Monthly Archives: September 2011
I didn’t get to study economics at University. I sat in on a few lectures, and was glad that I didn’t. But it would be nice to understand why and how economists arrive at their often counter intuitive conclusions. Science and philosophy often surprise us with what they turn out — things that run counter to what we’d expect from appearances. And it must be so with economics, because The Economist magazine has a story today, which claims that,
Shale gas will not solve Britain’s energy problems
This is very disappointing news indeed. I for one was pleased when Cuadrilla Resources announced estimates of gas reserves amounting to a possible 200 trillion cubic feet. More energy, and cheaper energy was surely an answer to Britain’s energy problems, especially for the 5.5 million households — up to 12 million people — living in fuel poverty. So what’s stopped the flow?
Cuadrilla thinks gas will start flowing by 2014. Alas, the finds will not solve Britain’s energy problems. Mike Stephenson of the British Geological Survey is sceptical that accurate predictions can be made from Cuadrilla’s two drill points. Even if the numbers are right, recovery rates may be only 10-20%. And mining such seams is controversial. Shale traps gas more tightly than other rock. To extract it, the shale is blasted with huge volumes of fresh water at high pressure, a practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. France and two American states have halted fracking because of fears that chemicals used may pollute water sources.
Right, the numbers do seem too good to be true. But even 10-20% of 200 trillion feet is still 20-40 trillion feet. That’s not going to hurt! And even if fears about ‘chemicals’ polluting water sources have some foundation, there seems to be scant evidence for them. The possible cost of a water source becoming contaminated should surely be put into perspective. It’s not as if the UK was a massive desert, landlocked at the middle of a vast continent. And, in contrast to the states, which is far less densely populated than the UK, people rely far less on private wells for their water supply. Furthermore, we know that France objects to shale gas because it’s so heavily invested in nuclear. The problems here are technical, not insurmountable. And have very little, as far as I can see, to do with economics. The Economist, whoever he is, continues…
Generating electricity from natural gas is relatively clean. Other fossil fuels produce more carbon dioxide, so replacing Britain’s coal-fired power stations with gas-fired ones would decrease the country’s carbon emissions. But cheap, plentiful fuel (both indigenous and imported) may lead to an increase in overall energy use, worries Kevin Anderson of Manchester University. Shale gas is also likely to divert investment in Britain from pricier but carbon-free nuclear and renewable-energy sources. “From a climate-change perspective this stuff simply has to stay in the ground,” he says.
The immediate consequence of Cuadrilla’s announcement, though, is to undermine the economic logic of the government’s energy policy. Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, recently told delegates at the Liberal Democrat conference that renewable generation is necessary because fossil fuels will be increasingly expensive; he wants to get the country “off the oil and gas price hook”. Yet even if Cuadrilla’s bounty is smaller than it hopes, the earth is riddled with shale rock; its exploitation may check the upward pressure on prices, weakening the economic case for reducing dependence on hydrocarbons.
Hmm. So, shale gas is cleaner than coal… It is easy to turn into electricity. And if it is abundant as it seems to be, it will create cheaper energy…
So in what sense exactly is it that ‘Shale gas will not solve Britain’s energy problems’? Is there some complex theory of economics I’m not getting here? What has this one-time wannabe-economist got wrong? Is there a graph, expressing a function as some exotic curve, which would explain why cheaper, more abundant stuff isn’t an answer to a shortage of stuff and rising prices? I am well and truly flummoxed.
It is time Mr Huhne admits it will be costly to curb global warming, says Dieter Helm of Oxford University. Shale gas may generate taxes. But the political price of saving the planet has gone up.
Ah, so that’s it. ‘Shale gas will not solve Britain’s energy problems’, because the likes of The Economist, and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change simply don’t want it to.
We didn’t need an economist to tell us that.
<em>Published on Spiked-Online at http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/11117/</em>
‘Ice is the white flag being waved by our planet, under fire from the atmospheric attack being mounted by humanity. From the frosted plains of the Arctic ice pack to the cool blue caverns of the mountain glaciers, the dripping away of frozen water is the most crystal clear of all the Earth’s warning signals.’
It’s sheer poetry, from the silver-nibbed pen of the Guardian‘s head of environment, Damian Carrington, writing in the Observer last Sunday. It’s also sheer BS.
Carrington continues: ‘Last week saw the annual summer minimum of the Arctic ice cap, which has now shrunk to the lowest level satellites have ever recorded.’ Is this true? Anthony Watts, who runs the sceptical website Watts Up With That?, has a very useful page linking to sea-ice data. Carrington’s claim matches the record of ice extent produced by scientists at the University of Bremen. However, Watts also provides the equivalent data from five other institutions: the International Arctic Research Center/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (IARC-JAXA), the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US, the Danish Meteorological Institute, the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. None of these other groups find that 2011 has produced a new record low.
Carrington wanted to give significance to a new record being set. But it seems to have been set only according to one out of six measurements of sea-ice extent. But if he’d mentioned these other measurements, that might have deprived him of his muse. Carrington, the poet, wants to paint a picture of the world, in which its white parts drain away. He wants to convey a feeling, not unlike the disappointment children experience when they see crisp white snow turn into muddy slush. The real picture of the world’s ice, however, requires grown-up eyes.
There may well be a trend towards an ice-free world. But there is still a great deal of sea ice remaining. The 30-year record, which Carrington believes is waving at us, begging for a ceasefire, hardly depicts this drama.
But it gets worse. (It always does.) ‘The lower glaciers are doomed. Kilimanjaro may be bare within a decade, with the Pyrenees set to be ice-free by mid-century and three-quarters of the glaciers in the Alps gone by the same date. As you climb higher, and temperatures drop, global warming will take longer to erode the ice into extinction. But at the “third pole”, in the Himalayas, the ice is melting as evidenced by dozens of swelling milky blue lakes that threaten to burst down on to villages when their ice dams melt.’
As has been widely discussed in recent years, if the ice on the top of Kilimanjaro does disappear, it will not be the consequence of man-made global warming. The glaciers there have been in retreat for longer than can be accounted for by climate change, and the temperatures there are not sufficient to explain the recession as the consequence of melting. The changes in Kilimanjaro are due to changes in local conditions.
As for the Himalayas, Carrington continues: ‘The threat posed is far greater than even this terrifying prospect: a quarter of the world’s people rely on Himalayan meltwater, which helps feed the great rivers that plunge down into Asia. The Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus nourish billions and will eventually lose their spring surges.’
Even if we take at face value the claim that a quarter of the world’s population rely on Himalayan meltwater — which doesn’t seem plausible — why should we imagine that they will always rely on the meltwater in the future, whatever the fate of those glaciers? Even if the glaciers melted — which we now know, as a result of ‘Glaciergate’, is a prospect that has been deferred by some three centuries — rain and snow would still fall on the mountains, and make their way to the sea. It should not be beyond the minds and means of a billion or more people in some of the world’s fastest developing countries to find ways of capturing that water and controlling its use.
So what is Carrington up to with all this revision of some of the most absurd global-warming alarmism that has materialised over the past few years? He writes: ‘Perhaps it is because ice is at the cold heart of all our deepest global-warming fears that climate-change sceptics wield their picks so heavily on it. The error by the publicists and cartographers of the Times Atlas, who stated that Greenland’s ice cover had shrunk by 15 per cent since 1999, prompted a renewed sounding of sirens by climate sceptics who saw another example of rampant alarmism by warming fanatics. In fact, it was climate scientists themselves who sounded the alarm, prompting the Atlas publishers to promise a new map would be inserted.’
Aha! Carrington senses that the ‘climate-change sceptics’ have stolen a march. And rather than letting them steal the show, Carrington rushes to make the claim that it was thescientists who saved the day, after all, spotting the error. But if it is important to state which side’s champions were instrumental in identifying the truth, it ought then to be important to state who precisely was responsible for propagating the misinformation in the first place.
As blogger Andrew Montford has pointed out, it was theGuardian’s environment editor, John Vidal, who wrote: ‘The world’s biggest physical changes in the past few years are mostly seen nearest the poles where climate change has been most extreme. Greenland appears considerably browner round the edges, having lost around 15 per cent, or 300,000 sq km, of its permanent ice cover. Antarctica is smaller following the break-up of the Larsen B and Wilkins ice shelves.’
This was ‘churnalism’. Vidal had merely copied the claim made by the press release announcing the Times Atlas publication.
Rather than quiet reflection on their own errors, Guardianenvironment staff make noisy statements, hoping to recover their credibility. This speaks loudly to the fact that these writers are engaged in a very political debate: they sense that the embarrassment caused by the Times Atlas affair undermines the wholly alarmist argument they have been advancing; they have lost ground to ‘the sceptics’, which must be recovered. Thus, Carrington waxes poetic on what the melting ice portends, before grasping for facts that will give this lyricism some substance. And he grasps for facts that do not bear the weight of the political argument. There doesn’t seem to have been any record set on the Arctic Sea this summer. There is still a great deal of ice left on the world. Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are not victims of climate change. People living beneath glaciers are not so dependent on them. Clinging on to these long-debunked claims is an attempt to keep up appearances: to sustain the view of the debate they have been maintaining for far too long.
It was scientists, not some imagined group of ‘sceptics’, who corrected the Times Atlas error. But in the same way, it isn’t ‘the sceptics’ who embarrassed the alarmist fools at the Times Atlas and at the Guardian; they embarrass themselves.
Apologies for this very long post — things which I felt needed to be said kept occurring to me…
Mike Childs is Head of Climate at the Friends of the Earth, and Chair of FoE Europe. He writes in a blog post at the FoE site today that,
One of the reasons I joined Friends of the Earth over 20 years ago was that it was an environmental group with a strong record of joining up social justice, development and environmental issues. This position has been maintained through the years.
I like the ambiguity of the language. ‘Joining up social justice, development and environmental issues’ doesn’t mean a commitment to ‘social justice and development’. Rather, it means subordinating them to ‘environmental issues’. This has been discussed previously on this blog. One-time ‘development’ agencies such as Oxfam, for instance, have abandoned their emphasis on development, to emphasise instead that ‘pastoral society’ is the best way of life for people in the developing world. It’s ‘sustainable’, you see, whereas life in industrialised, democratic, and wealthy economies — where we’ve moved on from such proximity to nature — isn’t. Never mind what people actually want, the influential, well-funded and ethically-unimpeachable NGO ‘joins up’ the notion of ‘social justice’, ‘development’, and ‘environmental issues’, and decides for them what’s in their best interests. Instead of talking about poverty and the need for development, Oxfam now are concerned with ‘climate poverty’ and are opposed to development.
And that’s why we wanted to answer the question: can the UK shift to a low-carbon society operating within our share of a global carbon budget, in a way that doesn’t unfairly impact on poorer households?
It’s a bit late for that. As the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) admits themselves, the number of people living in ‘fuel poverty’ has more than doubled since 2004. Debate surrounds the extent to which the Climate Change Act has driven the rise in cost of fuel bills, and is thus responsible for the rise in fuel poverty. Bracket this question for the moment, I will return to it. There are two things which are, meanwhile, indubitable.
First, renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy. This is owed in the main part to the fact that fossil fuels are energy dense, whereas ‘renewable’ sources of energy are more ‘ambient’. Therefore, renewable energy requires more machinery, and/or more human labour to turn that ambient energy into something useful. Notwithstanding that oil is ‘finite’ (and wind is too), wind can never contain as much energy as oil, even if we get better at converting wind into something useful; we can also get better at turning oil into useful energy.
Second, increasing prices puts stuff out of the reach of people with less money. Thus, higher prices — whatever the cause — ’causes’ fuel poverty. A caution here about the expression ‘fuel poverty’. I don’t believe in special terms such as this. There is no need for a term to describe the effect of rising fuel prices. If somebody does not have enough money for food, we don’t say that they are living in ‘food poverty’. If somebody cannot afford adequate housing or clothing, we do not say that they live in ‘house poverty’, or ‘clothing poverty’. So let’s be clear, rising fuel prices increases poverty.
These two truisms established, the Climate Change Act (CCA), then, is undeniably the cause of some increase in poverty. And Mike Childs, as Head of Climate at FoE, which campaigned vigorously for the CCA must take some responsibility for that problem. When the CCA was passed, FoE congratulated its members:
On the evening of Wednesday 26 November, 2008, the UK Big Ask campaign officially ended…
… and the Climate Change Act was passed into law.
The Climate Change Act is the first national law committing to legally binding annual cuts in greenhouse gases.
It should make sure the UK plays its part in keeping global temperatures below danger levels.
And it could put Britain at the forefront of international efforts to tackle climate change.
Another vital new law – The Energy Act – also received Royal Assent.
This new law includes commitments to bring in Feed-in Tariffs – boosts to renewable energy that could see you getting paid for the energy you produce at home.
Both of these fantastic victories are the result of an awesome show of people power.
It’s people like you:
Taking action on our websites
Visiting and speaking to your MP
Signing post cards
that have made this happen.
We now need to keep up the pressure on Government to:
Decarbonise the UK
Ensure emissions reductions are made in the UK – not traded abroad
Set up workable Feed-in Tariffs
Ensuring payments are high enough to make them work
But let’s pause for a second to appreciate our achievements …
Congratulations! We did it.
The FoE’s campaign for a ‘strong climate law’ was called ‘the Big Ask’. It’s inconceivable that FoE were unaware that this ‘Big Ask’ wouldn’t result in bigger energy bills, because it ran concurrent — though much lower profile — campaigns against fuel poverty:
Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged are today (Wednesday 9 April) taking the Government to court, for not doing enough to meet its legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty. The two charities are campaigning for the Government to develop a far more effective and comprehensive programme of domestic energy efficiency, to simultaneously end suffering from fuel poverty and tackle climate change.
Despite the Government being legally bound  to eradicate fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010 and for all households by 2016, nearly 3 million households in England are still struggling to adequately heat their homes. The Government currently estimates that by 2010 there may still be 1.3 million vulnerable  households in fuel poverty – nearly the same number as at the time of the Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy in 2001.
The legal action failed. Friends of the Earth had succeeded in drafting and helping a bill through parliament, but had failed to hold the government to its promises to eradicate fuel poverty. We now see nearly double the figures for fuel poverty quoted by FoE in 2008. In November that year, FoE reflected on their failure.
The High Court gave Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged permission to appeal because the case raised difficult and novel legal questions. The organisations have asked the Court of Appeal to reconsider the issues and order that the Government release previously secret fuel poverty documents. Friends of the Earth’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said:
“We believe the Government has acted unlawfully by failing in its legal commitment to end the suffering of fuel poverty. The Government must introduce a massive programme to cut energy waste, slash fuel bills and ensure that people heat their homes and not the planet.”
So FoE knew that the government were failing to meet its promises to abolish fuel poverty; they knew that levels of fuel poverty were rising, and yet they still pressed for legislation — ‘strong climate law’ which they knew would push energy bills up further. And the government knew that energy prices were rising — it was late 2008, after all — and that this would have a material effect on consumers’ bills. And they knew that this would cause an increase in energy poverty — FoE had told them.
The following year, a group of NGOs, including FoE, joined forces.
A new coalition of leading UK environmental and social justice groups, convened by Oxfam and NEF (the new economics foundation) and including Friends of the Earth and the Royal College of Nursing, says the government cannot choose between tackling poverty and climate change; it must begin to tackle these related issues together and it must take action now.
At a time of rising unemployment and economic insecurity, some people argue that we cannot afford the ‘luxury’ of protecting the environment; but the report, Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty shows that tackling climate change actually offers a huge opportunity to boost the economy and tackle UK poverty at the same time.
It’s never been clear to me how NGOs have managed to make the issue of climate change and poverty ‘related’. It’s not as if there was no poverty in the UK before climate change. They are of course related insofar as climate change policies make energy (and therefore everything that requires energy) more expensive. And they are related to the extent that climate — changing or not — is a problem if you don’t have the material means to protect yourself from it. But there is no obvious connection between poverty in the UK, and climate change; you don’t need to talk about the climate in order to understand the phenomenon of poverty. The government’s energy poverty eradication programme was 8 years old by 2008, and neither it nor any of its existing or new climate policies were having any positive effect on the levels of fuel poverty. So in what respect could the issues of poverty and climate change be related? The NGOs claimed that their research showed,
One in five people in the UK still live in poverty, often without enough money to heat their homes or to eat healthily. The new report shows that the poorest people in the UK will be most affected by the effects of climate change. They tend to live in poorer housing, have poorer health, less access to home insurance, and less money to adapt to price rises. Their situation could be worsened by measures to combat climate change such as higher taxation on fossil fuels.
But the report also shows how the need to combat climate change could present a huge opportunity to tackle poverty too. Home insulation cuts fuel bills, keeps homes warm, and reduces CO2 emissions; investment in public transport provides affordable travel for all and cuts air pollution; and the move to a low-carbon economy could be a stimulus for new skilled jobs in home insulation and energy efficiency.
So the first paragraph showed that poor people were damned by climate change (though it does not explain how a warmer climate would harm people who struggled to pay their heating bills), but also by climate change policies. But, the second paragraph argued, fighting climate change and poverty together might create an ‘opportunity’.
But just as it’s not clear how climate change and poverty are ‘related’, it’s not clear how intervention to solve the issues of poverty and climate change together represent ‘opportunity’. Yes, insulating homes creates the possibility of their inhabitants using less fuel, and therefore paying less in total for energy. But that saving is absorbed by the rising cost of energy, thanks to climate change legislation. Any gain made by ‘efficiency’ is lost by the policies designed to disincentivise energy use. On top of this, the cost of insulating so many homes — the labour and materials — needs to be paid for. That’s an opportunity for the person who is contacted to insulate homes, but it’s not an overall opportunity. It doesn’t actually yield anything productive by itself; there is no value added to anything by this ‘efficiency’.
Reading the NGO coalition’s statement, however, I was reminded of something. The words looked familiar. I was sure I had written something about a ‘low carbon economy’, energy efficiency, and new jobs in the renewable sector before…
I had, in April 2009.
Apparently 400,000 new “environmental sector” jobs will be created by 2017, according to Gordon Brown, who reckoned 1.3 million people would by then be working in “green” jobs. According to Mandelson, “The huge industrial revolution that is unfolding in converting our economy to low carbon is going to present huge business and employment opportunities.”
In fact, I had written the article for the Register in March — less than 6 weeks after the NGO coalition had met and published its report. It looks as though FoE were still influencing government thinking, after all. The NGOs were calling for precisely the things the government were now promising in their ‘Green New Deal’. And funnily enough, the ‘Green New Deal’ was also the title of a project conceived in July 2008 by parter in the group of NGOs, the New Economics Foundation (NEF).
The Green New Deal will rekindle a vital sense of purpose, restoring public trust and refocusing the use of capital on public priorities and sustainability. In this way it can also help deliver a wide range of social benefits that can greatly improve quality of life in the future. The Green New Deal includes policies and novel funding mechanisms that will reduce emissions contributing to climate change and allow us to cope better with the coming energy shortages caused by peak oil.
The Labour government were taking policies directly from NGOs and green-left think tanks. They weren’t even giving these policy ‘initiatives’ new names.
And as a Wikipedia article on the ‘Green New Deal’ shows, there are many ‘Green New Deals’, throughout the world, each hoping to use the climate issue to overcome financial woe. Each promising growth, jobs, and a shiny bright happy future. NGOs and think-tanks were instrumental in pushing governments towards these policies.
The following year, the UK Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties formed a coalition government. The previous government’s ‘Green New Deal’ was forgotten altogether, and the coalition, in a stunning act of original thought, promised the UK a ‘Green Deal‘. (Obviously, a New Green New Deal would have been absurd.)
The Energy Bill introduced to Parliament on 8 December 2010 includes provision for the new ‘Green Deal’, which is intended to revolutionise the energy efficiency of British properties.
The Government is establishing a framework to enable private firms to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, and to recoup payments through a charge in instalments on the energy bill.
I’ve discussed the identical nature of, and rhetoric surrounding the Labour Government’s ‘Green New Deal’ and the coalition’s ‘Green Deal’ here recently. Here again is Chris Huhne, announcing the policy.
Huhne’s bluster is of course as hollow as ‘his’ policy ‘initiative’, which was as hollow as the previous governments policy, which was as hollow as the ‘thinking’ of the NGOs and think-tanks which lobbied for it.
Lots of fanfare. Lots of talk about ‘revolutions’ comparable to the industrial revolution. Promises of jobs. Promises of warm homes. Lots of hope and hype about economic recovery.
The reality is, however, no economy recovery on the horizon, but concerns that things are about to get worse. Nothing resembling an industrial revolution, but, on the contrary, concerns that the UK’s energy policies will send prices up, and industry away from these shores. No sign of any jobs, but, on the contrary, over the period discussed in this blog post, unemployment has risen from 5 to 8% — equivalent to the number of jobs promised by the Green New Deal. Fuel bills have risen faster than any government scheme to insulate homes can stop their occupants falling into ‘fuel poverty’. And there’s very little chance that carbon emissions will be reduced by any meaningful measure, and even less chance that a global deal will follow this vapid posturing.
I promised to return to the question about the extent to which climate change and renewable energy policies have caused bills to rise, and will continue to cause to rise. I must say that, by now, it seems almost pointless: the UK’s climate change act and its grandiose gestures — Green New Deals, green energy revolutions, and so on — are catastrophic failures on their own terms. However, DECC and its defenders have answered criticisms of rising levels of fuel poverty by the policies of the Climate Change Act by claiming that rises in energy bills (the kind you pay for directly, not draft legislation in Parliament) are due to the market, over which they have no control.
This is perhaps true. But admitting that they have no control over the market, they must admit that their plans to mitigate the effects of rising energy prices by offering schemes to insulate homes was inadequate. They appear to have failed to anticipate rising energy costs, and thus put their environmental concerns above the ‘energy poor’. Put another way, the policies intended to prevent carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty were in contradiction, and one enjoyed greater emphasis than the other — completely contrary to the claim that the two goals are equivalent, as FoE and co had claimed. Put another way again, the idea that ‘the market’ may beset progress in the UK’s climate reduction plan was anathema to the policy-makers and NGOs. Yet the market was able to move in such a way as to put millions of households into fuel poverty.
But, what DECC emphasise is that by 2020, ‘the market’ will have made energy prices so expensive, that the costs caused by climate and energy policies will suddenly become insignificant. Renewable energy will become nearly as cheap as conventional energy. And our insulated homes will require less energy to heat them. As Carbon Brief candidly explained,
DECC base their analysis of future energy bills on the assumption that energy efficiency measures (for example increased home insulation) will reduce household consumption of energy – so while prices go up energy bills may remain steady or even go down. While DECC predict that climate change and energy policies will cause gas prices to go up by 18% and electricity prices by 33% by 2020, they estimate (as of July 2010) that because of reductions in energy use “compared to the counterfactual scenario in which climate change and energy policies do not have an impact on energy bills, on average, domestic energy bills will be 1% higher in 2020.”
So, the government has in fact anticipated higher energy prices. It cannot blame the market for then delivering them, for its failed policies. We can say with some certainty, then, that the emphasis that the government and FoE have put on fuel poverty have been little but token gestures. FoE knew what it was asking for: for policies that would make life difficult for people, and it knew that the government wasn’t capable of, or interested in, solving the problem of fuel poverty in any meaningful way.
Perhaps I sound like I may be being too hard on Childs and FoE here. But consider this passage from his blog post:
We looked at the impact of extending the life of existing nuclear power plants but found this had little impact on emissions as they were simply competing with renewable energy.
There is a crisis now, surely, for the 5.5 million households living in fuel poverty. But meeting the demand for energy — and perhaps lowering the cost — by increasing supply without the need for capital investment is ruled out, because it makes renewable energy investment less attractive. Again, we see FoE’s priorities, which reflect the government’s, in a document in which FoE claim to consider a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy.
Last week, Scottish and Southern announced that they were considering pulling their 25% stake in a nuclear energy consortium, to focus instead on renewable energy. An FoE spokesman said,
Scottish and Southern’s decision to abandon nuclear and focus on renewable power is welcome news. But they have a long way to go – 88 per cent of the power they supplied last year came from coal and gas, leaving consumers with soaring fuel bills caused by our fossil fuel dependency. Sufficient investment in renewables and cutting energy waste must be a Government priority, along with measures to help households, businesses and communities to free themselves from the shackles of the Big Six energy firms by developing their own green power.
FoE are opposed to old nuclear, and they are opposed to new nuclear. The cheapest cleanest, greenest, safest, and most proven form of low-carbon energy production is ruled out, because it interferes with windmills.
When Cuadrilla Resources announced that it had found a vast reserve of shale gas, FoE announced that,
Drilling for shale gas raises serious safety concerns and risks polluting water supplies – and it could take vital funding away from the clean energy solutions we know are safe and will work. Our future power needs should come from the wind, sun and waves and using our energy more carefully – this will slash emissions and boost the economy by creating new businesses and jobs. There should be no more fracking in Britain until safety and environmental concerns have been properly addressed.
Shale gas, of course, could do much, much more than ‘renewables’ to boost the economy, create new business and jobs, and slash our emissions — if that is important — by replacing our ageing coal power stations. It would also do much to lower the cost of energy bills. So too would nuclear energy. But as immediate answers to economic problems, fuel poverty and unemployment, and intermediate answers the problem of climate change, they are unacceptable to FoE. But the point of the policies they have pushed for is not simply carbon reductions, but renewable energy… expensive renewable energy.
And the government has responded. It has invited FoE to comment, and to recommend policies. It has welcomed the ‘pressure’ it has put on the policy-making process. It enjoys the PR role that FoE serves, in ‘communicating climate change’, and giving their policies the legitimacy that only an NGO seems able to give them in today’s world.
So finally, we have an answer to the question ‘what proportion of energy price increases are caused by policies’…
All of it. Every single penny rise is the fault of the previous and coalition governments, their policies, and NGOs like FoE. Because rather than emphasising the need for energy, for cheap and abundant energy, and allowing such development to take place, the government has designed policies which emphasise renewables, rather even than low or lower carbon alternatives to coal such as gas and nuclear. They have campaigned in the UK and internationally for policies which are hostile to conventional and nuclear energy. They have promised handsome returns to energy firms who in turn promise to help them deliver on their political targets, while a fifth of all UK households struggle to afford their bills. They have created an atmosphere in which energy firms are disinclined to deliver functioning energy infrastructure, and have emphasised their desire for ‘smart grids’ that will cost tens, if not hundreds of £billions. That is why SSE are considering pulling out of the nuclear energy consortium: they sense the lack of political commitment to the idea of nuclear, and the smart money is following the easy money. And shale gas… The Guardian reported last week,
The UK’s “dash for gas” will be halted by the government because if unchecked it would break legally binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions, Chris Huhne, energy and climate change secretary, said on Monday evening. “We will not consent so much gas plant so as to endanger our carbon dioxide goals,” he told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats party conference in Birmingham.
“We will not consent”, therefore, “so much gas plant so as to endanger…” reducing energy bills, and reducing energy poverty.
All of this will be lost on Mike Childs, head of climate at FoE. He still believes he is committed to ‘justice’.
We came to the conclusion that yes, it is possible for the UK to go low-carbon in a way that’s fair for everyone who lives here. But that it will take a determined effort by government, businesses and individuals to do so. It will undoubtedly require decision-makers to stand up to vested interests such as the big 6 energy companies.
So, heroic changes and a determined effort to address social justice is the order of the day. Not so different from when I joined Friends of the Earth 20 years ago.
There could be a very different discussion about energy. There could be a situation in which there is no problem of energy poverty. Whether you believe energy supply and R&D needs more or less government intervention, a different, more positive discussion could have been dominated by questions about how to get more energy to more people for less cost. That could have been the priority. That could have been the measure of a ‘just’ energy policy. Then, environmental concerns could be heard. But the value of energy is limited to the discussion about ‘keeping the lights’ on, and only then with behavioural change experts ‘nudging’ us to turn them off, anyway.
It is no use discussing the rights and wrongs of climate change and energy policies and their scientific bases when, it seems, we have lost any sense of what we want energy for. The loss of this idea — that energy creates the possibility of real opportunities for longer, more rewarding and more comfortable lives — has allowed the likes of Friends of the Earth to enter the debate with their entirely degraded notion of ‘justice’ — one completely subsumed by their commitment to an absurd ideal of ‘nature’ and life ‘in balance’ with it. This notion of justice turns out to be, much less a liberating idea, but an idea which calls for increased intervention in and control over people’s lives — especially those it claims to want to help — for behaviour change, and for policies which ignore the interests and desires of people. The better argument is about more than merely ‘keeping the lights on’.
Ice is the white flag being waved by our planet, under fire from the atmospheric attack being mounted by humanity. From the frosted plains of the Arctic ice pack to the cool blue caverns of the mountain glaciers, the dripping away of frozen water is the most crystal clear of all the Earth’s warning signals.
It’s also sheer BS, and it belongs to Damian Carrington of the Guardian/Observer newspapers. He continues…
Last week saw the annual summer minimum of the Arctic ice cap, which has now shrunk to the lowest level satellites have ever recorded.
Now, is this true? Anthony Watts, who needs no introduction here, has a very useful page linking to sea ice data at his site. Carrington’s claim is true, if we look at the record of ice extent produced by scientists at the University of Bremen:
But it doesn’t seem to be the story produced by International Arctic Research Center/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (IARC-JAXA):
And it doesn’t seem to be the story produced by The National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US:
The Danish Meteorological Institute, also, have produced different data:
And so too have the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center:
And if that’s not enough, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration story doesn’t match Carrington’s claims either:
Carrington wanted to give significance to a new record being set. But it seems to have been set only according to one out of six measurements of sea ice extent. He could have checked. He could have looked at Anthony Watt’s site. But if he had, he would be left without a muse, where would his poetry be then?
Carrington, the poet, wants to paint a picture of the world, in which its white parts drain away. He wants to convey a feeling, not unlike the disappointment children experience when they see crisp white snow turn into muddy slush. The real picture of the world’s ice, however, requires grown up eyes.
There may well be a trend towards an ice free world. But there is a great deal of sea ice remaining. The 30-year record, which Carrington believes is waving at us, begging for a ceasefire, hardly depicts this drama.
But it gets worse. (It always does.)
The lower glaciers are doomed. Kilimanjaro may be bare within a decade, with the Pyrenees set to be ice-free by mid-century and three-quarters of the glaciers in the Alps gone by the same date. As you climb higher, and temperatures drop, global warming will take longer to erode the ice into extinction. But at the “third pole”, in the Himalayas, the ice is melting as evidenced by dozens of swelling milky blue lakes that threaten to burst down on to villages when their ice dams melt.
As has been widely discussed in recent years, if the ice on the top of Kilimanjaro does disappear, it will not be the consequence of warming. The glaciers there have been in retreat for longer than can be accounted for by climate change, and the temperatures there are not sufficient to explain the recession as the consequence of melting. And the Himalayas….
The threat posed is far greater than even this terrifying prospect: a quarter of the world’s people rely on Himalayan meltwater, which helps feed the great rivers that plunge down into Asia. The Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus nourish billions and will eventually lose their spring surges.
Even if we take at face value the claim that a quarter of the world’s population rely on Himalayan meltwater — which doesn’t seem plausible to me — why should we imagine that they will always rely on the meltwater in the future, whatever the fate of those glaciers? Even if the glaciers melted — which we now know is a prospect that has been deferred by some three centuries — rain and snow would still fall on the mountains, and make their way to the sea. It should not be beyond the minds and means of a billion or more Asians to find ways of halting the water’s progress, and containing it.
So what is Carrington up to, with all this revision of some of the most absurd global warming alarmism that has materialised over the last few years?
Perhaps it is because ice is at the cold heart of all our deepest global warming fears that climate change sceptics wield their picks so heavily on it. The error by the publicists and cartographers of the Times Atlas, who stated that Greenland’s ice cover had shrunk by 15% since 1999, prompted a renewed sounding of sirens by climate sceptics who saw another example of rampant alarmism by warming fanatics. In fact, it was climate scientists themselves who sounded the alarm, prompting the Atlas publishers to promise a new map would be inserted.
Aha! Carrington senses that the ‘climate change sceptics’ have stolen a march. And rather than letting them steal the show, Carrington rushes to make the claim that it was the scientists who saved the day, after all, spotting the error.
But if it is important to state which side’s champions were instrumental in identifying the truth, it ought then to be important to state who precisely was responsible for propagating the misinformation. As Bishop Hill pointed out, it was the Guardian’s Environmental Editor, John Vidal, who had said,
The world’s biggest physical changes in the past few years are mostly seen nearest the poles where climate change has been most extreme. Greenland appears considerably browner round the edges, having lost around 15%, or 300,000 sq km, of its permanent ice cover. Antarctica is smaller following the break-up of the Larsen B and Wilkins ice shelves.
This was ‘churnalism’. Vidal had merely copied the claim made by the press release announcing the Times Atlas,
For the ﬁrst time, the new edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, published on 15 September, has had to erase 15% of Greenland’s once permanent ice cover – turning an area the size of the United Kingdom and Ireland ‘green’ and ice free… Cartographers of the atlas have sourced the latest evidence and referred to detailed maps and records to conﬁrm that in the last 12 years, 15% of the permanent ice cover (around 300,000 sq km) of Greenland, the world’s largest island, has melted away.
Rather than quiet reflection on their own errors, Guardian environment staff make noisy statements, hoping to recover their credibility. Does this not speak loudly to the fact that these writers are engaged in a very political debate: they sense that the embarrassment caused by the Times Atlas affair undermines the wholly alarmist argument they have been advancing; they have lost ground to ‘the sceptics’, which must be recovered. Thus, Carrington waxes poetic on what the melting ice portends, before reaching for… grasping for… facts that will give this lyricism some substance. And he grasps for facts that do not bear the weight of the political argument. There doesn’t seem to have been any record set on the Arctic Sea this summer. There is still a great deal of ice left on the world. Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are not victims of climate change. People living beneath glaciers are not so dependent on them. Clinging on to these long-debunked claims is an attempt to keep up appearances: to sustain the view of the debate they have been maintaining for far too long.
It was scientists, not some imagined group of ‘sceptics’, who corrected the Times Atlas. But in the same way, it isn’t ‘the sceptics’ who embarrassed the alarmist fools at the Times Atlas and at the Guardian; they embarrass themselves.
What the Minister for Energy and Climate Change thinks about the public:
Who does he think he is?
The environmental movement and the UK government previous and present have emphasised that price is fundamental to ‘sending signals’, both to the market to encourage investment in the technologies it favours; and to the consumer to coerce him to modify his behaviour. Neither of them have emphasised the possibility of cheaper, more abundant energy, and the good that it would produce: lowering prices, broadening access to transport, and making people’s lives more comfortable.
With public priorities and expectations so diminished, is it any surprise that energy companies have, in accordance with such goals, created a baffling array of tariffs, taking the opportunity to make more money? That is the entire ethic of energy reduction: more for less. That is the inevitable consequence — and completely in the spirit — of doing things like creating tradable commodities out of immaterial objects, such as emissions-trading quotas.
Enough fighting about the rights and wrongs of climate change, we should be answering people like Huhne with positive arguments for more.
That old chestnut… That the ‘climate denial machine’ is ‘well-funded’… is about to suffer another blow to its credibility.
Luboš Motl of the Reference Frame has an entertaining take on the Climate Reality project, which seems to be Al Gore’s latest stunt. Says Motl,
Just look at the dozens of people who had to participate in the creation of these amateurish, would-be interesting movies that have 12,000 or 15,000 views on YouTube, respectively. Imagine how many millions of dollars have been thrown to the trash bin, how many fat screaming female musicians had to be killed during the shooting. Gore’s videos are completely unoriginal, can’t compare with the videos that inspired Gore (like Honda’s Rube Goldberg device: I recently saw some equally good ones, not just the Melvin Machine, but forgot the URLs), and they really make no sense. Why is a Rube Goldberg machine used in a video about the climate? What point could it make (except that alarmists’ arguments are contrived and extremely unlikely)? Those people are just not capable of thinking, capable of doing anything well. They’re just low-quality people.
It’s a good point. There seems to be no end of cash available to promote the catastrophic story, and the individuals behind it, of course. This latest stunt is a 24-hour long web-TV extravaganza. The man himself, says,
“24 Hours of Reality will focus the world’s attention on the full truth, scope, scale and impact of the climate crisis. To remove the doubt. Reveal the deniers. And catalyze urgency around an issue that affects every one of us.”
CHAIRMAN OF THE CLIMATE REALITY PROJECT
It’s an interesting claim. Reality, it seems, is determined by committee, chaired by none other than himself. ‘I’ve got reality on my side’, he seems to be saying, ‘what have you got?’
We ain’t got enough cash for a 24 hour worldwide telethon, that’s for sure, Al.
This is a promo for the event.
And ain’t that the point… There’s the proverbial sh*t that his the fan, to which the promo visually alludes (oh, the subtlety), but there’s the other idiom, ‘throw enough dirt and some of it will stick’.
What possible use could 24 hours of web TV to settling the argument, other than to bore the opposition into submission? There are only two categories of people who will be willing to endure such a dull enterprise: the choir, who need no preaching; and sceptics, who will find it entertaining to see the climate Great and Good attempt to elevate and flatter themselves. Nobody will be watching this from on the fence.
If this 24 hour Gore-Bore-a-thon is an attempt to do anything, it is yet another attempt to win the ‘debate’ without having it. It’s about asserting a claim about ‘reality’, without ever having the claim tested. It’s not simply ‘bias'; it’s naked dogma. All it will do is epitomise the environmental movement’s intransigence; it’s inability to respond to criticism. It may work, of course, for the true believers in one respect. For the committed, it will be a self-affirming ritual… A ceremony for the smug, who will nod, tut, sigh and laugh on cue. But… there is good news…
This failure to permit dialogue must by now be the essential characteristic of the environmental movement, beyond question. I have lost count of the number of on and off-line discussions I have had, in which it became clear that my opponent’s intentions were not to respond to anything I said, but to merely recite the litany at me. In contrast to discussion, in which a point can be explored, conversations with the Faithful do not progress. These encounters are not conversations. There is no person, merely dogma.
If I were to speculate as to what might be going on, it is this. If one starts from the view that ‘the debate is over’ and ‘the science is settled’, and that all that is necessary to win the debate is to tell the consensus story, it is by definition, an appeal to authority: it’s not me who is saying it; it’s not my opinion; it is science‘. Thus the proponent of this view has completely surrendered his own judgement. Lacking any critical function, he has no option but to recycle the litany, as best it fits any turn the discussion takes. He doesn’t have to understand the science, he merely needs to know what to say, and when. It is impossible to have a discussion with such a mind. It is not capable of discussion.
The good news is this, then. As human as this tendency is, so is the tendency to realise that what once seemed like sense is dogma. Since the only people watching the contrived ‘reality’ that Gore and his crew want to promote are likely to be the choir, the only people it will bore are the choir. And the longer they are expected to obediently sit, listen, repeat, and sing on cue, for no reward — for no payoff whatsoever — the more likely they will want to start singing a different tune.
Please, Mr Gore, more 24-hour long ‘reality’ stunts.
I have an article up on Spiked today…
The growth of environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over the past 50 years has been extraordinary. Starting from humble beginnings and means, organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which are both celebrating their fortieth anniversaries this year, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), which opened its first office 50 years ago, now command budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars. But while the organic champagne may be flowing in the green camp, what does the rest of the world have to celebrate about the rise and rise of the Big Green NGO?
Something of a brouhaha is developing over the leaked briefing to David Cameron, claiming that UK energy bills will rise 30% (roughly £300) by 2020. The Telegraph, who reported the leak, say,
Mr Cameron is said to be “very worried” about the figures in the paper, written by Ben Moxham, his senior energy adviser who was recently brought in to beef up the Prime Minister’s policy unit.
The private note, seen by The Daily Telegraph, is titled “Impact of our energy and climate policies on consumer energy bills”. It was sent to Mr Cameron and offers a blunt assessment of how Coalition energy plans, in particular a series of green policies, will affect householders.
Well at least somebody is pointing it out.
Apologists for rising energy prices and fuel poverty — the people who would be otherwise calling for more expensive energy — have been quick to respond.
The Carbon Brief — which claims to offer advice on climate matters, but is in fact merely a blog for anonymised Greenpeace and FoE activists — have tried to pour water over the claim…
DECC base their analysis of future energy bills on the assumption that energy efficiency measures (for example increased home insulation) will reduce household consumption of energy – so while prices go up energy bills may remain steady or even go down. While DECC predict that climate change and energy policies will cause gas prices to go up by 18% and electricity prices by 33% by 2020, they estimate (as of July 2010) that because of reductions in energy use
This is spin like no other I’ve ever seen: it’s not a price rise because we expect people to consume less, for the same price. Shame on the Carbon Brief. They continue, quoting from a DECC source,
“Sustained higher prices for fossil fuels reduce the cost of some energy and climate change policies, lowering the cost passed onto consumer bills. For example, at an oil price of around $150 per barrel in 2020 and gas price of around 120 pence per therm, climate change and energy policies would have the effect of reducing bills in 2020 by around 5% compared to a bill excluding these policies.”
In other words, fossil fuel price increases and volatility will increase energy bills, and measures which reduce consumption and shift production away from fossil fuel sources are a way of hedging against this.
In other words, in fact, the government have gambled on fossil fuel prices increasing, as they have in recent years. But what if fossil fuel prices fell? What if, for example, improvements in drilling technology produced an abundance of cheap gas, and oil — perhaps from shale deposits, and deep water exploration, and methane clathrates? If we can say that increasing costs of fossil fuels ‘reduces the cost’ of renewables, then we can say that decreasing costs of fossil fuels increases the cost of renewables. The rest of the world may well be paying a fraction of the price for conventional energy in 2020, while the UK is stuck with its commitments to subsidising ‘renewables’.
Damian Carrington in the Guardian gets his knickers in a twist to almost the extent the Carbon Briefs are.
Soaring gas and electricity bills are potent politics, but a leaked analysis for David Cameron does not support Canute-like railing against green policies.
Canute, of course, railed against the waves. The implication, then, seems to be that green policies are as inevitable as the tide. It is in unguarded moments such as these that we see what the green mindset is really made of.
Let’s take that head on. A source in Westminster tells me that Moxham was clearly referring to electricity alone when he suggested a 30% rise by 2020, meaning the rise would be about £135, but that the sentence was sloppily written. The source says Moxham’s analysis is “very sensible” and not vastly different to that at Chris Huhne’s department of energy and climate change. The official response from Decc is the same: “Reforms will not add £300 to bills.”
It’s so incredibly stupid, because, as an excuse, it forgets that many households — mine for instance — are not connected to the gas supply. What Carrington is involved in here is defending the environmental policy-makers, rather than investigating — like a proper journalist — the material problems that such blind commitments to energy policies are likely to cause. That would be one thing, if it were the opposition party’s policies he was defending. But as a defence of government policy, the ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’, and warm and fluffy Guardian journalist makes himself a tool of the state.
And there’s every reason to think the state have massively underestimated the problem. As discussed here recently, the Government and the DECC did not anticipate a doubling of the levels of ‘fuel poverty’ between 2004-9. 5.5 million — more than a fifth of all UK households — now have problems finding money to pay their bills. The government’s plans to insulate homes to protect them from rising energy prices is already a failure.
But there’s every reason to believe the new advice to Cameron.
According to Chris Huhne at the end of 2020…
More than £110 billion of investment is needed in new power stations and grid upgrades over the next decade, that’s double the rate of the last ten years. Put simply, the current market is not fit to deliver this.
Assuming that the domestic user ends up paying for just half of the UK’s energy demand, £55 billion is paid by 26 million homes, which means they each have an extra bill of £2,115.38 to 2020, or £215.54 per year for the whole extra investment.
Furthermore, the 7% of electricity that was produced in the UK from renewable sources cost $1 billion in subsidies. The target for 2020 is to produce 30% from renewable sources, or 4.3 times the 2010 amount. We can assume, then, that £4.3 billion in subsidies will be needed in 2020, or £82.42 per home — an increase of 2010 levels of £63.19.
The total is £278.73. I’m sure there are some problems with the way of arriving as this figure. But I’m equally sure this isn’t the half of it. There are opportunity costs to consider, and the wider social consequences of making energy more expensive — the ‘externalities’, I guess we should call them — such as unemployment, hypothermia in the elderly and other diseases; and the further cost of creating or subsidising the measures to combat these social effects.
Wouldn’t it be better to spend that £110 billion — or £300 each for a few years — on real energy R&D: ways to produce more of it, more cheaply? The idea of abundance and the freedom it would create are anathema to the government’s mood, however. Yet nobody has ever voted for higher energy bills. And nobody has ever been asked. Shouldn’t that worry the Prime Minister and the Department for Energy and Climate Change more than anything else?
A recent article in the Telegraph aimed to expose:
The aristocrats cashing in on Britain’s wind farm subsidies
Growing numbers of the nobility are being tempted to build giant wind farms on their estates by the promise of tens of millions of pounds being offered green energy developers.
It’s an interesting article that attempts to put numbers to what most have suspected for a while. However, due to the incoherent and chaotic nature of the government’s energy policies, nobody can really put a precise figure on the sums involved…
The Duke, who is worth about £100 million, will reportedly earn as much as £2.5 million a year from the deal although a spokesman, who declined to discuss the actual amount, said that figure was not accurate. One industry expert said a more realistic figure was in the order of £720,000 a year.
Only £720,000. Oh, that’s all right then.
It would take me the best part of 30 years to earn, before tax, and by actually doing work, what the Duke would get a year, from sitting around on his noble posterior. The government oblige electricity suppliers to take a certain, rising proportion of their electricity from renewable generators, at a premium, determined by government, to ‘incentivise’ the renewable energy sector. In other words, the government guarantee the Duke’s income.
Where have we heard of that sort of thing before? Well, it’s been going on for centuries. But for the last few of them, at least, it’s been regarded as a bit of a bad thing, belonging to the past.
When you think about it further, is there any form of ‘renewable’ energy which does not reward the landed classes in the same way? They are each land-intensive. Solar power, at scale, requires significant tracts of land. Business Green — an online news service — reports that,
The government has rejected claims that its planned increase in biomass and biofuel use to meet clean energy targets will result in the displacement of people or competition with food crops in developing countries.
At issue here is the UK’s absurd target-driven renewable energy policies. These are justified on the basis that they ensure ‘energy security’, by decreasing our dependence on foreign and ‘unstable’ economies (i.e. Russia and MENA), and ‘unsustainable’ substances. Yet, these ambitious targets cannot be met by domestic production of fuel crops.
The UK currently burns or co-fires around one million tonnes of wood, but the government has highlighted the importance of biomass in 2009’s Renewable Energy Strategy and this year’s Renewables Roadmap. Planning permission has been granted to more than 7GW of biomass power plants, which the IIED said is likely to increase demand to 60 million tonnes a year, five or six times the nation’s currently available resources.
It is something of an irony that it is the International Institute for Environment and Development which have criticised UK policy. It demonstrates first that the concept of ‘sustainable development’ is racked with contradictions, and that it allows for the expression of some fairly ancient bad ideas.
The IIED report states,
As governments in the global North look to diversify their economies away from fossil fuel and mitigate climate change, plans for biomass energy are growing fast. These are fuelling a sharp rise in the demand for wood, which, for some countries, could outstrip domestic supply capacity by as much as 600 per cent. It is becoming clear that although these countries will initially look to tap the temperate woodlands of developed countries, there are significant growth rate advantages that may lead them to turn to the tropics and sub-tropics to fill their biomass gap in the near future. Already there is evidence of foreign investors acquiring land in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia to establish tree plantations for biomass energy. If left unchecked, these trends could increase pressures on land access and food security in some of the world’s poorest countries and communities
The IIED are naive. It is their emphasis on ‘sustainability’ which increases the value of land. It is inconceivable that increasing the value of land won’t benefit those who already have title to it, and won’t otherwise cause the cash rich to rush towards it. Imagine if the vacant plot of land didn’t say For Sale, but instead advertised free money, to those who don’t need it: no risk, no work, guaranteed income. The sustainability agenda has created a virtual Inclosure Act for the 21st Century: as our dependence on land increases, so too has its value, but so to has our ability to access it has been reduced. ‘Sustainability’ is a de-facto dispossession.
It was the use of fossil fuels which finally created the possibility of a comprehensive break from dependence on land, and the feudal political order that this dependence created. For instance, one of the consequences of using fossil fuels is the effective amplification of land: with machinery and industrial techniques, the productivity of land increases. Fewer and fewer people need to live on the land, and are able to live in cities. It’s not all good, all the way, of course. There are ups and downs. The point is that, had none of it happened, we’d might still be living in bondage to the Lord of the Manor; liberal democracy struggles to thrive where people are worked from dawn to dusk, each and every day.
Yet even those who seem to extol the virtues of peasant lifestyles, while trying to defend fluffy liberal values, seem to understand the principle that renewable energy schemes create a mechanism to transfer wealth from the less well-off to the better off. As the IIED acknowledge, renewable energy policies may turn out to be anything but ‘sustainable’ for the poor. And even George Monbiot agrees:
Buying a solar panel is now the best investment a householder can make. The tariffs will deliver a return of between 5% and 8% a year, which is both index linked (making a nominal return of between 7% and 10%) and tax-free. The payback is guaranteed for 25 years. If you own a house and can afford the investment, you’d be crazy not to cash in. If you don’t and can’t, you must sit and watch your money being used to pay for someone else’s fashion accessory. [...] If people want to waste their money, let them. But you and I shouldn’t be paying for it. Seldom has there been a bigger public rip-off; seldom has less fuss been made about it. Will we try to stop this scheme, or are we a nation of dupes?
What did he expect all those years? What did he think he was asking for, when he campaigned so vociferously against energy companies? Did he not realise that merely abolishing Big Oil only creates an opportunity for Big Land? Did he really beleive that national and international bureaucracies and treaties would create an equitable and robust challenge to the dominance of people with more cash, on behalf of the less well-off? Did he really beleive that the interests of Big Oil were at odds with yours and mine? Of course not…
And we find ourselves in an extraordinary position. This is the first mass political movement to demand less, not more. The first to take to the streets in pursuit of austerity. The first to demand that our luxuries, even our comforts, are curtailed.
But it never was a movement, of course. There never were more than a few hundred of the UK’s 60million+ inhabitants, out on the streets ‘demanding less’ at any one time.
Reducing household energy use is the only real way to offset high energy prices from the wholesale market, National Energy Action has said.
Speaking to the BBC Wake Up to Money podcast, Peter Smith, campaigns and policy manager for the organisation, explained that it is inevitable that wholesale energy prices are fed into peoples’ energy bills.
“The only thing that householders can do at the end of the day is reduce that volatility through looking at the volume that they consume and that means looking at energy efficiency as a long-term solution to try and mitigate these problems,” he remarked.
The above is from the Energy Saving Trust, a £60million a year UK government-funded organisation, designed to ‘help’ people to use less energy. The advice they are quoting is from National Energy Action, which ‘develops and promotes energy efficiency services to tackle the heating and insulation problems of low-income households‘. In reality, however, rather than addressing the interests of the energy-poor, the NEA is joint funded by the state and corporates with an interest in energy efficiency. This is not unlike feudal lords, gathering themselves into an organisation intended — at face value — to represent the interests of serfs. Their advice — to reduce household energy use — is equivalent to ‘can’t they eat cake’.
Let’s not imagine that all this policy-making is just an accident of some slightly ill conceived idea about ‘nature’ and some dodgy science. This is not about slightly altering the ways we do things; minor adjustments to our lifestyles. Let’s see it for what it is: as a political idea. It changes the fundamental relationships between people. To see it as anything else is to roll over. It’s no use just saying that this science, or that measurement is bunk — the idea which we should challenge is that the science justifies the politics, whether it is bunk or not.