electric vehicle. Road trips are especially problematic, since if all charging stations in your remote location are in use, you may not be able to return home.

During the recent federal election, the Liberals campaigned on a platform that included spending an additional $700 million to create 50,000 new electric- and hydrogen-charging stations. If the government makes good on that promise, it would give Canada’s infrastructure a big boost.

Why is the government building these stations? I would rather they build better transit. Why are they building hydrogen charging stations at all? Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles make EVs look cheap by comparison. We don’t need more infrastructure for the rich that’s paid for by the poor.

Companies are also tackling the infrastructure issue. General Motors recently announced plans to install 4,000 charging stations in Canada as part of its plan to invest more heavily in electric vehicles.  

Good for GM. It’s in their interest to do so, since with the Bolt, they currently have the jump on much of their competition.

“We’ve got Canadian companies champing at the bit,” said Smith. “We’re going to see more and more of this in the energy transition; new jobs, new opportunities for businesses as we shift off of fossil fuels onto an electric system.”

Smith is probably right, though it may be that hydrogen wins in the end. Rather than wasting tax revenue on pushing the rope on a change that will happen when it’s viable, the government should focus on things that companies are bad at. These are common infrastructure, like transit, that benefit all people. Charging infrastructure could be communal, but I’m pretty sure that would not be the most effective way to do it.

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Academics Bemoan Inequality, but are Clueless as to Its Cause

Sarah Al-Arshani, writing for Medium, reports An NYU professor says fewer men going to college will lead to a ‘mating crisis’ with the US producing too many ‘broke and alone’ men. What is the solution?

Fewer men than women are attending college, which is leading to a “mating crisis,” the New York University professor Scott Galloway told CNN on Saturday.  Women made up 59.5% of college students at the end of the 2020-21 school year, an all-time high, The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, citing US Department of Education data.

Even if 59.5% of all children being born were female, this wouldn’t constitute a mating crisis. Why is Galloway shouting “crisis” on CNN? Could it be because CNN is fake news?

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 1970, men made up close to 59% of those enrolled in college, compared to about 41% of women who were enrolled. 

Sounds about right. In the early eighties, things were much more balanced, though STEM classes were (and still are in many disciplines) largely male.

The Journal reported that in the next few years the education gap will widen so that for every one man who earns a college degree, two women will earn one. Galloway told CNN that the problem is much bigger than just the current numbers because men drop out at greater rates than women.

And why would that be?

The issue he said is being driven by the rising cost of college without much change to the quality of education. Elite universities, he said, are focused on giving a luxury experience and not expanding enrollment. 

I would argue that quality has changed a lot–for the worse. So, when something becomes massively less worthwhile and massively more expensive, the question is why aren’t women staying away in equal numbers?

Additionally, he said, college-aged men have more options than their female peers. 

This is somewhat true. There are still many jobs (in mining, forestry, and other resource based industries, for example) that are high paying and are more difficult for women who, on average, have only 50-60% of the upper body strength of men due to sexual dimorphism.

“You can walk onto a construction site in Florida, you can turn on an app — cop, firemen, trade job — which at the age of 18 if you can make $100 to $200 a day that feels like real cabbage,” he said. 

Woman are able to do many of these jobs too.

But Galloway warned that beyond the classroom, the gap is causing an “existential threat to society,” and that we are creating a “dangerous cohort.”

What is this idiot talking about? Men who go into the trades, policing, firefighting, and resource industries are not dangerous.

“We have mating inequality in the country,” he said, adding that women with college degrees don’t want to partner with men who don’t hold a degree. 

Well, too bad for them. At least 19% of them won’t, though if more men leave before achieving a degree, that number will be higher. And that ignores the fact that educated men are perfectly happy to marry a woman who does not have a degree.

“The most dangerous person in the world is a broke and alone male, and we are producing too many of them,” he said. “The most unstable violent societies in the world, all have one thing in common: Young depressed men who aren’t attaching to work, aren’t attaching to school, and aren’t attaching to relationships.”

What is he proposing should be done?

The Journal reported that there’s no “reversal” insight for this gap. Women make up 49% of college-age people in the country, but in the 2021-22 school year, there were 3,805,978 Common App college applications by women compared to just 2,815,810 by men. 

So what are they proposing should be done?

In the fall of 2020, while the University of California, Los Angeles expanded enrollment by 3,000 students, 90% of those spots were filled by women. That same semester, only 41% of those enrolled in UCLA were men, The Journal reported. UCLA Vice Provost Youlonda Copeland-Morgan told The Journal that men’s applications are not more competitive but that fewer men apply.

And why would that be?

“Men are falling behind remarkably fast,” Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, told The Journal. 

But are they ‘falling behind’? Having a college degree is not the same thing as being successful. A man who learns programming in a technical school spends far less money and time than one who earns a computer science or engineering degree. Yet in a few years, the difference between what the two earn can be completely erased.

Why are men staying away and dropping out? Because they see the massive debt their uncles and older brothers who earn a degree incur, and see what they get in exchange for it. It’s much better to work and earn until you know what you want to do than to enter college straight out of high school and waste time and money figuring out what to major in. And university is not for everyone.

How can colleges attract more men? To start with, stop offering scholarships and bursaries that are only open to women. Most importantly, stop discriminating against men. Finally, make sure that your programs offer real value, and that people know that they do. In the past, technical schools and universities used to boast about the percentage of their graduates who were able to find work in their fields.

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