Management guru Anthony Stafford Beer gave us the mantra that: “The purpose of the system is what it does” … After all, “there is no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.” It is with this in mind that we should consider the elitist spectacle that is the United Nations Conference of the Parties – the latest of which, COP28 is being held in oil-rich and unsustainably air-conditioned Dubai (where the hosts seem more concerned to secure new oil and gas export contracts than to contribute anything meaningful to halting global warming). Even the BBC – a coercively-funded establishment media outlet which will happily belch out the equivalent carbon emissions of a small third world country to fly production teams around the world to lecture the little people about carbon footprints – seems more than a little embarrassed by a conference attended by far more oil industry insiders than people with the first idea what to actually do about climate change.
Money – an awful lot of ill-gotten money – aside, the main achievement of conferences like COP and its techno-psychotic Davos cousin has been to increase the numbers of people who believe the whole thing to be a hoax. After all, if climate change was real, the detractors argue, would the global elites really be pumping out decades’ worth of greenhouse gases, flying-in in squadrons of private jets before eating prime steak in some of the fanciest restaurants on the planet? If the sea level rise they warn about is real, why would wealthy activists like Al Gore be buying beachside mansions when, by their own reckoning, they will have sunk beneath the waves just a few years from now? But most importantly of all – and notable by establishment media silence – if climate change was real, why are they still engaged in conferences designed to highlight the crisis while no official body is sponsoring conferences of scientists and engineers to develop a workable solution?
The answer – given the vast sums of money involved (states have allocated $1.34 trillion in direct subsidies since 2020) – is precisely that the purpose of the system is what it does… to create yet another divisive political diversion which attempts to obscure the corporate graft behind a fake binary clash of ideologies – you are either a climate adherent who signs up not just to the climate science, but to the greenwashed corporate non-solutions that accompany it, or you are a climate denier who not only points out the impossibility of the proposed techno-utopian energy transition, but must also be anti-science (and probably an anti-vaxxer and flat earther to boot).
This brings us back to Anthony Stafford Beer’s mantra, since these conferences have spent almost three decades patently failing to do what they claim to exist to do – although this is obscured by a European bait-and-switch resulting from the offshoring of industry and agriculture (our emissions show up in someone else’s data). World greenhouse gas emissions have remained on trend since the end of the Second World War, with the annual COP junkets having no visible impact. Only the 2008 crash and the recent lockdowns – or more correctly, their depressionary economic aftermaths – provide a strong enough signal to be visible:
The same goes for the multi-trillion-dollar corporate welfare “green” energy racket, which has funnelled mountains of cash into the pockets of energy corporations, large ESG investors, and carbon trading racketeers, but has had no visible impact on world fossil fuel consumption:
Again, in recent times, only the economic fallout from the 2008 crash and the recent lockdowns causing any visible signal within the data (although more observant readers might also note a slight slowing in consumption prior to 2020 after world oil production peaked at the end of 2018).
At this stage, a rational society would conclude that the COP is well past its use-by date. It can count as a huge success that in almost every state on the planet, a majority of people believe that climate change is real and that something needs to be done about it. But the COP was never intended to figure out what that “something” would be. And rather than taking the logical step of leaving the stage to make room for the scientists and engineers who might, possibly, arrive at a workable solution, the COP has become so deluded with its own sense of self-importance, that it is engaged in promoting science fiction as an increasingly obvious non-solution.
Indeed, the fact that just four signals can be found in the post-war fossil fuel consumption data showing a temporary halt or fall in consumption gives an indication of the profound kind of action which would be required if the sole “solution” to climate change is to phase out fossil fuels:
It is worth noting that we were far less dependent on oil in the 1970s than we are today. Not just as a fuel source, but also as a chemical feedstock which underpins millions of the products we consume day-in and day-out. Nevertheless, the 1973 OPEC oil embargo paralysed swathes of the western economies and left a legacy of stagnation and inflation which only came to an end with the Iranian revolution and the ensuing Iran-Iraq war. Many of the ex-industrial regions of the western states never fully recovered from the depression which followed. Further damage was done in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, which saw prosperity retreat still further. In the UK, for example, the median wage fell in the years between the Crash and the Covid. Nor have things improved since lockdown, where an initial collapse in oil and gas production in 2020 was followed by a severe shortage and a massive supply shock when economies attempted to unlock – the full economic consequences of this are only beginning to be experienced across the western economies, but the outlook for the rest of the decade is not good.
The show-stopping reason why only the most serious economic downturns have an impact on the data – and that a genuine reduction in greenhouse gas emissions requires a far greater, and irreversible, economic decline – is that the whole economy is based around fossil fuels in a hyper-complex way that is overlooked in the glib non-solutions given undue airtime at conferences like the COP. Living solely on “green” – i.e., biomass, sunlight, and wind – energy is what humans had been doing for millennia prior to the industrial revolution. But if you want any of the trappings of a modern (say, post-1820) economy, you have no choice but to consume fossil fuels. As Vaclav Smil explains:
“Modern societies would be impossible without mass-scale production of many man-made materials. We could have an affluent civilization that provides plenty of food, material comforts, and access to good education and health care without any microchips or personal computers: we had one until the 1970s, and we managed, until the 1990s, to expand economies, build requisite infrastructures and connect the world by jetliners without any smartphones and social media. But we could not enjoy our quality of life without the provision of many materials required to embody the myriad of our inventions.
“Four materials rank highest on the scale of necessity, forming what I have called the four pillars of modern civilization: cement, steel, plastics, and ammonia are needed in larger quantities than are other essential inputs. The world now produces annually about 4.5 billion tons of cement, 1.8 billion tons of steel, nearly 400 million tons of plastics, and 180 million tons of ammonia. But it is ammonia that deserves the top position as our most important material: its synthesis is the basis of all nitrogen fertilizers, and without their applications it would be impossible to feed, at current levels, nearly half of today’s nearly 8 billion people.”
All four materials can only be produced at scale using fossil fuels. And, ironically, the proposed transition to non-renewable renewable energy-harvesting technologies (NRREHTs) is dead in the water without access to cheap-and-abundant cement, steel, and plastics. Indeed, as professor Michaux has demonstrated, the NRREHTs revolution fails as a result of shortages in a raft of mineral resources which would be in even shorter supply if the mines and processing plants no longer had access to fossil fuels. Indeed, the moment – as happened in the wake of the lockdowns – that these materials – and the fossil fuels which enable their production – rise to unsustainably high prices, the whole dream of a NRREHTs future comes crashing down along with the rest of the fossil fuel economy.
As is increasingly obvious, the current approach to addressing climate change is nothing short of eco-austerity – as evidenced across the western economies by the exponential growth of foodbanks and warm banks in recent years – for the mass of people who increasingly struggle both to feed their families and to warm their homes. This is why, to give just one example, having the King of England – a man who, as a legacy of Empire, still owns and rules over a large part of planet Earth – telling people who can barely afford the rent on a rundown bedsit that “the Earth does not belong to us” goes down badly. Indeed, with the whole of western Europe rapidly de-industrialising, and a wave of unemployment on a par – at least – with the early-1980s just ahead of us, support for political parties which either deny climate change is happening or at least dismiss it as inconsequential is growing rapidly. So much so that the end achievement of the COP conferences may well turn out to be lowering public support for addressing climate change. And that, perhaps, suggests that when the money runs out and the masses turn up with torches and pitchforks, our elites will turn to this as an alternative “solution:”
But then again, maybe climate change is not the only, or even the most important, crisis facing us. The collapse in global net energy along with mineral resource shortages and increasingly unaffordable prices looks set to cause such economic damage that today’s global elite class will lose its agency. So that, even if a solution to global warming can be calculated in theory, we will lack the material means to put it into practice.
On the bright side, it will be precisely those global elites who will be the biggest losers in the coming collapse. And it is far from clear to me that this would not be a better outcome than the alternative of some yet-to-be-invented energy miracle saving the current system from its own legacies.