Certain, clean & Swiss??

Going into to their 21st May referendum on energy policy, the Swiss find themselves confronted by some dreadfully misleading propaganda – issued not just by the usual motley crew of environmental extremists and green rent-seekers, but also by a government whose own tortuously-constructed programme is at stake in the vote.

Everywhere are to be seen the crude, if cliched, images of streaming power-plant chimneys (which, in reality, give off not belches of heavily-photoshopped SMOKE but thoroughly innocuous wisps of STEAM – i.e., warm CLOUDS). Prominent, too, are sinister looking jumbles of bright yellow drums alarmingly emblazoned with the nuclear hazard symbol, piled hither and thither to subliminally suggest that they have been fly-tipped at the roadside by the evil capitalists of big industry.

Naturally, nowhere in the Yes camp’s propaganda are to be found any mock-ups of the pristine Swiss countryside – of which the country’s inhabitants are inordinately, if justifiably, proud – blighted with a towering profusion of garish, bird-killing, subsonically-intrusive, windmills. (Risibly, local NGO, Birdlife, is listed among the supporters of the movement).

Strangely enough, too, no mention is to be had of the vast inputs of concrete, metals, potentially toxic chemicals, or – yes – ENERGY which goes into these infernal engines’ fabrication, transport, erection, and maintenance; or indeed of those of associated with the distribution of its widely-dispersed, grid-sappingly intermittent output; nor yet of the likely need for the expensive, yet under-utilized, fossil-fuelled, back-up power stations which are a sine qua non for such systems and which, in the case of neighbouring Germany, have not only sent user costs soaring but have actually led to an INCREASE in emissions of the dreaded CO2 whose reduction was the principal rationale for their original adoption.

Ironic, too, are the breathless descriptions of just how tall these mighty new behemoths will be and how wide their lofty wingspans, in a land where it is nigh on impossible to obtain consent to build anything more than 10 stories high, even in the densest, most accommodation-poor, and least pretty of its Flachland conurbations.

Hand-waving suggestions that hydroelectric power can provide a useful complement are also rife, to the accompaniment of glossy photos of Switzerland’s existing dams – artful representations which are at once picturesque and technologically imposing.

Granted, it is true enough that hydro offers one of the few viable means of mitigating a major drawback of wind and solar generation, namely the pressing need to store and hence to smooth their meteorologically uncertain output. However, little play is given to the costs of construction of such barely-accessible mountain barrages; still less to the somewhat inconvenient fact that the initiative’s supporters inevitably include a horde of anti-human busybodies, such as those associated with Greenpeace and the awful WWF, who routinely militate against all and any such developments, as and when they are ever proposed.

In a manner of which as biting a satirist as Jonathan Swift would be envious, solar is of course seen as a heaven-sent, ‘sustainable’ medium, without any consideration of the fact that the component minerals for the panels must also be mined, refined, processed, fabricated, shipped, and installed. Passed over in silence is that they often require roofs to be strengthened as well as batteries comprised of yet more ‘nasty’ minerals to be fitted; that they increase difficulties for the emergency services in the event of fire; that they must be kept scrupulously clean of dust, sand, and snow; or that large portions of the many towns and villages which nestle at the bottom of steep valleys (this IS Switzerland, after all!) receive no sun at all for months on end in winter.

Nor, despite some genuine geological hope that it might lie readily to hand – and despite the most extensive industrial test-run in history being successfully conducted in the United States- is there to be any foraging for shale gas, however much that might also discomfit the pantomime-villain Russians. After all, this is a country where even boreholes for the extraction of geothermal energy are viewed with suspicion.

No. Much better to rely on those unsightly microbial incubators which litter the countryside, producing the odd small puff of that very same methane gas as a by-product of the generous subsidies being paid to the farmers who host them, even at the risk they might cause botulism-related hygiene problems with their prized herds of cheese-producing cows (you see how easy it is to excite people’s fears in order to enlist their support?).

But perhaps the greatest dishonesty is the prominently displayed but utterly fatuous argument that, by so burdening each other with this dreadfully sub-optimal array of wishful technologies, the ‘money will stay in Switzerland’, rather than being paid out to such (implicitly execrable) parts of the world as Saudi Arabia or Russia.

Aside from the fact that Switzerland does not dispose of many of the necessary raw materials involved, or that these, too, are often to be bought only from regimes which are not entirely consonant with the moralizing classes’ oh-so high institutional and cultural ideals, this is arrant nonsense of the first order.

To base one’s appeal for votes on the most economically-ignorant concepts of autarky and localism is only to be expected of the Khmer Vert – viz., the likes of Pro Natura – since a crude use of emotive symbolism and imagery is all that pernicious cult has with which to fill the gaping holes in its underlying logic. But for the GOVERNMENT, for several of the major political parties, for the various employer federations and consumer bodies of a small, land-locked, semi-barren outcrop of a country which has built its people’s enviable record of peace and prosperity – all these natural disadvantages notwithstanding – on its possibly unsurpassed devotion to trade (the country challenges for the palm of possessing the biggest per capita trade turnover and current account surplus in the world) is absolutely unconscionable.

Irony again abounds that many of those falling back on this argument of isolationism are the same people who are in the forefront of those who argue Switzerland should throw its borders open to all who seek to live there, or who are keen to subordinate their precious, seven centuries old independence to the vast faceless bureaucracy of Europe, and who decry the similarly misconceived ring-fencing of commerce as ‘populism’ when practiced by a certain Mr Trump and even ‘fascism’ when espoused by Madame Le Pen!

It is not here the place to rehearse all the arguments for free trade and to explain the elementary principles of comparative advantage once again, but suffice it to say, that if the Swiss were to try to grow their own cotton, cultivate their own bananas, fabricate all their own computer chips – and yes, try to source all their energy – at home, rather than offering to exchange their sophisticated machine tools, intricate watch mechanisms, exquisite confectionery, and world-beating financial and legal services with those abroad who produce the former basket of goods with far less effort and at far lower cost, not only would the standard of everyone’s living immediately collapse but the associated environmental degradation unleashed as people scrabbled to avoid starvation, hypothermia, and immobility would be beyond all the worst imaginings of the supposedly eco-friendly supporters of this ludicrous initiative, to boot!

Those resorting to such specious arguments should be roundly condemned for either their wilful stupidity or their despicable display of calculated cynicism. The initiative itself should, of course, be roundly rejected