Rhubarb-Rhubarb and Custard

First, the custard. Then, the rhubarb-rhubarb:

Direct action historically has been a major way that we’ve got change. I mean, you can look at, historically, through the Suffragettes, through the miners’ strikes, through all of the major changes. Yes, some of it is about putting yourselves in the way, as we have done, as Plane Stupid has done, putting ourselves on runways, directly reducing carbon emissions. And some of it is about debunking the lies and spin that some people have the opportunity to put across to the rest of the world. Yes, we are using the media. But Peter Mandelson is using the media. He’s not elected. He’s not working in the interest of the people and the planet. He doesn’t have science behind him. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree that climate change is a very real threat, that it’s already occurring, that it’s man-made, and that our last chance is going to run out within the next ten years. So I ask you: what else are we supposed to do when democracy is failing people in this country? You have to resort to any means necessary, as long as it’s peaceful, and as long as it doesn’t harm other human beings.

The only difference that custard-thrower Leila Deen can identify between herself and custard-recipient Peter Mandelson, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (and, yes, he’s an unelected peer), is that she has science behind her and he does not. She has nothing else to cling to. By her own words: Just like Mandelson, her actions are undemocratic. Just like Mandelson, she lies and spins. And just like Mandelson, she has the opportunity to put those lies and spin out to the rest of the world. She also demonstrates perfectly why, just like Mandelson (and who wouldn’t quite like to throw custard in his face?), her organisation is deeply unpopular with the electorate.

Her problem is that the only way she can make it sound like she has science on her side is by twisting that science beyond recognition. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree what? Ten years? These are just random numbers plucked from the ether. What sort of consensus is it when ecotastrophists can’t even agree on what 90 per cent of scientists are saying? Hansen says four years, Lucas says eight, the Green New Deal Group gives us 100 months.

Given that Deen has no more science on her side than her nemesis, all that does separate them is that she’s not happy about the building of a single new runway. That runway might or might not increase aviation emissions and will have virtually no impact on UK Climate Change Act targets when aviation accounts for only six per cent of UK emissions. So she has to make up stuff about that, too:

[…rhubarb rhubarb…] the vast majority of people are against the third runway […rhubarb rhubarb…] a runway that will cause catastrophic climate change and ruin any chance that we have of stopping our carbon emissions […rhubarb rhubarb…] if we build a third runway, all other industries will have to reduce their carbon emissions to zero […rhubarb rhubarb…]

We have nothing against direct action per se. But what sort of direct action is it when the activists target those who are pushing in the same direction as themselves? And let’s not forget that the government quite likes the fact that a few silly protestors are lending some street cred to its own agenda. We recently quoted Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband on the runway protests:

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

The custard slinging came before Mandelson spoke at the UK’s Low Carbon Summit. Here’s a video of the event’s ‘highlights’, published on 10 Downing Street’s Youtube channel:

The media focused their attention on the custard-chucking, at the expense of criticising what was being said inside the summit. Take, for example, the words of Mandelson himself:

So the point we want to start at today is this… This transition to low carbon is an environmental and economic imperative and an opportunity for us. It is also inevitable. There is no high carbon future for us.

Here we see familiar lines in action. There are imperatives, and a low carbon economy is inevitable. That is to say that democracy has no say in determining what is or isn’t an imperative, or what the Government’s priorities ought to be. But as we have pointed out before, environmentalism has never been tested democratically in the UK. All the parties absorbed its ‘imperatives’ into their manifestos in a process that has never been challenged or really even debated. Mandelson has no authority to say that there exist environmental or economic imperatives – he isn’t an elected politician; he is held widely in contempt, being seen at best as a joke or a symptom of New Labour’s intransigence and corruption; and he does not have facts on his side.

He continues:

The huge industrial revolution that is unfolding in converting our economy to low carbon is going to present huge business and employment opportunities as well as enabling us to meet our climate change targets and reduce our energy consumption

We’d like to know from Mandelson precisely where this ‘industrial revolution’ is supposed to be unfolding, and where these opportunities actually are. During the last quarter of 2008, nearly a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the UK. Unemployment is currently just shy of two million.

There is no unfolding revolution. A revolution implies spontaneity, dynamism and popular support to shake off an old order or system. Instead, this ‘revolution’ requires regulatory laws, massive subsidies, and the creation of targets and goals – the precise opposite of a revolution. The French revolution was not achieved by setting goals for the number of aristocratic heads it intended to remove from aristocratic shoulders by a given date. It just happened. The industrial revolution did not happen because people set targets for miles of train track laid over the next ten years, it produced its own momentum and possibilities, which were, in turn, demanded. Nobody is demanding green politics. It is being foisted on us from above.

Ed Miliband pipes in:

There’s been a huge growth in the green sector and it’s already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Now the question isn’t is that industry going to happen; it is going to happen. The question is, can Britain take advantage of that? That’s what our strategy is designed to do. It covers a whole range of areas from waste to recycling to renewable to all… err… a whole range of sectors. Increasing numbers of people will be working in these areas and we want Britain to be a world leader.

Again, we see the ugly leitmotif of today’s bland politics – inevitability. ‘It is going to happen’.

Of course there has been a growth in the Green sector. It has been heavily subsidised. For instance, a report from the think tank Policy Exchange estimated that the (now abandoned) biofuel subsidy (that required diesel sold to be 5% bio-diesel) cost the UK over £500 million a year. The report cited by Miliband and Mandelson (more about that report later) says that the renewable and low carbon energy sector grew by ~6% in the year 2007/8. It also says that the size of the biomass market was £5billion. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what drove the biomass sector’s growth.

The other side of this sector’s growth is regulation. For example, In 2002, the UK’s Renewables Obligation order instructed electricity suppliers to source an increasing percentage of their fuel from renewable sources. In 2002 this figure was 3%. By 2008, it was 9%. Failing to meet this target means paying a price per unit of electricity generated, which is then redistributed to suppliers according to how they met the target. A 2004 report by energy watchdog Ofgem said that the Renewables Obligation scheme was ‘providing additional financial support of at least £485 million to the renewables industry this year alone.’

This ‘revolution’ is presented by the Government as something which ‘is happening’, rather than something which was caused by the Government. The worldwide growth in the renewable energy sector is manufactured, much less by spontaneous innovation opening up new opportunities than, as with Britain, new environmental laws and massive subsidies.

Premier Gordon Brown is top act of the night:

So let us set a challenge to our scientists to lead the world in this great human endeavour to create a clean environment for future generations. Let us each set a challenge to business. Let us compete to lead the world in new low carbon products. Let us set a challenge to our planners to build homes and buildings and business and then eco-towns and eco-cities around the vision of a low carbon environment. And let us set a challenge to our schools. Let us teach young people. Inspire them that a low carbon future is not only the best future we can have, but the best future they can have as young people too. And let me tell you, our low carbon future, to create the low carbon economy we need is now a national endeavour that gives us purpose for years to come.

None of Brown’s aspirations are shared by the public. They are his, and the political establishment’s aspirations. Very few people want to live in an eco-home in an eco-town or eco-city. Very few people want their children indoctrinated by eco-dogma. Brown pretends that he wants us to share his eco-centric eco-vision, but Mandelson and Miliband have already revealed that it is inevitable, and that we don’t have a choice. We are to be eco-proles, whether we like it or not.

This ‘let us…’ rhetoric in intended to be statesmanlike, imploring us to be part of some moment of change. But the moment of change has long since passed, and Brown’s vision is a hollow attempt to rescue it. After decades of decline in manufacturing output, and chronic underinvestment in housing and energy, it is a bit rich, and a bit late, for Brown to be telling us that we need eco-homes and eco-industry powered by eco-energy. We needed homes and industry as the conditions for the current economic climate were forming. His government, and previous ones, didn’t see the need then, and the need now owes less to the fact that the climate is changing, and much, much more to the fact that individuals in the Government want to use the climate change issue to generate moral authority for themselves, especially on the world stage. They can’t do that unless the UK is seen to be green, with green laws, green economy, green industry, and green people. Hence, over the last year, the UK has seen a raft of measures hurried through so that the UK contingent can arrive at the UN Climate Conference in Denmark later this year dressed as planet-saving super-heroes, not as a ship of foolish Chicken Littles, struggling to sustain their political legitimacy.

The Low Carbon Summit was, like the web page announcing it, hosted by RBS. Yes, that’s the same RBS that made a loss of £10 billion last year.

The Low Carbon Economy Summit is the only event this year to focus on the business opportunities in moving to a low carbon economy. Uniquely the Low Carbon Summit will explore what further action needs to be taken by government and business to create an environment which supports and promotes investment in low carbon solutions such as renewable power generation and carbon capture and storage as well as emissions trading.

This partnership knows far more about generating crises than stopping them. But then again, crises, real or imagined, are the bread and butter of politicians who otherwise fail to explain to the public what their ‘vision’ actually is. It isn’t until crunch time that Brown, Miliband and Mandelson unveil their ‘revolutionary’ ideas. The language about the inevitabilities and imperatives of environmental catastrophe are attempts to explain failures as success, decline as progress, and inactivity as activity. Politicians stand on their heads to complain that the world is upside down, and that all the trends actually show improvement.

Journalists, too, struggle to explain what’s going on in the world without the prospect of the catastrophe signposting right from wrong. A Guardian article on the event demonstrates its writers’ inability to subject the Government’s climate policies to any scrutiny:

In an interview with the Guardian, Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said there was a global race towards creating a low-carbon economy and that Britain must not get left behind. He set out the key elements required – from energy efficiency to a smart electricity grid – ahead of today’s low-carbon summit in London, with representatives from industry, unions and the environment movement.

Much is made of the alleged influence on the public mind of the odd hour of television here and there that does stand against climate orthodoxy. But the media’s failure to subject the terms of the climate debate to scrutiny has had a much more significant effect on the Government’s mind. It seems that they can do no wrong – and consequently can have their many failures overlooked – while they are being green. The only criticism they can expect from Guardian hacks is not being green enough, never mind what kind of outcome it will produce, or what kind of society it will create. There is very little question of the policies, only the echoes of mantras about ‘imperatives’, and ‘inevitability’. One of the lines in the Guardian, also picked up elsewhere was the headline that…

New jobs will be created in low-carbon industries for 400,000 people – from lagging lofts to nuclear power – the government will announce today.

This figure comes from a report by consulting firm, Innovas, commissioned by the Government. What the report said was not that ‘new jobs will be created’, and the Guardian omits the caveats attached to the report.

If the UK environmental employment baseline level grows in line with projected annual growth rates, then, potentially, an additional 400,000 jobs could be created over the next eight years ‐ representing a 45% increase on today’s level. This is a rough estimate based on the growth in market value, where employment levels are calculated on a pro rata basis. Some of this growth in employment might be due to displacement activity, as green goods and services become more acceptable than the alternatives, such as a shift from manufacturing traditional doors/windows to heat and energy efficient ones, or from carbon‐based fuels such as coal to renewable energies such as wind. However the majority of the growth in employment, particularly in the Renewable Energy industries, would represent additional economic growth to 2015.

The figure of 400,000 new jobs becomes even more dubious when it transpires that Innovas estimates that employees in the low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS) sector number 881,000 people in the UK. There are roughly 30 million working people in the UK. That means 2.6% of the workforce are employed by the LCEGS. This sector has (according to Innovas) a market value of £106 billion. It seems hard to believe that such a large number of employment opportunities has been opened up by demand for green products. Yet the report projects, nonetheless:

The LCEGS sector, including supply chain, currently employs some 881,000 people in the UK, and this is forecast to increase to 1,289,000, or around 400,000 in the next eight years.

On what basis, though? The statistical summary accompanying the report claims that there are 6361 UK companies, employing 106,826 people in the ‘Alternative Fuel Vehicle’ sector. This turns out to mean ‘Alternative fuels (main Stream) for vehicles only’, and ambiguously, ‘other fuels and vehicles’. Does this lump together people who work on developing green cars and green fuel? According to www.autoindustry.co.uk, 210,000 people worked in manufacturing automobiles in 2005. Even assuming that there are still 210,000 people working in the UK’s ailing motor industry (which seems unlikely), can we really assume that half of these positions are in the LCEGS sector?

The report’s statistical summary goes on to say that 154,992 people work in ‘Alternative fuels’, 70,538 in the LCEGS ‘water and waste water’ sector, and 22,563 in the LCEGS ‘energy management’ sector. This gives us a total of 442,813 people in these LCEGS sectors. But according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), only 177,000 people worked in the energy and water sector at all. If we now include people that work in the LCEGS ‘hydro’, ‘wave and tidal’, biomass, wind, geothermal, photovoltaic, and ‘additional energy sources’ sectors, there are 626,557 people working in LCEGS energy sectors according to Innovas – many more people than the ONS claim.

It is plausible that the ONS and Innovas categorise jobs and businesses in different ways. But to claim that a greater number of people work in the LCEGS energy and water sector than work in the energy and water sector, when just a small percentage of Britain’s energy comes from renewable and alternative sources is just daft. We simply don’t believe it.

According to Eurostat, the UK produced 14,813,000 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) energy using renewables, against a total of 183,946,000 TOE. That process seems to have involved 533,455 people, according to Innovas’ statistics. If the UK’s total energy production was as efficient in terms of labour, it would have needed 6,624,378 people, or 22% of the workforce engaged in the production of energy. Perhaps this is what Brown and his fellows have in mind, when they are talking about the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs:

(image leaked from the UK government’s secret Low Carbon Industrial Strategy document)

Stupid custards.

9 thoughts on “Rhubarb-Rhubarb and Custard”

  1. Excellent article. It can’t be pointed out too often how removed from reality are all statistics on green jobs etc. This kind of criticism used to be done by radical campaigning journalists on the left, but of course they can’t any more because they’ve all gone green.

    Note that those 400,000 low carbon jobs include loft lagging. People don’t lag their lofts to reduce their carbon output, they do it to keep warm – the same reason as they wear pullovers. Why not count the whole textile industry, and the hot water bottle manufacturers, as providers green jobs?

    The most telling quote is surely this, from the Innovas report, where it states:
    “Some of this growth in employment might be due to displacement activity…”
    Displacement activity is defined by Wikipaedia as:
    “the result of two contradicting instincts in a particular situation. Birds, for example, may peck at grass when uncertain whether to attack or flee from an opponent; similarly, a human may scratch its head when it does not know which of two options to choose”.

    Exactly.

  2. > .. a ship of foolish Chicken Littles, struggling to sustain their political legitimacy.

    Now that was very funny.

  3. What struck me most of all was Brown’s line that what “we need is now a national endeavour that gives us purpose for years to come”. Too right – and how sad to have latched onto the apocalypse. As you imply, the idea that you can have your cake (be green) and eat it (have a new, employment-generating industrial revolution) is probably complete nonsense. The reality is that cutting emissions by 80% as this government has committed itself to doing will require swingeing cuts in all sorts of areas.

  4. Geoff, I think that’s true about the loft lagging – it’s about the only specific example of a UK green job I’ve encountered so far. It’s pretty basic and low tech – even I could do it, with minimal training. And you’re right – people have it done to keep warm, not to save CO2. To be honest, if there were no practical or financial benefits to these CO2 saving measures, would people generally do them? I think not; that’s why the government has to offer carrots (save money, keep warm) and perhaps start thinking about brandishing a stick (legislation?)

    Also, isn’t Gordon falling for the “broken windows” fallacy? Here’s an article from Forbes.com which suggests this: http://tinyurl.com/9zdrxf

    I like this quote from the article:
    “Indeed, if maximum employment were the goal of energy policy then having humans push turbines, a la Conan the Barbarian, would create far more jobs per kilowatt hour.”

    To take this to an extreme, every able-bodied person could be drafted into the green economy, taking their turn to power treadles (especially on calm or cloudy days!) or spread humanure on the fields, so that Britain can achieve total energy and food self-sufficiency, plus full employment. And ecopsychologists would no doubt rejoice at a happy population engaged in hard physical labour, no longer alienated from “flesh and blood experience”, at one with nature and purged of all our consumer addictions and climate change denial. What joy!

  5. Regarding loft lagging, I’m skeptical of such efforts to reduce overall energy use. I was taught by a lecturer in Building Science that when people found they could heat their homes more efficiently, they turned up the thermostat higher.

    So I am wary of any analysis that doesn’t appear to consider possible complex counterintuitive and unexpected responses.

  6. Nice article

    I despair of our ‘free press’. None of them are capable of independent critical analysis when it comes to green….. they just follow the party line. Afterall the ‘green’ correspondents are hardly going to put themselves out of a job by actually considering facts and the non viability of the green agenda.

    Thats why blogging/the internet is the only way now of serious commentary

  7. It’s called the “Jevons paradox”, Stefan – I’ve often seen it mentioned on the pro-nuclear blogs I frequent. (Of course a lot of the people there justify their support for nuclear energy within the framework of AGWCC…)

  8. Good Article.
    But one thing struck me from Leila Deen’s comments. Where does this “Ninety per cent of scientists now agree that climate change is a very real threat, that it’s already occurring, that it’s man-made, and that our last chance is going to run out within the next ten years” actually come from? I googled it and found nothing. Has she got confused with the IPCC Report comment that “global warming is happening – and is getting worse, and there is >90% chance that human beings are responsible for it”? It wouldn’t surprise me – misusing “facts”. But if Ms Deen’s statement is true I’m not sure it is worth much – I’m not very interested in what a microbiologist (or most other scientists) thinks of global warming as compared to a meteorologist.
    I would be interested to know what others think.

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