[FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW] "We're all being told we have to have smart meters in our homes … and that will give central government the ability to just switch off appliances in your home when the wind isn't blowing. Now, they don't like to talk about it very much, but that is what they will do,” argues Andrew Montford, director of the UK-based organization Net Zero Watch and author of “The Hockey Stick Illusion.”
What would achieving net zero actually look like? How much would it cost?
"The reality is that the only way they're going to get energy down to the extent that they need to is essentially by rationing of one form or another,” says Montford.
Will cars, air travel, and reliable power become luxuries of the rich?
FULL TRANSCRIPTJan Jekielek: Andrew Montford, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Andrew Montford: Thank you very much for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Andrew, I'm very excited to speak with you. It's actually been a long time coming, because I've been following your work for some time. We have a perfect opportunity here to discuss the U.S. administration’s report talking about reducing the amount of sunlight by introducing material into the atmosphere. Secondly, you also have this new paper that came out looking at recent NASA climate models. Let's start with this; blotting out the sun would be the glib way of saying it. What's your reaction?
Mr. Montford: My reaction would be that they are completely mad. These ideas get floated from time to time. I can remember years back, they were talking about building huge mirrors in space to reflect some of the sun's light away from the earth. That was no more sensible than this idea. There was another one recently in the UK where they talked about filling the sea with a chemical that was going to make the seaweed grow, and that would capture lots of carbon dioxide extracted from the water. I'm not sure these ideas are anything more than virtue signaling or just trying to get headlines. I can't see that they will ever get off the ground.
Mr. Jekielek: Let's talk about your organization Net Zero Watch. I want to give people a sense of where you're coming from with your response.
Mr. Montford: Net Zero Watch has been around for a couple of years. We actually operated under a different name for a few years before that. We're a campaigning organization based in London. We're here to ask all the questions about net zero that the mainstream media would rather people weren't asking. We've concentrated very much on the cost of net zero.
I'm an accountant by training, so I can question the claims that people make on the financial side fairly easily. Up until a couple of years ago we were moderately unsuccessful. The press didn't want to talk to us. When the Covid pandemic and lockdowns started, and particularly with the Ukraine War as energy prices shot up, we suddenly started to get a lot of traction. Suddenly, the media wanted to speak to us all the time.
One of the things we've suffered from a great deal is that we have been demonized by environmentalists and green activists to the extent that a lot of people in the mainstream media have become frightened to speak to us. They know that if they do speak to us and publish our views, there will immediately be a complaint to the regulator. I'm not sure if your viewers are aware that we have a press regulator in the UK who in actual fact is not awful. They're not really crushing dissenting views, but going through their process is the punishment. The poor old journalist has to spend months putting together a defense of the fact that they have given us airtime. That has been enough to frighten the media off to the extent that they don't really want to talk to us very much anymore.
Mr. Jekielek: Your cause is to take an honest look at the impacts of these net zero policies that have come up in recent years.
Mr. Montford: Correct. As I say, we are particularly focusing on the costs of net zero. We've done a lot of work reviewing the calculations that the bureaucrats in London have put together. We have our Committee on Climate Change, which is essentially the government's official advisor on this subject. They said that, "Net zero is only going to cost 1 to 2 percent of GDP." We spent a couple of years trying to get to these underlying calculations under freedom of information, and when we did, they were embarrassing.
They were absolutely fake. The one that I particularly enjoyed was the fact that they said you could buy an electric vehicle for 11,000 pounds. Today, if you go into a car dealership, you can't get one for under 25,000. It's that sort of nonsense that allowed them to come up with these very low estimates of the cost.
I don't think anybody believes them anymore. Some of the big accountancy firms have come up with estimates of the cost of net zero that are much, much higher now. People are beginning to realize that this isn't going to be cheap, and in fact, it's going to be disastrously expensive. I've started to compare the net zero cost to the cost of global warming. There are figures that are bandied around for what global warming will cost you, and what damage the release of a ton of carbon dioxide is supposed to cause. In the U.S. government's official estimate, it's around about $100 worth of damage.
We're already spending twice that amount trying to decarbonize our electricity system. It's costing 200 pounds for a ton of carbon dioxide already. We're not even finished yet, and it's going to get harder. This shows that what we're doing is fundamentally irrational. There are some very interesting questions around why we are doing things that are demonstrably irrational.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things that concerns me about this White House report is that there's a number of different technologies that could be used to prevent the full radiation of the sun reaching the earth, which ostensibly causes this global warming effect they're trying to deal with. It's not entirely clear that would be the only thing these technologies would do. This feels to me like it is experimentation on a vast scale with unknown results. What are your thoughts on that?
Mr. Montford: Yes, that's exactly right. Climate scientists are rather hubristic about this. They think that they understand the climate system completely, and therefore, they understand the full effect of these kinds of geoengineering measures. The reality is that they have only the flimsiest understanding of the climate system. There are whole areas in which they know very little indeed.
You can point to clouds. It's an obvious example, where scientists have found that clouds are almost impossible to model, and these are a very important part of the climate system. When they say that they're going to put dust in the atmosphere to reduce the amount of incoming solar radiation, they have no idea what effect that will have at all. It's potentially a huge experiment with the climate system with potentially disastrous consequences. I hope sense will prevail and that nothing will come of the idea. But these days you just don't know, do you?
Mr. Jekielek: This is a perfect opportunity for us to talk about modeling. Your paper about the recent NASA modeling really caught my attention, because it draws attention to potential problems with models. We have an inordinate level of confidence in models which can often have very spurious variables in them.
Mr. Montford: Yes, absolutely. We have just published a very short paper which reviews some of the underlying computer code from NASA's ModelE climate model. I've been looking at climate science for the best part of 15 years now, and even I was shocked at how poor this modeling was. What the paper shows is that in certain areas of the climate system, they are unable to work out what is going wrong. They're getting answers that are daft, but they can't work out how to fix it.
One example is they keep getting faulty cloud cover percentages, the proportion of the sky that is covered in clouds. The proportion goes negative and they can't work out why. All they do is stick in a line of code that says, "If it goes negative, make it just a bit positive." But of course clouds give the most important feedback in the whole climate system.
That will have huge knock-on effects on the predictions that come out of the climate model. Yes, the climate modeling is extremely poor and it's not just climate modeling. This is quite similar to things we saw in the pandemic, isn't it? At the start of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time tracking the predictions of deaths in the UK. We were supposed to be getting tens of thousands of deaths and that was why we all had to be locked up.
But within two days of the predictions being issued, the actual number of deaths was already outside the uncertainty levels in the prediction. It's general knowledge that politicians are much too inclined to believe what scientists tell them based on computer models. Scientists are kidding themselves that they can predict the future and they really can't.
Mr. Jekielek: I remember seeing a video clip of a UK scientist, a modeler, who was speaking with an interviewer and didn't feel he had accountability for creating a model that dramatically overestimated the death toll. Do you remember this?
Mr. Montford: I imagine that it would be Professor Ferguson who prepared the model that essentially led to the lockdown, because it said we were going to be having hundreds of thousands of deaths within a few months time. These people aren't accountable because if the forecast turned out to be completely wrong, well that's good news, isn't it? The number of deaths wasn't nearly as bad as we thought it was. It's worse in many ways for people modeling things like pandemics because they get found out fairly quickly.
For climate modelers, they're making predictions about 50 years in the future or 100 years in the future, and so they're never going to be held to account for those predictions when they go wrong. But the steps that we are proposing to take, if we're talking about trying to change the climate through geoengineering, are potentially catastrophic. These things would make the effects of lockdown look like a walk in the park. This is much, much more serious, but they are much less accountable.
Mr. Jekielek: It's very interesting that you mention the Covid modeling. There are still some people out there that believe these original Covid models were real. The abject failure of these models, which dramatically overestimated the fatality numbers, caused a lot of people to start thinking about these climate models as well. That's what I've heard at least.
Mr. Montford: A lot of people are being redpilled about the failure of the Covid models. They are now starting to ask whether the climate models are similarly flawed. This has been very helpful for us because it has essentially helped detoxify our brand. The environmentalists have spent a lot of time trying to make our brand toxic, but now there are a lot of people who want to hear what we've got to say. That has been very important.
There are a lot of Covid skeptics who are now also climate skeptics. I've even seen people who have essentially been vitriolic about climate skeptics in the past now saying, "Maybe this climate change stuff isn’t as bad as I thought it was, and maybe they did have a point." Yes, this has been another factor in changing the conversation about climate in the UK.
Mr. Jekielek: We've seen a lot of movement in the U.S. towards the Green New Deal, and in the UK it might even be called the Green Deal as well. Essentially, it’s a whole series of policies that have already been implemented in different ways. You have Germany shutting down all its nuclear reactors, which is strange to me given what we know about low nuclear by-products. Where are we today? What are the societal costs of the implementation of some of these policies? Obviously, this is your bread and butter.
Mr. Montford: The big picture of the policies is that we are planning to completely decarbonize the economy. That essentially means electrify everything, get rid of fossil fuels, replace it with technologies based on electricity, and in the UK generate the electricity using wind farms. Now, since those policies started to come on board, which in the UK was about 2003 up until the eve of the Ukraine war, electricity prices had doubled and the pain was starting to be felt by consumers and was starting to be felt by industry. In that period, a huge amount of UK manufacturing had closed down. It had all gone to the far East and it was really only the very high value stuff that was left.
Then we had the Ukraine war and energy prices went completely through the roof, and at that point people started to feel the pain really quite badly. We are looking at another winter of the same in 2023-2024. The pain is going to be felt quite badly and this is what is bringing people around.
Part of the problem is that you can't have cheap electricity if you're reliant on wind power, because it's so variable and because we don't have any technology that will fill in the gaps when the wind isn't blowing. Essentially, society is going ahead and hoping that somebody will come up with some way of storing energy so that we will have a reserve when the wind isn't blowing.
Someone once said, "It's like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and hoping that somebody invents one on the way down." It's completely irrational, but that's what we're doing. Electrifying society means replacing gasoline cars with electric vehicles, which again, hasn't been thought through. The electricity cables under the streets, the distribution grid, as they call it, won't carry the amount of electricity that is needed for everybody to recharge their electric vehicles. That policy is going to grind to a halt.
We're supposed to replace all our gas boilers with electric heat pumps. Again, nobody wants to do that because it's more expensive to run homes off heat pumps than with natural gas, despite the fact that the government is throwing huge bribes at people. You can get thousands of pounds to put a heat pump in, but the sums just don't add up.
People look at it and say, "I will never make my money back even taking the subsidy into account." That policy is going to grind to a halt too. With the end of the pandemic and all the money that's been spent there, the government is not in a position anymore to carry on throwing subsidies at people.
We are reaching a crunch point now, and whichever government comes into power, they are not going to be able to carry on doing this. They will have to face down the environmentalists and say, "We're going to do something different." At the moment there don't appear to be any politicians in the UK who are brave enough to do that.
Mr. Jekielek: When you say, "the environmentalists,” the question around climate is not the same question as pollution. It’s not the great plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean, for example. Often these climate policies are in contradiction with other things considered to be environmental policies. Have you seen that at all?
Mr. Montford: Yes, absolutely. I've always been amused that environmentalists and the non-climate-focused environmental groups are so keen on renewables which have an awful environmental impact. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is very keen on wind power, but wind turbines famously kill a lot of birds. People will argue about if it's more or fewer birds than are killed by cats, but they kill birds.
They kill birds because the onshore wind turbines are built on top of mountains. They tend to kill quite unusual birds like raptors, the kind of birds that birdwatchers care about. But nevertheless, they support it. They are talking about covering a very significant part of the country with solar panels, which again is not great for the environment, and certainly in a country as cloudy as the UK doesn't generate very much electricity anyway.
Again, there's a feeling of irrationality about it. All the people are doing this because they feel that they have to be in the global warming club. To be fair, they will get a lot of flack if they're not in the global warming club. So yes, they fall in line.
Mr. Jekielek: How does nuclear power fit into this? Nuclear power appears to be a solution here to some extent, at least for the global warming people.
Mr. Montford: In the UK there is some feeling in the government that it would be good to have more nuclear power. We've always had some nuclear power, but it's quite old now and it's going to have to close down over the next few years. But we have shown ourselves to be almost incapable of building any more nuclear power stations here, partly because environmentalists oppose nuclear power for reasons that are not entirely clear, and certainly don't appear to be entirely rational.
Nuclear power is zero carbon. You would think that if you were very, very worried about global warming that nuclear power would be a good idea. We have two new nuclear power stations which are being built, but they are hugely over budget and are very problematic at the moment. My view is that small modular nuclear reactors of the kind that a few American companies and Rolls-Royce in the UK want to build would probably be a better bet, but the environmentalists will fight like fury to prevent that from happening.
That said, there is a movement within the broader environmental movement that is pronuclear. They are increasingly making their voices heard because anybody who has looked at renewables in a serious way knows that they cannot possibly be the answer. If we can get cheap, modular nuclear reactors, then that should be something that sensible environmentalists and skeptics like myself could both agree on. That would be a way forward.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned that especially since the Russia-Ukraine war, there has been a shift in a very different direction. I want you to quantify this for me a bit. How are people starting to think differently? Recently, Germany got rid of a lot of its power making ability. On top of that, they now have this problem getting the Russian natural gas. That's causing a lot of people to think about their energy use and their procurement of energy.
Mr. Montford: Correct. It was always very risky for countries in Central Europe and Germany to rely so heavily on Russian natural gas and for the Germans to close down so many nuclear power stations. It seemed entirely irrational. The result of it has been that once the Ukraine war started, the Germans had to reopen lots of coal-fired power stations which burn lignite, which is pretty much the dirtiest form of energy you can imagine. That's the only way they've been able to keep the lights on.
But yes, everybody around Europe is starting to think rather more seriously about energy security in the military sense as well. Somebody could blow up your pipeline as we saw happen in the Baltic, and it applies to wind farms too. We have lots of offshore wind farms. If Mr. Putin wanted to cut the cable that brings the power to shore, that would be trivially easy and nobody would be the wiser who had done it.
That is a very important aspect that needs to be looked at. But also, when the wind doesn't blow, where is the energy coming from? All across Europe, countries have been saying, "We'll have an interconnector to another country and they'll send us some electricity." But we saw last winter that when the wind isn't blowing in Britain, it's not going to be blowing anywhere in Western Europe.
You can get wind lulls across the whole of Western Europe. Everybody gets into a bidding war for a very limited amount of electricity and you end up having to just shut things down. That's going to happen. We're already spending quite a lot of money paying factories to shut down, and we're all being told we have to have smart meters in our homes.
Instead of your old-fashioned electricity meter, which just counts how many kilowatt-hours you've used, you will have a smart meter which is connected to the central government and gives them the ability to switch off appliances in your home when the wind isn't blowing. They don't like to talk about it very much, but that is what they will do.
Your electric vehicle charger will switch off if the wind isn't blowing. They can switch your fridge off for a few hours and maybe it'll be okay, and maybe your food won't defrost in that time. If push comes to shove, if things get really bad, they will be able to switch off your heating. You'll have a heat pump, and they can just switch that off.
We can get periods of three weeks where there is basically no wind anywhere in Western Europe. I particularly remember the winter of 2009-2010 in the UK where we had temperatures that were in the range of minus 5 to minus 10 for three weeks, and there was literally no wind. I live in Scotland, and there's no solar power anywhere here in the middle of winter.
In that kind of weather system, everybody essentially would be switched off. I shudder to think what would've happened if you were relying on an electric heat pump for those three weeks. It really would be quite terrifying. But again, they're doing these things anyway because that's what they have to do. That's what the net zero dogma says has to happen.
Mr. Jekielek: I've found Michael Shellenberger's arguments in his book, Apocalypse Never, quite compelling. There is this general idea that energy use overall needs to be reduced, and this is just a process to get there. He argues that energy use is what allows for human flourishing. There is this question of ideology for sure. This is what you've been talking about throughout the interview.
Mr. Montford: Yes, Shellenberger is absolutely right. This is something that Alex Epstein talks about a lot as well. Energy is not just another commodity. It is absolutely central to having a civilization. Civilizations are built around energy. We have reduced our energy use per capita in the UK quite a lot because essentially all our manufacturing industry has gone overseas.
People have been forced to buy low energy appliances, which have been more expensive, but you save some money on energy. That has been something that has been relatively painless, but this low hanging fruit is gone now. It will be increasingly difficult to make that happen. The reality is that the only way they're going to reduce energy use to the extent that they need to is by rationing in one form or another.
I mentioned before that the electricity grid couldn't cope with everybody being able to charge their electric vehicles. They probably don't care because the conclusion is that not everybody's going to have an electric vehicle anymore. You'll ride on the bus, and you'll ride on the train.
For people like me who live out in the countryside, I don't know what we're going to do. Having personal transportation will be something that's restricted to the rich, and the same for air travel. Also, the poorer people will be paid to switch off when electricity is in short supply. People are already being offered money in the UK to switch off their appliances when electricity prices are high.
That is not a world that most people want to live in. Most people enjoy their two weeks in the sun in the summer. Most people like being able to drive to visit family and friends and go off on camping trips. But these environmental extremists don't want you to live like that. It's disturbing because I don't think people realize what's coming.
Mr. Jekielek: The obvious outcome of everything you're describing is a lot more government control and intrusion into personal and private space.
Mr. Montford: Absolutely right. There is a big control agenda here. There are quite interesting parallels to the pandemic here, because we have this thing called the Nudge Unit in the UK, which essentially was a department of the central bureaucracy. It's now allegedly independent, but essentially, it's trying to apply the same psychological techniques to get people to change their behavior in the way in which the bureaucrats think we need to change our behavior.
The whole machinery of government stops being about serving the people and starts being about directing the people and controlling the people. It's a type of soft control, but there are also hard controls like rationing and switching off your appliances. It's a totalitarian agenda.
It is totalitarian in the strict sense of the word, in that every single aspect of life is going to be affected by this agenda. Whether or not you get to go and see granny is going to change. You're not going to see your parents as much if they live 50 miles away, because you're probably not going to have a car. It's going to be a major expedition if you go to see your family. Maybe people will start to live in extended families again. But yes, it's scary in a way, isn't it?
Mr. Jekielek: Andrew, this has been a fascinating conversation. Any final thoughts as we finish?
Mr. Montford: The climate and net-zero agenda is absolutely going to be at the center of the political stage for the next few years. We are going to see politicians really having to twist and turn to stay in the direction they're going. Eventually, we are going to see some U-turns. It's going to be pretty interesting.
Mr. Jekielek: Andrew Montford, such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Montford: Thank you very much for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Andrew Montford and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I'm your host, Jan Jekielek.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.