Typically, cold weather such as the UK is experiencing — an inch or so of snow that brings the country to a grinding halt — is used as the background to stories which challenge climate change orthodoxy. The tale needs barely any retelling: the milder winters and warmer summers we were promised simply haven’t materialised. As incautious as such arguments (like Boris Jonson’s) are, they are nothing compared to the absurdities of the argument they are countering. It was the extravagation in the first place which gives the ground to people who then ask, ‘where is this climate change, then?’ After all, the weather seems much as it was decades ago.
But today, it wasn’t as much the ‘deniers’ taking advantage of the cold weather, as the ‘Energy Bill Revolution‘ campaign. They got themselves an article on the front page of the Times, in the Daily Mail, and on Sky News. According to The Times,
More than 100 energy companies, charities and businesses have joined forces to warn David Cameron that Britain is heading for a fuel poverty crisis owing to a failure of government policy.
The group of 100 companies’ demands are simple enough:
An unprecedented alliance, including Npower, the Co-operative, Age UK and Barnardo’s, urges Mr Cameron to use money raised from the “carbon tax” to be levied from April to tackle the “national disgrace” of cold homes. A programme to fit houses with proper insulation would, they say, protect the vulnerable, help the environment and boost the economy.
But this is opportunism. The research in question was produced back in November. As this blog reported back then, the plan is to spend the £60 billion revenue from carbon taxes over the next 15 years on fitting the poorest 9 million homes in the UK with ‘energy efficiency’ measures.
But £60 billion is a lot of money. And I didn’t think that such a vast sum of money was worth it. Indeed, it would be enough money to buy 16GW of nuclear power plant. This would make it possible to reduce bills for all domestic energy consumers, and/or, if it was necessary or desirable, subsidise energy bills for the poor:
So how will this benefit people living in fuel poverty? Well, the ongoing plant costs under my scheme cost £1,099,180,017 — roughly a £ billion per year for the entire domestic sector. Between 25 million homes, that is about £43 per home per year, not including the cost of develiery. We’ve met the upfront capital cost of £55 billion through carbon taxes over 13 years. Now we can sit back and enjoy the cheap energy. According to OFGEM, 54% of a £470 electricity bill is ‘wholesale cost’. So that’s £253. And since we’re no longer producing any nasty CO2, we can remove the £47 charge for ‘environmental costs’ the government add to bills. The average bill now looks like this: £43 wholesale electricity cost, £84.6 for distribution, £23.5 transmission charges, £9.2 VAT, and £32.9 ‘other costs’, coming to a total of £193.2 per year. We’ve reduced the average electricity bill by £276.8 for everyone, not just the fuel poor. That’s taken many people out of fuel poverty — especially if they use electricity rather than gas to heat their homes. But if we’re still feeling generous, perhaps we could give some extra relief to the remaining fuel poor.
The problem is one created by making ‘efficiency’ an end of energy policy — a good, in and of itself. But efficiency is not necessarily a virtue. It might be (indeed, it clearly is) the case that energy inefficient homes could be better cared for by reducing the cost of energy, than by plugging up the gaps. If it costs 10 times as much to fill the gaps than it does to double the amount of energy used to heat the home, then clearly the greater virtue is in lowering the cost of energy.
But that’s not how the Energy Bill Revolution see it. Their call today is intended to put pressure on the government to use the Carbon Tax on their preferred measures, no matter what a cost-benefit calculation shows. So, then, it is not a surprise to see that the Energy Bill Revolution campaign counts a number of organisations and companies with an interest in energy efficiency. They include:
Anglian Home Improvements
Association for the Conservation of Energy
Climate Bonds Initiative
HIS Energy group
Home Heating Solutions Ltd.
The Mark Group
The Mears Group
The Mineral Wool Manufacturers Association
Nationwide Energy Services
National Insulation Association
Places for People
Red Roof Energy
SIG Energy Management
Willmott Dixon Group
So a full 36 of the 100 organisations behind the campaign are in fact companies, with a direct interest in the government diverting £60 billion towards energy efficiency measures. What company wouldn’t get behind a campaign that would unlock such a vast sum of cash?
Then there are the NGOs. I won’t list the usual suspects — the Greenpeaces and FoEs. What is surprising is the number of organisations who claim to be protecting the interests of the elderly, the young, the homeless and the poor. The category of ‘fuel poverty’ that will include 9 million households in just a year’s time would be reduced substantially, were energy bills more affordable. But rather than campaigning for ways to make energy cheaper, leaving more money in the pockets of those people, these organisations have put their names to a campaign that will put money in the bank accounts of energy, construction materials and services companies. And we’re not talking small money here — we’re talkign about £6,666 for each of those 9 million households. In 2004, there were only 1.2 million households in ‘fuel poverty’. Sharing £60 billion between them would amount to £50,000 each — not inconceivably the value of an entire house, never mind a refitting of an old house. Why weren’t these organisations calling for that, in 2004? Why is it only energy that warrants the attention of this coalitions of companies and NGOs? Why not food poverty, clothing poverty, if there’s a category called ‘fuel poverty’? And if 9 million people really are living in inadequate accommodation, why campaign only on the basis of their homes ‘energy efficiency’ ratings? And why now?
Well, the Energy Bill Revolution website informs that
The Energy Bill Revolution is an alliance campaign coordinated by Transform UK, a programme of the sustainable development organisation E3G. Transform UK works to build alliances to accelerate investment into the low carbon economy in the most socially just way.
Transform UK, turns out to be ‘The alliance that campaigns to accelerate investment into the low carbon economy.’ It’s about page explains further:
Transform UK was set up in January 2009 to identify and deliver transformational solutions for accelerating investment into the low carbon economy to help build climate, energy and economic security.
A steering group was set up which included a broad range of stakeholders representing civil society, unions, academics, think tanks, business and finance.
In February 2009, in a collaboration between three members of the steering group, E3G, Climate Change Capital and Friends of the Earth, the first paper proposing the establishment of a UK Green Investment Bank was written and promoted. Subsequent analysis was undertaken by other key stakeholders including the Aldersgate Group, Green Alliance, Policy Exchange and the Institute of Civil Engineers.
This inspirational idea to set up a dedicated institution to leverage billions of private capital into the low carbon economy was agreed as the first campaign priority of the Transform UK alliance.
Transform UK operates as the national hub for the Green Investment Bank campaign and helped to get cross party political support for it in the lead up to the 2010 General Election. The Government subsequently confirmed in its coalition agreement that it would set up the Green Investment Bank.
The Transform UK alliance is committed to supporting the development of the Green Investment Bank, Green Bonds and other solutions for accelerating investment into the low carbon economy.
So Energy Bill Revolution is a project of Transform UK, which is itself a project of E3G, Climate Change Capital (bankers), and Friends of the Earth. The financiers clearly have something to gain, as do Friends of the Earth, who, as the public record shows, are the beneficiaries of many millions of EU and UK public money. But who are E3G? Their about page says,
E3G is an independent not-for-profit organisation, established in 2004, that works in the public interest to accelerate the global transition to sustainable development.
We build coalitions to achieve carefully defined outcomes, chosen for their capacity to leverage change. E3G founders had been working together and developing their shared thinking for several years before the organisation was constituted in 2004.
Initially undertaking high-level diplomatic activities linked to the personal experience and influence of its founders, E3G has since been gently growing its portfolio of activities. E3G now has four strategic programmes, twelve additional members of staff, and an extensive network of aligned individuals and organisations.
I always wonder about these ‘about’ pages. They say nothing. No who, where, or how, and with what. The organisation’s ‘governance and funding page’ doesn’t give much more away…
E3G is constituted as a private company limited by guaranteed. Our constitution commits us to work in the public interest, and to reinvest any surplus profits in the further pursuit of our stated objectives. E3G is registered as a company (5158916) in England and Wales.
E3G — aka Third Generation Environmentalism Ltd — maintains full independence in all its activities, and is funded by a mix of foundations, government bodies and NGOs. To date, E3G has received funding from:
Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs
Department for International Development
Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
European Climate Foundation
Italian Ministry for Environment and Territory
Natural Resources Defense Council
So, again, we see high finance, powerful NGOs, and government departments. It’s amazing to see the doublespeak: ‘Independently funded by foundations, governments and NGOs’.
The ECF was established in early 2008 as a major philanthropic initiative to promote climate and energy policies that greatly reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and to help Europe play an even stronger international leadership role to mitigate climate change.
So, who are these philanthropists? They are:
Nationale Postcode Loterij – which is, as far as I can tell, the Dutch National Lottery.
The Arcadia Fund – a fund set up by Lisbet Rausing to protect nature.
The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation - which ‘aims to demonstrably improve the lives of children living in poverty in developing countries by achieving large-scale, sustainable impact’.
The ClimateWorks Foundation - which ‘supports public policies that prevent dangerous climate change and promote global prosperity’, with money from the Hewlett-Packard and McKnight families.
The McCall MacBain Foundation - which ‘exists to improve the welfare of humanity through focused grants in areas of health, education and the environment’ with ‘the proceeds of the sale of Trader Classified Media, the world’s leading company in classified advertising’.
The Oak Foundation - which ‘commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged’.
The Stordalen Foundation - who ‘step into the breach to finance and build companies that are to offer people the greatest number of options to current solutions’, whatever that means.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation – who ‘solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world’ with their money.
And there the follow-the-money trail ends.
There may not be anything nefarious going on in any one part of this bizarre network of relationships, which started off as a letter to David Cameron, and now turns out to extend all the way back to the people who made a rubbish printer I once owned. But there is something that should make us uneasy about public policy being dictated by a cabal of super-rich (1% of the 1% of the 1% kind of rich) philanthropists, through transnational campaigning organisations which serve no obvious constituency, but who fund in turn, not-for-profit campaigning companies, in partnership with NGOs, financiers, government departments, and big firms, who in turn finance campaigning front-organisations like Energy Bill Revolution. EBR is passed off as a coalition of civil society organisations concerned with the plight of the poor. But once we exclude the commercial interests, state agencies, and those who are nakedly making instrumental use of the poor for political ends, there are no organisations left to sign the letter to Cameron, except perhaps for the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts.
The reason this stinks is not simply the misleading claims of ‘civil society’. Call me old fashioned, but I believe public policy should be determined by the public, through democratic processes, not by mysterious benefactors through strange networks of organisations, none of which are democratic, none of which are accountable, and none of which are transparent about their aims.
Even if, at the end, the letter to Cameron from the Energy Bill Revolution campaign parters bears the names of organisations with a genuine desire to help the poor, there is no mistaking the weirdness that belies such a straightforward, noble aim. Even if they aren’t self-serving, the day I’ve spent trying to get them to answer my criticisms of their preferred policies certainly makes me suspicious. What the state does with sums as large as £60 million ought to be the subject of debate, not decided by cosy relationships between the privileged, moneyed and powerful, seemingly for the benefit of the poor. Civil society, then, shows itself to be as intransigent, ignorant and indifferent to the poor as it is to democracy.