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Sacrificing Humanity on the Green Altar? (pt.1)
Part 1 - The Global Energy Crisis
Some of the (anti-)scientific and political roots of the current global energy “crisis” go back nearly 100 years, ironically, to Ukraine and Russia.
In September 1898, a peasant family gave birth to a boy in Karlivka, Poltava Governorate (present day Poltava Oblast, Ukraine) in the former Russian Empire. Thirty years later, as a Soviet agronomist Trofim Lysenko published a paper claiming to be able to convert winter wheat to spring wheat by a pseudo-scientific process he called “vernalization”.
Around the same period, scientists in Europe and America were making incredible advances in agronomy through Mendelian genetics. In 1933, American scientist Thomas Hunt Morgan won the Nobel Prize for his discoveries revealing the role chromosomes play in heredity. Western scientists would take the rigorous scientific (genetic) path to higher crop yields and food production.
The Soviet Union went in a different direction. With its agriculture collapsing, by the mid-1930’s Lysenko became the “intellectual” leader of the Soviet Union’s “genetics” efforts to “modernize” Soviet agriculture. By 1940, Stalin appointed Lysenko to the position of Director of Genetics at the USSR’s Academy of Sciences.
American and European scientists’ genetic research, combined with ammonia-based fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, led to dramatic increases in crop yields that would change global food production forever. American agronomist Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for his contributions to dramatically increased world food supply. The bounty from this science feeds around 4 billion people today.
Lysenko, on the other hand, denied that genes existed. He reduced or eliminated the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Even after a 150-fold increase in the acreage of agricultural land cultivated using his methods in the immediate years after the height of the Soviet famines around 1933, crop yields actually decreased.
Lysenko was threatened by the success of western scientists and increasingly challenged by Soviet botanists, biologists, and agronomists. But the Communist party had a lot invested in Lysenko, and he was able to crush dissenting scientists with the power of the State and a complicit media. (Sound familiar?)
What ensued in the USSR would have been bad enough had Lysenko’s practices been contained there. But they were adopted as well by some of its allies, including China’s Communist Dictator Mao Zedong in the late 1950s.
The rest is history. Between the USSR and China, Lysenko’s ideology pretending to be “science” contributed to the deaths of tens of millions of people by famine in the twentieth century.
In a 2017 article in The Atlantic titled “The Soviet Era’s Deadliest Scientist Is Regaining Popularity in Russia”, author Sam Kean summarized the analogy to today’s energy crisis nicely (emphasis ours):
“...when the doctrines of science and the doctrines of communism clashed, (Lysenko) always chose the latter—confident that biology would conform to ideology in the end. It never did.”
How does this tragic chapter in scientific history relate to the current global energy “crisis”? And why do we emphasize the term “crisis” with quotation marks?
The current global energy “crisis” is mostly the result of a similar scientific mistake, driven by blind adherence to “green” (environmental) ideology and divorced from the laws of physics and economics.
We emphasize “crisis” with quotation marks because it’s mostly self-inflicted. Over-reliance on wind and solar energy and the dependence on natural gas these require (especially if coal and nuclear are reduced or eliminated) predictably set the stage for it. And because fossil fuels are still the source of more than 80% of global primary energy, this crisis (scarcity) was not a bug in the green energy transition to wind and solar, it was a predictable feature.
Over reliance on wind and solar energy risks consequences for humanity worse than Lysenko’s tragic chapter in scientific history. It limits global primary energy supply (availability) and drives up the cost of almost everything (which harms the world’s poorest most). It impacts virtually the entire human population of earth, not just the former Soviet Union and China. It has serious and long-range negative consequences for global food production, inflation, industrialization, human prosperity and standards of living, innovation, sovereign debt, and the financial systems that are the lifeblood of modern economies. It hypocritically violates a core principal for us: it makes food and energy more expensive for the developing world and keeps them from industrializing using the same forms of dense (vs. diffuse and weather-dependent), affordable, reliable, abundant, on-demand energy that enabled western civilization to reach its present high standard of living.
How did we get here? Through the most successful religion of the last 30 years – environmentalism. If you prefer “cult” to religion, we won’t argue over semantics.
Environmentalism’s impact on primary energy production since 2000 has been an endless series of constraints and obstructions of all forms of fossil fuels and nuclear energy while forcing a transition to intermittent, unreliable, expensive, weather-dependent forms of “renewable” energy. The former are the energy-dense forms that lifted the western world to the highest living standards in human history.
American innovations in “tight” oil and gas production (“fracking”) likely helped delay this crisis for about a decade. It is also instructive to note that these innovations - inspired by free markets and capitalism - reduced U.S. CO2 emissions from electricity generation faster and deeper than Europe’s centrally-planned “renewable energy” policies. This reduction occurred as a direct result of the flood of cheap natural gas fracking unleashed, which rapidly replaced a portion of the coal used to generate U.S. electricity between 2010 and today.
At the same time, a transition to “renewable” energy has been compelled through government market interference and distortion (subsidization), environmental activism, public-company shareholder activism (“ESG”, or “environmental, social, governance”), weaponizing environmental regulations in the court systems, and other political forces. We will provide examples of each of these, and more, in subsequent articles.
These political forces have dramatically reduced capital investment in traditional hydrocarbons. Particularly relevant to the present energy crisis are oil and gas:
Yet the current generation of renewables – wind, solar, biofuels, biomass, geothermal, battery storge – are simply incapable of providing the base load primary energy necessary for large advanced economies 24/7/365 at any cost. To believe they can do so reliably at the scale necessary for modern industrial economies and living standards is dishonest, economically wasteful (if not ruinous) and dangerous folly for humanity. The environmental impact of deploying these specific technologies at scale has also been badly misrepresented to the public by the media and many environmental non-profit organizations.
Renewable energy in Europe increased rapidly after ~2005. Germany’s Energiewende turbocharged its expansion of, and reliance on, wind and solar. At the same time, green party politics in all of Europe marked most domestic oil, natural gas and coal production for death.
But electricity grids increasingly reliant on wind and solar require fossil fuel (or nuclear) to offset their intermittency. As the portion of electricity generated from “renewables” increased, absent enough domestic fossil fuel production, so did Germany’s (and Europe’s) reliance on Russian natural gas.
After the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, Germany announced the closure of its nuclear power plants by the end of 2022. From that point, Germany (like most of Europe) had effectively bet its energy security and economic future on wind, solar and Russian natural gas. We recognized a decade ago this was unwise (if not ignorant).
Putin was happy to be handed an enormous and growing geopolitical strategic advantage with a steady revenue stream by Europe’s “leaders” (Charlaticians™) and their environmental and energy policies. When Putin calculated that Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas reached a level that would limit the consequences from invading a sovereign neighbor, he invaded Ukraine.
We’re not suggesting Putin would never have invaded Ukraine but for Europe’s renewable energy transition. However, we are certain it created very favorable pre-conditions (and steady source of funding) for Putin to do so.
This in a nutshell is how we arrived at the present energy “crisis”. It is mostly self-inflicted. Putin didn’t cause it, he only forced it to occur sooner and possibly with greater severity than it would have otherwise.
The world is short hydrocarbon molecules. We did this to ourselves, and the effects of environmental policy on fossil fuel production over the last decade mean those molecules are not going to arrive soon enough to avoid serious consequences. The large reduction in global upstream capital expenditures shown above means the additional supply needed can’t be produced fast enough. With the possible exception of fracking in the U.S., it takes years - not weeks or months - to bring new fossil fuel production online and to market.
Evidence of the looming crisis was becoming obvious well before Russia invaded Ukraine. As one example, the chart below shows European benchmark natural gas prices at the main European hub, the Dutch TTF (European version of US Henry Hub) in the 48 months prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
TTF prices for natural gas began to spike in summer 2021. Soon thereafter, the Biden administration began releasing crude from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). Well before Putin invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, global oil and gas markets were reflecting the multi-year lack of upstream capital investment due to environmental, climate change, and ESG pressures and related energy policies.
Most citizens of the world have very little idea just how much of global primary energy consumption still relies on fossil fuels.
Renewables’ share of primary energy consumption has grown significantly over the last 20 years. However, we believe physics, resource constraints, economics, land use politics and the lessons learned from the current energy crisis impose limits on their future growth. In a future issue we’ll show, ironically, the role environmentalism will likely play in constraining the very resources on which wind, solar, biomass, EVs and battery storage rely.
The portion of global primary energy derived from nuclear power has been reduced by almost half over 20 years. We believe this is an enormous mistake, an even bigger opportunity missed, and can also be laid at the feet of the modern environmental movement. Environmentalism, which has roots in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1970s has been, up until now, vehemently opposed to nuclear power generation.
Nuclear energy is a fork in the road for environmentalism. We touch on this in the remaining two parts in this series. It will be a recurring theme in our work.
As is evident by the table above, renewables are only displacing part of the growth in consumption of fossil fuels, not eliminating them. In each decade since the West’s self-imposed energy transition, consumption of primary energy from fossil fuel sources – oil, coal, and natural gas – measured in absolute exajoules has continued to increase.
Advanced nations have spent ~$5 TRILLION since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change policy. How much closer has this actually brought us to a world in which renewables can eliminate fossil fuels yet provide the on-demand primary energy required for humans to flourish? How much closer to displacing most of the CO2 emissions from the electricity sector would western civilization be had we invested even half of this amount in advanced nuclear energy technology?
In Parts 2 & 3, we show what happens to electricity costs when wind and solar make up a significant share of electricity generation. We discuss the correlation between primary energy consumption and prosperity. We look at a few examples of the human consequences of the current energy crisis across the world. And we look at how the energy crisis could change the geopolitical landscape and western politics in ways few see coming.
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