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Carbon 1: Macron 0

Climate hysteria may be essentially a psychological phenomenon, but it has become central to politics in the Western world. Every political party has a climate policy, however vague, but fervently defended. As a political phenomenon, climate hysteria can only be defeated politically, and it becomes important to identify the country or countries where the first skirmishes, and possibly the ultimate victory, are likely to happen. Suddenly, it seems that France might be the scene of the big battle.

My article on the rather sudden uprising of the French working class over a few centimes of carbon tax may have seemed rather over the top. After all, demonstrations with hundreds of thousands in the streets are regular occurrences in France. Why should this one be any different? And why is it important for climate sceptics?

Mass demonstrations in France have always been organised by trade unions or political parties and declared in advance to the local police authorities, with an agreed route and timetable, and stewards to keep order. There are always violent incidents, with black clad anarchists throwing bricks and tagging banks etc., but it’s just part of the ritual. But what has been happening over the past three days has been utterly unpredictable, improvised and uncontrollable.

A week ago the gilets jaunes were just a bunch of people grumbling on the internet about the cost of living. The plan to block roads on Saturday was a protest against the recent 6 centimes per litre rise in diesel, which was seen as the last straw for a population of small businessmen, artisans, and those living in suburbs or rural areas dependent on their cars. Saturday was going to be a one-off protest. Most of the 2000+ demonstrations were spontaneous affairs involving a few dozen people and not officially declared. There was no leadership, and the demonstrators were unanimous that they want nothing to do with political parties or unions. The government could have easily announced the suspension of the next 6 centimes rise in fuel prices planned for January, pending discussions. Instead, the prime minister announced on TV Sunday night that they wouldn’t budge, which led to the “yellow jackets” refusing to announce their demonstrations officially in advance, and turning to more aggressive actions, like blocking oil terminals.

This is now becoming a national insurrection. Everyone’s planning to march in Paris next Saturday. The first demonstrator has received a four month prison sentence for blocking the highway within a few hours of his “crime,” with no possibility of preparing a defence, and, according to the minister of the interior: “There will be others.” The TV news channels cover events nonstop, but even they fail to gauge the seriousness of what’s happening.

To give you an idea of how it feels to be at the beginning of a revolution:

Saturday the local boulangerie was closed. I met a neighbour and warned her. She said: “Yes the baker told me yesterday he might not be opening today. He lives on the other side of the bridge, which is blocked.”

I said: “You can buy bread at the grocer’s down the road.”

“What, The Arab’s?”

I’d forgotten that 40% of people round here vote National Front, who received over 50% of the vote of the working class in the last elections. Not the organised, unionised working class affiliated to the communist or socialist unions working for the big industries or the semi-nationalised railways, or energy companies, but the employees of small businesses struggling to survive. They’ve put on their yellow jackets, and suddenly they’re proud.

This morning the baker’s is open, but there’s no local paper because of the blockage. So I go on their internet site. The three nearest exits from the motorway have been blocked for three days, meaning that trucks coming to Europe’s largest fruit and vegetable market have to go on to Spain before they can turn round. Expect a shortage of Spanish oranges and green peppers in Northern Europe soon. A few students in one of our local lycées have tried to block the gates, set fire to some bins, then marched to neighbouring lycées to encourage them to come out in support. And the first petrol station has run out.

None of this has made the national news. When the panic buying and queueing at petrol stations starts, when millions of students join in, the government will have lost. And when a half a million people converge on Paris next Saturday, with no planned route for a march and no clear demand except the resignation of the president and the government …

The streets around the presidential palace are narrow and out of bounds. Last Saturday there were a thousand or so “yellow jackets” milling around trying to block junctions in central Paris. A few hundred found themselves within yards of the Elysée Palace and started chanting “Macron Resign!” The police dispersed them with tear gas and little violence. A panic in the narrow streets, which contain some of the world’s most expensive shops, could have been serious. Think what would happen if a few hundred thousand try to repeat the exploit.

But even if this is the beginning of an important mass movement, what has this to do with climate scepticism? The protest against the rise in the tax on petrol and diesel, which was at the origin of the movement, did not have a specifically anti-ecological aspect. I’ve seen banners with slogans saying “Ecology, yes. Tax rises, No.” There have been no protests against the principle of an energy transition. Yet.

The commentary in the media has been critical of the government’s clumsy handling of the crisis, of Macron’s evident bias in favour of the “haves,” the “start uppers,” and his frequent barbs against the “recalcitrant Gauls,” the “people who are nothing” the nationalist “lepers,” and the unemployed who can’t be bothered to “cross the road” to find a job. Well, someone crossed the road in front of a lorry today and got a four month jail sentence. But I have heard nobody yet in the media challenge the government’s policy of raising fuel prices in order to encourage a reduction in carbon emissions. Telling a plumber or refrigerator repair man to work from home or to travel by public transport seems to me to be a sure recipe for starting a revolution, but a poor way of initiating a debate about a rational energy policy.

Popular protest movements do not normally arise from rational disagreement on important points of policy, but rather from emotional reactions to people’s everyday experience. But when a movement rises to national importance, when it becomes rooted in the political landscape, it is obliged to face the questions of what it’s for and what it’s against – rationally. At that moment it is obliged to confront the supposedly rational discourse of the ruling class and either reject rationality or devise an alternative policy.

The government seems for the moment to have dropped the climate argument. Their spokesman this morning was emphasising the health aspect of limiting diesel use, mentioning the thousands of deaths from respiratory diseases, though he still managed to use the “think of the grandchildren” argument. The favourite adjective for describing the protest movement is “proteiform” (look it up.) The argument for a carbon tax is apparently just as proteiform as the protest against it.

Because, like everything done by this government, the tax on fossil fuels has been ill thought out, designed by marketing men with their eye on the green vote; rather than by politicians or economists. They could have learned from the experience of a previous government, which decided to raise a carbon tax on long distance lorries, and installed gantries over main roads with sophisticated electronics to check licence plates in Brittany. The Breton farmers understood that this wheeze to save the planet was nothing other than a tax on their cauliflowers and artichokes, and formed a grassroots movement, the “bonnets rouges,” who simply tore the gantries down. And Brittany has been one of the main centres of protest for the gilets jaunes, many of whom wear red wooly hats as well as their yellow vests.

What enrages the worker on a minimum wage or the small business owner is not just the idiocy of adding a rising tax on to the (until recently) rising price of petrol, but the fact that the first action of the Macron government was to award an 8 billion euro windfall to the super-rich, with the removal of the wealth tax on all but property, and a flat tax on all investment income, whatever the sum. I believe that in the nasty capitalist USA you still pay a hefty percentage in tax on the top slice of a high income, whatever its origin. (correct me if I’m wrong.) In France you pay the same 30% on unearned income whether you have hundreds in a savings bank or billions in shares.

And today, right on cue, Carlos Ghosn, the Brazilo-Lebano-French head of Renault, a world leader in diesel vehicles, hoping to become world leader in electric cars, has just been arrested in Japan, accused by Nissan, the company of which he is also president, of hiding 50 million dollars of undeclared income from the tax authorities.

So far, workers in government and big industry, the only ones who are unionised and used to organised protest, have been absent from the movement. The knowledge that one of France’s best paid bosses has been salting away fifty million more than his already astronomical salary might stir them a little. And if they join in…

So, won’t Macron simply give way a little, lower some taxes, and buy off the protest? He can’t, because his entire political career depends on bringing the French budget deficit down below the EU-designated red line of 3%. Otherwise, how can he look Madame Merkel in the eye? How can he lay claim to leadership of the European Union, stomp on Mrs May’s toes, and sneer at the “leprosy” of nationalism in Italy, Austria and elsewhere?

President Macron decided even before his election that his presidency was going to be about world leadership. Hence his espousal of the “success” of the Paris COP21, his hand wrestling with Trump, and his determination to “make the planet great again.” Economic growth is the other half what he was hoping for. Every odd hundred million euros grabbed off the working not-quite-poor is a step towards France escaping from the humiliation of being part of the leprous South of Europe and gaining respectability in the eyes of the unelected Euro-bureaucracy, and therefore towards Macron’s dream of leadership of a united Europe. Cough up, you yellow-vested turds, or the planet gets it.

[It’s bad karma for a climate sceptic to make predictions (or even “previsions” à la Kevin Trenberth and St. John of the Apocalypse) as to future events, even a mere week in advance. But based on current events, and even if the movement sputters to a halt tomorrow, it’s absolutely clear that no French government will ever again dare impose a carbon tax on a population just getting by on a minimum wage, in a country which hasnt seen unemployment drop below 8% in living memory. The green dream is dead in France.]

 

27 thoughts on “Carbon 1: Macron 0

  1. “Climate hysteria may be essentially a psychological phenomenon”

    Capnophobia [morbid fear of carbon doxide], in case anyone would like to name the psychiatric phenomenon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Does the term Green Blob have an equivalent French term? Les gilets jaunes are not a political party but represent a “popular” uprising.

    It is very thoughtful of Macron to expect other World and EU Leaders to unite behind his actions to rile the population. Merkel will be so pleased about his Warm-Up act before COP 24.

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  3. For his next trick Macron wants to put the French in electric cars that will hugely increase the time to get them from Paris to the Mediterranean in the annual August rush. Good luck with that one M. Pres.

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  4. Thanks for the insight Geoff. If this does get out of hand the French may be buggered, and all because of the climate alarmist meme. I guess it just goes to show that there is no buggery quite like humbuggery

    Oh yes! The old one’s are the best.

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  5. Much appreciated Geoff. Am fascinated by the gradual assembly of a clashing protest apparel in Brittany. What will be next – green riot shields?

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  6. Historically, the agricultural sector has always been disruptive when they don’t like a set of policies – I remember being stranded in Carcassonne in 1982 one weekend because the local vignerons were pissed off by something and had just decided to block the rail tracks with their heavy machinery. And of course who could forget the newsreel films of burning trucks filled with British lamb?

    The students have always been arsy and I believe that the major teachers’ union is still proudly anarcho-Trotskyite (a concatenation of concepts that could only make sense within a mind as supremely logical as a French teacher’s).

    The question is whether the people who voted for Macron simply to keep out le Pen are also joining the protests. Do you have any views on that, Geoff?

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  7. Paul Matthews, it seems les gilet jaunes don’t want to be covered by the Presidential “we”. I don’t think his coalition partners will be too keen either if he keeps spraying it about.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “We all want to reduce emissions. We all want to change our economic, social and environmental model. But we want to do it by confronting reality:”- Macron
    What a silly man.

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  9. I tried to warn everyone that the Tour de France had too many stages and was on a slippery slope towards an ‘every child wins a yellow jacket’ situation where elitisme would give way to barbarisme. Now France is paying the price for not listening to me. We can only hope it’s not payable in blood, but with so many yellow jackets out there in circulation and unaccounted for, there’s simply no way to predict the scale of the conflagration that now smoulders, waiting for a favorable breeze to stoke it into terrifying life.

    It’d be tragic if it wasn’t so vindicating.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yellow jackets are wasps. No doubt these french varieties also have a sting in their tails.

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  11. The big demonstration in Paris planned for Saturday has already been banned from using la Place de la Concorde, the only public space big enough to receive 100,000 people. Though demonstrations and blockages have tailed off (they were only planned to last one day – last Saturday. The rest is aftershocks) it’s still the only news. And tomorrow night the ex-Ecology minister Nicolas Hulot is the star of a two hour prime time state TV show, devoted essentially to tackling climate change. And there’ll be a confrontation with a Yellow Vest.

    You may remember how, at the first question posed on his first session before the Parliamentary Energy Committee, Hulot suddenly felt ill and had to go home. Then three months ago he decided during a radio interview to resign, and in the handing over ceremony he had tears in his eyes. In a clip from tomorrow’s programme we see him unshaven, still twitching and still with tears in his eyes, being interviewed on top of Mont Blanc, where the global warming would make a brass monkey weep.
    And he’s still France’s favourite politician with a 68% approval rating, against Macron’s 21%. Apparently the French like their politicians emotional. In Hulot’s case, his twitching betrays a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tomorrow’s programme should be interesting.

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  12. Geoff, any more developments? The BBC website has dropped the story PDQ – apparently it’s less important than the other big news from France:

    “Béziers train poster: French court clears controversial ad”

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  13. Geoff, why has La Réunion gone more Yellow Vest than mainland France?

    If it has. Perhaps Macron is only talking about using the army there because it’s not mainland France.

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  14. Thanks for all the comments.
    SHAUN CRUICKSHANK:
    I’m flattered, though Arthur Young lost his sympathy for the French peasants when the French Revolution went wrong, and ended up a bit of a Burke.
    MAN IN A BARREL:
    Being stuck in a demonstration on the French motorway is a pretty standard feature of holidaying in France. When we moved down here 35 years ago they were blocking the motorway protesting against the importation of Spanish wine. According to the local paper, the demonstrators couldn’t find any cargoes of Spanish wine, so they burnt a lorryload of Scottish pear juice. (?)

    The question is whether the people who voted for Macron simply to keep out le Pen are also joining the protests.

    Macron got 24% in the first round and 66% in the second round of the presidential election. His popularity was down to 21% before the current unrest, and support for the Yellow Vests is around 70%, so yes.
    VINNY BURGOO
    La Réunion is a French overseas department off the coast of Madagascar, with French standards of education and levels of social security, but an African economy. Unemployment is around 40% I believe. The CRS, who are regularly used in mainland demonstrations, are a unit of the army, so the distinction is blurred. In mainland France they’re blocking the supermarkets. In la Réunion they’re looting them, which is more ecological when you think about it, because there’s less wastage.

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  15. Corrections and Updates:

    The government is expecting a much lower turnout in Paris than the half a million I mentioned. From their monitoring of Facebook etc. they estimate 30,000, and they’ve offered them the >Champs de Mars, the big open space next to the Eiffel Tower, which the Gilets Jaunes have turned down, saying they’re not coming for a picnic, but to make their voice heard at the seats of power, which will naturally be blocked off by armed police. Many of the demonstrators are planning to stay in their regions, where the roadblocks have become permanent features, sometimes with tents and makeshift kitchens.

    Impressive local spokespersons are gradually coming to prominence, people who are determined and articulate. This is the advantage of a country where unemployment has hovered around 10% for decades. You end up with a population of highly educated shop assistants and delivery men. One of the most prominent “leaders” is a certain Priscillia Ludosky, not to be confused with Stephan Lewandowsky. One is a highly intelligent young black woman with dreadlocks, and the other isn’t.

    My prediction that “it’s absolutely clear that no French government will ever again dare impose a carbon tax on a population just getting by on a minimum wage” has already been proved wrong. Next Tuesday the government is unveiling its energy strategy for the next ten years, but they’ve already announced that they will be raising petrol taxes again in January, as planned.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Well, that was exciting. The number of demonstrators in Paris (8,000 officially) was far below that expected, but the results were beyond an old anarchist’s wildest dreams. No deaths, few injured, but thousands of decent people gassed, soaked with water cannon, and occasionally beaten up by the police. And told they’ll get another rise in petrol tax in January “for the sake of their children.”

    Paris is special. Its wide boulevards were built like that to prevent barricades. Paris is unique among French cities in having no policing powers (that’s the job of the Prefet de Police.) So no-one told them if they left neat piles of barricades around on street corners, people might use them to, er, build barricades. And all yesterday the Mayor of Paris was tweeting “Why not come to the Champs Elysées to admire the Christmas decorations?” until someone noticed and took down the tweet.

    Macron is due to calm the situation on Tuesday by holding a meeting with interested parties (trade unions, NGOs etc.) announcing a High Council for the Climate, and unveiling the long-delayed “Programmation Pluriannuelle pour l’Energie.” The yellow jackets warming themselves round their bonfires at the entrances to motorways, fuel depots and shopping centres across the country can hardly wait.

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  17. Geoff, at first I thought your last paragraph was a joke, until I looked it up. My French not being what it used to be, I used Google Translate (shame on me) which told me:

    “July 6, 2018 – The Government launches a major mobilization for photovoltaic and solar thermal. It accompanies concrete commitments to develop solar energy in France.”

    Concrete commitments? Shouldn’t someone tell them that concrete production involves emissions of lots of CO2…..?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Last year while driving around champagne and Alsace Lorraine, it was obvious that many many acres of land had been given over to solar panels. I wish Macron well if he thinks that France can manage on their output on a day like today. The farmers are obviously hedging… Half real crops and half solar crops

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  19. MARK HODGSON (25 Nov 18 at 9:46 pm)

    An English translation of the executive summary of the 2013 Pluriannual Programmation for Energy is available here:
    https://www.ecologique-solidaire.gouv.fr/sites/default/files/Synthèse_EN_PPE.pdf
    It gives aims for 2023 and a half way house target for 2018. I’ve no idea yet how well they did. I’d need to be two bilingual Paul Homewoods to do the work necessary to find out where they are. But I’ll be commenting further on this, because I truly believe that the anger in France has the capacity to bring down the climate house of cards. Telling people who can’t make ends meet that the rise in petrol prices is for the good of their children is already provoking something close to revolution.

    Even normally supportive journalists are ridiculing Macron’s coming announcements about a High Climatic Authority (with the WWF on the board) and the pluriannual thingy as a way of pacifying the anger on the streets. He’s apparently going to announce zero interest loans for buying a new heating system and the like, for people who can’t afford to take out a ten thousand euro loan, under any circumstances. Telling people on a minimum wage who are currently warming themselves round bonfires on motorway entrances that they need to spend a year’s wages to change their boilers or their children will suffer – I don’t think that’s going to work. Especially with his Budget Minister announcing this week that he understands the plight of the poor – why, you can’t get a decent meal for two in Paris for under 200 euros, not counting the wine. The minister has clearly never heard of the Big Mac.

    Don’t ever think I’m joking. The current political situation in France defies all efforts to be funny. The minister of the environment who signed the 2013 pluriannual programmation was Ségolène Royal, the mother of the last president’s four children. Twice minister for the environment, unsuccessful in her effort to be the French candidate for a UN environmental post, she has been named Ambassadress for the North and South Poles.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. MAN IN A BARREL (25 Nov 18 at 10:11 pm)
    That’s interesting. Here in the south I see solar panel arrays only over car parks and on barren hillsides, which are worthless economically, but which provide prey for rare eagles and vultures. And they look vile. Even a slagheap eventually gets overgrown and turns into a harmless hillock. No-one in France has ever explained how much of the countryside has to be covered with wind turbines and solar panels for the country to meet its renewable energy targets.

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  21. Pingback: French Carbon Tax Protests | Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

  22. Pingback: Technocrate, Moi? | Climate Scepticism

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