Macron’s Climate Waterloo
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.
It is interesting that there is currently a protest from another angle in London: the Extinction Rebellion rabble are blocking 5 bridges to demand “climate action.”
The fuel protests in France might be considered by us to be part of the climate wars, but do the participants see things that way? At the moment, the blows are quite stealthy. It’s like being blindfolded and some cad keeps clouting you about the ears, but you aren’t quite sure who is actually doing it. Thus, energy prices have “necessarily skyrocketed” but the reasons why are quite opaque to the general public. It seems that when some unpredictable (or predictable: when a litre of petrol hit £1) level is breached, low-level grumbling becomes roadblocks.
Unfortunately these convulsions are usually met with by some token gesture, which together with fading enthusiasm, puts the lid back on the bottle for another year or three.
As to the protesters in London, I would like to speak to them & tell them that what they are protesting against is this cool thing we have called civilization. They may claim to be protesting against “the extinction of all of us”, but it scarcely seems credible that they believe that.
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JIT, you raise the important comparison between the (very) French and English protests. This is the important Q.
>>The fuel protests in France might be considered by us to be part of the climate wars, but do the participants see things that way? <<
I've long argued that the problem for sceptics is that nobody gives a damn about abstract, technical arguments and the seemingly far-off consequences of policy until it hits the bottom line.
For most in Britain, the costs of energy bill and petrol pump prices have been relatively easily absorbed, or have been mitigated by astronomical house price increases, which (for some reason) gives people confidence to spend. Those not lucky enough to be in those categories tend to count less, politically (until perhaps now). They have been further defused by the lack of organised political representation – UKIP being the only outsider in that respect, and completely disorganised since the referendum.
I don't think it the protest has to be seen as 'about' climate to be understood as such. Because, ultimately, climate policy was never really about climate, either, but about a search for a new basis for political authority. That is to say that climate change, much like the European project, was an elite preoccupation, intended in no small part to protect itself from the rabble of democracy.
Put differently, it is much more convenient for remote political elites to worry about climate change than it is for them to respond to people's day-to-day needs. Better to deprive politics of the means to negotiate the problems that arise out of day-to-day life, then, than to be held to account for simple failures.
(Aside… we had a similar protest to the Yellow Vests in the late '90s, organised by lorry drivers. In just a few weeks they managed more than Greenpeace have ever hoped to, both in terms of obstructing infrastructure, and clearing roads.)
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The Yellow Vest protest is a sign of Roger Pielke Jr’s “Iron Law” in effect…
The difference in public response to these government actions illustrates the immutability of what I call the iron law of climate policy: When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time. Climate policies should flow with the current of public opinion rather than against it, and efforts to sell the public on policies that will create short-term economic discomfort cannotsucceed if that discomfort is perceived to be too great. Calls for asceticism and sacrifice are a nonstarter.
The “iron law” thus presents a boundary condition on policy design that is every bit as limiting as is the second law of thermodynamics, and it holds everywhere around the world, in rich and poor countries alike. It says that even if people are willing to bear some costs to reduce emissions (and experience shows that they are), they are willing to go only so far.
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Sorry I don’t have time to reply at the moment. The official figures give 240,000 demonstrators throughout France (a fantasy figure, given the fluid spontaneous nature of the 2200 different demonstrations) and 104 people injured, 5 seriously, and one death. The TV is showing a smallish demonstration of a few thousand who got close to the Elysée Palace shouting “Macron Resign” and who were pushed back with little difficulty with a few clouds of pepper gas. They’re now milling around blocking the Champs Elysées and many surrounding streets but without any obvious purpose. For the moment it’s been peaceful, but with nightfall, and the TV cameras are absent, it could get nasty fast. It depends who’s in the crowd I suppose, which of course you can’t tell. And it’s not easy, politically, to order the police to charge a crowd singing the Marseillaise.
JIT: ‘…but it scarcely seems credible that they believe that.’
They do, though, and they say that climate science is behind them. I can supply loads of links to statements by leading Extinction Rebellion people* saying that science says that climate change will mean imminent human extinction unless we stop fracking etc.
Here, for example, is ER’s main thought leader Roger Hallam on Russia Today today:
(The RT bloke did a surprisingly good job. The last time I watched anything by RT it seemed like a down-the-rabbit-hole version of The Daily Mail, but this bloke mostly knew his stuff.)
*XR people. Here are some of those who took part in the nuisance actions on Monday and Wednesday this week:
See? They are just like you and me.
They believe in science. They want democracy. They might not know what those words mean, but why should we hold that against them?
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JIT (17 Nov 18 at 2:39 pm)
There’s an article on Extinction Rebellion at the Conversation, (where else?)
by our favourite rebellious philosophy lecturer.
The subject of extinction has come up with respect to the Yellow Jacket movement, since there’s an opposing Green Jacket movement in favour of carbon taxes to save the planet. One of the founders claimed to have been inspired by a WWF press release about projected extinction rates. If they ever get off the ground and launch counter-demonstrations, we may yet see model-based estimates of climate sensitivity being hurled across the barricades in the streets of Paris.
..and dont forget the philosophy lecturer at the University of East Anglia. How weird is that? Perhaps Rupert was just feeling wombstruck or wanted his goat stroked. You don’t get much of that at UEA, I imagine. Alan?
Interesting to note the appearance of so many Quakers on the list, and we learn too, at the Nonversation that Rupert Can’t-Read is a coreligionist.
I remember growing up with a sort of admiration for Quakers. Perhaps because I knew so little about them apart from breakfast cereal packets and distant people who were into peace. But they turned out to be some of the most disagreeable people — downright vindictive in several cases — I’ve ever encountered in the climate debate. Oh, the irony of the non conformists… It has given us big nasty banks, the diabetes epidemic, the obesity epidemic…
It is as rich an irony as pointed out by “Renée Bagslint” over at the Nonversation, among excellent comments (which nearly restore my faith in commenting) that the institutions that are targeted by the ER are the most dedicated to realising the same aims.
It takes an academic philosopher to miss the effing obvious. He says,
Please, God, let there be violence in the street.
Here’s Rupert inspiring the younger generation at a recent lecture.
Un fuel uprising?… Marchons…marchons
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At first I thought the “Extinction Rebellion” was the latest in absurdist satire.
Perhaps Brad Keyes had finally snookered the so-called “mainstream media” with his polker facec
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Rupert, not to put too gine a point on it, is batshit evil crazy.
Geoff. UEA: few goats, but many, many sheep. Some hacked off.
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To ALL gathered here. You probably missed it but we just passed the 9th anniversary of Climategate, which my friend Wiki charmingly and delicately terms the “Climate Research Unit email controversy” (one is sorely tempted to add a”Great”) – 17 November 2009. Since I also missed this and I realized we might also miss-lay next year’s memorable 10th anniversary I thought I would bring this truly momentous date to your attention. We probably need a full year to collect all the balloons and bunting [can’t recall when I last saw my bunting]. What shall we do? Remember we in the UK will be heartedly sink of burning effigies and letting off fireworks by then.
Suggestions, written on banknotes, to the cliscept 14.
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Further thoughts upon Climategate redux. The full theatrical might of the BBC will be deployed in a multipart series. I am thinking already of who might play my part misleading students with the critical scenes of my lectures being invaded by the Greenpeace hoards.
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Rupert Read is a fascinating climate imperialist.
He is of course a parasite:
Politician, academic and climate kook all rolled into one. He nanages to live well while producing nothing.
He is a rejectionist anti-science denier, ignoring the IPCC, the data, and the science in his demands for “action” on the “climate crisis”.
He spreads his nihilistic claptrap like a Typhoid Mary spreading disease and death, while posing as a public health worker.
Wow, he is such a rich Target for parody.
Gleick, by comparison, is merely banal, seeking to monetize the climate fear he spreads by deceit. Read is far past Gleick, and is moving into areas explored by famous Cambodian environmentalist and pastoralist Pol Pot.
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@Ben: Mlle. Bagslint (marvellous name) is like a flippin’ ninja deflecting the attacks on her at The Conversation. (Interesting how her narrow point produces accusations that have nothing to do with it.)
Regarding Rupert Read, I have just realised where I have seen his face before. Here in sunny Norwich he has been a Green candidate (standing against Chloe Smith in the 2009 by-election when Ian Gibson was thrown under the bus by his Labour colleagues). He’s been a Green councillor, etc, & mebbe leader of the Green group at the city council. Unsurprising therefore that he holds particular opinions. Presumably tho’ if the great unwashed supported him, he would be an MP by now and his policies would be in the process of coming to fruition.
[Maybe this is unfair, ‘cos politicians and parties are elected on a suite of policies – but still.]
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“Here in sunny Norwich”
Wowah there, Does I know you? Are you hiding in plain sight?
JIT (18 Nov 18 at 1:03 pm)
I believe that Norwich is 2nd or 3rd greenest constituency in the country, so if Labour find themselves up against Read in the next election, they’d do well to quote his opinions. But they won’t, will they, because no-one dares criticise the greens except the far right.
Which brings me back to France. The current movement might fizzle out, but that’s not how it looks at the moment. And if continues, it will mean an angry working class confronting head on the demands of all the left parties for higher taxes on fuel in the name of a carbon transition.
Here’s some more factoids to aid understanding:
One death and more than 400 injured yesterday, about ten seriously. 120 arrests. When the 63 year old lady was killed yesterday, her daughter stayed on the demo in her yellow vest.
Unorganised demonstrators got to the Elysée palace yesterday, shouting Macron Resign within earshot of the president. That’s not supposed to happen in well-organised countries.
A poll yesterday found 62% saying the cost of living is more important than energy transition, with 33% saying the opposite.
Only the ex-National Front (renamed the Rassemblement National) is well placed to take advantage of this. A reading list of a dozen or so books for militants was leaked recently. There were three climate sceptic books on the list, though they haven’t campaigned on the issue as far as I know. But just wait till the nuclear plants start closing during a cold winter and the windmills don’t turn…
The movement continues today, with dozens of blockages on the autoroutes, completely unplanned and unannounced, and Disneyland opened up free for visitors.
Rupert does at least put his money where his mouth is. Here are his donations to the Green Party.
£5,600.00 01/02/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£5,000.00 31/08/2014 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£4,025.00 22/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£4,000.00 15/07/2014 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£4,000.00 01/04/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,888.00 06/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,608.50 18/05/2013 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,500.00 08/02/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,345.00 10/04/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,100.00 07/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,085.00 13/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,040.00 09/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£2,008.00 12/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£1,645.00 06/05/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£1,534.00 08/04/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£1,526.00 21/03/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£1,500.00 08/04/2014 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£1,383.00 10/04/2014 Eastern Region Mr Rupert Read
£1,300.00 29/04/2009 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£1,224.19 14/11/2013 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£990.00 05/11/2013 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£900.00 18/05/2009 Central Party Mr Rupert Read
£300.00 09/07/2009 Norwich Mr Rupert Read
I make it £53,501.69. Making him a bigger donor than Ben Goldsmith, son of James Goldsmith, Brother of Zac Goldsmith.
Must have been a good year — or a a terrible year — for the Read family in 2014.
No wonder Molly Scott Cato this morning was complaining about XR’s treatment by LBC.
@ Geoff: well, it’s dimanche, so let’s see. Macron is probably hiding under a desk thinking, well, they’ll have to go back to work tomorrow, right? Not quite the storming of the Bastille yet (as a teenager I went to the Place de la Bastille and stood around thinking, well, where the hell is the Bastille?).
@ Alan: you can buy me a mild in the Fat Cat Brewery Tap to celebrate the decennial. (I’m not sure if we overlapped at UEA: I was there as a student from 1988-1994 (BIO); I guess you were ENV.)
JIT (18 Nov 18 at 4:18 pm)
Funny you should say that. They’re organising a march on the Elysée palace next Saturday.
The demonstrators I’ve seen interviewed are plumbers, fridge repairers, blacksmiths, supermarket checkout ladies. The response of Green commenters and other experts on TV has been “We have to spend the extra petrol tax money on better public transport” or “we have to encourage people to work from home.” Telling a plumber to take the bus or work from home is the sure way to provoke a revolution.
Didn’t some Labour shadow cabinet member lose his job because of sneering at “blokes with white vans”? This is what’s happening here. Some minister spoke of the “fag and diesel brigade” the way a ’30s Tory would have mocked the “coals-in-the-bath” working class.
What’s different in France is that, thanks to 40 odd years of unemployment around 10%, you have to have A-levels to work on a supermarket check out. These people are not stupid, and they’re organising.
Some more things I’ve noticed about the demonstrators. They’re more racially mixed and varied in age than the political demonstrators we’re used to seeing, where the Trots tend to be young and hairy and the trade unionists old and grizzled. And while the men are of all ages, the women tend to be older. No doubt the younger women are at home looking after the kids. Polly Toynbee and her fellowess Guardianistas would wet their knickers if they knew. But don’t expect the Guardian to publish anything to tarnish the image of a European Union in perfect health.
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BENPILE (18 Nov 18 at 2:58 pm)
He really wants to get into parliament, doesn’t he? If I’m serious about wanting to wean the left off green the green pixie dust, maybe I should start by feeding selected quotes of Rupert to the Norwich Labour Party. They’re at https://www.norwichlabour.org.uk/ if anyone’s interested.
In my collection of scans from the Eastern Daily Press is one of Rupert’s regular letters from 3 years ago. Although the following title is probably written by the editor, it contains some of the letter content, and gives a good representation of “The green pixie dust” floating around inside his head:
“We ought to be scared stiff of what is clearly a climate crisis”
Alan @ 18/18 10.00am.
…Something archival, maybe?
No something imagined but greatly desired by the CRU crew.
The recent electoral success of German “Greens” is likely mostly due to vote-shifting by frustrated SPD supporters, due to the SPD being in a coalition govt with the grown-ups. If you regard lefties as being like sulking adolescents, prone to temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want, then everything is understood.
Doesn’t seem to be getting much coverage in the UK. There’s this in the Spectator:
The chaos is closer to home than Macron thinks
And this at the BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46254566
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Here are some quotes”The empirical temperature data is clear. The previous millennial cycle temperature peak was at about 990. ( see Fig 3 in the link below) The recent temperature Millennial Turning Point was about 2003/4 ( Fig 4 in link below ) which correlates with the solar millennial activity peak at 1991+/.The cycle is asymmetric with a 650 year +/- down-leg and a 350+/- year up-leg. The suns magnetic field strength as reflected in its TSI will generally decline (modulated by other shorter term super-imposed solar activity cycles) until about 2650.
The temperature increase since about 1650 is clearly chiefly due to the up- leg in the natural solar
activity millennial cycle as shown by Lean 2018 “Estimating Solar Irradiance Since 850 AD” Fig 5……..
………The establishment’s dangerous global warming meme, the associated IPCC series of reports ,the entire UNFCCC circus, the recent hysterical IPCC SR1.5 proposals and Nordhaus’ recent Nobel prize are founded on two basic errors in scientific judgement. First – the sample size is too small. Most IPCC model studies retrofit from the present back for only 100 – 150 years when the currently most important climate controlling, largest amplitude, solar activity cycle is millennial. This means that all climate model temperature outcomes are too hot and likely fall outside of the real future world. (See Kahneman -. Thinking Fast and Slow p 118) Second – the models make the fundamental scientific error of forecasting straight ahead beyond the Millennial Turning Point (MTP) and peak in solar activity which was reached in 1991.These errors are compounded by confirmation bias and academic consensus group think.”
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Paul Matthews (19 Nov 18 at 4:59 pm)
I’m not surprised that this hasn’t got much coverage in the British press. We’re used to French mass protests. But this is like nothing we’ve seen in France since May 1968. This is going to shake the EU to its eco-liberal ideological foundations. I’ll tried to explain why in a follow up article, coming soon.
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