Sunday, 30 March 2008

Environmentalism's Sub-Prime Crisis, or 1st April as Eco-Fool's Day

“He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were first to be put into phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.”

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, “Voyage to Laputa”, chapter 5.

Despite criticisms by its own chief environmental scientist, the British government is bent on requiring petrol pumps to contain at least 2.5% of bio-fuels from 1st April. Even as the evidence mounts that the dash for bio-fuels is causing food shortages for the poor around the Third World and food-price inflation for the poor in the First World, nothing can alter the Diktat that petrol tank not the stomach comes first. Global Warming has become the sales-pitch for the crudest hucksters since the South Sea Bubble.

As the housing market goes into meltdown, the last surviving sector of speculative growth is the “Green Economy.” With EU and British government-mandated and tax-payer-subsidised requirements for so-called “renewable” energy, the only bubble still inflating in the global economy is coloured green. The dollar may be losing value but the alchemy of speculative environmentalism is still profitable. The Greenback can still make money provided it is backed by Green laws and rules which require the public to stump up at prices well beyond even the rise in the cost of oil.

Only a Swift could satirise the corrupt machinations and insider deals which have enabled a cabal of politicians, scientists and public relations spooks to hoodwink the population into paying up for Hot Air as the solution to their energy needs.

Almost three hundred years ago, Swift lampooned the experts of the Royal Society of his day with as “The Grand Academy” which mixed scientific speculation and speculative investment in South Sea Bubble-style projects for human betterment, which might not work but were exceeding profitable.

On his travels, Gulliver described new energy-saving schemes which actually cost more than what they replaced and didn’t work. Anyone who has watched giant high-tech windmills not turning on breezy days despite the taxpayers’ largesse which put them there will recognise that no joke is new – particularly not one at the people’s expense. Gulliver described how the projectors replaced an old mill with a new one further away from the stream which needed artificial means to pump water “on the plea that water agitated by wind and air upon a height… would turn the mill with half the current of a river…” in other words speculation and paper money would produce wealth! “After employing an hundred men for two years, the work miscarried, the projectors went off… putting others upon the same experiment with equal assurance of success, as well as equal disappointment.”

Swift’s Academy in Lagado is involved in “projects” i.e. money-making schemes. – Swift pre-empted today’s commercial-led research where pure science cannot swim in a sea of funding only for projects with a commercial application – and the only commercial applications with prospects of profit require tax-payer subsidy.

Recycling wasn’t invented yesterday. Three hundred years ago enterprising projectors were inviting the public to subscribe to innovative and profitable ways of returning used matter to its pristine state. The South Sea Bubble saw a host of recycling schemes “projected” to the public. One company offered a means for extracting silver from lead, another for making salt water fresh, as well as the Georgian equivalent of the for a wheel for perpetual motion, and "an undertaking which shall in due course be revealed." The purest “green” project in George I’s day was peddled by an early environmental entrepreneur who offered to turn sawdust back into boards and gathered several hundred subscriptions before running off to recycle their cash abroad.

Swift’s members of the Academy of Lagado were the first scientists whose experiments were part of their double role as “projectors.” Nowadays when no scientific research which requires expensive apparatus and laboratory space can get going without sponsorship, the marketing possibilities of the research are an essential component of the funding application. No scientist, however distinguished, receives government funding or private sponsorship just to follow his experimental hunches. If there isn’t a backend in sight for the donors then no funds are forthcoming.

So much public cash is available for Lagadan projects to generate energy by taking the crops out of the mouths of the starving and refining them into the fuel tanks of the environmentally-friendly 8-cylinder hybrid that any alternative research would be irrational – i.e. not on the gravy train.

Just as the sub-prime debacle has resulted in an orgy of “socialism for the rich” as state banks print billions to save the ueber-bonused bankers who misread the mortgage market so catastrophically, so the bio-fuel, wind farm, carbon exchange projects are all funded by the public purse. To get into the racket, it is true that you have punt in a low percentage of “venture capital” which can be written off against tax if your lobbyist doesn’t persuade in his greasy way the government inspectors to grant a license to re-cycle the cash many times over from the obligatory surcharge required of the consumer of such “renewable” energy. Nice profit if you have the start up cash. Guaranteed by those who haven’t. Millions of suckers have to cover the cost and the profit.

Y2K set a precedent. “Experts” predicted doom as the world’s computer systems would go haywire on 31st December, 1999. They cashed in as “consultants” solving a problem which turned out not to exist when un-upgraded computers carried on functioning normally but at much less cost. The Y2K hysteria was a typical “Bubble”. Canny “experts” got their cronies in the media to whip up a scare and then cashed in as worried punters paid for up-grades which they didn’t need. With the dot coms already wobbling badly, Y2K was a welcome boost to the speculators’ income flow. Only the sucker in the street was any worse off.

Rather like “off-balance-sheet” liabilities of the banks, most re-cycling does not involve restoring the trash to some useful end. In reality the vast bulk of “re-cycled” material is simply moved from one jurisdiction to another. The Laputa Council Refuse Department send trucks of material for re-cycling to Lagoda Recycling Ltd. – for a hefty fee paid by the council tax payers. Instead of wasting money and energy on trying to turn the garbage back into something useful, Lagoda Recycling Ltd. transfers responsibility to its Romanian subsidiary, RomTrash which in turn exports it from the EU to its Albanian joint-venture, AlbShet. By now any environmental auditor cannot keep track of the waste’s “trash miles”, not least because his bi-cycle can’t keep up with the fleet of 44 tonne trucks hauling the stuff around the ever-so-environmentally-friendly EU. Most rubbish which isn’t sent to places like Albania or China, simply gets dumped in an EU country like Romania which turns a blind eye to the rules, not least because it doesn’t like to waste paper printing them for the benefit of its own ineffable local enforcement officials who deal only in green paper.

Swift was of course writing on the eve of windmills going out of fashion. Even his eye for human folly masking avarice could not have anticipated that three hundred years later, gormless taxpayers would be subsidising the industrial production of concrete towers with steel or aluminium wings which consume more electricity to make them than thirty years of irregular gyration can recover – but all mightily under-written by taking from the poor to give to the rich projectors.

As the deadline for mixing 2.5% of bio-fuel with every litre of petrol sold in Britain looms on 1st April, it looks as though the intellectual underpinnings of the speculative web of carbon credits and subsidised fuel production is about to unravel just as the sub-prime mortgage crisis burst on an unsuspecting and gullible public. Needless to say even if April Fool’s Day is the Eco-gullibles’ feast day, it will be the public which picks up the bill for this carbon-free re-inflation of the South Sea Bubble.