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What Will Net Zero Ever Do For Us?
Net Zero will deliver up to 60% less energy, 50% less meat, reduced mobility, colder and more expensive homes and fewer foreign holidays.
It’s Easter, so I thought I would link this week’s article to a film that is vaguely Easter related. In the Life of Brian, when they asked: “What have the Romans Ever Done for Us?”, there were many benefits to Roman occupation such as aqueducts, sanitation, roads and irrigation. When it comes to Net Zero, we are being asked to endure many changes to our lives, so it is time to ask the question: “What Will Net Zero Ever Do for Us?”.
We are being asked to cut overall energy use by 46-60% per person. The evidence shows a clear relationship between high energy use and high GDP per capita. Such dramatic cuts in energy use would put us on a par with Ecuador, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. It is clear that reducing energy consumption puts us at severe risk of making us all poorer with big cuts in living standards.
We are also being asked to cut meat consumption by 35-50% and the zealots at UK FIRES want to ban beef and lamb entirely. However, higher meat consumption is linked to longer life expectancy, so big cuts to meat consumption runs the risk of making us live shorter lives.
In addition, there are calls for up to a quarter of all our agricultural land to be re-forested, reducing our ability to grow our own food. The UK FIRES extremists also want to ban all aviation and shipping, so non-rail food imports would be curtailed. They also want to greatly reduce fertiliser use, further reducing crop yields and risking food security.
They don’t stop there: we are to be forced into electric cars and to use them less. We will be forced to heat our homes with heat pumps and install ruinously expensive insulation.
Flying abroad will either be banned or made unaffordable by expensive sustainable aviation fuel. Shipping will either be banned or will rely on as yet unproven ammonia-fired engines that have their own emissions problems with nitrous oxide.
Energy and food are fundamental to our very existence, even worse than Roman occupation. Travel is essential to broaden our minds. We are already highly indebted and growth has been weak. Adding extra burdens to the economy and to ordinary working people risks civil unrest and economic dislocation. It is not as if eliminating the UK’s 1% of global CO2 emissions will make any difference to the temperature or the weather.
Overall, Net Zero is a misanthropic Malthusian manifesto with no electoral legitimacy. All parties stood on variations of the same Green theme, so it was not a point of differentiation at the last election. Net Zero legislation was passed with no formal vote and no impact assessment. We can only begin to Look on Bright Side of Life when we are sure we have the energy and food we need to live our lives to the full. Net Zero will do nothing for us – time for it to end. Now.
Readers of a certain age will recall the iconic scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the People’s Front of Judea asks: “What have the Romans ever done for us?” The answer of course was that aqueducts, sanitation, roads, irrigation, medicine and so on. They were some compensation for brutal Roman oppression. Sadly, it seems that the oppression that the House of Lords and the Behavioural Insights team want the Government to foist upon us to achieve Net Zero will not be accompanied by such benefits. In fact, this article shows quite the opposite.
The changes the Government and Green Blob wish to inflict upon will have massive impacts as they force us to cut our meagre 1% of global CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050. These changes cover our overall energy use, what we eat, the landscape, how we get about, how we heat our homes and where we go on holiday. They amount to the biggest forced change in behaviour in a democratic state in modern history. The next article will focus on what Voltaire might have described as the absurdities the behavioural scientists want us to believe so we will not mind when the Green Blob implements these atrocities.
This article will refer to various sources. For convenience, links to the main sources are shown below:
Climate Change Committee (CCC): Sixth Carbon Budget
National Grid ESO: Future Energy Scenarios Report (FES)
UK FIRES: Absolute Zero (produced by academics from leading universities including Cambridge, Oxford, Bath and Imperial College)
Net Zero Means Overall Reduction in Energy Use
The best place to start with changes to energy use is the FES report. They show a number of complex diagrams in their report showing how energy use will change over time according to different scenarios. Helpfully, the big picture is summarised in their accompanying data sheet, see Figure 1 below. I have added the italicised lines to calculate the percentage change and the percentage change per capita using the summary ONS population projections.
Comparing the like for like categories of Industrial and Commercial (I&C), Residential and Transport there is an overall reduction of between 42% and 57% in energy use from 2020 to 2050 for the three scenarios that achieve net zero by 2050. On a per capita basis, the reduction is even more dramatic with 46-60% reductions in energy use being planned. Overall system efficiency (total energy demand less losses as a percentage of demand) falls too, from 88% in 2020 to somewhere in the range of 77-81% by 2050. It is clear that National Grid is not planning for energy abundance: they are planning for energy scarcity.
To put the overall energy reduction in context, Our World in Data have produced an interesting chart (see Figure 2) comparing energy use versus GDP per capita. The first point to note is that there is a strong correlation between GDP and energy use per capita. Higher energy use is linked to higher GDP. There are no countries with low energy use and high GDP per capita.
In fact, reducing UK energy use by 46% per capita would put us on a par with Brazil and Uzbekistan that have GDP per capita some 67% and 83% respectively lower than the UK. A 60% reduction in energy use would put the UK on a par with Ecuador and Vietnam with 76% and 81% lower GDP per capita respectively.
This point is further illustrated in Figure 3 that compares the performance of selected countries since the 2008 Climate Change Act. As can be seen, there is a strong correlation between increasing energy use and growth in GDP. The UK has done more than most to reduce per capita energy use, and as a result, per capita GDP has been falling. This contrasts with countries like Vietnam, China and India that have increased energy use significantly and reaped the economic rewards. On current trajectories, these countries will likely overtake the UK in energy use and GDP per capita by 2050.
It is clear that Net Zero policies are going to reduce growth, and very likely reduce GDP per capita which will make us all poorer and risks civil unrest and economic dislocation.
Net Zero Impact on Land Use and Food
The Climate Change Committee (p170) says that we need to plant new forests at the rate of 30,000 hectares per year by 2025 and 50-70,000 hectares per year by 2035. In addition, they want 700,000 hectares of land to be devoted to energy crops by 2050. At first glance, this looks like a good move – who could possibly be against planting more trees? Trees are good for providing habitat and allowing nature to flourish.
However, what this means in practice is the 11% of our agricultural land will be “released” by 2035 and up to a quarter by 2050 under their plans. This means there will be much less land available to grow crops and rear animals.
A consequence of this is that we will be expected to get by with 35-50% less meat and dairy by 2050, although we might be allowed to replace some of this with lab-grown meat under their “Widespread Innovation” scenario (p169). We are expected to replace these calories and nutrients with plant-based alternatives. The CCC also rules out increasing food imports. However, much to the chagrin of the plant-based food industry, the NCBI in America has shown that increasing meat consumption is linked to increased life expectancy. There is also strong correlation (Figure 4) between increasing per capita GDP and meat consumption according to Our World in Data.
The UK FIRES report is even more extreme with all beef and lamb to be removed from our diet by 2040 and all food imports not arriving by rail phased out too. So, any food that currently arrives by plane or on ships is to be eliminated. They also want fertiliser use to be “greatly reduced”. You do not have to look any further than Sri Lanka to see the violent reaction and disastrous economic and social impact of cutting fertiliser use.
Indeed, as Figure 5 shows, about half of the world’s population are fed by synthetic fertilisers.
It is clear that Net Zero policies are putting at risk the very food we eat and consequently the lives of half the population and the life expectancy of the rest.
Net Zero Cuts Personal Mobility
The advent of the motor car has brought about big improvements in personal freedom and mobility. Of course, as cars have got comparatively cheaper, they have also brought problems. However, most would agree that the car has brought a net improvement in personal freedom and living standards by making it easier to travel further for work, go on holiday or visit family and friends.
The FES report calls for a 63-69% reduction in transport energy use by 2050. Some of this will allegedly be achieved by moving to electric vehicles. Modern internal combustion engines have an efficiency of around 40%. However, EVs convert about 77% of electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. If the electricity is produced from thermal sources like natural gas, biomass or hydrogen with a thermal efficiency of around 50%, there’s not much difference in overall efficiency. However, if the electricity comes from wind or solar, then the overall system efficiency will be improved by using EVs. Although the improvement will be smaller if the electricity has to be stored in batteries or hydrogen before being released on to the grid. Even with a big increase in wind and solar, with corresponding increases in battery/hydrogen storage, it is difficult to see how this big decrease in transport energy will come about if we drive the same number of miles.
To close this gap, the Climate Change Committee (see page 105 of the report linked to above) wants to see a 17% reduction in car miles by 2050 in their “Balanced Scenario”. Indeed, in their “Widespread Engagement” scenario car use drops by 34%. The authors of the FIRES report are even more extreme and want to see a 40% reduction in car use by 2050.
Government plans will see internal combustion cars banned from sale by 2030 and hybrids banned by 2035. The CCC estimate that electric cars cost round 35% more than conventional cars (p107), however, they expect battery cars to be slightly cheaper by 2035. If this really was the case, then why does there need to be a legislative ban on internal combustion engine cars? We didn’t need laws to tell us to give up horses and carriages and use cars instead. There were no laws to mandate changing from Nokia bricks to smartphones. People decided for themselves which was best for them on the balance of features, cost and quality.
While we are on the subject of transport, the FIRES report also calls for an end to aviation and shipping by 2050, see Figure 6.
Net Zero means you will no longer be able to choose what type of vehicle you use, and you will be expected to use it much less than now.
Home Heating Changes from Net Zero
The FES report shows an overall reduction in domestic energy use in the range of 40-68%. Some of the reduction in residential energy use is accounted for by the forced change from natural gas to heat pumps. Modern gas boilers have an efficiency over 90%, however heat pumps deliver more heat than the electricity they consume and if the electricity comes directly from wind or solar, they can be very efficient overall. However, wind and solar are intermittent and overall system efficiency for home heating with heat-pumps will be lower than wind and solar alone because some of the electricity will need to be stored or converted to another form of energy to match supply and demand.
The Climate Change Committee calls for a phasing out of domestic gas boilers by 2033. The FIRES report (p17) says that after all heating has been electrified, we “could then either use heating for 60% of the time we use it today or apply other incremental changes in building design to maintain today’s comfort with 60% of the energy input.” However, the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that the types of measures required to bring fairly ordinary social housing in Nottingham up to the standard they expect will cost ~£90K per house and £80K for bungalows.
The message is clear, be cold or spend £90K on insulation measures.
Net Zero Impact on Flying
The Climate Change Committee are ambiguous on what Net Zero means for aviation. Their Balanced Pathway allows for a 25% increase in air travel from 2018 to 2050. However, their Tailwinds scenario indicates a 15% reduction in aviation. Even the Balanced Pathway represents a reduction of their forecast 65% growth from their baseline assessment. We will be allowed to keep flying because they assume that by 2050 more efficient aircraft will be running on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) made from biofuel and carbon-neutral synthetic jet fuel produced via direct air capture of CO2. There’s very little SAF being produced today and it is 8-times more expensive than conventional fuel.
Predictably, UK FIRES propose the far more draconian solution of closing all airports and effectively banning all air travel by 2050 (see Figure 6 above). Therefore, the CCC will still allow you to go on long haul holidays abroad, but these would be much more expensive because the sustainable fuels will be very expensive. UK FIRES would limit you to staycations in electric vehicles or train journeys to Europe.
Shipping and Net Zero
When it comes to shipping, the CCC assumes that shipping sector demand has already returned to pre-pandemic levels. They make no prediction about future demand. However, they do assume that by 2050 all shipping will be running on either electricity or zero-carbon fuels. For shipping, zero-carbon fuel means ammonia. However, although companies like MAN are working on commercial ammonia engines, there are none currently in use. It is proposed that ammonia is produced using low-carbon hydrogen.
Although as a society, we have decades of experience in producing and handling ammonia, it is both toxic and corrosive and most of it is confined to chemical plants today as a feedstock to make fertilisers and other compounds. The other big problem with ammonia is that when it is burnt in engines, it also produces NOx and in particular, nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas 300-times more potent than CO2 and is also linked to ozone depletion. There are companies like Nikki Universal working on catalysts to reduce these emissions, but they will never be 100% effective. It does seem odd to be basing an important part of the Net Zero strategy on currently unproven technologies that may well come with their own pollution problems.
Again, UK FIRES are much more severe with their solution. They propose all shipping is banned by 2050. So, that is no water-borne imports or exports, no ferries to Europe and no cruises.
Energy and food are fundamental to our very existence. Travel is essential to broaden our minds. We are already highly indebted and growth has been weak. Adding extra burdens to the economy and to ordinary working people risks economic dislocation and civil unrest like we have seen recently in the Netherlands. It is not as if eliminating the UK’s 1% of global CO2 emissions will make any difference to the temperature or the weather.
Overall, Net Zero is a misanthropic Malthusian manifesto with no electoral legitimacy. All parties stood on variations of the same theme, so it was not a point of differentiation at the last election. Net Zero legislation was passed with no formal vote and no impact assessment. Net Zero will do nothing for us – time for it to end. Now.
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