Covid and the climate emergency

(Another extract from the climate chapter of my book-in-progress, Economic Consequences of the Pandemic)

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a variety of social and economic trends, some beneficial and some harmful, that were already underway before 2020.

An important example of a beneficial effect has been an acceleration of the decline of carbon-based fuels. Lockdowns early in the pandemic produced a substantial reduction in demand for both electricity and transport. As well as providing a brief glimpse of a world with greatly reduced atmospheric pollution, the lockdown accelerated shifts in the energy mix that were already underway.

Since solar PV and wind plants cost nothing to operate, the reduction in electricity demand fell most severely on carbon-based fuels, particularly coal. As a result, the combined contribution of PV, wind and hydroelectricity to US energy generation surpassed that of coal for the first time in 130 years.

Official projections from the EIA suggest that coal use will return to its gradually declining trend in the wake of the pandemic, exceeding renewables for some years to come. However, the pace at which coal plants are being closed or converted to run on gas has accelerated during pandemic. Meanwhile, despite weak demand, wind and PV plants are being installed at a record pace, partly because near-zero interest rates make capital investments cheaper.

The reduction in transport usage reduced demand for oil, at one point leading to a startling situation where the price of oil was negative, as unsold oil exceed the capacity for storage. Although the price has recovered somewhat, it seems unlikely that transport demand will return to its previous trend.

At the same time, there has been continued progress, both technological and political, in the electrification of transport. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced that the sale of petrol and diesel cars would be prohibited after 2030, an advance on previous commitments. The decline in long-term interest rates also enhances the economic position of electric vehicles, which have higher upfront costs and lower operating and maintenance costs than petrol and diesel vehicles.

Not all energy-related developments associated with Covid have been positive. The convenience and cheapness of online taxi platforms like Uber and Lyft has reduced use of public transport in many cities. The pandemic, with the need to avoid crowded spaces like buses and subway cars has exacerbated this trend. And, while the option of working remotely reduces the need for travel, it has encouraged a more dispersed workforce with less need to commute to the central city locations best served by public transport.

51 thoughts on “Covid and the climate emergency

  1. Sales of new cars crashed due to pandemic related supply chain difficulties even as employment and personal finance concerns inhibited spending. Sale numbers of second hand cars also fell after a move away from public transport use led to demand outstripping supply which also pushed used car prices up by some 30%.

    Walking and bicycling boomed!

    Bicycle and parts stocks reportedly could not meet demand and were also rapidly depleted.

  2. The improvement in air quality and the drop in noise pollution has seemed quite dramatic to me. I wonder if this glimpse of a less polluted city will produce any lasting demand for change? This has been the first time in my life that I have been able to enjoy air quality in Melbourne as good as in regional areas. I wonder if Australia’s tolerance for indulging hoons will be maintained?

  3. “Official projections from the EIA …” The notoriously timid and fossil-friendly EIA is no more official than the regulator FERC, which keeps its own tabs on the transition. From their latest “Energy infrastructure” update

    Planned US coal power station retirements to September 2023 : 22.3 GW
    Highly probable wind + solar additions ditto: 60.4 GW
    Other wind + solar additions planned ditto: 153.5 GW

    “Highly probable” means under construction or possibly with all paperwork in place. It’s clear that coal retirements will have to speed up considerably, even if only half the provisional renewable pipeline is built, and allowing for the ca. 2:1 difference in capacity factors.

    The interest rate effect on electric car purchases is stronger in countries like the UK and the Netherlands where irrational tax breaks ensure that a high proportion of new cars are company cars, provided as perks for mid-level employees. The cars are normally supplied by specialist car leasing companies, run by bean-counters who look at total cost of ownership not the sticker price.

    You need a sentence on gas. The financial condition of the US gas industry is parlous, with $100bn of debt outstanding from bankrupt companies Low interest rates do not apply to bad debts, and the debtors can’t trade themselves back to profitability.

  4. Nice quote from IEEFA analyst Clark Williams-Derry, for possible re-use – maybe on TV or radio rather than a book:
    “If you’d said four years ago, ‘I’ve got a great investment idea for you — take half your money, burn it, take the other half of your money and put it under a mattress’… it would have been a terrible idea, a terrible investment strategy — except that it would have done better than the US oil & gas industry has done over the last four years.”

    EV sales in Germany jumped to 17.5% in October: one in six. They were 4.2% in October 2019. Slightly under half were BEVs, but these included four out of the top five models.

    Australia? A laughable 0.5%. I am defining EVs in the standard way as BEVs plus PHEVs, excluding plugless hybrids, the only “electric” vehicles that sell in any volume there.

  5. Why we should tax electric vehicles
    By Unconventional Economist in Australian budget, Australian Economyat 12:40 pm on November 23, 2020 | 66 comments

    …Here’s the problem. Australian motorists paid $19.68 billion in fuel excise tax in the 2019 financial year. But with the Electric Vehicle Council predicting 50% of new cars sold in 2035 will be electric, Australia’s governments are facing a budgetary black hole:

    This is because the shift to both more efficient conventional vehicles as well as electric vehicles will cause fuel excise receipts to collapse: (Fig 8)

    This means policy makers will have to move to some sort of direct road user pricing to cover costs, as has occurred above with Victoria’s EV tax announcement.

    The 2c a kilometre charge on EVs is still a bargain compared to the 42c per litre paid by conventional motorists using petrol and diesel vehicles (see Fig 9 for average fuel consumption). These conventional motorists will still contribute far more towards road cost recovery than their EV counterparts.

    However, the EV charge represents a stop gap only and there needs to be a full shift towards direct road user charges.

    The EV industry should be careful what it wishes for. Because if direct road user pricing came into effect that fully recovered the cost of road provision, then EVs would likely pay far more than 2c a kilometre.

  6. John Quiggin,
    You state in your post: “The reduction in transport usage reduced demand for oil, at one point leading to a startling situation where the price of oil was negative, as unsold oil exceed the capacity for storage. Although the price has recovered somewhat, it seems unlikely that transport demand will return to its previous trend.”

    I’d suggest that’s set in motion many consequences that are yet to manifest.

    It appears US shale oil production is set for an inevitable crash next year.
    Per US petroleum geologist Art Berman, in his post “STOP EXPECTING OIL AND THE ECONOMY TO RECOVER”, dated Sep 3:

    “Tight Oil Rig Count and Oil Production

    Rig count is a good way to predict future oil production as long as the proper leads and lags are

    It takes a month or two between increased oil price and a signed rig contract. It takes another 5 or 6 months to drill and complete all the wells on a drilling pad. It then takes another 5 or 6 months from first production before new wells offset declining output from older wells. Add it all together and it takes at least a year between an upward price signal and enough new production to maintain or increase output.”

    Art Berman recently tweeted (Nov 3‒5) re US crude + condensate production forecast:
    Worst-case scenario: Fall from a peak of 12.86 million barrels per day (Mb/d) in Nov 2019 to 5.14 Mb/d in Sep 2021;
    Likely-case scenario: Fall from 12.86 Mb/d in Nov 2019 to 7.0 Mb/d in Sep 2021;
    Best-case scenario: Fall from a peak of 12.86 Mb/d in Nov 2019 to 8.6 Mb/d in Sep 2021.

    Meanwhile, on Oct 30, BP Australia announced the impending closure of WA Kwinana oil refinery, to be converted to an import terminal.

    The three remaining Australian refineries (i.e. Lytton, Altona and Geelong) have all dramatically slowed their fuel output in the face of severe oversupply. All three are bleeding multimillion-dollar losses, with their refining margins under enormous strain. Unless state and/or federal governments offer substantial inducements to continue operating, expect more Australian refinery closures soon. That will mean Australia will be dependent on more finished fuel imports.

    COVID-19 has accelerated the onset of a post- ‘peak oil’ supply world.

  7. Svante: in Aotearoa it’s 7.5c/km for under 3500kg. Plus a handling fee.

    But the good news is how those charges escalate as the vehicle gets fatter. Also, the rates for “unpowered vehicles” do not include human powered, they are for trailers. But I still laugh when i see it because the idea of paying 33c/km for my unicycle amuses me.

    I kind of wish I could afford an electric truck just for the pleasure of driving it round while paying no road tax.

  8. hix,
    Last night on ABC TV NSW 7pm News, finance reporter Alan Kohler presented a graph from time interval 23:20 showing time spent driving, walking and using public transport (7-day average) – not clear whether this is for Australia or for Sydney (or elsewhere)?

    Also from time interval 13:51 through to 15:58, there was a report on the US pandemic crisis, including Casey Briggs’ charts and stats. Scary stuff.

  9. At this stage, any tax of this kind on electric vehicles is a very bad idea. It will raise very little because it is (a) low and (b) will discourage users from going into electric vehicles anyway. It would be better to place no tax of this kind on EVs at this stage and to tax fossil fuels harder with the excise plus a carbon tax. This would encourage the switch to electric cars. Make fossil fuel users pay really hard. If they don’t like it they can switch to EVs or drive less. Or perhaps they want the next catastrophic bush-fire to burn their property down.

    In the long term, there may be a need to tax EVs for road use. I would imagine this would not be before they made up 1/4 of all vehicles on the road. There have to be clear incentives to get people into EVs or on to mass transit (after COVID-19 if such a time comes). These taxes on EVs just send the message, “We ain’t ever going to change. We prefer to burn the world down to ashes.”

  10. “The 2c a kilometre charge on EVs is still a bargain compared to the 42c per litre paid by conventional motorists using petrol and diesel vehicles (see Fig 9 for average fuel consumption). ”

    The two are equal for fuel-efficient ICE vehicle with 5l/100km. That’s before we take into account CO2 emissions and local pollution effects. Larger, less efficient, ICE vehicles would cost more, but they also generate more costs (more space taken up, more weight on road surfaces, more pollution of all kinds).

  11. If we priced CO2 emissions based on marginal damage rather than as a political compromise, the charge would be about $100/tonne. Applied to a typical Australian vehicle (average of passenger and light commercial) with emissions of 200gm/km, that’s a charge of 2c/km [feel free to check my calculations].

  12. I stand corrected by J.Q. The 2c a kilometer charge is not all that low. I was reading several different screens tiled and flipping around one to the other. I read the “2c a kilometer / 42c per liter” line too quickly. It’s a very disingenuous line and if one is not paying close attention then the slipping through of two different measures like this is very easy for a dishonest writer. It’s clearly dishonest writing intended to mislead. It’s typical of the brazenly dishonest and conniving people who still promote fossil fuels.

  13. The progressive increase seems more of a luxury tax than anything other. Perhaps rego fees for ICE vehicles should be raised significantly higher above that of evs and rise in proportion to the amount of emissions?” The two are equal for fuel-efficient ICE vehicle with 5l/100km. That’s before we take into account CO2 emissions and local pollution effects. Larger, less efficient, ICE vehicles would cost more, but they also generate more costs (more space taken up, more weight on road surfaces, more pollution of all kinds).”

    As average passenger vehicle fuel consumption is a bit more than double 5L/100km and declining only at a moderate rate. maybe fuel excise will over time be significantly increased? Over time as average fuel consumption falls it seems that fuel excise would be destined to be increased incrementally at least in inverse proportion. Such subtle incremental increases in excise would be easier to sell than a big change to a progressive road use tax. Such a tax change is rather visible and will be resisted strongly.

    I haven’t checked for other States but in Qld motor vehicle annual registration fees are grouped in tiers and increase progressively upwards according to number of ICE cylinders or equivalents from a grouping of 0 (evs) and 1 cylinder and steam at bottom to 12 cylinders at top. It seems more of a luxury tax posture than anything other. Maybe tiered fees above that of evs should be significantly and progressively raised a lot according more strictly to ICE ghg emissions?

    There are the not very green sourced alcohol mixed with petroleum and bio fuels that are designated as green as a political sop to moneyed vested interest and political party donor groups. What fair excise, road use tax, or registration fees should those fuel users pay? Not on the wiki list below is greenish LNG as used by heavy vehicle fleets. Then, in no way green, there’s the LPG fleet on only 14cents/L excise.
    Excise tax rates
    The excise tax on commonly used fuels in Australia[1] as of February 2020:
    A$0.423 per litre on unleaded petrol fuel (including standard, blended (E10) and premium grades)
    A$0.423 per litre on diesel fuel (ultra-low sulphur/conventional)
    A$0.134 per litre on liquified petroleum gas used as fuel (autogas or LPG as it is commonly known in Australia).
    A$0.081 per litre on ethanol fuel for use as fuel in an internal combustion engine (which can be reduced/removed with grants)
    A$0.041 per litre on biodiesel (which can be reduced/removed with grants)

  14. ” It’s a very disingenuous line and if one is not paying close attention then the slipping through of two different measures like this is very easy for a dishonest writer. It’s clearly dishonest writing intended to mislead. It’s typical of the brazenly dishonest and conniving people who still promote fossil fuels.”

    How so? It’s clear that 5L/km is far from the average of >10L/km. And the average trend is falling slowly. It’s a few election and budgetary cycles away before the average might become 5l/km.

    Leith van Onselen dealt with the broad contemporary facts honestly, with the situation as it actually is now not some ideal or particular niche. Crikey, whadabout mopeds? He missed those specifics too!


    “The 2c a kilometre charge on EVs is still a bargain compared to the 42c per litre paid by conventional motorists using petrol and diesel vehicles (see Fig 9 for average fuel consumption). ”

    That sentence of misdirected concern is in context entirely, and for as long as the current situation holds, a truth statement. Perhaps not as strong a truth statement as saying flatly that 5 ordinarily is not equal to 10, or half price is half price, but in context it is very close.

  15. John Quiggin says: NOVEMBER 24, 2020 AT 2:31 PM
    ““The 2c a kilometre charge on EVs is still a bargain compared to the 42c per litre paid by conventional motorists using petrol and diesel vehicles (see Fig 9 for average fuel consumption). ”

    The two are equal for fuel-efficient ICE vehicle with 5l/100km. That’s before we take into account CO2 emissions and local pollution effects. Larger, less efficient, ICE vehicles would cost more, but they also generate more costs (more space taken up, more weight on road surfaces, more pollution of all kinds).”

    John Quiggin says NOVEMBER 24, 2020 AT 2:33 PM
    I see one person made the same point in response to van Onselen’s article

    If the comment referred to is Jason’s below it is similar. But neither comment directly deals with or counters van Onselen’s points made concerning current average/conventional ICE passenger vehicle fuel consumption, excise charges, and recovery of road costs.

    November 23, 2020 at 1:35 pm
    The 2c a kilometre charge on EVs is still a bargain compared to the 42c per litre paid by conventional motorists using petrol and diesel vehicles.

    This isn’t right. At 2.5c/km for full EVs, that’s the equivalent of a ICE vehicle that has a fuel consumption of about 6 litres per 100km. That’s about the same stated combined cycle fuel consumption for the latest BMW 330i and more than a Lexus hybrid – both cars costing a lot more than, say, a Nissan Leaf.

    Fuel excise is a fuel usage tax, not a road usage tax.”

    There are at least two questions. How to pay for roads? How to rapidly reduce ICE passenger motor vehicle emissions? How to sell any solutions to voters?

  16. How to sell any solutions to voters? – Svante

    Wait until they start dying in droves from climate change and bush-fires… apparently.

    I once saw an old guy in a wheelchair, with an oxygen tank and a plastic oxygen feeder pipe to his nostrils. He had taken the oxygen off to have a cigarette. A fitting image for the populace at large, I think. Let’s rev up those big petrol burners and coal fired power stations before our next 50 degree C summer. That’ll help. Who cares? Who needs an environment? And the governments and corporations continue to feed these delusions. However, I doubt these delusions will survive this decade. What then? They will all be screaming, “Why didn’t anybody tell us this would happen?” Hello, the best scientists have been telling you for 40 years but almost nobody would listen.

  17. Ikonockast – “How to sell any solutions to voters? – Svante”

    Ban donor and any other money except transparent taxpayer funding from politics and post politics and anything associated with politics wouldn’t hurt for a start. But how to sell that?

    I’ve seen that old guy you saw smoking too. Nicotine is tremendously hard to kick without replacement delivery options to ease the way to weaning eventually off the drug entirely. I tried nicotine cold turkey more than once, and once on a long weekend went almost blind! What easy replacement therapy is there to wean a status quo addicted world onto a better alternative path? If there was one there was no time for it. The world is going to get more than a black eye from walking into a door not the doorway like I once did. CO2e is 508ppm! We are a bit stuffed. Young people are fully stuffed. There’ll be no facing it, just misery and violent all consuming fury spread more widely than already is the case.

    Greenhouse gases
    Global average concentrations of all the major long-lived greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere, with the global annual mean carbon dioxide concentration reaching 410 ppm and CO2 equivalent reaching 508 ppm in 2019.

    The rate of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere has increased with every passing decade since atmospheric measurements began.

    Despite the slow-down in global fossil fuel emissions of CO2 from early 2020 associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be negligible impacts in terms of climate change. Atmospheric CO2 continues to rise, and fossil fuel emissions will remain the principal driver of this growth throughout 2020 and likely beyond.

  18. Worth repeating that while a gasoline/diesel excise tax is a pretty close approximation to a carbon tax, it’s a very poor match to the health costs from local air pollution. This is concentrated in city centres and transport corridors, and is much lower in suburbs and the countrywide. London’s ULEZ usage fee is the model for city pollution, but so far has found few emulators. You could argue that a robust carbon tax / excise duty would make the EV transition so fast that an air pollution fee would be moot and a waste of scarce political capital. You could also argue that cities should do the right thing for once. They will need to introduce congestion charges anyway, EVs or no EVs. Personal aircraft? I suggest a modest and proportionate annual licence fee for nuisance of $1m.

  19. At the moment I can’t find the several places where I’ve seen it, but apparently directing superannuation to a fund that has nil fossil fuel related investments, or has timely fossil fuel divestment goals and strongly advocates and votes for corporate change, is a strategy whereby an individual may have a far greater impact on reduction of ghg emissions than any other personal choice such as driving an ev, not flying, not having pets, &etc. The problem is that there isn’t much to choose from amongst the many super funds. ¯\_(?)_/¯

    It’s a numbers game.

    Super fund boards, mangers, and trustees can be moved by numbers, and I suspect only by numbers.

    Have you put a super fund on notice? I have here:

    I figure just a few thousand members of of a large industry fund I am in, of about my age, having about average super balances, might amount to about 2% of funds under management. I figure a threat of that 2% number departing the fund should see the fund sit up and take prompt notice. Not an idle threat either as the few greener funds have been returning better than average…

  20. The billing/control systems for variable/local road use charges have a habit to end up being just too damn expensive, eating a large share of the revenue even of very steep charges. From memory, that was also the case with the London system. Not obvious why that is the case, planting a gps in a car or something like that should not be expensive anymore, still it does seem to be that way.

  21. Graph A1 in that Macrobusiness link is hopelessly conservative. EVs will be 50% of the market with 6 – 8 years. Prices are dropping around 15% per year and will be competitive with even cheap ICE cars around 2025. After that who would buy an ICE car? Lagards will hold on to their ageing car for a year or two longer rather than buy an ICE, for even cheaper prices. Even petrol heads will be on board, because they are MUCH faster than petrol cars ( I know, as have ridden in Tesla S – acceleration is amazing ). Coupled with EV2Grid and distributed grids, the changeover after 2025 will be swift.

    That is why I don’t worry much about climate change. Economics will see huge improvements in short order. Politicians will increasingly be seen to be hindering this switch as is shown by these new road charges. They are more concerned about sources of funds than anything else and will ALWAYS be beholden to vested interests.

    The rapid decrease in prices for EVs is also why I am not a fan of subsidies like they do in other countries. Norway has such a high penetration of new EVs ( something like 60% from memory ) because literally everything about owning a car is free for EV owners there. Parking, rego, ferry passage, right to use bus lanes, priority this and that – you name it and for EV owners it’s free. I don’t think we should go down that path and realistically if Australia is a bit of a laggard it won’t matter and will save us money. We will catch up soon enough.

  22. Joe Blow,

    The Electric Vehicle Council concurs with what is shown in the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics’s Graph A1. It’s not what they want, but it is what it is because of the government. I don’t see Elon Musk making large game changing political donations here. So where are your numbers from?

    Norway EVs. When does the government remove the bait and snap shut the cost recovery trap?

  23. Svante,

    No particular place for numbers, though Tony Seba is a great source of info for this. The thing is that new technologies have in nearly every case penetrated the market far faster than analysts initially predict. This has been the case with smartphones, solar panels, batteries and many other tech products. I’ve followed the EV industry on and off for years and I’ve definitely noticed a gradual realisation that this is happening faster than expected ( few understand exponential growth ) and I fully anticipate this will continue.

    For instance Boston Consulting Group revised their EV sales estimate up by 800,000 in just one year back in 2018 – this was when total sales were around 2 million. Thats a 40% jump in just one year. Recently they updated their 2025 estimate from 25% of the market to 30% – in just 2 years. I believe their 2030 estimate is also way too conservative and they will update that as well in a few years.

    I have changed my thinking as well. When we bought a new car in 2016 I mentally estimated we would probably be buying 1 more new ICE around 2024 and then EV by 2032. I have recently concluded that EV for me by 2024 is probably not quite on the cards, but we’ll keep the old ICE for a few years longer and buy an EV by 2026 or so. EV2Grid would bring that forward. In 5 or 6 years it should be possible to go off grid for a cost of ~$30,000. That would be $10,000 for a large solar array, $10,000 for a Tesla power wall and $10,000 extra ( probably pessimistic ) for an EV over an ICE car. The EV can be used for a B/UP to the power wall and could provide easy 2 days power when the weather is bad. If you are getting low just go to the local supercharger and refill. Probably only need to do this a few times a year. Many people are making this same calculation.

  24. Joe Blow,

    re: “Boston Consulting Group”, “800,000”, and “EV sales estimate up by 800,000 in just one year back in 2018 – this was when total sales were around 2 million. That’s a 40% jump in just one year.”

    Those are US numbers, no?

    In Australia EV sales to 31/01/2020 doubled on the previous year to reach 14,253. Not bad, but the buyers are well heeled early adopters. To see that number doubling each year and hit the 800,000 in 6 years would be quite a fantastic show, but is impossible in only 1 year.

    In Australia, “There were 19.8 million registered vehicles in Australia on the 31st of January 2020, an increase of 1.5 per cent from 2019.” –

    In August 2017, “Passenger vehicles comprise just over 75 per cent of the national fleet,” and 21% of those are 16 years and over.-

    It’s unlikely the proportions have changed much, so 19.8M*0.75 is 14,850,000 passenger vehicles.

    Doubling at the rate above would take EVs about 11 years to replace all stinkpot ICE passenger vehicles in Australia. More, as the total fleet size grows, and earlier EVs get scrapped. I’d guess at maybe at least 13 years. But as this is at an unreal sustainable rate of increase based on early adopters flush with funds, I’d guess at a few more years than that. Then there’s that 16% who choose or must keep their car for 16 years or more who won’t be buying electric until beyond the mid-2030s while there is fuel available for stinkpots! Recall Mad Max!

    I found nothing at Boston’s on 800,000 – but on 40%, and 2018, this January 2018 boosters’ press release of theirs out of Detroit:

    https ://www.

    The 40% is for profits not the numbers of new EVs hitting the road.

    Nothing out of their Australian branch that I see relates. But then of course there are no boosters’ EV subsidies in Australia, nor are there likely to be to continue pushing sky rocketing sales numbers here. If wealthy entrepreneurial investors were building EV factories, with associated jobs not robots, then there’s a slim chance they could suck a subsidy from the Australian government. But that’s only a chance, and would be nothing like as lucrative as US subsidies (ask Musk), so no chance here. Here the government thinks importing thrashed secondhand lemons is the way to go EV, if the masses really must have them. If Musk or someone else were to make substantial donations… government could change tack… but where’s the money in that for Musk or others similar? I think a government drunk on gas money here is more likely to subsidise Japanese brand hydrogen fueled green lemons in some “free” trade quid pro quo arrangement.

  25. Svante,
    All those figures were world-wide. Australia is tiny in that regard. They were also for new vehicles not totals. There will still be quite a few ICE cars on the road by 2030 but the benefits of EV will be so obvious by then even the laggards will be thinking of switching. Most will have done so by 2035 – 2040.

    Economics will drive this. In Aus there a bunch of smallish EV’s in the $50-$55,000 bracket. Way too much for the average punter. But just late this year MG announced a $44,000 (all up) runabout. By the end of next year I would be surprised if there wasn’t an equivalent for around $40 and that bunch of EVs above, reduced to $45-$50,000. 3 – 4 years of that and we are in low $30’s for some, with 100 models to choose from. EV2Grid will completely change the economics (down) of car ownership as well.

    I agree with you that Governments are likely to make a mess of things. They often do.

    We shall see…

  26. COVID-19 has shown that even when there is an immediate in-your-face emergency like a pandemic. the neoliberal West cannot respond and cannot change its ways. Could there be any more damning evidence of a sclerotic, ossified and maladaptive failed system incapable of almost all necessary change? Climate change is not quite in-your-face yet although massive heatwaves, like the one coming to Australia this weekend and for the next week, catastrophic bush-fires and massive cyclones, typhoons etc. are in-your-face enough when they happen.

    It seems every immediate family has to have someone in their circle die from one of these events before they sit up and take notice. That would almost suggest an excess death rate of 20% (1 in 5) of the whole populace in a given year. That seems a bit high, maybe an order of magnitude too high. That in turn would suggest an excess death rate of 2% of the total population per annum attributable to pandemics, climate change and other limits to growth factors.

    Australia had close to 170,000 registered deaths in 2019. Two percent of 25 million is 500,000 people. Perhaps 500,000 extra people have to die in one year to sufficiently motivate people? I am beginning to think so.

    In the USA, the CDC has pleaded with people not to travel over Thanksgiving. The population has ignored the CDC and is traveling almost as much as ever. Their pandemic is about to reach crisis point and instead of locking down they are going on a traveling and visiting binge for the whole Thanksgiving / Festive season. Their hospitals are already at crisis point. The first conclusion we can make from this is that for the US this will be called the Death Winter of 2020/21, Coffin Winter or the Winter of Shrouds perhaps. Deaths will rise dramatically further as the US health system is overwhelmed nationally. The very fact that the CDC has to plead, rather than order, via the President, illustrates the fatal weakness of the American system, and their inability to cooperate and change in an existential crisis. In the UK and EU we see the same stupendous idiocy. Britain is going to open up for Christmas. Who knows what the EU is going to do? I doubt they know themselves.

    None of this suggests any ability in our Western neoliberal system to change when necessary. Australia is a little different. We are isolated from the world. That helps. The neoliberal dismantling of health services, the neoliberal disdain for science and the embracing of lunatic denialist myths had not proceeded quite as far in Australia, although we are close to that dangerous brink too. However, even in Australia it will take hundreds of thousands of extra people dying directly from climate change before there is any real action on that front. It’s a macabre prediction to have to make but the facts to date warrant it.

  27. hix The billing/control systems for variable/local road use charges have a habit to end up being just too damn expensive

    I get the impression that’s because they’re one-off setups that have to be custom made every time. The kiwi system is relatively cheap as those things go, because it’s a single national system that everyone must use. Which suggests that rather than City of Sydney council having their congestion charge system, every tollway company having their system, Parramatta Council having their congestion charge, and so on across the country, we should just accept the Dutton Santa Is Watching You stuff and have a national setup. Every vehicle pays by the kilometre, rates set by the federal government and revenue shared like the GST (ie, biennial shouting matches between states and feds).

  28. Hi James!! Just curious – why is congestion pricing a “need” for cities? Are we assuming continued growth of population in them? From the cheap seats, that may be true globally but will vary a lot on the ground, esp after this virus. (I personally reject CP on … get this, equity grounds. Which I know may be mildly ridiculous. Mock as much as you like, I won’t care.)

    Although, I am all for de-carbing. As for EVs, I’d love to see some focus on making them long-lasting. I’ve never bought a new car, I don’t feel the need, and don’t anticipate ever having that kind of disposable funding. I also don’t use boober or such, bc I don’t like the gig economy and bc at least for now, I don’t have to.

    We are having Thanksgiving here tomorrow … Idk if you-guys do that, but I am thankful for having this nice website to visit. To name just one thing.

  29. We are having Thanksgiving here tomorrow … Idk if you-guys do that

    I’ve just taken a quick look on DuckDuckGo which seems to confirm what I would have guessed: there are some Americans celebrating Thanksgiving in Australia, but no non-Americans.

  30. All people who can do math agree that the West has had a COLOSSAL FAILURE on the pandemic. Like the writer of this article below, I think most Westerners are in complete denial about the immense magnitude of our failure (except for N.Z. and Oz). And it’s not over. The US medical system is about to be overwhelmed. What’s happening in the US has already been termed a humanitarian disaster and Doctors without Borders are going to the US to try to save it from utter disaster. Let that sink in for a moment. And the US will get far worse before it gets better. The Thanksgiving / Christmas / New Year period will tip much of the US medical system into collapse. Deaths will skyrocket. This is because the US people still won’t lock-down. The level of wilful stupidity is staggering.

    As the writer of this article says:

    “I’ve discussed in the past how toxic individualism and toxic indifference seem to have fueled Covid in the West. How lockdowns weren’t often really lockdowns, how people continue to behave selfishly and irresponsibly, often egged on by government, like in America, justifying and fueling the pandemic.”

    Where will this end? Well, Chris Hedges thought the US was bound for collapse before COVID-19. It looks like the collapse has been brought forward to… about now.

  31. Ikon,

    the guy at just spews toxic garbage. Most of his links just quote himself. No wonder you have such a negative view of life. Sad.

    I’ve been to the US more than a dozen times, all over. It’s nothing like how he describes it.

  32. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Much of the USA has apparently taken that to mean anyone who tries to stop the spread of covid deserves to die.

    I haven’t followed the Australian news because the little I saw of our leadershit just made me sad. Briggs for PM gave me a bit of a lift, but it feels as though NSW was just starting to lift the lockdown when the self-immolation of Gladys started and now we have public sentiment that we need another outbreak with a bunch of deaths to remind us to take the pandemic seriously.

  33. A little temporary safety can give you, your loved ones and many others in the whole community decades of extra life. Wearing seat belts while traveling in a car, taking shelter during a violent storm, locking down during a deadly pandemic etc. etc. Franklin’s saying, like many “great white man sayings”, is actually really stupid if you analyze it. There is no greater loss of liberty than loss of life itself. Liberty presupposes life. No life, no liberty. We can note that the “great white man sayings” from the “great white guys” of that era actually encourage nobodies to throw their lives away so that elite somebodies can have wonderful, healthy, wealthy and long lives.

  34. Heath services in Texas are being overwhelmed so prisoners are being paid $2 per hour to process covid bodies – classy. During the fires in California prisoners were paid similar to fight fires .Apparently those same people will be unable to serve as firefighters upon release due to their criminal records .Thats freedom for you I guess ,they can have it.

    The Guardian said that the heaviest trucks cause as much road wear and tear as 20,000 cars but trucks pay less tax per liter of fuel .All while there is less and less freight going by rail.

  35. Franklin, leading from safely behind.

    “My friend, Thomas Jefferson is an American saint because he wrote the words ‘All men are created equal’, words he clearly didn’t believe since he allowed his own children to live in slavery. He’s a rich white snob who’s sick of paying taxes to the Brits. So, yeah, he writes some lovely words and aroused the rabble and they went and died for those words while he sat back and drank his wine and f’d his slave girl. This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now f’n pay me.” – Jackie Cogan (aka Brad Pitt)

    I heard Don Watson again last week retelling of a visit to New Orleans some years after Hurricane Katrina washed it away. The only housing he found being rebuilt for miles were in a devastated black nieghbourhood and were being funded entirely by Brad Pitt who without any fuss dropped by to help with the work or have coffee and a chat with the rehomed. It’s a remarkable story of sincerity of belief in action.

    I like this summation too:

    “The American revolution was not a takeover of power by an oppressed proletariat but a coup d’etat whereby one aristocratic elite successfully ousted another. The associated propaganda was thoughtfully and intelligently presented but the subsequent evolution of the US systems of government reflected this initial motive although nowadays it would be more accurate to say that the “born to rule” elite are an oligarchy rather than an aristocracy.” – Obvious Leo, on Philosophy Now forum (UK), Friday Apr 15, 2016, 9:03pm.

    Coup d’etat is more like it. In his book about this Chomsky names it a civil war followed by a nasty population cleansing and asset grabbing period, and not a revolution as was invented afterwards.

  36. Svante,

    Two of the homes that Brad Pitt helped build have already been demolished because of poor workmanship. I remember seeing a doco on the project and commented to my wife that the workmanship was incredibly shoddy. There are a bunch of lawsuits happening.

  37. True words svante. If it wasn’t for the astonishing richness and wealth of the North American continent and the endless free immigrant labor from impoverished Europe at the time, well the USA would be 50 million now and about two of Australia, nothing more. It was as I say an astonishingly rich and fertile continent… until they wrecked it.

  38. Mike Holmes, world famous in Canada for the TV series and spinoffs “Holmes on Homes” also built one house, and there was an episode featuring Brad Pitt. The problem is both cases was that tropical swamps are tricky to build in, and not at all like Canada. So people from non-swamps coming in and building houses, especially in a hurry, are likely to fjork it up six ways from Sunday,

    “but they did their best” doesn’t cut it when the poor homeowner now has to pay to have the rubble removed.

  39. I read commentary the other pointing out that the use of puppet presidents goes back at least to Reagan, he of court astrologer and dementia. In many ways Trump is “Bush III: Even Dumberer”. A lot of what he’s doing isn’t remarkable for any president, and a lot of the scary stuff is being done by mainstream Republicans using Trump as a distraction… the court packing, gerrymandering, defunding etc.

  40. The USA is intent on destroying itself. Exactly why, I am not sure. I can theorize a bit. Some of it is elite greed, some of it is dumbed-down mass idiocy and some of it appears to be wilful and/or intentional. It’s the third set of factor(s) that’s interesting to me: the wilful and intentional bit. It diagnoses something about the (average) American intellect and psyche. Normally (sort of), such an intent to bring down the system would be that of a ruthless revolutionary vanguard with an ideology and manifesto. Destroy the current system, take advantage of the chaos and implement a new system which is already theoretically planned, at least to some extent. There seems to be little evidence of any set of ideas of that kind in the US, at the mass movement level.

    The US populace, in the main, has no coherent revolutionary theory: no way of conceiving anything genuinely different to the current system. The US populace, in the main, egregiously misunderstands the dimensions of their own crisis and dilemmas. Their preferred prescriptions, like self-interest, freedom (to exploit) and weakening government further) simply worsen the crisis. Hence, in the end, there remains simply hatred of the current system, hatred of themselves and each other and a desire to bring it all down. It’s as if a catastrophic collapse is viewed as preferable to a system which will never change and never give them a chance. This is how insurgents act when the battle is hopeless and they have no plan or a grossly unrealistic plan.

    The US crisis will worsen horrendously in 2021. The festive period will unleash a fourth wave of COVID-19 of stupendous proportions. The US hospital systems will fail. Excess deaths from all causes will skyrocket. The US will then be close to tearing itself apart. The EU will fare little better. I am actually astonished by how much the EU is now like the US in essentials when the chips are down. Their system is in every way becoming a failed system on the scale of the US failed system.

    Australia should plan to lock down long term, up to 10 years or longer, and accept no new persons into Australia except for returning Australian citizens. Bona fide refugees from other parts of Oceania should also be accepted. Other than that, Australia has no realistic capacity to accept the millions and tens of millions of world refugees who will soon be on the move. Australia, should implement as far as possible a system of autarky: near complete self-reliance. Some strategic imports and exports may still be traded but in the main we will need to become self-sufficient. Large regional, proxy, trade, cyber and grey wars (and that’s a best case scenario) will break out all over the globe. Global trade will collapse.

  41. Come on Joe Blow, NOVEMBER 26, 2020 AT 10:09 PM,
    it’s the US. Brad Pitt has money. US lawyers need money. No good deed goes unpunished there. The plot has further to run yet.

  42. Moz in Oz, NOVEMBER 27, 2020 AT 7:47 AM,

    The house designs resulted from a competition. The design brief was for safe, affordable, green, adaptive, durable, award-winning architect designed homes to be designed around residents’ needs with solar panels, environmentally friendly insulation, and clean and healthy construction material to build a green community.

    Original designs for modern, innovative homes from “cutting edge” award winning global world class architects including Adjaye Associates, Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Shigeru Ban, Kieran Timberlake, Alejandro Aravena, and many more were donated.

    The problem seems to be with that “cutting edge”. Those architects weren’t local. They didn’t submit plans. Their drawings were turned into blue prints by another architect (could be already three problems there). Then the blueprint guy specified a manufactured chemical free composite timber product with a 30 year rot proof guarantee, but outside stairs and verandahs began to rot and collapse within a few years. Many houses had flat roofs and roof top decks that trapped rain water… pffft.

    Pitt raised millions for the charity. Like him others in the charity were there to do good, but also were untrained and inexperienced in such a project. The work of the charity has been badly let down by the accredited professionals, builders, and suppliers it worked with. Pitt promises to make it right, but the legals now underway are going to take time and care first.

  43. 1. The USA is a failing state. Of course they can’t do anything as straight forward as rebuilding infrastructure, even housing infrastructure.

    “The US is increasingly performing poorly on key predictors of state failure – ethnic and class conflict, democratic and institutional backsliding, and other socio-economic indicators including healthcare and inequality,” – Rennie in an article for The Conversation.

    2. America isn’t just a failing state, it is a failed experiment.

    COVD-19 numbers in that article are out of date. The number of known attributed deaths from COVID-19 now stands at 270,664. The number of known detected cases is 13,386,176.

    3. US engineers give US infrastructure a near failing grade.

    America’s infrastructure is close to failing. “That’s the assessment of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which released its 2017 “infrastructure report card” Thursday, giving the nation’s overall infrastructure a grade of D+.” – CNBC.

    4. The USA has gone beyond the point of no return. It is collapsing irreversibly. It may be a long collapse but I suspect it will actually be a shockingly quick collapse from this point. Note, saying the USA is collapsing is not to say the rest of the world is not collapsing. It is. But the US collapse is the first and the worst of developed countries.

  44. This chart style may be of value to see how and when “consequences of the pandemic” may show inflection point for change. I’d like to see one such chart for every point and topic broached in TECOTP. Eg” chart on “UBI potential “. 

    – Chart on “socialism inflection” 
    – on  which I’d suggest will look like abortion below
    -on ” transport electification uptake”
    – all this vs social inflection to change – “Unmet needs for public investment in human services: health, education, aged care, early childhood, social work & Capacity to meet these through short term increase in public debt, long term increase in taxation”

    “Locating the political center
    “The vertical dashed line is the political center; it represents the view of the median American. In 1980, the line sat inside the gray section, meaning the median American opposed legalizing marijuana. But the prevalent view was losing support over time and by 2010, there wer more Americans wanting to legalize marijuana than not. This is when the vertical line crossed into the green zone.

    “The following charts draw attention to the middle line, instead of the color

    “On these charts, as you glance down the middle line, you can see that for abortion, the political center has never exited the middle category while for marijuana, the median American didn’t want to legalize it until an inflection point was reached around 2010.

    “I highlight these inflection points with yellow dots.

    “The effect on readers is entirely changed. The original charts draw attention to the areas first while the new charts pull your eyes to the vertical line.”

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