Saturday, 16 September 2017

The European Union Proves Once Again it is Not a Democratic Institution

by Owen Martin

As European citizens who care deeply about the democratic values of the EU, we can only feel a sense of shame that the EU has gone into an international forum with a position that threatened to undermine democracy and accountability in a range of countries extending throughout the wider Europe and Central Asia. And the primary reason for this is the European Commission’s stubborn resistance to having its decisions on environmental matters challengeable before the EU courts in the way that the decisions of national authorities may be challenged at national level [Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General].

The EU constantly portrays itself as a beacon of democracy and law in the modern world. But it often does not live up to this ideal. This week, at the meeting of the parties to the Aarhus Convention, an International Treaty which grants the public certain rights in environmental decision making such as access to information, participation and access to justice, the EU failed to accept a ruling made against it in relation to access to justice for citizens. 

The "Remainer" crowd in the UK and the Guardian tell us that it is not the European Union which is the problem but individual Member States :

If the EU does have a democratic deficit, that is because it is made up of countries with their own problems with public engagement in politics. Plus governments have a habit of blaming “Brussels” when things go wrong, which feeds the idea of an unelected, untamed bureaucracy. As one senior EU official puts it: “Anything you like you claim for yourselves and anything you don’t like you blame on Brussels [The Guardian].”

 However, here we have a situation where NGOs from various Member and Non Member States are trying (unsuccessfully) to hold the EU bureaucratic behemoth to account. Indeed, Norway and Switzerland (both outside the EU) were both forceful in their condemnation of EU's refusal to accept the ruling made against them :

Today during the plenary not a single Party or stakeholder supported the EU position. On the contrary, every delegation that spoke on the issue made very explicit that these amendments were not acceptable to them as they would undermine the Convention in the long term without any legal grounds justifying such amendments. 
Any EU decision to call for a vote on this issue would:

• Destroy the consensus-based spirit that is the fundamental bedrock of the Convention.

• Send a clear signal to all other Parties that their views do not count.

Enable the EU to force the rejection of a legally correct decision on the basis of political motives.

• Undermine the rules of procedure of the Convention.

We firmly believe that the amendments of the decision proposed by the EU would strongly undermine the Convention and its compliance mechanism. [Furthermore] the EU would return from Montenegro with its reputation in disgrace, having lost all credibility as a proponent of democratic norms.

[Statement from Norway and Swiss delegation].

But it gets even worse. As one NGO noted

 A day after European Commission President Juncker declared the rule of law to be one of three principles that must anchor the European Union in his State of the Union address, the EU has been heavily criticised for its failure to accept an international panel’s ruling that it is not ensuring adequate access to justice for its citizens at EU level.

I have to be honest. I didn't think the NGOs had it in them to stand up to the might of the EU Commission. I'm happy to be proved wrong. 

The reality is the European Union is just like any large State Power that has ever existed in the world. It dislikes immensely the idea of the individual citizen having a say in it's affairs or challenging it's decisions in the courts. It seeks to consolidate it's power, rather than divest it. We saw this during the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. We are seeing it again in relation to it's obligations to the Aarhus Convention, the ultimate citizen empowering Treaty.

The full statement made by the coalition of NGOs is well worth a read for those interested in the technical details of what happened during last weeks events :

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Capitalism Is Not a Rigged System

by Owen Martin

Chris Johns of the Irish Times has recently called capitalism "a rigged system". As usual with these arguments, the problem is not the State, but the free market. And the focus is never on individual choices but rather a system that produces the historic growth in lifestyles we all have today. 
Capitalism is prone to periodic crises precisely because of over-borrowing: we don’t know when the next crisis will hit, or the form the excess debt will take, but the crisis is on the way. We can only hope that it still far in the future.
The reason we still have the risk of over-borrowing is because the banks know the State will bail them out again if things go wrong. So why should they be worried if they act recklessly once again ? 
Most of the article uses Capitalism and Great Financial Crisis (GFC) interchangeably. As if they are the same thing. In USA,  the Federal Reserve, not the free market, kept interest rates low before the GFC. In Europe, the ECB, not the free market, kept the interest rates low before the GFC. This created the unnatural over-lending environment in financial markets worldwide. In Ireland, lavish property tax reliefs were introduced by the government encouraging even more lending. 
So it wasn't capitalism that caused the GFC, it was central planning policy at the beginning (low interest rates, taxation incentives) and socialism (bank bailouts) at the end.  It wasn't capitalism that rigged the system, it was government and central banking policy. 
Capitalism is no more a rigged system than a football league is. Football teams do not create inequality. They simply reveal the difference in footballing ability. The music business does not create inequality, it simply filters the difference in songwriting or singing ability. Capitalism is no different. Certainly there are traits that people are born with such as a good voice, good football skill or intelligence that create differences. But other skills and abilities can be acquired by perseverance and hard work. Which of course requires individual choices. The end product of the football and music businesses are the great players we see on TV and the great records we hear on the radio. The end products of capitalism are the great products we buy in the shops.  Capitalism allows people from poor backgrounds to become wealthy singers or entrepreneurs. By doing so it reduces inequality. 
The inequality that is never spoken about is that which exists in the taxation system. Responsible taxpayers who live healthy lives pay as much (or more) tax as those who smoke for example. There is no attempt to match taxation contributions with use of the welfare or government funded health system (where choice in lifestyle is involved of course).  We all accept this inequality in the tax system. We accept inequality in football and music. Inequality is just a fact of life and has nothing to do with capitalism. 

The less the governments interfere in the free markets, the more level the playing field and the less rigged the system will be. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Earth Island Mysticism Plays Out Again in Ireland

Image result for easter island

About a thousand years ago, the people of Earth Island went to the trouble of building large monolith structures in the hope that they could satisfy their gods and perhaps improve weather and crop conditions on the island. 

Last year in Inishowen, County Donegal, a huge wind farm was built. The developers promised in their planning documents that it would help combat "climate change". The area has a long history of bad flooding and bad weather. Would it work ? Could wind farms prevent extreme weather by allegedly reducing carbon emissions ?

Well, last week we found out. Another flood has occurred, this time as bad, if not worse than ever.

One of the worst areas hit was the Inishowen Peninsula along the border with Co Derry where villages and towns including Burnfoot, Burt, Bridgend and Buncrana were badly hit - IT.

Extreme bad weather and floods are nature's way of reclaiming the landscape altered by humans. There always has been and always will be extreme weather events. When humans eventually die out, every single structure built by us will be taken down bit by bit, without any help from carbon emissions. We are constantly in a struggle with nature to maintain our infrastructure whether it's from earthquakes, sinkholes, coastal erosion or floods.

We need to lose the mysticism about it and instead focus on smarter planning. Building a wind farm in your region actually contributes to greater flooding because natural drainage areas that have existed for thousands of years have now being filled with concrete and steel. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Construction Industry Hit by PSO Levy

From The Irish Times :

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) wants to increase the public service obligation (PSO) levy on electricity bills by €104 million to €496.5 million from next October to support renewable energy developers and peat-fired power plants.
However, cement and concrete manufacturers, whose businesses face high energy bills, have warned the regulator that such a move could hit jobs and endanger the recovery in construction.
In a submission to the commission, manufacturer Kilsaran International says that over the 12 months from October, the increase would add €43,984 to its energy bills and points out that it cannot recover this from customers.

One of the biggest issues in Ireland right now is the shortage in housing. It is being framed as a problem for government to fix but probably the best thing the government could do is stay out of it. By meddling with energy costs, the government has hit the very people who could sort out the housing crisis - the people who build the houses. 

The Irish Government creates problems. Then everyone looks to them to solve it. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Migrant Crisis, Robots, Global Warming and the Inconsistency of the Media

Reading and believing the Mainstream media these days requires you to believe several different and conflicting positions / theories at the same time. It seems they have lost all sense of consistency in their urge to be politically correct.  

This video looks at some recent discussions in the media :

Sunday, 30 July 2017

PSO Levy for Renewables Doubles in Two Years

The PSO Levy is paid to Renewables and Peat generation every year to make up the shortfall between the market price and fixed price set for certain indigenous sources. The Energy Regulator has announced a 20% increase in the PSO Levy for the 2017/18 year. Renewables now makes up 80% of the levy and wind  energy makes up 94% of renewables. So 75% of the PSO Levy now goes to wind generation.

The amount of PSO Levy paid to renewables has doubled in two years from €181 million to € 376 million as renewable generation capacity increased by over 50% from 2,000 MW in 2015 to nearly 3,300 MW in 2017 .  

Renewables generation capacity in blue and PSO Levy in millions in red

Back in 2013, energy costs were a big issue for multinationals in Ireland. Following this recent announcement on the PSO Levy by the energy regulator, it will surely be an even bigger issue.

For domestic / household consumers, they will see a massive 30% increase in the levy.  How long can this go on until there is a backlash ? The Regulator tries to reassure consumers :

Increasing levels of wind generation on the system decrease the wholesale price of electricity, which feeds  through to retail prices.

This claim was debunked on my blog a few years ago : 

The reason for recent falls in wholesale prices was because of the fall in the price of gas. Which was more than offset by the PSO Levy and increases in network and other system costs to pay for all this new renewable infrastructure.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Why are Politicians Obsessed with Climate Change ?

by Owen Martin

The Irish government has recently had to endure scandal after scandal in just about every department - justice, health, finance, housing etc. But there is still only one issue in town - climate change.
Fifty years on and there has been a clearing-out of another generation, this time by the running, shorts-wearing avocado smashers. To what will they bring their focus, energy and vigour? One thing they have promised is to take climate change seriously. On election as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said he wanted to see a new ambition on climate change. But he and his colleagues should do more than that; they should define it as the most important challenge to be faced; they are, after all, in Andrew O’Hagan’s phrase, the “globally warmed generation” - Diarmaid Ferriter, Irish Times

This week, yet another National Mitigation Plan was announced by the government to loud fanfare. 

David Whitehead, a geologist and paleoclimatologist from Galway, lays out quite simply the futility of the Paris Agreement and such climate mitigation plans as they relate to Ireland :

A peer-reviewed paper in the Global Policy journal has modelled the impact of the CO2 emission reduction promises, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), made ahead of the Paris climate summit. The climate impact of all Paris INDCs, if every nation fulfilled them by 2030, which is most unlikely, and if the climate models used to assess the temperature effect of CO2 emissions are accurate, which is perhaps even more unlikely, the temperature reduction would be 0.048°C by 2100. If the INDC’s were extended for another 70 years and every nation fulfilled them by 2030, and continued to fulfill them until the end of the century, and there was no ‘CO₂ leakage’ to non-committed nations, the entirety of the Paris INDCs would reduce modelled global temperature rises by just 0.17°C by 2100.  The Irish Times cannot have it both ways; if the models are correct the impact of the Paris agreement is negligible and if they are incorrect the rationale for the Paris Accord is unfounded. Paris is just symbolic virtue signaling by western governments and less developed countries signed up because it promised them large cash transfers. Now Turkey states that unless it receives the money it will not ratify Paris. Other countries will follow. Ireland is the second most carbon efficient economy in the world in terms of CO2 emissions in relation to GDP, and would probably be first if our GDP figures were correct, which we all know they are not.  Ireland is also the most carbon efficient economy in the EU and so for us to be pay huge  fines  levied by the EU for a failure to meet the  2020 and 2030 CO2 emissions targets, agreed to by Eamonn Ryan on ideological grounds, would be  economically  very damaging and  an act of political lunacy -  David Whitehead. BA(Mod. Nat.Sc.)TCD, FIMMM, C.Eng.

These facts are not secret nor are they in any way over complicated for policy makers and the media to understand. If climate change is a serious threat to the world, Ireland can play no role in combating it and in any case we are at present a very carbon efficient economy. So our politicians should be fully focused on the other big issues they urgently need to deal with. 

Ireland has a serious debt problem, the worst in the EU relative to our GDP. We have out of control public sector spending. Our public sector workers enjoy far higher salaries and pension entitlements than those in the private sector. Our social welfare spending is much higher than the EU average.  A housing bubble is manifesting itself once again in Dublin city. Despite spending more on health than anyone else in the EU, apart from Iceland, we still have a dysfunctional health system. Elements of trusted organisations like the police force, care and charity organisations have revealed themselves to be corrupt. Pension funds are repeatedly raided by our cash hungry government. The idea of retiring in your 60's on a state pension seems less and less likely by the day.  Socialist dogma coming from the media and government opposition benches prevents even a debate on most of these important issues, let alone solutions to be put forward. 

If nobody in the House of Lords has never heard of the economic theory "comparative advantage", then you could safely bet a lot of money that nobody in either two parliaments in Dublin have heard of it.  

One more anniversary. 200 years ago, 1817, saw the publication of David Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy, which contains the first exposition of the principle of comparative advantage, a thoroughly counterintuitive idea that was once described by Paul Samuelson as the only proposition in the whole of social science that is both true and surprising.Comparative advantage takes Adam Smith’s division of labour one step further and explains why free trade benefits everybody, even countries that are the worst at making things, even countries that are the best at making things. But it also, in my view, explains prosperity – what it is and why it happens to us and not to rabbits or rocks - Matt Ridley, the case for Free Market Anti-Capitalism

The fact is that it is not our energy or climate policy that is unsustainable. It is our massive debt, welfare and government spending that is unsustainable. It is the raiding of pension pots and rainy day funds that is unsustainable. It is our high income taxation policy that is unsustainable. It is the PSO levy that is funding renewable energy projects that is unsustainable. The government must know this and they know, because of our education system, that there will never be a free market anti capitalism system as Matt Ridley describes that might help address these problems. Although perhaps its too late for that now anyway.

So the government must propagate the idea that the end of the world is nigh anyway. They must call attention to a problem much bigger than all these issues and then use all the instruments of the State to help fight it.  They must choose an issue that most people do not understand. And this is where climate change comes in. No longer do the politicians have to deal with the real issues. They can continually make themselves look good to a gullible public by pretending to combat a fake and larger enemy until the house of cards does finally crumble.