In spring 2015 I was given a hot tip, "buy shares in Tesla".
I didn't because I had a gut feeling the price of oil was likely to remain low for some time and that isn't a good thing for Tesla, nor companies that make solar panels or wind turbines.
Again it's my gut feeling that many of these all electric or hybrid vehicles are bought on lease by employees who get them as perks. What they chose to buy with their own money is the good old fashioned car with an engine that runs on petrol or diesel.
And the Americans are back to buying pickup trucks with a vengeance. And the bigger and more intimidating the better. This report tells us they're showing 20 to 30% sales increases over 2014 (01).
So I sort of came to the conclusion that the price of oil is a big factor in the sales of vehicles and, when left to their own devices, your average owner will go for something they like and understand and holds its value in the used car market. Something most electric cars don't.
And it's a similar story with companies that make wind turbines and solar panels. They thrived for a while with huge government subsidies, but criticism at home, especially against wind turbines plus competition from the Far East and a tightening of government handouts has culled their numbers in Europe for some time (02). And a low oil price means they're even less competitive.
So what does one do if you want to keep the cash rolling in? Well you get together with a bunch of like minded companies and set up a fake front to force governments to reduce their CO2 emissions.
So it is that their front - Urgenda (03) - came into being. At the foot of their web page they list their "partners" who are:
Eneco (04). They supply renewable energy.
Alliander (05). Another energy firm that via their subsidiary - Liandon - are heavily into renewables'.
Höcker (06). The firm of lawyers that presented the case in the Netherlands.
EY (07). Also known as Ernst & Young. Reading their website there's a distinct element of Common Purpose there. Something Simon Porter (an ex partner in EY) waxes on about in his video praising Common Purpose (08).
ASN Bank (09). A bank that claims ethical and renewable credentials.
Postcode Lottery (10). Seems they consider this a worthy cause.
Arriva (11). A train and bus company.
So it was that Urgenda took upon themselves to represent all of 886 people, then took the Dutch government to court to force it to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020 (12). Aside from the scientific studies they produced as evidence, it seems the court was influenced by their argument that "States are meant to protect their citizens".
Looking at this from a personal level, I've already done the easy bits. Lights, insulation, double glazing, Euro 2011 specification car and scooter and so on. Trouble is I have no control over what what aircraft I fly nor train or bus I use and while I could easily change my electricity supplier to one of the "green" ones, which is exactly what this lot would me to do, I shan't. Not out of spite but because I believe those wind turbines are a blot on the landscape, kill far too many birds and bats, are hugely inefficient and will never produce the energy it cost to build and maintain them.
Or I could do as Arriva would like and flog the car, or scooter and take to using public transport. But that means I'm guaranteed to spend far more time on every journey and outside of large towns buses are few and far between (with many rural services provided only because they're heavily subsidized by the taxpayer). So yes I'd have my work cut out to reduce my CO2 emissions by 25% in just four years - and maintain my independence and quality of life.
But that's me and it's far more difficult for a country. A big chunk of the Netherlands is man-made with 27% of it's land being under sea level (13) and more importantly the reclaimed part is home to about 60% of the Dutch population. That means lots of pumps and dredging and maintenance. Quit with that and the sea will be back within a decade.
And they've got two of the finest ports in Europe, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, so lots of very big ships dock there and very big ships really chuck out pollution. Meanwhile the two ports in Zeeland have grown enormously on the back of Rotterdam - and let's not forget the ferry services from the Hook of Holland; those bring us hundreds of lorries each week with cut flowers and out of season produce. And without the efforts of the flower growers in Holland, the cost of cut flowers in Britain would far more expensive and almost certainly involve air freighting them from Africa and the Far East, which is far worse for the environment.
There's a reason for these ports and that's because the Netherlands has the lower part of the Rhine running through it's territory. For centuries that's been a natural gateway to the interior of Europe with vast numbers of barges (mainly privately owned) chugging away, transporting cargo to and from those ocean going vessels to the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. And many of those barges have diesel engines, so more CO2 to add to the mix.
But the greatest boon to people like myself is Schiphol airport. It punches well above its weight; is ranked as fourth largest in Europe and 22nd in the world (14). I much prefer Schiphol to Heathrow, not just because it has smoking rooms, rather because it means I get out of the UK faster and there's only one terminal building so very straightforward to navigate, mainly by walkways.
But there's a downside to being a huge hub airport; it's got six runways and one's so far from the terminal that you can spend up to 30 minutes just taxiing, which is a dreadful waste of fuel - and time. However there are reasons, mainly noise, for this (15).
That's the problem with expansion. It creates jobs, improves trade, reduces costs, increases tourism and boosts tax revenues. But in all these cases it adds to the level of pollution, as does agriculture because the Dutch are real big on pigs and cattle. With pigs they have three times as many as they need for local consumption, with the surplus being exported. And they slaughter 19,554,000 each year, meaning 53,570 die each day to be used as bacon, ham, sausages, salami and such. And getting rid of their dung's a very big problem - and they generate vast amounts of Methane and that's much worse than CO2 - 23 times in fact (16).
Cows are another big source of Methane and the Netherlands has about 1,600,000 of them, primarily for milk that's also used in the production of cheese, butter, yogurt and such. (Britain, with roughly 4 times the population of the Netherlands has 1,817,000 cows - 2014 statistics). The byproduct - calves - are generally exported live to neighbouring countries. So it's big business and that's why you can buy Gouda and Edam pretty well anywhere in the world (17).
This link gives details of the CO2 equivalents of producing 1kg of beef (34.6kg of CO2), lamb (17.4kg of CO2), pork (6.34kg of CO2) and chicken (4.6kg CO2) (18).
The Dutch Government is being placed between a rock and a hard place by a privately funded fake pressure group, assisted by slush money from the lottery that wants to force its own agenda. Nothing new with that; smokers' are the primary focus of a huge number of government and pharma funded pressure groups. And as with tobacco control, Urgena intend to use what they've learned and export it, with plans to take the Australian government to court to force them to do the same thing.
I loathe waste - and I freely admit that sitting in an aircraft meandering around Schiphol for 20 to 30 minutes is extremely frustrating. However I also accept the fact that the runway is essential for safety and the final location was forced on them by people who live in close proximity to the airport. We see the same thing with the third runway at Heathrow. That's been subject to all sorts of inquiries, studies, surveys and political wrangling, so it's now several decades overdue and things like lengthy stacks at Heathrow (way lots worse for the environment than taxiing) and HS2 are a direct consequence of this inertia.
Single issue pressure groups, especially those with a financial stake in the outcome, seldom give much thought to the big picture - and in the case of the Netherlands what Urgenda demand could affect the livelihoods and certainly the wallets of millions of people.
In the same way as ASH (Scotland and Wales) have hatched devilishly corrupt ways to siphon Lottery funds in the UK by claiming they're to be used for "good causes" (something many lottery players in the UK would violently disagree with). I see a similar situation has taken place with the Netherlands Post Code Lottery. I very much doubt the average lottery player in Holland has the slightest notion that their funds have been used to help pay to take their government to court, especially as the result - if implemented - will cost them dearly and harm the Netherlands competitiveness.
While Urgenda has argued that the State has a duty towards its citizens, it is not simply the protection of them. None other than Vaclav Klaus points out:
"their duty, which is first and foremost - the defense of the security and interests of their citizens." (19)
The State has a duty to consider the bigger picture; to weigh the cost/benefit not just to its citizens but also the organizations that employ them. The Dutch government cannot reduce the CO2 emissions of the Netherlands by 25% in four years, even if they had broad public support - which they don't. The court made no attempt to impose penalties on the Dutch government, so all Urgenda can do is pout and huff in 2020.
On the other hand the seven organizations that finance Urgena need to be watched and - in the case of myself - outed and shunned.