Hilary Benn, Environment Secretary, son of Tony, successor to David Miliband, announced on Monday that the target of 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 set by his predecessor may not be enough. This comes in the wake of the Tories trumping the 60% figure, with 80%. This has been trumped in turn by the Liberal Democrats, who announced their plans for a zero carbon Britain.
This latest development isn’t yet the promise of a carbon negative Britain we have predicted, and there’s not much wriggle room after the Lib’s 100%. So how does Benn answer the other parties’ offers?
The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:
- As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
- Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK’s targets as part of this review;
- Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
- Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;
… (our emphasis).
In other words, the latest policy is that there is no policy. Emissions targets in the future will be determined not by politicians (you know, those people we elect once every few years to make decisions), but deferred from politics, to a committee. According to the DEFRA website,
The Committee will be comprised of 5-8 members including the Chair, supported by a standing secretariat of staff to conduct in-depth analysis into the issues being considered.
To ensure its credibility, it is important that the Committee is able to clearly and rationally present the economics of the costs, benefits and risks of abatement decisions. This means that the Committee’s members should be experts in their field, rather than representing specific stakeholder groups. The following list provides an indication of the types of expertise that will be desirable in the overall composition of the Committee:
- business competitiveness;
- climate change policy in particular its social impacts.
- climate science;
- economic analysis and forecasting;
- emissions trading;
- energy production and supply;
- financial investment; and
- technology development and diffusion.
If passed, the Climate Change bill will force the government to “explain its reasons to Parliament if it does not accept the Committee’s advice on the level of the carbon budget, or if it does not meet a budget or target”, but won’t let us challenge the decisions made by this committee democratically. This is because, according to DEFRA:
The debate on climate change has shifted, from whether we need to act towards how much we need to do by when, and the economic implications of doing so. The time is therefore right for the introduction of a strong legal framework in the UK for tackling climate change.
When did the UK ever have a debate about “whether we need to act”? And when was it settled? Over the last ten or twenty years, the “debate” has been dominated by climate orthodoxy, not by differences of opinion. Political environmentalism has never been challenged by any UK party, let alone the climate science questioned. But this is because dissenting views have been excluded from debate far more than they have been invited, not because a debate has been had. We can tell this is the case because of the disparity between statements made by politicians, and statements made by scientists. Furthermore, this orthodoxy has thrived and gone mostly unchallenged because of a profound lack of defining political ideas across the political parties. As we have pointed out before, fears about climate change serve to provide a direction for directionless politics, and the sense of crisis evoked by alarmism provides political parties with legitimacy. With no crisis to manage, politicians face an existential crisis – “why am I here? What is my purpose?”. That is why we see this policy which misses something… politics. Even though what we decide to do with scientific evidence is ALL about politics.
But this move to put decisions which affect us outside of politics is not new. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to put the Bank of England outside of political control, giving it responsibility for setting interest rates. As soon as a “debate” or an issue becomes inconvenient or just difficult for the government, it simply prevents it from being a political matter. So why not simply manage the country by committee? What is the point of politics? Don’t ask Mr Benn.
The “Camp for Climate Action” has opened near Heathrow Airport. Announcing the event, and commenting on some of the legal problems the organisers have faced, the campaign website said:
Unfortunately the police have stopped and searched some people coming to the camp, under anti-terrorism legislation. This is clearly an abuse of this legislation as the Climate Camp is organised openly, and we are clearly not a terrorist group!
We’d agree that anti-terror legislation is the wrong sledgehammer for this bunch of nuts, and however much we disagree with Climate Camp, their right to protest is worth defending.
However, Climate Camp are not against playing the terror card to further their own political messages:
The science is clear: global emissions of carbon dioxide must go into rapid decline within the next decade. If they don’t, humanity faces a bleak future.
The science says nothing of the sort, of course. The science just says that the world has been getting warmer recently and that that is probably largely due to CO2 emissions. And their political message?
To achieve this in a way that respects global justice means 90% cuts in developed countries like the UK
Hey, that’s a radical 10% more than the UK Conservative Party is calling for. (Perhaps the extra 10% covers the ‘global justice’ bit.)
As we say in our introduction:
15. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians pander only to the loudest, shrillest voices.
16. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.
17. Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics.
Success in politics today is achieved through painting a darker vision of the future than one’s adversaries. A cursory look at the environmental movement, and those behind the War on Terror, for example, would give the impression that the two were politically opposed, but a closer inspection reveals that they are cut from the same cloth. Take away the terror, and there is nothing left; no positive view of what society can achieve, no sense of shared purpose, no vision of a better life – just a vague promise of ‘security’.
Fear-mongers need media coverage. But only the right sort of media coverage. Previous Climate Camp actions have banned the media from their sites. Last year, the Camp was organised around the aim of shutting down the Drax power plant, and causing widespread inconvenience so that we all heard about the stunt, and “got the message”, but it doesn’t want the media to intrude on the precious lives of its own activists. This year, that policy received criticism from journalists:
Camp for Climate Action has stated that media will only be permitted on site between 11 am and noon; that they must be accompanied and identified with a flag; must stick with the tour; that some journalists will not be allowed on site and that a “black-list” will be operated. Sympathetic journalists will be given longer access.
After this protest from the NUJ, the campaign’s website announced that it had changed its policy, and explained:
This policy is a compromise that attempts to provide reasonable media access whilst respecting camp participants’ right to privacy. Past protest events similar to the camp have had a no-access policy, and last year’s media hour, which worked well for all concerned, was, we thought, a major step forward. The proposed addition this year of longer access for some journalists was intended as yet another step toward fuller media access and more in-depth coverage. However, this year’s experiment in providing greater access has not worked for anyone. The media team does not have enough people to do the job, journalists saw a tiered system as unfair and many camp participants have declined the offer of living for a few days with the press. So, we have revised and simplified the policy, with fairness, equal treatment of all, and ensuring that we have the capacity to deliver what we offer as our key principles.
Climate Camp is so anxious about its image that its organisers have cordoned off those who might be on-site, but off-message – it doesn’t even trust its own membership to speak freely. It’s a funny kind of protest movement that has to ban the media from observing it on the squatted land it occupies. The pretence of ‘protecting privacy’ is as spurious as the overzealous application of anti-terrorism legislation by the police. In excluding the critical eye of the media, and favouring those who would paint the protest in a good light, it reveals exactly the same Orwellian tendencies it claims to be the victim of. It wants a public image on its own terms, to pull a loud, irritating, inconvenient stunt, and then run away to hide behind it’s ‘rights’ when challenged. ‘Postman’s knock’ politics. A big noise, but no message.
Crisis politics expresses itself most visibly in any debate about children. Children are such a problem for the government that on top of countless other ‘initiatives’ devised to make sure they are obedient, don’t get fat, don’t have sex, dont do drugs, don’t smoke, don’t smash stuff up (and all of the other things most children never do) is a new scheme to terrify them about the future. Or bore them rigid.
A resource pack to help teachers and pupils explore and understand the issues surrounding climate change was sent to every secondary school in England today…The pack, which includes the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth and a number of other resources, was developed by Defra and the Department for Education and Skills. It is accompanied by online teaching guidance showing how to use the resources in the pack in science, geography and citizenship lessons.
‘Citizenship lessons’ are a recent invention by the UK government to get young people to engage with society, rather than become ‘antisocial’. This kind of social orientation reveals the lack of confidence the government has in the children themselves, their parents, the naturally socialising effect of school, and the initiative and goodwill of teachers, and undermines them each accordingly. Consequently, education is less about teaching stuff – equipping children with the tools that enable them to make up their own minds – and more about creating ‘model’ citizens (and, importantly, the role of government becomes more parental). Now, it seems, the risks of children not thinking what the government wants them to think are simply too great (it could mean the end of life on earth), and it hopes to educate away problems facing society.
Anyway, some significant scientific controversies in Gore’s film, and the film’s political message have angered one parent sufficiently that he is now seeking a judicial review of the project, hoping to get an injunction to stop it.
We at Climate Resistance are uncomfortable about the use of the legal system in this way, for the same reason we think Bob Ward’s letter to Ofcom is wrong. Legal mechanisms are no substitute for democracy. But on the other hand, what else is Stuart Dimmock, the father who hopes the case will go to court, to do? There is no political challenge to environmentalism, which is fast becoming a state religion.
The BBC reported Schools Minister Jim Knight as saying, ‘Climate change is one of the most important challenges facing our planet today […] This pack will help to give young people information and inspiration to understand and debate the issues around climate change, and how they as individuals and members of a community should respond to it.’
The government is seeking to engineer how people and communities perceive the world, respond to it, and what kind of fears should preoccupy them. This is thoroughly illiberal. So illiberal, in fact, that to justify that it is acting in our interests, the government needs something big – something like the imminent end of the world as we know it. As we have pointed out before, environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics. Putting a stop to that will take more than a challenge from the High Court. The crisis is not in the atmosphere, nor in the fragile minds of feral children, it is in Westminster.