Two numbers from this weekends Guardian/Observer…
The first is 25%. Damian Carrington whinges that
George Osborne demands massive cuts to windfarm subsidies
PM’s ‘greenest government ever’ claim undermined by chancellor’s move, which follows pressure from Tory MPs
The Observer has learned that George Osborne is demanding cuts of 25% in subsidies, a reduction the industry says would “kill dead” the development of wind power sites. The Treasury’s stance has put the chancellor at loggerheads with the Liberal Democrat energy secretary Ed Davey, whose party strongly supports more renewable energy.
The article doesn’t substantiate the figure — it is just attributed to ‘sources’. But wherever it came from, a 25% cut in subsidies for wind energy is not ‘massive’, given that wind farm operators enjoy generous subsidies through the Renewables Obligation (RO) scheme, which will last until at least 2027. So on top of getting the cash for the electricity they produce, onshore generators receive an additional £50/MWh, and offshore generators receive about £75, adding between 50-75% to the cost of the electricity. Wind energy lobbying group, Renewable UK — formerly the British Wind Energy Association — say this about the costs of wind energy:
The cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen dramatically over the past few years. Between 1990 and 2002, world wind energy capacity doubled every three years and with every doubling prices fell by 15%. Wind energy is competitive with new coal and new nuclear capacity, even before any environmental costs of fossil fuel and nuclear generation8 are taken into account. The average cost of generating electricity from onshore wind is now around 3-4p per kilowatt hour, competitive with new coal (2.5-4.5p) and cheaper than new nuclear (4-7p). As gas prices increase and wind power costs fall – both of which are very likely – wind becomes even more competitive, so much so that some time after 2010 wind should challenge gas as the lowest cost power source.
So if wind power is cheaper than the conventional and nuclear alternatives, why would cutting the subsidy to them, ‘”kill dead” the development of wind power sites’, according to the wind energy industry, according to Carrington? It’s just not clear. So clearly, something is missing from the story, or Carrington is struggling with his maths again.
Which brings us on to number number two…
The Observer (the Sunday Guardian) is reporting on a Greenpeace PR stunt, featuring brit-pop artist, Jarvis Cocker,
Greenpeace is preparing to launch what it hopes will be the ecological campaign of our generation, and Jarvis is the frontman of the UK part. As you may have deduced from Jarvis’s iceman get-up, this seminal campaign concerns the Arctic, which is losing ice and gaining unwanted attention. Temperatures in the region are rising faster than anywhere else on earth, causing the ice cap to melt. Scientists think the North Pole could be ice-free in summertime within 20 years.
Environmental correspondents at The Guardian and Observer get their knickers in a twist about facts and figures leaked from the government, it seems, but are quite happy to reproduce any old nonsense spouted by huge NGOs and idiot celebrities…
Jarvis has been to the Arctic. “Not that I’m a massive expert, but when I heard that they wanted to dig it up, I thought: hold on a minute – that’s not good,” he says, in his undramatic way. Back in 2008 he joined a Cape Farewell expedition to Disko Bay, north of the Arctic Circle (“And we did have a disco, too, one night,” he clarifies), with KT Tunstall and Marcus Brigstocke. Cape Farewell is a project created by artist David Buckland to set a cultural context for and response to climate change (it’s the sort of concept that leaves climate-change deniers foaming at the mouth). The main idea is to set up a partnership between cultural and scientific institutions to improve the public’s engagement with changes in the climate. Creatives who’ve got involved and visited areas affected by global warming include Jude Kelly, Yann Martel, Martha Wainwright, Ian McEwan and Gary Hume. It’s hoped that the expedition will loosely influence their work, but it’s not linear. “David doesn’t go: ‘Right. We’ve got you up here where you can’t escape – write a song’ or ‘McEwan, I want 10 pages now,’” says Jarvis.
Actually, what annoys the ‘climate deniers’ is claims such as ‘Scientists think the North Pole could be ice-free in summertime within 20 years’ — which is a highly contested claim, anyway, and which has been deferred from the present year a number of times during the lifetime of this blog. The claim is repeated yet again, with no hint of reflection on the incautious claims made about the disappearance of Arctic summer sea ice in recent years. But worse than this, the article goes on to claim that,
Of the Arctic sea ice, 75% has been lost over the past 30 years. Last year saw sea-ice levels plummet to the second-lowest since records began. It is estimated that the North Pole could be ice-free in the summer within the next 10-20 years.
And this claim has even less foundation, as Anthony Watts explains. ‘The Guardian is only off by 7.675 million square kilometers…close enough for journo work I suppose’, says Watts. It’s a good point. The Guardian’s journalists want to claim that the ‘deniers’ have got it wrong, but they don’t seem able to stop themselves making up the numbers to support their campaigning.
Speaking of such numbers-abuse, the Arctic, Damian Carrington and WattsUpWithThat… Back in September, Carrington wrote,
Last week saw the annual summer minimum of the Arctic ice cap, which has now shrunk to the lowest level satellites have ever recorded.
This was, once again, palpable nonsense, as I reported at the time. Carrington had begun his article with some emotional anthropomorphism…
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.
… But emotion is no substitute for checking the facts. Carrington’s claim was not supported by five out of the six measurements of Arctic sea ice. But who would want to let the facts get in the way of a good sob story?
And it is simple facts, and simplistic telling of complex stories that characterise the Guardian journalists, Greenpeaces, and the celebrity pal’s perspective. Here, for instance, is Jarvis Cocker’s attempt to explain contemporary geopolitics… (I am obliged to point out that the lyrics of this song are not ‘work safe’, and may offend some people.)
Thank God for the artist.. How would we understand the world without their sophistication, and their unique insights.
There’s nothing worse than wealthy pop stars complaining about how cruel the world is…
If Jarvis seems more flippant than your usual eco warrior it’s probably also a defence mechanism. Those with a high profile have to be prepared for some derision if they extol eco credentials while continuing to live a comfortable celebrity lifestyle. Even his Cape Farewell expedition, for which he did relatively little publicity at the time, caused one music critic to refer to him as the “Indie Sting”. “I’m sure Sting’s a lovely guy,” he says, attempting the diplomatic approach. “It’s just that nobody wants to be seen as that holier-than-thou thing. That over-earnestness is a bit of a problem with people in bands and celebrities or whatever. There is that irritating thing where people just try and give themselves a bit of extra gravitas, like: ‘I’m not just in Transformers III – I’m saving the world!’ I know it’s irritating. All I can say is I feel a bit of a personal involvement in the Arctic because I’ve been to that part of the world.”
Yep, the luxury of being able to take time off from a ‘busy’ schedule of writing crass lyrics and formulating cod theses about how ‘f*cked up the world is, man’, affords the pop-star philosopher the right to lecture the world about melting ice, and to pretend he’s not doing so. He escape the excesses of Sting’s embarrassing attempts to save the planet by swearing instead of posing with native Americans in the rain forest. But it’s just as embarrassing… Someone claiming not to be consumed with their own sense of self-importance but playing the planet-saving super-hero nonetheless.
This coolly-understated self-importance, contrived by geeky spectacles and unlikely hairstyles, is the thing that the pop star has, and that the NGO wants…
According to Sauven at Greenpeace, its new campaign will require unprecedented global public support, and we will have less than three years to come together to avoid catastrophic ecosystem destruction. “If this campaign is successful,” Sauven says, “it will be because people like Jarvis have lent their support and their ability to reach out. We urgently need this to happen globally.” It raises the question: how far is Jarvis willing to go for the planet? Might Britpop’s chronicler of contemporary life be one day remembered more for fighting off bulging-eyed Arctic plunderers than for “Common People”?
Only three years left to save the planet? You see, when the Greenpeace spokesman says it, it’s not credible because they’ve been promising that the end is nigh for decades. But lend it the credibility of a pop star… and… Well, it’s just as naff really. But that doesn’t stop the NGO attempting to borrow the cultural authority from the pop star, just as they borrow scientific authority from ‘scientists’. This is a good time to remember the words of Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, whose poetry is nonsense, but whose prose is sublime. Speaking about arch-miserabilist eco-warriors, Radiohead, Gallagher said,
“They’re middle-class boys worrying about pushing an envelope somewhere, and all that carbon footprint and all that bollocks. Every time there’s a polar bear on his tiptoes on an ice cube in the middle of the Antarctic, you know whose fault that is? Rock stars’. That’s their fault. Any time there’s food running out somewhere– ‘Let’s do a gig. That’ll sort it out. Let’s do a big fucking gig. Let’s fly everybody in from all over the world and pontificate to poor people about how they should be saving the planet.’ Go fucking kiss my ass. It’s very easy to just say, ‘We’re going to become difficult now and challenge our audience.’ I like my audience. They paid for my swimming pool. I’m not fucking challenging anybody.”
Gallagher has an understanding of his relationship with his audience, whereas the preachers from Pulp and Radiohead are uncertain of and uncomfortable with theirs. Gallagher seems content with the idea that pop and rock are about no more than enjoying life, whereas seemingly intellectual artists have traded on the idea that they have sought something deeper. It’s weird… The gig becomes an entirely different institution, in which the stage becomes a pulpit. The pop star, unhappy with the idea that his commodity is ephemeral like any other, his fame fleeting and arbitrary, and his words only salient by virtue of the effort of aggressive A&R men and record companies, seeks historical significance and is recruited by the NGO.
The Guardian, meanwhile, barely notice the real significance of the story of pop stars and Environmental NGOs collaborating while making up statistics and reinventing Mayan prophecies about the end of the world, to become part of the phenomenon. There is an unholy trinity here — the newspaper, the popstar and the NGO — each of them elevating themselves by this spectacle. They are 100% alarmists. And this 100% alarmism has nothing to do with the real state of the planet, but all to do with the fragility and arbitrary nature of their ascendency. They have extraordinary privilege, wealth and influence, yet, as Cocker points out, ‘c**ts are still running the world’. The only argument for their ascendency and roles as ambassadors for higher causes that the vacuous pop star, the vapid journalist, and the hollow NGO can offer is the portrayal of the world as a place which is terrible, and can only get worse without them. That’s what 100% alarmism is about: having nothing to offer, but being unwilling to negotiate. Hence, as the authors of culture, they invent fictions: 75% ice loss, 3 years to save the planet, and the idea that ‘something must be done, now’. The only comfort in all this is that, if the world really does end, at least it will take them with it.