Green ain’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, all you had to do as a politician was strap yourself into a sandwichboard and proclaim that the End is Nigh, and your minions would deliver you a standing ovation and the press would celebrate you as a planet-saving super hero. But times are hard for today’s establishment environmentalists. And it’s must be even harder for the zealous green hacks who were swept up in the moment.
The Guardian’s Damian Carrington is an interesting phenomenon. I’ve yet to see him pen anything which isn’t — to use the technical term — bullshit. He, like many other environmental hacks, claim to be on the side of science and reason. But when science and reason contradict him, he’ll ignore it. He’ll take an outlier statistic on Arctic Ice, for instance, and claim that it is a harbinger of doom, no matter what other statistics tell him. And when whining that fossil fuel companies get more subsidies than renewable energy companies, he’ll conveniently recast lower VAT rates as ‘subsidy’, and forget to work out what the subsidies are, in equivalent terms. Waaah! Waaah! Waah! It’s not FAAAAAAAAIRRRRR! seems to be the thrust of Carrington’s inner narrative, which leaks out onto the pages of the Guardian.
And so it is today with his whinge that the Prime Minister isn’t bowing and scraping to the environmental diktats issued in the Guardian.
It is an extraordinary betrayal and abject failure of leadership. Cameron pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” and was elected with photogenic huskies and a “vote blue, go green slogan”. But after two years in No 10, he has given no speech dedicated to the issue at the heart of his Tory decontamination strategy.
In fact, David Cameron was not elected. And neither were his party. He had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. That’s not the same as being ‘elected’.
Carrington seems to believe that the PM is failing to deliver his promise to embrace the climate issue. But what Carrington doesn’t seem to realise is that the promise wasn’t sufficient to win the election for Cameron. Nor did it do much for the campaign of the junior party in the coalition.
And it’s not as if the government has abandoned its climate and energy policies. The coalition created an extraordinary system of benefits to renewable forms of energy, including the absurdly high tariffs for solar PV. And its renewable energy programme continues, untroubled by criticism.
The speech on Thursday, at a clean energy ministerial (CEM) in London and attended by energy ministers from the world’s 23 biggest economies, was set to break that silence, as I reported on 4 April. In a government document I have obtained, the event is described as “PM keynote speech to CEM participants”. Cameron’s contribution will now be five minutes of introductory remarks to a roundtable, followed by a Q&A with the ministers.
Carrington’s concern then, is that Cameron won’t be making a big speech at a meeting of energy ministers. Boo hoo.
Perhaps this is an attempt to embarrass the PM into giving a speech, as a kind of gesture. But what would it signify? Would it make the Guardian environmental team any happier? It seems unlikely.
Why does Cameron’s U-turn matter? Because a section of the Conservative party, led by chancellor George Osborne have been openly hostile to green initiatives, talking of “putting our country out of business” and burdening businesses “with endless social and environmental goals”.
The reality is the polar opposite. The green economy already contributes 7% of GDP and employs 900,000 people in the UK, more than teaching. Moreover, it is that rarity in these austere times: a growing sector in which the UK has a competitive advantage. The coalition has brought forward a series of good policies, from the green investment bank to the green deal, yet the investors who will fund the nation’s transition to a clean, sustainable green economy desperately need wholehearted backing from the top of government.
The claim that the ‘green economy’ contributed 7% of GDP and employs 900,000 people is completely implausible. Even the report from the Renewable Energy association published today and discussed the previous post only claims that 139,000 people work in the green sector — and that is likely to be a huge overstatement anyway, and forgets that each of those jobs is heavily subsidised. Carrington inflates the figure six times.
Moreover, this claim seems to portray the treasury and Osborne as simply being pig-headed about the green sector. No doubt there is plenty to criticise them for, but the idea that they would give up on a profitable sector of the economy — rather than one which demands a great deal of subsidy and regulatory interventions and complex international political manoeuvring and which doesn’t enjoy widespread public support — is simply absurd. Carrington seems to be suggesting that Osborbe and the treasury don’t like the green sector simply because it is green.
And with such a tendency to invent statistics (or at least to not treat statistics with due caution), it is hardly a surprise that the PM is seeking to distance himself from the green agenda. Here is a brilliant satire, which is from the USA, but which no doubt reflects reality in the UK too.
This sketch from the West Wing reflects the incoherence of the environmental movement and it’s tendency to pull itself apart, to produce in-fighting and to fail to settle on anything. Ultimately, nothing will please it. That incoherence is now firmly established in the UK’s climate and energy policies. Like Carrington, the special interests line up to bitch and crow, but cannot ever agree, cannot find meaningful support outside the establishment, and cannot tell the difference between failing to to assert their own will and the end of the world. Like the distribution of sweets (candy, to my readers from the USA) amongst toddlers, there is no possible outcome which does not leave each of the parties feeling ripped off, because none of the parties have the faintest understanding about the concept of quantity. All they can see is stuff they want but do not possess. It’s not FAAAAAAAAAIRRRR! WAAAAAAAAAAAAH! WAAAAAAAH!. Even after the toddlers have stuffed their faces, more and more and yet more (subsidies and other special favours) is demanded until sheer exhaustion provokes the final, epic tantrum.