The French are revolting.
So what? Aren’t they always? Somewhere between a half a million and a million came out on the streets to demonstrate against Macron’s last reform, and the one before that, and the one before that. But that was the unions and the left wing parties, so no-one took any notice. This is different because it’s the people – spontaneously, unorganised – and some tens or hundreds of thousands are out today, not marching in an orderly fashion through the avenues of Paris, but blocking the roads and autoroutes in over 1500 different demonstrations.
It’s about the rise in fuel prices, of three centimes per litre on petrol and six centimes on diesel. (That’s tuppence ha’penny or fivepence to you, or three to seven cents Over There. To convert to gallons, multiply by 4.5 in the UK and Canada, and by 3.8 in the U.S.)
Four weeks ago people started complaining on Facebook at this latest rise in the cost of living, and suggested a protest, with the fluorescent jackets we’re obliged by law to carry in our cars as the identifying badge. So the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Jackets) were born, and in a few weeks they’ve come from nothing to being the biggest threat to Macron in the 18 rocky months of his presidency.
But the government is not giving way. They’ve already lost one minister of the environment and can’t afford to lose another, since, in the bizarre cabinet that Macron built, the environment minister is the most important minister after the Prime Minister, responsible for energy and transport, as well as for protecting the country from fire, floods, and climate change. And so the gradually rising taxe sur le carbone must stay, especially on diesel, which has been subsidised for years in France.
As a sop to public opinion, and in a desperate effort to weaken support for the Gilets Jaunes, the government has announced some measures to soften the blow, such as a prime de conversion of 4000 euros to buy a new, less polluting vehicle, for those of a revenu modeste, that is, who have an annual income rather less than the price of an electric car even after the prime. The existing prime de conversion of 1000 euros has already had a huge success, with 200,000 people using it to turn in their old motor for a more recent one. Except that 60% of the newer vehicles purchased were second hand, 47% were diesel, and only 5% electric or hybrid. In a few years’ time, the person who was given a thousand euros to buy a second hand diesel car will be able to claim another 4000 euros to trade it in for another second hand diesel car, and all in the name of phasing out the petrol engine.
For years the French subsidised diesel on the grounds that it was better for the balance of payments, producing more kilometres per litre in a country with no native energy source, and Renault and Peugeot became experts in producing diesel-fuelled cars. Then they discovered that it didn’t just smell foul and turn your Kleenex grey but was actually bad for you. So the tax on diesel is rising to align the price with that of petrol.
Oh, and after years of providing tax breaks for installing new oil-fired central heating to cut down on smog from wood burning stoves, they’ve now announced that in ten years they’re going to ban oil-fired central heating, which is used largely by people in rural areas who don’t have mains gas. Not that mains gas would be much use to them, since the tax on gas is rising even faster than the tax on petrol. (Sorry to U.S. readers for any confusion.) According to the IEA, France is sitting on 80% of Europe’s frackable gas – enough to keep the country self-sufficient in energy for centuries. But the Macron government has just banned, not only fracking, but any extraction of any fossil fuels whatsoever on mainland France. It’s as if Marie Antoinette said: “Let them eat cake,” and then banned cake-making in France on the grounds that it was bad for the figure.
The middle classes (in U.S. and French usage – “working class” in English) are hopping mad with Macron. But, as the government loves to point out, they are in favour of the energy transition which Macron is determined to implement. The French don’t like nuclear, which currently provides two thirds of the country’s electricity, but they do like their peasants, whose intensive production of European-Union-subsidised pigs and sugar beet relies on vast amounts of diesel fuel. They like the idea of renewable energy, but they hate the wind turbines which now disfigure every skyline here in Southern France, and the solar panels which are naturally installed on the cheapest land, which is also in the most natural, unusable, picturesque spots on isolated mountainsides inhabited by threatened species.
Energy transition is not as easy as politicians first thought.
But it’s not just about a few centimes on the price of petrol. There’s a general fed-upness with the tax system, brought to a head by the tiny micro-fiscal adjustments that Macron makes in a desperate effort to fulfill his campaign promises, while staying within the Eurozone’s 3% budget deficit limits.
Parties of left and right are competing to recuperate this popular movement, which is resisting, claiming as such movements always do, that it is apolitical. But every report from the front line of this demonstrations this morning says the opposite. So far on this morning’s TV I’ve seen placards saying “Macron Resign”; calls from frustrated motorists for the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate; a guy in a wheelchair calling for the taking of the Bastille; and a crowd of Yellow Jackets blocking the autroroute, singing the Marseillaise and giving the finger to the television cameras. If this is an apolitical protest, what would a political one look like?
Climate Alarmism is a political phenomenon, and its overthrow must be political. Despite the best efforts of the European Union to suppress national politics, political activity still exists uniquely on the national level. If you don’t believe me, ask any European what (European) party they’ll be voting for in next year’s European elections. 99% of them won’t know, because they don’t know what party their national party is aligned with. This is democracy designed for the politically ignorant. Europeans are about as free and well informed about the system by which they are governed as the citizens of Haiti circa 1804, who were illiterate ex-slaves, plus a few Polish and British soldiers who came over to the rebels. Yet the pro-Europeans, in France as in Britain, are confident that they represent the enlightened, informed silent majority, inexplicably (and temporarily, if they can fix a second vote) outnumbered by the deplorables. You’re not newly freed slaves, so what’s your excuse for your ignorance, you snotty over-educated monoglots?
Where was I?
As a political phenomenon, Climate alarmism can only be defeated in the political arena. But where will the vital battle take place? Trump has fired the first volley, with his tweet about a Chinese conspiracy and his generalised attack on all things environmental, followed by the foreign minister of the new far right government in Brazil. These are probably not our best allies in the effort to start reasonable discussion on the politics of climate change.
The left is wedded to the Green fantasy of a painless energy transition. Germany is the prime example of a country in which the pain of energy transition has been felt, with high electricity prices and an increase in the use of coal fired electricity as the visible results of the twin absurdities of the phase out of nuclear and a reliance on wind power. Yet in two recent regional elections, the Greens scored nearly 20%, in an apparently emotional reaction to counter the rise of the far right.
The left in France has been tying itself in knots, supporting the popular movement against rising fuel prices and at the same time calling for a rising tax on carbon. Even the productivist communist party is resolutely green (in anti-capitalist way, of course.) Already the Rassemblement National (ex- Front National) is the most popular party among working class voters. How long before the people realise that the left is wedded to the idea of ever rising fuel prices, and wholeheartedly embrace the populist right?
Are there any signs that the left might see the error of its ways and look again at their deathly alliance with the Greens? I saw a faint sign of such a possibility on French TV a couple of days ago on one of the umpteen talk shows which fill out the 24 hour news channels.
François Gervais, a professor emeritus and leader of a research group at the prestigious CNRS (Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique) was being interviewed about his new book “L’Urgence Climatique est un Leurre” (The Climate Emergency is a Delusion.”)
The interview started in the normal fashion, with the interviewer asking: “Are you an idiot or an eccentric?” while another journalist could be heard muttering: “The earth is flat..” and a spokesman for the Communist party announced: “Galileo said the earth revolves, while in fact it’s burning.”
The conversation continued more or less as follows:
– But all the experts are against you. There’s only three or four who take your position.
– My book is based on more than five thousand scientific articles, each one with several authors.
– But you’re not a climatologist.
– I’ve published in the top climate science journals.
– But you’re not a climatologist.
– I’m a physicist. There’s no such thing in the university as a department of climatology.
– So you’re not a climatologist.
And so on. In the usual shouting match which followed, one right wing journalist could be heard expressing the view that ecology was a religious movement, while the others kept braying that the experts all agreed etc… But finally Professor Gervais managed to get his point of view across, and the one participant who seemed to be genuinely interested in hearing more was the spokesman for the communist party, who asked him to explain his views in more detail.
And then it was time for the ads.