John Constable is the director of energy at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a British public charity. In this episode, Constable (who previously appeared on the podcast on February 1, 2022.) discusses his new report, “Europe’s Green Energy Experiment: A Costly Failure in Unilateral Climate Policy,” the staggering sums the EU has spent subsidizing renewables, and why Europe now faces the “worst energy cost and security crisis since the Second World War.” (Recorded July 19, 2022.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome back to the power hungry podcast, my friend, John Constable. He is the director of energy at the Global Warming Policy Foundation. John, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.
John Constable 0:21
Thank you, Robert. It’s great pleasure.
Robert Bryce 0:24
You were on the podcast back in February. And we’re here to discuss a new report that you’ve just published for the Global Warming Policy Foundation. And I know you’ve been on the podcast before, but you know, the drill here, you have to introduce yourself. So I put you on the spot, please introduce yourself?
John Constable 0:41
Well, I’m an ex academic, one time Cambridge and kiltie University, I bailed out of the academic world to write about energy, been doing it now for 1520 years. And my particular line on this is that it’s perfectly rational, to want to reduce emissions. But the climate policies themselves have to be rational. And I approached this rationality through looking at their effects on human wellbeing, through the effects on wealth generation, I’m basically a philosopher, if I’m anything rather data oriented philosopher, and I’m fascinated by the philosophy of wealth and economics, and the impact that our policies are having on our ability to create and maintain wealth in the Human Sphere in our economies.
Robert Bryce 1:28
I like that a data data oriented philosopher, I
John Constable 1:32
got the unusual kind of animal. Yes, that’s true.
Robert Bryce 1:35
No, but I think that that, that we talked last time about the essay that I really quite liked it, I’m gonna refer to it that you the for the mount Pelerin Society in which you talked about the issue of wealth creation, but there’s much to talk about. And the focus today is your new report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which you can find at the job G WFP, f.org. The report is really remarkable when you’re very thorough about 80 pages, Europe’s green energy experiment, a costly failure in unilateral climate policy. You say that the UAE us spend a staggering sums on renewables, and that Europe now faces the worst energy cost and security crisis since the Second World War. When I first started, I’d read that I thought, is that hyperbole? Or is that real? And from you know, I’m in Texas, you’re outside of London, is that? I’m gonna ask you bluntly. But is that hyperbole? Is that hyperbole? Or is this? I mean, how serious is this situation in Europe,
John Constable 2:35
it’s critical. In fact, the costs have risen, so very high, and the fragility of the European system is now extreme. Now, many people are saying that this is due to the high price of natural gas. But why are we so exposed to a single fuel in the European system? Well, that’s because of the renewables policies, which have been in place since the early 2000s. And the whole of the European system hangs by a single thread, which is natural gas. And the reason for that is it’s the only thermodynamically competent fuel, actually, in the system. Everything else is unreliable, wind and solar. So when we had a very low wind year, electricity prices spiked, because we there’s an enormous increased demand for natural gas. The invasion of Ukraine has not helped things. But actually, things were very bad before the invasion of Ukraine. And indeed, it’s not I think, paranoid suppose that the Russian government looked at the situation in Europe and thought they’re pretty weak right now, which is correct. Unfortunately, this is not such a bad time for us to start to take our measures forward in the Ukraine. And Europe isn’t isn’t a fragile condition. Its electricity system is dependent on gas. It’s heavily overburdened with subsidies to renewables, electricity consumption is falling. And none of these things are good. Yes, it’s a very bad situation, indeed. And what makes it so worrying is that there appears to be no real deep understanding of the problem in political circles. So rather than saying, goodness, this is bad, we really ought to be thinking thinking about changing tack. People are still talking about doubling down on this and say, you know, net zero is the way to tackle the current difficulties. No, Net Zero has got us into this mess, more renewables again, to make the problem still worse. So it’s a crisis, which is as yet unrecognized by decision makers in Europe, which makes it particularly troubling.
Robert Bryce 4:32
not recognized. I mean, I would say unfortunately, I would think that in some cases, that that’s still the same in here in the US that despite the despite the clear catastrophe facing Europe, that US policymakers, I mean, we’ll talk about Joe Manchin in a few minutes. I’ve written a piece about him that’s going to be published but then mentioned actually saved policy, save the United States from a lot of misguided spending on more renewables. What I don’t understand is how the US is not looking at this the US policymakers are not looking at Europe and say, Wait a minute, we got to make sure we don’t do what they’re doing. Yes,
John Constable 5:05
that’s quite right. I, the indicators are so obvious, actually, to anybody who is deep in energy as we are falling energy consumption in the West is now a clear fact, it’s been dropping since the early 2000s, particularly salient in electricity, because electricity is such a special and superior carrier for energy. And one wonders why it is that does certainly palazzina civil servants in the politicians don’t look at these numbers, and there hasn’t sent a lander, they said, There’s something really wrong here. Why is it falling so sharply? And but they’re not worried by it, they think that it’s fine. And indeed, they may even think that it’s positive, that energy consumption is falling. And they’re quite wrong about that. And it does raise a very interesting general question. And we were deeply immersed in energy. So I hope we can run off into this general question run away. Go ahead. Why is it that the perfectly intelligent people and politicians are not fools? Civil Servants certainly aren’t? Why is it they find it so difficult? To get energy? Right? And this is a very interesting psychological question. Actually, I recently I wrote a piece for the Financial Post in Canada with Deborah Lieberman, a psychologist speculating that the human mind just isn’t well prepared to deal with the concept of energy. It’s a very abstract and difficult concept, very new in natural science, of course, it’s only in the middle of the 19th centuries, it really appears. And I think we really haven’t got our heads around it. And we find it particularly difficult. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of naive physics of energy, which is relevant to the kinds of problems we currently have. So we don’t recognize the quality differences between energy sources, particularly we think enough is all that matters. Well, there’s plenty of wind energy and plenty of sun. But of course, the trouble is that that energy is of a very, very low quality, indeed, it’s close to random heat, and certainly not high enough quality to support the kind of complex civilizations that will make our lives so rich, fulfilling and long, indeed. So that I think is possibly the answer that the mind human mind is just really rather dumb. When it comes to energy, you have to think very carefully about it, you have to rely on quite abstract reasoning to see how to make proper decisions about energy, particularly for politics.
Robert Bryce 7:24
Well, as you say that, John, what occurs to me as you say, that was that what we’re after is highly ordered energy. We, you know, we’re surrounded by energy. Yeah, sure. You know, I see the wind wind blowing here and the sun is shining brightly. And, but that’s disordered and we want ordered energy. And that that’s the that distinction, which I see are that that failure of so many people? You’re right, I think it is a failure. I see even people in the energy business who get the terminology wrong, and energy and power are not the same thing. It can you just talk about that, then because I know you is curious, isn’t it? I mean, he’s we talk about we use these terms, a lot of people think they’re interchangeable. No wrong Energy is the ability to do work power is the rate at which work gets done. I say we don’t give a damn about energy, what we want is power. We don’t really care what the form of energy is. We want more ability to do more work, right? And do it quickly. And that that rate is really key. So I’ve expanded on that. How, how do you get how would you define energy and power and the differences between those two terms?
John Constable 8:23
Well, I stopped thinking in terms of wealth creation. And this is relevant to the European study report, because one of my speculations is that the European policies have not only damaged our ability to create wealth, but also to maintain the wealth that we have created over the last several 100 years. So what we’re looking at here is something which is societally destabilizing for Europe. I, I have an aversion to catastrophism, generally speaking, and I am certainly reluctant to allow catastrophist interpretations of climate policy into the debate, because I think they’re quite wrong. We should take it seriously. But we have to keep our hair on about that. But I’m beginning to become genuinely concerned that the policies are really dangerous to the creation and preservation of wealth. So go back to your point about what is it about energy that really matters? How do we How should we be thinking about energy, as you say, energies work, the ability to do work? Well, economies are work done in human interests, you’re creating very improbable states of matter, which suit human ends, cool rooms when it’s too hot. I wish my room was cooler right now. So about 30 degrees centigrade, that’s the middle AC, so it’s quite warm, I could do with it being a bit cooler. I don’t have an aircon in this room. So but many people do. So those machines are doing work. They are producing a cool environment for human beings. That’s wealth, as well as all sorts of other arrangements that suit us. But that interpretation is very broad. So buildings are wealth, complex highway arrangements, networks of electricity grids, pipe networks supplying gas or water but also institutions and intellectual trends. machines, these are also the result of work done over very long periods of time. So you think of the whole human sphere, whole economy is very improbable, as a result of all the work that’s been done over very long periods of time, in fact, sometimes to give you the
Robert Bryce 10:15
raw materials to build those systems and networks and intellectual capital,
John Constable 10:19
intellectual capital, that complex states of mind intellectual traditions, and Europe, of course, has a rather distinguished record in this way. But falling energy consumption means that we won’t be adding to it as fast as we could have done and crucially may not be maintaining it. And that’s where I become genuinely concerned about what Europe has done. So this report is not just a, you know, usual Think Tank piece about saying all the dollar numbers look big, that they do actually look absolutely enormous. But the fact is that this has been going on for a long time now. And the energy declines since the early 2000s, is quite deep. And in the UK use case, it’s really quite worrying. I mean, we’ve lost about 30%, of total primary energy demand since the early 2000s. We’re now back at levels of energy consumption, last seen in the 1950s. And there’s been a very significant increase in population since that time. So what are we actually doing to ourselves? I mean, I find it objectively extraordinary that politicians don’t look at these numbers, and just become panic strapped and say, there’s something deeply worrying about this. And have we got it right? And I would say the answer is obviously no, but I understand that not everybody is convinced by that they want to have a discussion about it. But it’s becoming critical, I think, actually was the critical not only because of the energy fall itself, but because there’s so much misunderstanding around it. And again, my study touches on this and shows that the European Union has done these things to itself, but hasn’t learned any of the relevant lessons. So instead of looking at the decline in energy consumption and electricity, and saying, possibly not a good thing, I would say certainly, of course, possibly not a good thing, perhaps we should rethink it, they’ve decided to take ownership of that catastrophe, as I would call it, and actually try to extend it. So they’re calling for further reductions in energy consumption as part of the climate policy, I think this is extraordinarily dangerous for European society. And the longer it goes on, the more and more difficult it will be to recover from it. So these are the interpretations of energy and action within the economy, that are motivating me and my general research on Amgen in particular, in this piece, which is about the the impact of a particular set of climate policies in the European Union.
Robert Bryce 12:31
Well, it’s a remarkable report. I mean, it’s very thorough, and, you know, I, obviously, have been very interested in electricity for some time, and my new documentary, new book, and I write about it talk about it a lot. But it was in figure 59, in your report, where you show that the decline in electricity generation, and that between 2020 21. And just eyeballing the graph in the UK, it fell by about 28%. And you said that consumption is now at levels not seen since the early 1970s, in spite of a much larger population. And I compared I looked at the BP statistical review, which before we started recording, you know, I love it, right i this spreadsheet data, it’s just I love it, because I can really look at it and see where the trends are and detect trends and make comparisons. But I compared the US and Britain over the same time period in electricity use and generation rather in the US has been roughly flat, it’s grown slightly about 1/10 of a percent per year in the UK, it’s fallen by 1.7% per year, just over the last decade. I mean, this is a dramatic decline. And is that is that deindustrialization, is it declining consumption in households that people can’t afford it? What? How do you explain this? I mean, that’s an easy drug. And meanwhile, globally, electricity generation has grown by almost a one percentage point a year. And here and but in the UK, your fallen ball falling by almost twice that, and more than twice the rate in the EU as a whole. So how do you win that number more than perhaps any other and I want to talk about the renewable subsidies. But why is the electricity slice of this so important,
John Constable 14:10
is important because it’s such an important energy carrier. I mean, if we were talking about the decline in Flint, Toulouse in the West, that wouldn’t be very worrying, would it? I mean, Flint told us is not a very important aspect. Electricity is pretty much the fundamental metric of modernity. It is an extraordinarily flexible and efficient energy carrier. And you would expect an increasingly sophisticated and indeed efficient economy to be using more and more electricity and roads, actually, that’s what many green policies actually expect. They expect heat pumps and electrification of transport. Well, on current evidence, that’s not going to happen, because electricity is simply too expensive to use. And that’s This is price rationing in my judgment. Now, you pointed out the states, it’s been flatlining for a while, of course, it was flatlining for a little bit in the UK as well. So I think there’s a really worrying less than here for the US, you have to remember that the US climate policies are relatively undeveloped in comparison with those in the European Union. You haven’t spent anything like as much as they have. I can say that now, because we’re in the UK, we’re out of the EU, but anything like as much as the Europeans have, we have in the UK as well, proportionately. So you’re much further back down the track. But the flatlining tells me that there’s something possibly wrong, you ought to be increasing, actually, why? Why is it the demand isn’t increasing? So I wouldn’t take too much consolatory self congratulatory pleasure from that chart. It’s not good, it ought to be increasing. But it isn’t. You’ve done a fair amount of subsidizing at the moment and mucking around with the grid network. So that might be the explanation for it. Yeah, I would say you’re on the cusp of a similar sort of decline. And as you say, Joe mentioned a decision or his action to prevent subsidies while he’s trying to prevent the imposition of extra costs on the electricity system, which would trigger a decline in electricity consumption, which would probably be disastrous for the well being of the citizens of the US.
Robert Bryce 16:08
Right. And I haven’t really parsed that, that flatlining. But I mean, it’s, at least in the US, it hasn’t declined. But we’ve seen, you know, significant population growth in Texas, obviously, significant population growth without an increase in sufficient generation capacity. But those are other things. Let me let me talk about renewables. Here. You say you found in the report, I converted the Euros $2, that between 2008 and 2021, the European Union spent about $781 billion on renewable energy subsidies. And those subsidies continue to add some $70 billion per year to customers bills. You said these policies have been an unmitigated disaster that have resulted in energy prices and dramatically falling energy consumption suggesting societal and real economic decay. And I know you we’ve talked around that, but the societal and real economic decay you We also talked about this back in February, when you were on the podcast about that, this that we there’s the possibility of this precedent that Europe is on the precipice of a disaster, not just in energy affordability, but in the the breakdown, potentially the breakdown of society itself, would you you’ve talked about that around that, but that the decline could be very swift. I remember we talked about that several months ago.
John Constable 17:22
Yes, you climb slowly. But you fall fast, I think is one of the phrases that I use like that. Yeah, yeah, I am concerned about it. I hope it’s evident that I’m not a catastrophists personality. So my concern here has been building over the last few years, I thought that it was probably something we could address in a timely fashion. Five years ago, I just said that there was still time. But it’s not simply that we haven’t taken the necessary steps, we’ll be actually doing things more aggressively and making the problems still worse. So let’s go back to those numbers. Actually, the subsequent Yeah, because they aren’t very remarkable, I should say, actually, that you’ve converted them at current dollar euro exchange rates, nearly parity, when those monies were actually spent in 2008. Of course, it was very different. So it would have been
Robert Bryce 18:14
even far higher in dollar terms, in dollar
John Constable 18:17
terms, in fact, so those those figures are calculated from European Union data. It’s mostly a fact everything in the report comes out of EU or official data in one way or another reviews, industry sources as well, this is necessary to do that. So the data is there, if you want to go and check it, I mean, you know, there’s the point of the study is to try to put it into a digestible form and point people to the sources so they can go and check for themselves. Now, what I’ve done with the subsidies to renewables, there is to strip out the tax expenditures, because these are income support subsidies that increase costs to consumers. So they’re not wealth transfers from taxpayers, to to the industry, these are actually impositions on consumer bills. So that $800 billion, or whatever it is, actually went on to consumer bills in the European Union over that period. And it’s and that the equity has reached different
Robert Bryce 19:11
I’m sorry to interrupt, but that’s different largely from the construct we put in the US where those are, these are federal, largely federal tax credits driving the growth of subsidies. So they are not reflected in the individual bills that we get in our as homeowners or business owners or whatever. But I’m glad you made that point. Because that’s, that’s a critical distinction that varies, that these these subsidies that have been handed out in the US, which are exorbitant, exorbitant, 10 of real it literally little more than corporate welfare. They’re not really felt by the individual consumer. But I just wanted to add that would clear that point, because it’s a good distinction.
John Constable 19:45
It’s true that the tax credits in the US are not felt directly by US citizens, right, except there felt through the fact the federal government now has to raise that tax. Some other way. Sure. Public spending, but public spending doesn’t tend to get cut. Now So people are going to feel the impact of those and different ways in terms of income tax or corporation tax elsewhere. So it’s not, it’s not pain free, but it’s rather better hidden in the US than it is in Europe. Yeah, yeah. Now the those that enormous subsidy cost is all paid by households, ultimately, in the European Union, about a third of it there abouts will be felt in the electricity bill or the energy bill where it affects other energy sources directly. But of course, it also affects the general cost of living in Europe, because when a supermarket has to refrigerate milk, it uses electricity, if it’s paying subsidies, it’s going to recover those additional costs at the checkout. So these costs are all loaded on to general cost of living in addition to the cost of utility costs for electricity. And of course, there’s also the indirect effect of downward pressure on wages, companies are facing a very large subsidy bill for electricity, they’re not going to want to pay their employees as much. And indeed, they’re not going to want to employ as many people so rates of employment affected at all. There are no positive economic impacts from these sorts of subsidies. And indeed, you know, I shouldn’t be controversial amongst economists to say there is only one justification for subsidies to a sector, which is to drive down costs. Now, I’m pretty skeptical about the ability of subsidies to drive down costs, in any case whatsoever, but there is an argument to be had about it. Have they driven down costs in the European Union? No, they haven’t. They haven’t driven down the cost of capital costs and operational costs of renewable energy. I know there’s a lot of hype around the sector. But when we look in the audited accounts of wind and solar companies, we don’t find the kind of dramatic reductions, which would justify subsidy on the scale, you find trivial reductions, or indeed, in the case of wind, we find that their capex is pretty much flat, their optics is actually rising. So this is, it hasn’t been successful. It basically, it’s an unsuccessful subsidy program, it hasn’t driven down costs. And it’s what it has done is is deployed an enormous amount of wind and solar in Europe, which has required subsidy in itself, but has also, of course, increased the cost of operating the electricity grid in Europe. Now that’s not included in the subsidy, that’s just an additional system management cost. But it’s by no means trivial. Right? And it’s very significant, I can illustrate the magnitude that’s involved. From the UK case, which is indicative in the early 2000s. system, management of the UK electricity grid costs something like 400 to 500 million pounds per year. So $600 million, something like that. At present, it’s two to 3 billion pounds per year. So several billion dollars. Now, I can’t say that all of that increase is the result of wind and solar, destabilizing the system and regressing it towards thermodynamic equilibrium, raising its entropy rather higher disorder in the electricity system. I can’t say all of it is due to that. But a very large part of it is
Robert Bryce 23:00
and it certainly is a coincident increase with the increase in in renewable deployment.
John Constable 23:06
Absolutely right. And there’s a correlation is not causation, we understand that. But there’s every reason for thinking that actually a very large part of these costs are the result of special system instructions, running conventional plants sub optimally having to build new grid system, it’s, it’s a very renewables are very, very difficult to manage. And that’s not surprising, because as we noted earlier, these sources are disordered they are of high entropy, the electricity required by consumers is low entropy, some correction has got to take place in between those two place points. So there’s a negative entropy flow coming in to correct it. And that’s coming in through very complex system management instructions running conventional plant sub optimally coal and gas, right? It’s intrinsically expensive. So that’s the cost of turning a sow’s ear, wind and solar into the silk purse of modern electricity. People often say you, renewables have a role in a modern electricity society, one shouldn’t be closed minded about it. Now, I’m sorry, the physics tells you you should be closed minded about this. Renewables have no role whatsoever. In a modern electricity society system. They are niche activities. At best. There will be interesting little niches in remote homesteads and islands and special places where people will want to do renewables because it’s so expensive to have a grid connection, but to try to run a mainstream economy on renewable electricity, that’s just naive and indeed stupid in physical terms. We should not have done this there is no excuse for it in Europe actually, it’s unforgivable.
Robert Bryce 24:51
Those are strong words and I you know, I wrestle with it myself in that I think, Well, okay, yeah, some renewables right. Okay. And I have solar panels on the roof of my house and it But I got big subsidies for it but and three different subsidies. But that’s that’s your calling though in I mean, if I’m going to summarize your report, you use it and you say it right at the top that we that you call for an urgent return to fossil fuels, which is exactly opposite of what the rhetoric has been from the green left from the climate NGOs, what I call the NGO corporate climate Congress, congressional climate complex, you’re calling for an urgent return to hydrocarbons. If Britain did a crash crash course on this and repeal the ban on fracking, which I understand has not happened yet. How quickly could this turn around?
John Constable 25:43
Well, we still have a certain amount of natural gas in the North Sea, we, we could certainly improve exploration and extraction there.
Robert Bryce 25:52
Fracking, you have onshore and you have onshore shale, and not just a little bit of them.
John Constable 25:56
And not just a little actually, but it’s still relatively unexplored. So it’ll take a couple of years. To get around to actually being useful, we should be in aggressive exploration, I don’t know where the shale gas will work in the UK. But we’re not going to find out unless we try. So we should definitely try. And there’s every reason for doing so what we have to do immediately in the short term, well, there’s very little we can actually do because the crisis is so cute. But we actually have to build combined cycle gas turbines quite rapidly. Now that sounds like an odd thing to do in the middle of a gas crisis. But in fact, it makes complete sense. Our current gas turbine fleet is relatively old and have low thermal efficiency, building new ones, we get more kilowatt hours out for less gas. So I need a big rebuild modern CCGs. And slowly getting as much of the renewables off the system as we can to reduce consumer cost. At the moment, we’re heavily dependent on renewables, we have very little thermal plant left, and the system creaks regularly every year. It’s extraordinary that it hasn’t fallen over completely yet. The cost, as I say, several billion pounds a year of stopping it falling over. So it’s so at the moment, we’re still at the point of throwing consumer funds and system management at it, that can’t go on a hard winter, this coming winter, we might have a big blackout. It’s entirely conceivable. So building,
Robert Bryce 27:07
because simply there simply won’t be enough gas and the renewables aren’t going to be able to meet, they’ll go away when very
John Constable 27:12
cold. Yes, a very big high pressure system over western Europe, bringing low temperatures and low wind would be extremely difficult to handle, which we’ll see I’m the summer is pretty tricky, too. In fact, it’s not easy, even in the summer. So we should certainly build modern CCGs in the UK to replace the old ones, improve thermal efficiency of the system. This should be regarded as part of a Gaston nuclear strategy. The physics tells us quite plainly that nuclear is a very, very low entropy source of energy. This is extremely promising. The public is concerned about safety, I quite understand that they have to be reassured we have to do this correctly. There’s no question about that. I’d like to see more exploration of smaller reactors, particularly high temperature gas cooled reactors providing industrial heat, because heat is actually one of the areas in which renewables have very little to offer even seriously. They just can’t produce high temperature heat, except through electricity. And there’s a limit to how useful that can be particularly in say, in smelting. But high temperature gas cooled reactors producing really high temperatures 700 to 900 centigrade, very useful source of industrial heat, which would mitigate gas demand. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do that. The Japanese government has an extraordinarily interesting reactor. It’s the high temperature gas cooled reactor run by the Japan Atomic Energy Authority. It’s been running since 1998. So small ones, about 30 megawatts thermal, but extremely interesting, could be scaled up a little bit. But you want to keep it small, put it on industrial sites, but all sorts of things, mitigate gas use could generate hydrogen naturally, economically, and displace some oil use. Now these are things which the UK Government could be doing in relatively short order. Now, why would you want to try and do this because if we don’t do this, we’re going to end up having to build more coal stations just to keep the show on the road. And I completely understand that it’s quite rational to want to mitigate co2 emissions. But if you’ve got your system into such a parlous condition that you have to build a coal station, or see extraordinarily high prices and disconnections. Well, I’m sorry, you know, that sort of grave error, you’ll just have to build the coal stations and put up with the emissions. But we don’t have to do that we might be able to stave off the the evil day of having to rebuild a coal station. But if it comes to that, well, we’ll have to do it. push comes to shove, we’ll have to do it. So I’m in favor of advanced planning now. Yes, endorsed the gas nuclear strategy, but start thinking for advanced supercritical coal as a backstop, in case the nuclear program is behind schedule, because after all, I don’t think there has been a nuclear program which was on time yet, so we’re gonna have to be realistic. Think about this, we may need to build some coal stations in the next five years.
Robert Bryce 30:05
Well, I’m heartened that you’re talking about gas, nuclear what I call end to end natural gas to nuclear. I’ve been talking about the same thing for a dozen years. So I’m not, not not bragging here. But the these are two sources that are scalable, relatively low carbon, they’re the technologies are proven the technology is diffused around the world. This can be done. And just one other quick fellow to add to what you said. And then I want to talk about the North Sea. It last December in Shandong province, the Chinese began operating high temperature gas reactors and at 200 megawatts. And so this technology while we are fiddling and I would say I started right this with Rome, or Europe isn’t burning, because it can’t afford the fuel. It’s crumbly. But that the technology is well known and is being is being proven robust, and the Chinese are lapping us by not a little bit. But let’s talk about the North Sea, because it’s another point that you make, and I thought was really remarkable the numbers that you point out about the North Sea production, because, you know, as we discussed, I’m a little older than you are. But I’ve been I remember when the discovery of the North Sea field happened and how big of an event it was in Britain and how, how quickly, the UK and the other countries on the North Sea moved to exploit the the oil and gas there. You said that the output from the North Sea peaked in 2000. And since then, it’s fallen by about two thirds for both oil and gas production. And that you said that in 2021, the energy production overall energy production in the UK was the lowest in 50 years. So my question that I put down here is, how important is domestic energy production to self governance and energy security?
John Constable 31:47
Well, we can become autarkic obsessives about this, of course, it is actually fine to import energy, find lots of things provided, you’re able to trade to an advantage. And the real point for us is that we’ve neglected our production in the UK, needlessly. So we put ourselves in a weak position, we become rock distressed importers, when we could be producing quite a bit, and in a much better position for trading. And it’s simply because the civil service in the UK believed that these were sunset industries, that renewables we’re going to supplant them so that we wouldn’t need to keep producing natural gas and oil in Saudi Arabia when,
Robert Bryce 32:33
right and we’re going to create more jobs and the jobs promise, and over and over,
John Constable 32:39
is very powerful. Now, the Saudi Arabia of wind, and the Scottish Government still talks about this, of course. But when you come back to the physics, again, wind doesn’t have any thing to offer in terms of security of supply. So even if you were gung ho for wind, you should also have been gung ho for natural gas out of the North Sea, because it’s the necessary guarantor of security supply on a renewables based system. That was a simple mistake. That was an error.
Robert Bryce 33:08
And dammit, comfortable. That’s the part that I’m used to. It’s like, it’s not just an error that affects I mean, it’s a policy choice, right, as a policy decision. It’s so consequential, that the error is so large and so impactful for the entire society, that that’s the part where, I mean, you use the word unforgivable before which, you know, I reserve for a few things, right. But I think that that’s the right word that this is a blunder of colossal proportions that are affecting millions. And yet, it’s kind of blundered into it. But that brings me back to the one question, why has this promotion of what you call, you say renewables have no role in modern society? And you just said that a minute ago? Why then this is this marketing? Why has it been so incredibly successful? I can offer you some ideas about here in the US. Why is it been so successful in Britain? And why did Boris Johnson use this Saudi Arabia? When why in the UK why and across the EU? Has this marketing of renewables and the adoption of it been so successful?
John Constable 34:13
Well, as Deborah Lieberman and I point out in this article in the Financial Post, I, people just don’t understand the entropy issue is one of the parts of you know, physics, which just hasn’t entered the public consciousness. I relativity postdates thermodynamics, in physics, but it’s slipped into the public mind much more easily as if there’s something there already that they rather enjoy. But thermodynamics is people just don’t understand it very well at all. So the idea of free energy is very attractive. But of course, anybody understands what low quality energy it is the fact that it’s free, doesn’t shouldn’t weigh very much with you. I mean, for that matter.
Robert Bryce 34:56
You say that I’m thinking in my head Well, yeah, okay. So right free Energy. Okay, well, I got a big stack of wood here, I’m gonna give it to you go drive your car with it. Well, no, that’s no Hell no, right now, it may be as free as you can imagine, but it doesn’t it’s as you point out, it’s not ordered and you use a you used it in the in the paper you talked about the EU is and as gas is the only thing I’m quoting here, the only thermodynamically competent and immediately scalable generator left on the system. I like that phrase, which I don’t know, that I’ve seen before. And you’ve used it already in our discussion. What is thermodynamically competent mean?
John Constable 35:33
Well, it’s these all low entropy sources of energy, which can produce a very surplus, large surplus of work available to serve human needs over that which is needed to extract convert and deliver the energy from, say, the gas itself. So it’s a way of looking at the energy return on energy invested matter. Okay, looking at it in terms of entropy, rather than in terms simply of jewels, although, of course, we’re talking about the same thing, right.
Robert Bryce 36:03
But that, but it’s the conversion of the jewels to watts, that’s the key, right? That that ability, that availability of jewels to make them into Watts is that that conversion
John Constable 36:11
trilobal walks, of course, controllable watts, because we want to be able to increase and decrease the rate at which energy is supplied, and you’d like to be able to turn lights off as well as turning them on, because you want to go to sleep, no control over the flow of energy is very important. That’s part of the high degree of order, which is present in a really sophisticated modern system.
Robert Bryce 36:35
And that’s where the nuclear part comes in, as you say, because it’s the so thermo, that would be a way to think about to do that. Nuclear is the most thermodynamically competent source that we have, because it delivers very high heat and very high concentration, which can then be turned into controllable watts. Right, Is that Is that a fair summary?
John Constable 36:54
It seems that, you know, within the atomic structure, you’ve still got traces of the very low entropy state of the early stages of the universe. And they’re available for us to use. At the moment, we’ve been using the improbable states, which have been wound up on the surface of the earth over millions and millions of years, from energy from the sun evolved structures, organic structures, plants and animals, which now produce oil, gas, coal. And we have that temporary winding up on the earth, which we’re now burning. But there it is, within the atomic structures, there are traces of this very early order, which we can release, it’s not easy, but then it’s not easy to use fossil fuels, actually. And when Alexander’s armies marched into the Caspian, you know, they discovered oil, it was bubbling out of the ground, but they couldn’t use it. I mean, if they’d been able to use it, we’d all be speaking Macedonia. And in fact, they just they burnt it in lamps, and did play tricks with it. To use a difficult source such as that you need a lot of embodied capital, you need refineries and people able to build diesel engines for you. And it’ll take time before we get really good at nuclear. I know the industry likes to say it’s material, but that’s in essence, that’s really marketing. They’re trying to instill public confidence. The truth is that technologies take a long time to build and develop end
Robert Bryce 38:12
to end to deploy at scale and to deploy. So how confident are you Rolls Royce made a splashy announcement? I wrote about it in Forbes a few weeks ago, saying that they have a new SMR 400 megawatts electric I think if memory serves, and they did some calculations on it, and if they’re what they’re saying is correct. The power densities are enormous, 10,000 watts per square meter, which is just great. I mean, you know, that’s the kind of power density that we need. Are you confident and Rolls Royce? I mean, to the it seems like they have the installed industrial base is an old line, it’s, you know, it’s got a champion of Britain has been for a long time, can they pull this off?
John Constable 38:50
Well, I hope they get can build some at a reasonable cost, the number of sites that they’re actually looking at is still relatively small, I’m not against them doing it, I do think it would be wrong to mislead the public and say, this is going to solve all our problems. Right? Right. It’ll take a while for them to build any at all. And they won’t be able to build a very large number. In the UK, there are only a limited number of suitable sites to do. So these are
Robert Bryce 39:15
the constraints. And so it’s just again, the constraints on the system, that the network itself, whether it’s the metallurgy, whether it’s the mining, whether it’s the sites, the transmission, this is what I think we’re running up against here in the US as well. And even globally, I would argue that the network is being strained, whether it’s cold delivery that ships or you know, barges on in German rivers or or the rest of it that the network is being strained to a degree that I don’t recall being this strain globally, the energy networks as what we’re seeing now since the 70s, maybe
John Constable 39:47
it will, I think this is an indirect reflection of declining societal sophistication. And we’re much actually much less complex and rich than we were certainly much less than we think we are We’re importing a lot of goods from fossil fueled Asia at the moment. So we think we’re still well off. But perhaps we’re not going back to Rolls Royce, I’m really in favor of them having a go. And but these are half size PW ours. So they’re not that exciting technically. But that’s incense quite a good thing because they should be fairly easy to build and to run safely. I’d like to see more emphasis on something which is genuinely innovative and creative, high temperature gas cooled reactors, which as you quite rightly said, you know, being deployed in China at this moment. And indeed, I think there’s every indication that China is moving understands this very well, you know, the engineer, bureaucrats of Beijing, really get this. They understand this much better than the lawyers in Washington or in Westminster, I’m afraid. And they’re, they’re going to do an end run around renewables, because they understand the importance of thermodynamically competent fuels. And I’ve lived and worked in Asia and Japan as it happens. And Asia is fascinated by the Industrial Revolution, really, and they worked very hard to try to understand what happened in Europe. How was it that Europe became such a dominant economy, displacing that of China, which, after all, was by far the world’s biggest, the most sophisticated in the 70s and 80s, early 18th century, and yet, within a few 100 years, that had been turned around completely. So they’re very motivated to understand what had happened. And I think they got the answer, right. They saw that, in fact, it was the introduction of coal, and then oil and then gas, whereas in West, we tend to have prided ourselves on political measures. So it’s institutional, and liberal economic measures. I think that’s a mistake. Those liberal political and economic institutions are actually an output of the wealth created by fossil fuels. We’ve got it the wrong way around, I suspect, China, and I think Japan to actually I’ve got this right, they understand the importance of thermodynamically competent fuels, and they realize that the next step will be nuclear. And they’re doing that in China, not for reasons connected to climate change, but because they want to build an extremely powerful and rich and complex society. And they’re getting on with doing that. So they’re making a lot of progress, as far as I can tell.
Robert Bryce 42:14
And then China is building 46 reactors in the US is building two. I mean, that’s the that’s the scorecard
John Constable 42:20
impressive numbers, aren’t they they tell they tell their own story. Right.
Robert Bryce 42:24
But going back to what you said earlier, John, about this idea about, you know, getting back to Why would this happen? Why this romantic notion about renewables in the belief that they couldn’t, you know, with 100% renewable crowd, and they are thick in the United States, and the, you know, I call them spreadsheet jockeys, these academics with these fancy models, oh, well, if we only had this and this and this and why don’t we we only have to double or triple the size of the high voltage transmission network, then we can this is child’s play, we can make it all happen. But if what you said before about this, the lack of scientific understanding of the lack of sophistication of the general public and policymakers, the word that keeps coming back into my mind around this whole renewable business is hoodwinked that we’ve been we’ve been we’ve been snookered. You know, I don’t know what the British is in for that. But it would be but that because of the our ignorance or lack of engineering and scientific understanding of the natural world and of energy and power, that we’ve fallen into this mess, willingly, because we’re just stupid. That’s a bitter, it’s a bitter analysis, but it’s, it’s close to what I think can I see
John Constable 43:39
we may deserve that term, I’m afraid Yes, I wish we could be more charitable about it and say there’s been a lot of wishful thinking in this area. If people want to be able to live prosperous lives, without doing harm to others or to the environment. This is not an attractive idea. And renewable sort of offers that. In its rhetoric, it suggests that this is low impact energy. Well, as it turns out, it’s not low impact. It has tremendous environmental impacts, because the correction of the defects the entropy defects require enormous capital structures and very complex electricity systems, which still rely on fossil fuels to run them. So the rhetoric turns out actually to be bogus. But the rhetoric is persuasive, that people think that this is actually a harmless way of supporting modern society. So I can see why the rhetoric has worked. And of course, the wind turbine itself is a very powerful, and indeed an iconic object. It suggests both a flower and a crucifix. It suggests sacrifice and redemption and rebirth all in one. One single object. It’s the spin doctors dream. In fact, it’s Doctor There you go. Yes, it’s everywhere in in the iconography. To me, of course, and I dare say to you, and once you understand the economics behind these things, it just just scandal I find The object, the pictures of these things now, economically nauseating, because it suggests to me, I’m high rates for consumers subsidies, and a lot of lies about the actual performance of the industry. So it doesn’t work on me any longer. But I completely understand why it works on other people,
Robert Bryce 45:18
I have grown to actually just hate them. I mean, I just don’t I reserve hatred for a very few things, but the way the industry has sold itself, and the amount of subsidies that they have given had been given, and the fact that they push are still pushing so hard to get yet more. And that the the part that to just add to what you said that these ESG scores around, you know, environmental, social and governance, I mean, for the best example of how upside down this whole thing is, is that NextEra Energy and I’ve written about this, they put a wind project right in the middle of known Golden Eagle habitat. And on did it on purpose After being warned by the federal government, the United States not to do it, because of the the, the the effect of negative effect on the Eagles and the fact that they were going to kill eagles, the company did it anyway. And then in their ESG report, they featured that very same wind project as being an example of how great they’re doing, I thought this is the world is just turned upside down. I mean, it just makes no sense whatsoever.
John Constable 46:16
It’s possible to get away with a great deal with a renewable energy project in a wildland area, which would be absolutely inconceivable for any other kind of industrial project. You know, they are a made industry, they can get away with a lot.
Robert Bryce 46:30
And that may or may or may in industry. It’s kind of a mob
John Constable 46:35
criticism, yes, beyond criticism. And we’ve seen it in in Scotland, and indeed in England as well. And it is indeed very unattractive. People speaking and speaking on environmental in line, and then doing things which are extraordinarily harmful to local environmental conditions, nausea, and
Robert Bryce 46:57
humans and people and the noise and the noise, the noise created by these machines is just talked to several
John Constable 47:02
good neighbors. We all know that. Yes, it’s it’s very unattractive, indeed. But at this point, we can become full liberal market economists and say this would never have happened if they had not been backed up by state coercion when regulations guaranteeing market share and giving them subsidies. And, of course, the policy requirements which have built up the whole ESG requirement within law in the UK, it’s actually now a criminal offence, not to report auto misreport your carbon energy consumption and your carbon emissions. And in addition, within that criminally sanctioned a part of the Companies Act, you’re now required to state your best endeavours to switch to renewable energy. Now, these sorts of pressures are extremely useful for the renewables industry. They’re part of the general context, which are distorting the markets in their favor. When you have certain relentlessly artificial positive conditions created by regulation, you’re going to get a lot of corporate misbehavior. And that’s what we’re seeing from the renewable sector. corporate
Robert Bryce 48:08
corporate corporate corporate misbehavior. Yeah. I call it I call it I call it corporatism. Because I think that that’s what we’ve seen is this alliance between these NGO climate groups, I don’t call them environmental groups, I don’t call their NGO pressure groups. And they’ve just completely allied themselves with corporate interests who are want to stick these solar and wind projects, force them on rural communities. And that to me is just a remarkable if this, were the oil and gas industry behaving this way, it would be front page news,
John Constable 48:36
it would indeed, yes. This is a classic Baptist and bootlegger kind of situation, isn’t it? Actually, yeah. And
Robert Bryce 48:43
let me ask you this, John, about that, about politics? Because I mean, we’re, you know, what’s remarkable to me as well about, you know, what we’re talking about here is just this idea around belief, right and about energy and what should be a scientific, and in a pure analytical math, physics based discussion has become very much a political discussion about, you know, whether you’re conservative or liberal or what, you know, left, right, etc. How do you describe your politics? I’m just curious.
John Constable 49:10
Our politics has become dominated by climate change.
Robert Bryce 49:13
Nobody uses personal politics,
John Constable 49:14
my own personal politics. I probably a classic 19th century liberal, not in the American sense, I’m economically liberal.
Robert Bryce 49:25
And how does how do you how do you explain that, please, I’m gonna dive into that first. Second.
John Constable 49:29
I want to see low taxes and small government. I think economies run best when people make their own decisions. And I think that’s, that’s an information theoretic perspective. Governments are just very bad at collecting sufficient information and analyzing it to make macro economic decisions. And and indeed, the whole point of my study on the European Union’s energy and climate policies since 1990, is fundamentally to say, this is one of the largest arrows in state planning on record in the economic record global economic record, it’s a, it’s a centralized decision decision about renewable energy. And it was a mistake. If this has been left to individual decisions, this error would never have been made. And indeed, it’s quite conceivable. And it’s very likely that if there had been a general instruction from government to reduce emissions, rather than to select particular technologies, we would now have lower emissions without all these high costs, because liberal markets would have experimented and found decent ways of reducing emissions through gas and the adoption of nuclear energy. So there’ll be a natural gravitation towards superior fuels, which are also low carbon, we might even have seen carbon capture and sequestration on coal for all I know, it won’t happen now, I think because we’ve so distorted the markets for renewables, but it might have happened. And that might have been tenable. Which brings us around to the character of the green NGOs and what it is they really want? I mean, do they really want to reduce emissions? Well, you wonder, because the policies they recommend, actually don’t reduce emissions at reasonable costs. So they’re not long term sustainable, they seem to hate nuclear much more than they love the planet. If they really cared about reducing emissions, they would have been much more tolerant of gas, coal, the carbon capture and sequestration, and indeed, ultimately of nuclear. In other words, they would have adopted a physically reasonable and rational line towards a low carbon economy. Instead, they recommended renewables. Are they actually interested in reducing emissions? Are they more interested in blocking nuclear development? And indeed, in reducing wealth in the West? Is there a very strong contract and converge agenda here on under their politics? I
Robert Bryce 51:44
suspect contract can converge. What do you mean there?
John Constable 51:47
So that the you have very large wealth differentials between nations in the world at present? And some people think that we should the West should contract become less wealthy? And well, the developing world should become richer. So we should all converge on the same level of
Robert Bryce 52:01
wealth. Okay, I got you, which explains this whole Oh, why is Sri Lanka had such a high ESG rating? And if only we were more like Sri Lanka, then we would this is what we heard a year ago. We don’t hear that much anymore. But I see contract
John Constable 52:17
verge. I think there’s quite a large part of that. But green politics are very complicated. So a large part of it is antinuclear, either a sincere, very sincere green to a very pro nuclear and full marks to them. They follow the logic through, they say that they think that climate change is a major problem. So it needs something serious to tackle it. Well, that’s going to have to be neutral in the longer term. Fair enough. That’s a good logic. But those who are betting on renewables clearly are not interested really in reducing emissions, or they’re just ignorant. They’ll have to make up their own minds which they are.
Robert Bryce 52:52
A quick station by station break. My guest is John, John Constable. He’s the director of energy at the Global Warming Policy Foundation. We’re talking about his new report. It’s called Europe’s green energy experiment, a costly failure in unilateral climate policy, which you can find on the GWP f.org on the web. That’s the GWP f.org. You want to go back to that we talked about this when you were on the show back in February. Oh, well. Let’s talk about Boris for just a minute because I have Boris on my Are you? I thought Boris, I just thought this guy may stick around forever. Were you surprised that he resigned?
John Constable 53:32
No, I’m surprised he’s lasted as long as he has really. Thanks. He’s been quite close to being defenestrated before. though. Very disappointing Prime Minister in many respects, genuinely charismatic personality and a large majority. So very promising. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to secure good advisors as he had been when he was mayor of London who’s quite successful Mayor of London, but he was very well advised. In Downing Street. Unfortunately, he wasn’t well advised. And particularly he picked up advisors from close personal friends of his job and our Lord Zac Goldsmith, who is a a doctrinaire green. And he recommended renewables to him. Now, Boris Johnson doesn’t have any technical background. So he couldn’t actually make a rational decision about his friends advice. He just took it pretty much, wholeheartedly. I don’t think he has any particularly strong green principles. He just believe what he was told by his friends and therefore he took the government very powerfully down this particular green line, and I think it’s, it’s part of the reason why he’s run into the sand.
Robert Bryce 54:44
He could who’s gonna replace him as the Tories are gonna have to pick someone else? Yeah.
John Constable 54:49
They’re in the process of doing it. Now. One of the things we learned about the Conservative Party the Tories during the Johnson Premiership is that the party itself is very weak, it doesn’t have a deep talent base. Its intellectual competence is not particularly distinguished. And that’s showing up in the current competition for a successor. You know, there’s, there’s no obvious successor, there’s no star who just steps forward and says, Yeah, this is my job. There are a number of people more or less promising, mostly less promising rather than more, I’m afraid and the party is weak. That’s true of the Labour Party to actually there’s a general political problem here, it hasn’t been attracting first class intellects for quite some time. And that deficiency is really beginning to show.
Robert Bryce 55:39
I fear when you’re saying that it just comes to me. I mean, we’re similar situation in the US. I mean, I’m very proud to be an American, I’m bullish on the United States. But we have a leadership vacuum here, and a lot of incompetence at the very highest levels and no sensibility about just the how important energy is to the economy. And I don’t see Biden go to Saudi Saudi Arabia, while blocking drilling here in the US, I’m just it, you know, my mind is just swimming in terms of just basic kind of analysis of Wait a minute, where are we? And where are we trying to go? And you’re going over there, they’ve already made it clear, they’re not going to increase oil production very much, why are you even going? You know, and that to me was, I mean, disappointing. Um, but I want to go back to this argument that you made in the Mont Pelerin, society, article that you lecture that you delivered, because I think it’s it goes ties back to what we’ve been discussing about the criticality of energy and its its ability and its key role in wealth building, you wrote it as wealth, therefore, that is necessary to create freedom. Subsequently, the processes are autocatalytic, which is a great word, greater freedom, leading to still greater wealth, I shall suggest that there is consequently a realistic threat of deep and enduring reductions in aggregate, national, regional, and indeed global wealth, reductions that will lead as implied by the axiom to reductions in freedom. This process will be a self as powerfully self poisoning, as that of growth was reflexively invigorating. But you’re ultimately talking about the the role of energy developing wealth that then created more freedom, which we talked about at length before, but that it’s, it’s the availability of energy that creates wealth that makes people agitate for more personal freedom, not the other way around. It wasn’t some, you know, enlightened King, who said, Oh, no, I want to make a more democratic society. So that the wealth is that the wealth creation comes from greater ability to convert energy into useful work and produce more things to power to do to move ourselves to do calculations to use lighting and amplification, all these other things? That’s the key that this And therein lies, I think, if I’m putting my finger on it correctly, that therein lies the great point here that this this this destruction of our, the basis of our of our wealth, threatens the entire society. Is that an overstatement?
John Constable 57:59
No, I think that’s exactly right. I mean, Liberty is wealth itself, it has this auto catalytic effect on the creation of more wealth. Once you allow people to express their desires, then you’ll get more wealth
Robert Bryce 58:11
and give them more and give them mobility and the mobility is both physical the physical mobility leads to more economic mobility, right, which is about that ability to capture and use energy to, for particularly for transportation services, right.
John Constable 58:24
Their freedom to realize their desires, is as simple as that. Wealth is an improbable state of matter in relation to human desire. And as Bernard Mandeville famously wrote about in the early 18th century, that we are very concerned about other people satisfying their own wishes, we call that vise very often. So, you know, public, public benefits can be directly can be generated by the satisfactions of private wishes, which we sometimes call vise and shouldn’t really learn how to be tolerant of other dissatisfactions other people’s wishes, is something you can afford in a rich society. That’s why freedom comes about in rich societies, we become tolerant of other people succeeding, and they return that by being tolerant of our own success, which is why I’m so concerned about what the Europeans have done to themselves. Because it’s quite clear that our Europe Europe’s energy systems are perturbed, deeply perturbed, that consumption is collapsing. And where does this stop there? What effects does it have It’s not trivial, that we’re not talking about simply not having a new car or having fewer holidays. These are actually potentially deeply damaging to societal structure, and indeed, to the arrangements the tolerant liberal societies that have emerged in the west and which we value
Robert Bryce 59:50
as you’re saying that what I’m what I’m what here’s my here’s deindustrialization. There was that remarkable piece in The Wall Street Journal just a few days ago, about the potential shuttering of the BAS Monaco complex in Germany because they don’t have enough gas. Well, you’re going to deindustrialized, one of the most important chemical complexes in in all of Europe. Well, then what what is Europe do then where you lose your manufacturing, then you are well and truly screwed, right? I mean, this, this is one of the keys to wealth creation is his ability to transform those hydrocarbons into complex molecules and then end up in the things we need. Right. So is that where that could end up or we Europe could end up?
John Constable 1:00:29
It’s part of European policy to further reduce energy consumption. The only result of that will be all that total deindustrialization. At which point Europe will simply become a theme park of its own cultural past, and a very uncomfortable position. That will be and I do think that the distress policy correction is already underway, and we
Robert Bryce 1:00:49
will see that again, Europe will become a theme park of its own. What was that last part in a theme
John Constable 1:00:53
park of its own cultural past? A holiday destination? Right, we’ll be getting guided tours of our national monuments to let’s
Robert Bryce 1:01:04
go look at those. Let’s go look at the British Library. Isn’t it nice
John Constable 1:01:08
thing? Yeah. Oh, nice. Yes. And then they’ll fly back to China. On a hypersonic jet. It’s some. It is very puzzling that the US Civil Servants, regard deindustrialization with such software, they didn’t seem remarkably concerned about it. But I don’t think that opinion is universal. Now, there are large parts of the European public that are concerned about the industrialization, a German German industry is actually concerned. And the donee wishes to remain a major industrial power. It is, after all, the only nation in Europe with a positive trade balance. So they still think that’s a good idea. And the other countries have got used to the idea of importing goods and services. So I don’t think that the game is quite up, but it is very late in the day to start the correction. And you will have seen in the report that one of the things I say about it is that there is no attractive path forward. Now. The even the wisest path forward is painful. You know, we’ve done so much damage to ourselves that correcting it is going to be very difficult, and it will require considerable sacrifices and standard of living in order to raise the capital to make the necessary corrective actions. I mean, there is no sweet and velvet lined path to the sunlit uplands, this is going to be difficult and unattractive for so it’s going to require political leadership at very high caliber to explain to the European electorates that very serious mistakes have been made since 1990, when these policies came in, and that correcting them requires major sacrifices in standard of living and possibly in levels of freedom. I hope that’s not true. But I can see that these may require emergency measures. And that people may not just be given the opportunity to engage, say, in the planning process for a nuclear power station, that the need for the nuclear power stations will be so critical, that government will simply have to take over as indeed they have in France in the past, they become entirely de reduced about it. I think that’s extremely regrettable, but it may become necessary.
Robert Bryce 1:03:14
So the word you didn’t say there was rationing.
John Constable 1:03:18
I hope that well, we already have rationing, of course. I mean, those declines in energy consumption are the result of price rationing,
Robert Bryce 1:03:24
because it’s unaffordable that people can’t afford it. Now.
John Constable 1:03:28
So it’s been rationed in Europe, and and the energy consumption has been exported to low cost areas in Asia. We’re all living on Chinese coal, in effect. So we have prices, we have price rationing already in Europe, will there be a stricter and more legally coupon based rationing? Well, of course, the green policies are really talking about that, in effect allowances for energy. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope he doesn’t come to that in the corrective measures. But but things are looking very difficult for you. Well, so
Robert Bryce 1:04:01
now, I take no joy in saying this. But it seems like if if Europe is going to D industrialize, where are the places that those industries might go, and China would be one, but if you want stable energy supplies at relatively low cost, the United States would be the place to go. Am I
John Constable 1:04:17
no opportunity for you? Yes, absolutely. On the other hand, you have an administration in Washington that seems very attracted by the European model. And as we is trying to adopt it, I think you aren’t as far down this track as we are. And the paper I’m publishing now on this subject shows that it’s not difficult to find out the truth about what’s happened in Europe. The numbers are the numbers. The numbers are the numbers, you can go and look for yourselves and see what whether you think this kind of policy is attractive for the United States. And I think you’ll agree that it isn’t.
Robert Bryce 1:04:54
So what’s your I mean, your can because as I read your report, you’re saying this is a warning for the United States is that a fair is Got a fair analysis.
John Constable 1:05:01
It’s a warning for any country that hasn’t gone down this path already. And the United States is one of those places Canada is another. And Australia to a lesser degree. Also, any country that hasn’t done this should look at the results in Europe. Don’t listen to the hype, go and look at the numbers, go and look at the actual benefits returned. Look at the cost of abatement. That’s the the cost per tonne of carbon dioxide reduced. Has it been economic? Is it actually worse than the climate change that it’s aiming to prevent? As it turns out, it’s several times worse than the climate change is aiming to prevent? Has it produced sustainable green industries? No, it hasn’t, hasn’t produced an increasingly sophisticated electricity system? No, actually, the load factor of the system has declined very simply that much less productive than it was 20 or 30 years ago. These are extraordinary facts. But they’re all very obvious. They’re lying around on the surface if you care to go and pick them up and draw your own conclusions. So I hope the United States doesn’t go down this boat both because many of my friends are Americans. And I don’t like to think of them having a more difficult time. But also because well, the free world needs at least some parts of its energy system intact. Perhaps we can reboot Europe out of an intact American system. We have done that, of course in the past, and perhaps we will have to do it again.
Robert Bryce 1:06:21
But that hurts but that harks back to your your warning about this is this the greatest crisis energy and cost crisis since World War Two that this is this is the the key challenge now for Europe to recover decades of best bad policy.
John Constable 1:06:36
Yes, and correcting it is going to be very expensive and very difficult. The UK is now out of the European Union. So Legally speaking, we’re in a better position now and indeed better position than most of the other European states. However, physically speaking, we have problems which they don’t have. We’ve closed most of our coal power stations, we have very few left. Indeed, Alok Sharma, who was Secretary of State for energy and is now cop 26. Conference, the climate change conference president actually went around blowing them up to show that we were powering past coal, almost appalling folly if ever there was one. So we don’t have that coal based which we can return the Europeans do. There are quite a lot of coal stations, which are underutilized in in Europe, and they can be brought back. And indeed they are being bought back out of necessity, which
Robert Bryce 1:07:26
is truly remarkable, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve dubbed this the iron law of electricity, which says people, businesses and countries will do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need. And so we’re seeing this return to coal in a huge way. I mean, the big the huge increase in coal consumption in 2021. In the you know, the BP numbers have it very clearly, it’s just, I did some quick calculations I’ve written about this, but that just the increase in hydrocarbon consumption last year, globally, was about 27x joules. That was the increase in hydrocarbons that is equal to the output of all global solar and wind, just the increase in hydrocarbon use is equal to the output of all global solar and wind. I mean, this is completely
John Constable 1:08:06
unsurprising. This is distress policy correction, really serious error was made. And in order to correct it, we’re now in panic measures going back to hydrocarbons. And the greens are to blame for this. So emissions will rise, because they’re not necessarily going to be used optimally, the thermal efficiency of the power stations won’t necessarily be that high. And it’s a climate disaster. And the greens are to blame, as I say, and if we hadn’t been disturbing the energy systems in the way that’s quite obvious in the European Union, since 1990, we would have systems that will be cleaner and cheaper than they are today that we no question of this helter skelter return to low thermal efficiency coal, because we’re desperate, and we will be progressing some more steadily towards a low carbon economy. And how has that come about? Well, for the reasons we’ve already discussed, this strange combination of rien antipathy to nuclear and a desire actually not to see continual growth, continued growth in the western economies. So there’s lots of social engineering and hostilities neatly. And
Robert Bryce 1:09:15
you know, I guess, maybe, John, you’re a little more even tempered than I am. But when you say that it’s a climate disaster, and the greens are to blame. I mean, there’s part of me, that’s just it just makes me so incredibly mad. And I don’t say the word rage very often, but it’s just this. The policies are so wrongheaded, and yet you’re delivering this in a very cool, collected, even though it’s 80 degrees where you are right now, but it’s a very cool and rational assessment. Do you find yourself just getting pissed off about all this and angry or
John Constable 1:09:45
that would be disparate, wouldn’t it? I know that it’s not too late. You know, things are bad, but it’s not too late to fix this. It’s going to be jolly difficult. And we can say that we’ve left it very late in the day to start fixing it. It’s going to be hard, but it isn’t too late. To start, and we can do this. And there’s just enough technical expertise left in our societies to turn this around. It’s partly a lot in with largely a political problem.
Robert Bryce 1:10:12
Because because the politicians don’t understand what they don’t understand they
John Constable 1:10:18
listen, they’re not even showing an interest in understanding and not trying to.
Robert Bryce 1:10:22
So again, my guest is John Constable, my friend, John Constable, his work I quite admire. He’s a director of energy at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, you can find his new report, which is called Europe’s green energy experiment, a costly failure and unilateral climate policy. It’s at the website, the GWP f.org. So just last few questions, John, I, we’ve gone longer, I usually keep these podcasts to about an hour, but there’s so much to discuss. So whose work do you admire in this field? I saw in your report that you used some data that was from Vaclav Smil, who’s just as incredibly productive and rather pessimistic. author who’s obviously out of candidate he’s worked out great greatly admire. Who do you follow? Who do you zoos work in this field? Do you admire? I know, You’ve done a lot of historical analysis and a lot of his history books and so on. What Who do you think is really going on in Europe that has their finger on this is really calling it out? Or in the US?
John Constable 1:11:21
Well, Vojislav is, of course, an excellent writer on these subjects. And he knows much about it. And his historical understanding is very deep. Perhaps he is a little pessimistic about it. That’s partly his central European background. Yeah, he’s joking. Yeah, right. Even check. So yes. But yeah, that’s the data is excellent. And I have some disagreements with him about the role of energy and wealth creation, I think he’s too timid on that he could be much more assertive about it. I’ve tried to be more assertive about it. The writers who meant so much to me, in thinking about these problems in a general way, tend to be historians, economic historians, particularly, and I singled out one who died quite recently, Anthony Ridley EA regularly, whose books on the role of energy in the transition to sustained growth in England, are a landmark in our understanding of this subject.
Robert Bryce 1:12:22
And what’s what can you give me? Because my next question was, what books are you reading? What was what What books would you point me to then?
John Constable 1:12:28
Well, for Anthony Wrigleys, books, energy and the English industrial revolution, Cambridge University Press, 2010, or 11, I forgotten which, and then a subsequent book called The path to sustained growth, also published by Cambridge, a couple of years later, 2016 I think it may have been something like that. These are excellent books. And he was a demographer, and understood, it uses very sophisticated data analysis related to occupational tight, which I find particularly interesting, because diversity of occupational types are very good metric for liberty, people are able to choose different things to do in the pre cold world. There were very few job types.
Robert Bryce 1:13:12
So specialization, that specialization is a reflection of greater liberty and
John Constable 1:13:18
wealth, wealth, and so on, so forth. And that’s a lot of that comes out of that work. And it’s, it’s fascinating. And Tony understood all that. And the books are profound, they repay very careful reading, and his output goes back into the 60s. And some of those early papers are also extremely interesting. Wrigley,
Robert Bryce 1:13:34
our our IG, or is there a wn
John Constable 1:13:35
in front of W ri G le y,
Robert Bryce 1:13:38
right? EA Wrigley. Thank you. Good. Well, so last question, John. And that’s a question you may already been expecting. So because we’ve we’ve talked about a lot of things here that are depressing. And I am long term optimistic. But in the short term, I am increasingly worried about just kind of the state of the world, not just the United States in Europe, but just where the disasters in Sri Lanka, food shortages, etc. Fertilizer shortages. So here’s the question, What makes you optimistic? What gives you hope?
John Constable 1:14:10
Well, we can refer to Shakespeare. It is not the worst, so long as we can say, this is the worst. While there’s life, there’s hope. We’re still okay. It’s not a situation is looking bad. But it’s not quite desperate. yet. We’re still rich, we’re still free. And we can turn this around. I mean, the reason why I’m quite happy to talk to anybody. And I’m delighted to be here on the podcast and talk about these issues, because I think more and more people are beginning to focus on it. The fact that you know, you have a big following for this podcast, and that’s fantastic. There are people who are taking it seriously. And I’m encouraged by the fact that some of the greens of my acquaintance are beginning to talk rationally about this entire subject. They’ve got to come on board with this and understand the thermos. knights of energy, because if they’re sincere about climate change, it’s essential to them. And I see encouraging signs there. I’m also optimistic because I think that ultimately free societies do correct course. You know, it’s having tried every possible alternative, perhaps, but they do get it right eventually. And there are signs here and there. In Europe and present, the wake of Ukraine has changed a lot. And it’s focused a lot on mines. And, and a return to coal, although undesirable in many ways is part of that course correction. What will happen in the immediate future is going to be very messy. And it’s quite easy to put yourself into a gloom about that it’s going to be very bumpy. I’m I’ve just written a piece, which I said there is light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel is very long and very winding, there’s going to be there are going to be some bad moments along the way. But there’s plenty of high grade energy, low entropy energy left in the world, we can use it we have a lot of accumulated capital in our societies. We’re all we’re very clever and well educated still. We can do this, but we’re going to have to work pretty hard.
Robert Bryce 1:16:12
Well, we’ll leave it there. John has been great to talk to you again. I recommend everyone check out his his new report. It’s at the GWP f.org. John, thanks a million for coming back on the power hungry podcast. It was a real pleasure. And thanks to all of you in in podcast land for tuning in to the power hungry podcast, give us a good rating on your you know, five 612 stars, whatever you can on your podcast platform you are on and until next time, see you