The 'Green Energy Revolution': Spinning Failure as Success

The UK government recently gave its ‘low carbon transition plan’ an airing. At the launch of the plan, the unelected Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills who has been forced, twice, to resign from previous roles within the government for his involvement in scandals, Lord Peter Mandelson said:

I am really proud of a government that has been in office for what… twelve… just over twelve or so years, that can still generate the interest, the energy, the ingenuity, and if you don’t mind me saying so, the wisdom to produce a low-carbon transition plan, a low carbon industrial strategy, that can set very very ambitious targets. But not satisfied with the targets, put in place too, the realisable plans and actions and decisions that we have to take as a country in order to realise those very ambitious targets. And I must say, it’s certainly an enormous credit to Ed [Miliband] in particular who has shown great leadership in bringing us to this point.

But Ed could not have done this without the pressure, the ideas, and the fire power of all the stake-holders, each and every individual represented in this museum tonight. So thank you very much indeed for helping bring the government, collectively, to this point. But your work is not yet done. You have to take us and help us and stand with us and take our views and our proposals and our policies out and around the country in order to generate real popular understanding for and support for what we are going to do in implementing this low-carbon transition plan. Because we are not going, in this country, to enjoy a high-carbon future. Certainly not one we can depend on, and certainly not one we can afford with finite supplies of fossil fuels, with their volatile prices being driven up by ever growing demand from fast-expanding emerging economies around the world. We need a much more dependable, safer, greener, affordable future than that…

In this very same month, the Vestas factory in the Isle of Wight, which makes blades for wind turbines, will cease production, with the loss of 600 jobs.

A press release from the government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced two days previously: ‘UK at forefront of a low carbon economic revolution‘. By 2020, it said, ‘more than 1.2 million people will be in green jobs’. It quotes Mandelson again:

The UK is already the sixth largest economy for low carbon goods and services, globally worth £3 trillion and growing, and today the government is outlining how its support for the economy will ensure our businesses and our workforce continue to lead the way. We must combine the dynamism of the private sector with a strategic role for government to deliver the benefits of innovation, growth and job creation in the UK.

The UK government, it seems, pats itself and its cronies on the back for setting ‘ambitious’ targets, and promising hundreds of thousands of new jobs, while the reality is that over a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the spring months. The 600 workers at the Vestas factory will be joining more than 2.8 million (and rising) unemployed people at the dole queue. Who does Mandelson think he’s kidding?

As Ben wrote in the Register back in April:

But is this, as Mandelson claims, an industrial revolution? A genuine industrial revolution should make it possible to produce things more efficiently, creating greater dynamism within the economy. But this green “industrial revolution” yields no net benefit. What are called opportunities are generated at a net cost, absorbing money and labour that might be better spent on producing real industrial development, or public services such as schools and hospitals. Stagnation is spun as progress. For example, it is China’s industrial dynamism, not the UK’s, which has created markets for reclaimable materials. It is only by intervention and legislation that the UK is even able to collect plastic bottles, never mind reprocess them.

As Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor at The Times puts it, ‘Government claims that Britain already supports nearly one million “green-collar” jobs have been exposed as a sham’:

Britain’s Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, outlined yesterday by Lord Mandelson, claimed that the economy already supported 880,000 “low-carbon jobs” — a figure that he said was poised to grow by up to 400,000 by 2015 to more than 1.28 million. But a detailed breakdown of the figures obtained by The Times shows that they include an extraordinarily loose definition of the term.

[…] Figures supplied by Innovas showed that the total included 207 jobs in the supply and manufacture of animal bedding, 90 providing equestrian surfaces and 164 in the recycling of footwear, “slippers and other carpet wear”.

Mr Sharp acknowledged that there were some “weird and wonderful” categories. “We try to capture as much of the supply chain as possible,” he said.

Or, as Ben put it in the Register, back in April:

Citing Innovas’s report, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband said that the global green sector is already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Agriculture accounts for 4 per cent of the World’s GDP of around $70tn. Is it plausible that the world’s ‘green’ economy is larger than the agricultural economy? These big numbers raise questions about the meaning of ‘green’?

“We try to create as wide a definition as possible”, says John Sharp, MD of Innovas Solutions, “because that way we can capture the supply chain. We don’t count things like toilet roll and stationery.”

But it includes the manufacture, installation, supply, and distribution of battery testing equipment, and nearly the entire chain from development to decommissioning and decontamination of nuclear power stations.

(Did Innovas’s report count journalists as working within the recycling industry, we wonder.)

Back to Mandelson’s speech and his claim that ‘we are not going, in this country, to enjoy a high-carbon future’. Mandelson claims that this is because of necessity and of material reality: fossil fuels are just too expensive and in too short supply to power the UK’s growth. The truth of the matter is that what is far more scarce than the (in fact, plentifully abundant) planet’s supply of fossil fuels is the political establishment’s supply of imagination. We’re not being offered a ‘high carbon future’ because none of the political parties have any idea about how to deliver optimistic plans. None of them have any idea about how to reinvigorate British industry. None of them even know how to make an argument for conventional energy generation. None of them can make arguments for courses of action that will create jobs as a worthwhile end without dressing it up in green, as a response to a ‘planetary emergency’ – they can’t even think of things that the huge number of people who are unemployed could be doing instead of claiming benefits. Their fecklessness and lack of credibility will manifest as the continued decline of British industry, the continued rise of unemployment, and the deepening of the mutual cynicism between the public and themselves.

The problem here is the future, and how it is defined. It is the Labour Party’s intellectual exhaustion that drives its progress from crisis to crisis. Its inability to determine a direction for itself means it looks for external crises, partly as a means to shift focus from its own incoherence, but also as an attempt to orient itself towards something… Anything. In short, because it doesn’t know where it’s going (i.e. the future), it has no idea how to get there (i.e. development and growth). Because it can’t make a positive argument for the future – it can’t raise the capital for projects; it can’t encourage development; it can’t negotiate the conflicts development will cause. It turns itself on development and growth itself and redefines ‘ambition’ as (at best) remaining in the present: ‘sustainability’, ‘precaution’, ‘security’. The present is, after all, always safer than the future. But don’t count on the opposition parties, because, as we have argued here on Climate Resistance, they suffer from exactly the same thing – none of them have any positive ideas about the future at all.

Enter climate change and the environmental ‘movement’. A general sense of anxiety about the future is given a scientific narrative – a projection, if you like, from our disoriented politics, out into the atmosphere. Mandelson asks the Green Great and the Good assembled at the launch of the Low Carbon Transition Plan to go forth and multiply the green message: ‘you have to take us and help us and stand with us and take our views and our proposals and our policies out and around the country in order to generate real popular understanding for and support for what we are going to do’. As we pointed out in our last post, the Government are only too aware that their environmental policies don’t really enjoy the public’s sympathy, and that the ideas underpinning them have not been tested democratically, and they know this is a problem. So Mandelson creates the policies, he then asks activists and journalists to generate credibility for them. This is politics backwards. Instead of creating ideas which achieve resonance among the public, thereby taking politicians and their ideas to power, Mandelson attempts to spin credibility from thin air, hoping that by making his policies appeal to the assembled movers and shakers he will reconnect his Government with the masses to resupply it with credibility and legitimacy. Obediently, messianic hacks and self-serving NGOs release missives that talk of the measures that aim to save the planet from certain destruction, but, in order to secure their undemocratic and unaccountable influence over the public agenda (much as with Mandelson), they say that the government’s policies do not go far enough.

The legacy of doing politics in this way will be a hugely inefficient Britain. If the ‘low carbon energy revolution’ will be at all successful in its aims, it will have created jobs by reducing their productivity: more people for less output. The jobs will be ‘made’ by generating scarcity, not by creating dynamism. Failure is being spun (by the Lord Spinmaster himself) as success, because Britain’s downward industrial trajectory is already a given.

This form of spin is not unique to the UK. For instance, in the US, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming published this on its website:

The nation that leads the race for clean energy technology will have a global economic advantage for the next century. With millions of manufacturing and high-tech jobs on the line, the United States cannot afford to fall behind.

Though we invented solar technology, the United States now lags behind Germany in solar power and manufacturing. The Germans control 47% of the global photovoltaic market, and Europe deployed 13 times more solar photovoltaic power than the United States last year.

The race for green energy? The intention here is to imply that at the end of the ‘race’ is some huge payoff. But there is no ‘race’ for ‘clean’ energy because ‘clean’ energy grants no advantage in itself – it’s only an advantage if there is a regulatory framework in place which creates a market for it. You can’t do more with ‘clean’ energy. In all likelihood, you can only do less. It’s not even comparable to some symbolic race, for instance to put people on the moon, because it doesn’t represent any ‘giant leap’ for mankind that can be identified as the fruitful expression of a nation’s commitment to its positive ideas. Instead, what’s driving the race is the fantasy, exploited by vapid politicians, that we stand on the edge of doom. If it’s a giant anything, the ‘renewable energy revolution’, by increasing our dependence on natural processes such as wind is a giant step backwards to feudal modes of production.

The article continues:

Denmark leads the world in wind power, even though our shores stretch thousands of miles longer.

Denmark made a commitment to wind power long before it became fashionable and invested heavily. This investment created a boom for wind turbine giants, Vestas – the company closing its Isle of Wight factory. Yet despite Denmark’s investment, its effect on the country’s CO2 emissions its unremarkable, and is only able to use 20% of it. The remainder is sold to Norway and Sweden, where it is used to ease the pressure on hydro-power – wind power only makes electricity when the wind blows, but water can be stored behind dams.

The article continues:

50 percent of all new jobs created in Ireland last year were clean energy jobs.

The Irish economy is currently deflating at an unprecedented rate – faster than any other. As this bleak article says, it shrank a whopping 8.5% in just the first quarter of this year. Unemployment in Ireland rose to 11.9% last month, and is expected (by the Prime Minister) to hit an eye-watering 15.5% by the end of this year, and continue its rise into the next. That 50% of all new jobs created in Ireland last year were in ‘clean energy’ means almost nothing – it could have been as few as 100 – and it certainly doesn’t represent the emergence of a golden new age of industrial dynamism and creativity. On the contrary, it is the failure of Western economies that is driving a version of the ‘Green New Deal’ in each of them. Each promising jobs, and each promising huge investments.

China is spending $12.6 million PER HOUR on clean energy development.

China is preparing to invest $440 to $660 billion this year in clean energy development.

China brought the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car to market, ahead of the Chevy Volt, and has plans to develop a network of electric vehicle charging stations. Korea and Japan are leapfrogging America in battery and electric vehicle technology that will power the vehicles of the future.

There is no surprise that China is investing in green technologies. Its dynamism and ability to actually deliver development – in contrast to the flailing Western economies – means that it will be able to take advantage of the market for green products that is being opened up by regulations, laws, taxes and subsidies here. Meanwhile, British, European and American firms are likely to be crippled by environmental legislation. Rather than attempting to create optimistic ideas about how to transform our economies and industries into something resembling China’s, we hear instead that we have to aspire to less energy consumption, with higher energy prices, and less efficient and less productive jobs… Meanwhile, the 600 jobs at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight have moved to the East. This is the ‘race’ that the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming thinks the USA – formerly the powerhouse of Western capitalism – thinks it can win. It has already lost. ‘Green New Deals’, can only make it lose further; they do not address the political problems – the intellectual poverty of Western political elites – that make our economies duller and duller.

The Waxman-Markey legislation will launch a renewable revolution, one that draws on our manufacturing might and technological advantage and positions us to lead the world in wind, solar, efficiency, and carbon capture and sequestration technology.

It’s time to put America back in the driver’s seat in the global race for clean energy jobs and technology.

This is not a race to create a dynamic economy. It is not a race to create a new liberating politics. It is not an attempt to improve people’s lives. There is only a race, across the Green West, to stifle development, to prevent progressive change, and to remove entirely any form of aspiration from politics. That is the ‘revolution’ it wants to create. It is being advanced by people who are simply unable to make a case for any positive form of development, because they lack any sense of what that development might consist of, and lack any form of connection with the public. They are held over a barrel by unaccountable, unelected, self-serving and self-appointed Non-Governmental Organisations that increasingly oppose the very principle of economic growth and of technological development, and are increasingly hostile to the idea that people are able to and should be allowed to make decisions for themselves. This ‘revolution’ is being blindly constructed by people who, even if they did have a good argument for development on its own terms would not be able to frame it on such terms, because they have entirely lost faith in the idea that life can be improved. Instead, capital for political ideas is generated on the premise that material reality dictates that life simply cannot be improved. Politics is accordingly limited to a choice between different self-serving dysphorias and dystopian visions.

The cost of this move is a massive debt of credibility of the present to the future. The result will be hostility to politics and to science, and generally to trust in public institutions. Just as with the intense borrowing and spending that going on – rather than reflecting on what’s caused our current circumstances – this debt will grow and grow until the political reality really gets called in. Meanwhile, mere deferment of political crisis is being spun as progress. No wonder politicians are so terrified of the future. There may well be environmental problems, but as we often say: the crisis is in politics, not in the skies.

B*llsh*t B*ll*cks Cr*p

Some journalists are supposed to be critical of government. It is their job. Some journalists are supposed to make arguments in favour of government policy. It is their job, even if the result is bland and inconsequential. Some journalists feign ‘balance’ by reporting what both sides of a ‘debate’ have to say.

It is easy to criticise journalists for their biases. But bias is part of the job of reporting. If journalists had no perspective to offer, there would be no point in the news.

But the BBC’s coverage of events is curious. It reported today that:

The chancellor has announced measures aimed at cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – as part of £1bn spending to tackle climate change.

The Budget commits the UK to cut CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020.

There is much to say about the Government’s campaign to make the UK greener. For instance, it could be asked what kind of legitimacy its policies have, since environmentalism has never been tested by the UK’s democratic process. Neither has it been established exactly whose interests green policies have been designed to serve.

These things don’t interest the journalists at the BBC:

Industry has pushed for the measures, saying it will allow them to invest in “greener” technologies, but scientists say the targets do not go far enough.

Which ‘industry’? When? More to the point, which scientists?

Environmental group Friends of the Earth said the emissions cuts were far too weak to allow the UK to “play its part in avoiding dangerous climate change”.

But Friends of the Earth aren’t scientists.

The New Economics Foundation dismissed the Budget as being “more beige than green”.

But the New Economics Foundation aren’t scientists either.

Christian Aid’s climate policy expert Dr Alison Doig said the UK and other industrialised nations needed to urgently commit to deeper emissions cuts ahead of a climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

Last time we checked, Christian Aid weren’t scientists.

The offer of taxpayer money to support carbon capture and storage would put pressure on government to make sure such projects were delivered on time to the benefit of the UK consumer, said Jim Fitzgerald, a director at Ernst & Young.

Ernst & Young aren’t scientists.

The article does not quote a single scientist.

This is the curious thing: the BBC reporter seems to imagine that these various special interest groups speak ‘for science’. Even more curious is that, in terms of ideological bias, neither the reporter, the Government, nor the interest groups represent opposing ‘sides’. The differences between them only amount to theoretical degrees of commitment to the same ideas. At the same time that the journalist has written an article critical of the government, he or she has written something that is sympathetic.

If you wanted to know what the NEF, Christian Aid and Friends of the Earth were saying about today’s budget, you’d have been better off visiting their websites. The BBC seemingly presents these activists’ views, not only as scientific authorities, but as though they – the BBC – had gone to the trouble of soliciting these organisations for their opinion, and that the quotes are responses to their own probing questions. And yet all the quotes are in fact simply lifted word-for-word from press releases. Not only does the BBC pander to the shrillest voices, but it apparently does so by design.

The anonymous BBC journalist hack gives the authority of science to these special interests, as though they were neutral, objective and disinterested observers of the government, not the ideologically-driven, unaccountable, and undemocratic activists which they are. This frames the debate as though it were itself between a government dragging its feet, and pure objectivity.

Even more curious, we’re supposed to think that a green budget would be a good thing, because it is something ‘industry has pushed for’, and the ‘scientists’ (aka activist organisations) have said that ‘the first ever carbon budgets is a ground-breaking step’. But what about you and I? When do our views on environmental policies get checked? Not at the ballot box. Not in Parliament. Not on the BBC.

The halfwit hack cannot even tell the difference between a scientist and a campaigning organisation. What hope has he or she of producing an informative article, with or without bias?

Messianic green activist Al Gore is credited with raising the profile of the ‘balance as bias’ hypothesis, which posits that the perception of the climate debate has been distorted by giving air time to ‘deniers’, giving the impression that there still exists a debate within the scientific community. Of course, it works the other way too, but Gore conveniently forgets that.

Let us propose another hypothesis. The bullshit-as-bias hypothesis. The perception of the climate debate is distorted by bollocks journalism, such as the BBC exhibits today. It cannot bring any intelligence to its reporting, cannot reflect critically on any of the opinions it reports, and is entirely credulous about whatever it sees or hears. It is the slack-jawed, hollow-headed cretin it imagines its audience to be. News: digested and delivered in exactly the way that excessive dietary fibre is. Complete crap.

Rhubarb-Rhubarb and Custard

First, the custard. Then, the rhubarb-rhubarb:

Direct action historically has been a major way that we’ve got change. I mean, you can look at, historically, through the Suffragettes, through the miners’ strikes, through all of the major changes. Yes, some of it is about putting yourselves in the way, as we have done, as Plane Stupid has done, putting ourselves on runways, directly reducing carbon emissions. And some of it is about debunking the lies and spin that some people have the opportunity to put across to the rest of the world. Yes, we are using the media. But Peter Mandelson is using the media. He’s not elected. He’s not working in the interest of the people and the planet. He doesn’t have science behind him. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree that climate change is a very real threat, that it’s already occurring, that it’s man-made, and that our last chance is going to run out within the next ten years. So I ask you: what else are we supposed to do when democracy is failing people in this country? You have to resort to any means necessary, as long as it’s peaceful, and as long as it doesn’t harm other human beings.

The only difference that custard-thrower Leila Deen can identify between herself and custard-recipient Peter Mandelson, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (and, yes, he’s an unelected peer), is that she has science behind her and he does not. She has nothing else to cling to. By her own words: Just like Mandelson, her actions are undemocratic. Just like Mandelson, she lies and spins. And just like Mandelson, she has the opportunity to put those lies and spin out to the rest of the world. She also demonstrates perfectly why, just like Mandelson (and who wouldn’t quite like to throw custard in his face?), her organisation is deeply unpopular with the electorate.

Her problem is that the only way she can make it sound like she has science on her side is by twisting that science beyond recognition. Ninety per cent of scientists now agree what? Ten years? These are just random numbers plucked from the ether. What sort of consensus is it when ecotastrophists can’t even agree on what 90 per cent of scientists are saying? Hansen says four years, Lucas says eight, the Green New Deal Group gives us 100 months.

Given that Deen has no more science on her side than her nemesis, all that does separate them is that she’s not happy about the building of a single new runway. That runway might or might not increase aviation emissions and will have virtually no impact on UK Climate Change Act targets when aviation accounts for only six per cent of UK emissions. So she has to make up stuff about that, too:

[…rhubarb rhubarb…] the vast majority of people are against the third runway […rhubarb rhubarb…] a runway that will cause catastrophic climate change and ruin any chance that we have of stopping our carbon emissions […rhubarb rhubarb…] if we build a third runway, all other industries will have to reduce their carbon emissions to zero […rhubarb rhubarb…]

We have nothing against direct action per se. But what sort of direct action is it when the activists target those who are pushing in the same direction as themselves? And let’s not forget that the government quite likes the fact that a few silly protestors are lending some street cred to its own agenda. We recently quoted Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband on the runway protests:

When you think about all the big historic movements, from the suffragettes, to anti-apartheid, to sexual equality in the 1960s, all the big political movements had popular mobilization. Maybe it’s an odd thing for someone in government to say, but I just think there’s a real opportunity and a need here.

The custard slinging came before Mandelson spoke at the UK’s Low Carbon Summit. Here’s a video of the event’s ‘highlights’, published on 10 Downing Street’s Youtube channel:

The media focused their attention on the custard-chucking, at the expense of criticising what was being said inside the summit. Take, for example, the words of Mandelson himself:

So the point we want to start at today is this… This transition to low carbon is an environmental and economic imperative and an opportunity for us. It is also inevitable. There is no high carbon future for us.

Here we see familiar lines in action. There are imperatives, and a low carbon economy is inevitable. That is to say that democracy has no say in determining what is or isn’t an imperative, or what the Government’s priorities ought to be. But as we have pointed out before, environmentalism has never been tested democratically in the UK. All the parties absorbed its ‘imperatives’ into their manifestos in a process that has never been challenged or really even debated. Mandelson has no authority to say that there exist environmental or economic imperatives – he isn’t an elected politician; he is held widely in contempt, being seen at best as a joke or a symptom of New Labour’s intransigence and corruption; and he does not have facts on his side.

He continues:

The huge industrial revolution that is unfolding in converting our economy to low carbon is going to present huge business and employment opportunities as well as enabling us to meet our climate change targets and reduce our energy consumption

We’d like to know from Mandelson precisely where this ‘industrial revolution’ is supposed to be unfolding, and where these opportunities actually are. During the last quarter of 2008, nearly a quarter of a million people lost their jobs in the UK. Unemployment is currently just shy of two million.

There is no unfolding revolution. A revolution implies spontaneity, dynamism and popular support to shake off an old order or system. Instead, this ‘revolution’ requires regulatory laws, massive subsidies, and the creation of targets and goals – the precise opposite of a revolution. The French revolution was not achieved by setting goals for the number of aristocratic heads it intended to remove from aristocratic shoulders by a given date. It just happened. The industrial revolution did not happen because people set targets for miles of train track laid over the next ten years, it produced its own momentum and possibilities, which were, in turn, demanded. Nobody is demanding green politics. It is being foisted on us from above.

Ed Miliband pipes in:

There’s been a huge growth in the green sector and it’s already a three-trillion-dollar industry set to grow by fifty per cent. Now the question isn’t is that industry going to happen; it is going to happen. The question is, can Britain take advantage of that? That’s what our strategy is designed to do. It covers a whole range of areas from waste to recycling to renewable to all… err… a whole range of sectors. Increasing numbers of people will be working in these areas and we want Britain to be a world leader.

Again, we see the ugly leitmotif of today’s bland politics – inevitability. ‘It is going to happen’.

Of course there has been a growth in the Green sector. It has been heavily subsidised. For instance, a report from the think tank Policy Exchange estimated that the (now abandoned) biofuel subsidy (that required diesel sold to be 5% bio-diesel) cost the UK over £500 million a year. The report cited by Miliband and Mandelson (more about that report later) says that the renewable and low carbon energy sector grew by ~6% in the year 2007/8. It also says that the size of the biomass market was £5billion. Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what drove the biomass sector’s growth.

The other side of this sector’s growth is regulation. For example, In 2002, the UK’s Renewables Obligation order instructed electricity suppliers to source an increasing percentage of their fuel from renewable sources. In 2002 this figure was 3%. By 2008, it was 9%. Failing to meet this target means paying a price per unit of electricity generated, which is then redistributed to suppliers according to how they met the target. A 2004 report by energy watchdog Ofgem said that the Renewables Obligation scheme was ‘providing additional financial support of at least £485 million to the renewables industry this year alone.’

This ‘revolution’ is presented by the Government as something which ‘is happening’, rather than something which was caused by the Government. The worldwide growth in the renewable energy sector is manufactured, much less by spontaneous innovation opening up new opportunities than, as with Britain, new environmental laws and massive subsidies.

Premier Gordon Brown is top act of the night:

So let us set a challenge to our scientists to lead the world in this great human endeavour to create a clean environment for future generations. Let us each set a challenge to business. Let us compete to lead the world in new low carbon products. Let us set a challenge to our planners to build homes and buildings and business and then eco-towns and eco-cities around the vision of a low carbon environment. And let us set a challenge to our schools. Let us teach young people. Inspire them that a low carbon future is not only the best future we can have, but the best future they can have as young people too. And let me tell you, our low carbon future, to create the low carbon economy we need is now a national endeavour that gives us purpose for years to come.

None of Brown’s aspirations are shared by the public. They are his, and the political establishment’s aspirations. Very few people want to live in an eco-home in an eco-town or eco-city. Very few people want their children indoctrinated by eco-dogma. Brown pretends that he wants us to share his eco-centric eco-vision, but Mandelson and Miliband have already revealed that it is inevitable, and that we don’t have a choice. We are to be eco-proles, whether we like it or not.

This ‘let us…’ rhetoric in intended to be statesmanlike, imploring us to be part of some moment of change. But the moment of change has long since passed, and Brown’s vision is a hollow attempt to rescue it. After decades of decline in manufacturing output, and chronic underinvestment in housing and energy, it is a bit rich, and a bit late, for Brown to be telling us that we need eco-homes and eco-industry powered by eco-energy. We needed homes and industry as the conditions for the current economic climate were forming. His government, and previous ones, didn’t see the need then, and the need now owes less to the fact that the climate is changing, and much, much more to the fact that individuals in the Government want to use the climate change issue to generate moral authority for themselves, especially on the world stage. They can’t do that unless the UK is seen to be green, with green laws, green economy, green industry, and green people. Hence, over the last year, the UK has seen a raft of measures hurried through so that the UK contingent can arrive at the UN Climate Conference in Denmark later this year dressed as planet-saving super-heroes, not as a ship of foolish Chicken Littles, struggling to sustain their political legitimacy.

The Low Carbon Summit was, like the web page announcing it, hosted by RBS. Yes, that’s the same RBS that made a loss of £10 billion last year.

The Low Carbon Economy Summit is the only event this year to focus on the business opportunities in moving to a low carbon economy. Uniquely the Low Carbon Summit will explore what further action needs to be taken by government and business to create an environment which supports and promotes investment in low carbon solutions such as renewable power generation and carbon capture and storage as well as emissions trading.

This partnership knows far more about generating crises than stopping them. But then again, crises, real or imagined, are the bread and butter of politicians who otherwise fail to explain to the public what their ‘vision’ actually is. It isn’t until crunch time that Brown, Miliband and Mandelson unveil their ‘revolutionary’ ideas. The language about the inevitabilities and imperatives of environmental catastrophe are attempts to explain failures as success, decline as progress, and inactivity as activity. Politicians stand on their heads to complain that the world is upside down, and that all the trends actually show improvement.

Journalists, too, struggle to explain what’s going on in the world without the prospect of the catastrophe signposting right from wrong. A Guardian article on the event demonstrates its writers’ inability to subject the Government’s climate policies to any scrutiny:

In an interview with the Guardian, Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, said there was a global race towards creating a low-carbon economy and that Britain must not get left behind. He set out the key elements required – from energy efficiency to a smart electricity grid – ahead of today’s low-carbon summit in London, with representatives from industry, unions and the environment movement.

Much is made of the alleged influence on the public mind of the odd hour of television here and there that does stand against climate orthodoxy. But the media’s failure to subject the terms of the climate debate to scrutiny has had a much more significant effect on the Government’s mind. It seems that they can do no wrong – and consequently can have their many failures overlooked – while they are being green. The only criticism they can expect from Guardian hacks is not being green enough, never mind what kind of outcome it will produce, or what kind of society it will create. There is very little question of the policies, only the echoes of mantras about ‘imperatives’, and ‘inevitability’. One of the lines in the Guardian, also picked up elsewhere was the headline that…

New jobs will be created in low-carbon industries for 400,000 people – from lagging lofts to nuclear power – the government will announce today.

This figure comes from a report by consulting firm, Innovas, commissioned by the Government. What the report said was not that ‘new jobs will be created’, and the Guardian omits the caveats attached to the report.

If the UK environmental employment baseline level grows in line with projected annual growth rates, then, potentially, an additional 400,000 jobs could be created over the next eight years ‐ representing a 45% increase on today’s level. This is a rough estimate based on the growth in market value, where employment levels are calculated on a pro rata basis. Some of this growth in employment might be due to displacement activity, as green goods and services become more acceptable than the alternatives, such as a shift from manufacturing traditional doors/windows to heat and energy efficient ones, or from carbon‐based fuels such as coal to renewable energies such as wind. However the majority of the growth in employment, particularly in the Renewable Energy industries, would represent additional economic growth to 2015.

The figure of 400,000 new jobs becomes even more dubious when it transpires that Innovas estimates that employees in the low carbon and environmental goods and services (LCEGS) sector number 881,000 people in the UK. There are roughly 30 million working people in the UK. That means 2.6% of the workforce are employed by the LCEGS. This sector has (according to Innovas) a market value of £106 billion. It seems hard to believe that such a large number of employment opportunities has been opened up by demand for green products. Yet the report projects, nonetheless:

The LCEGS sector, including supply chain, currently employs some 881,000 people in the UK, and this is forecast to increase to 1,289,000, or around 400,000 in the next eight years.

On what basis, though? The statistical summary accompanying the report claims that there are 6361 UK companies, employing 106,826 people in the ‘Alternative Fuel Vehicle’ sector. This turns out to mean ‘Alternative fuels (main Stream) for vehicles only’, and ambiguously, ‘other fuels and vehicles’. Does this lump together people who work on developing green cars and green fuel? According to www.autoindustry.co.uk, 210,000 people worked in manufacturing automobiles in 2005. Even assuming that there are still 210,000 people working in the UK’s ailing motor industry (which seems unlikely), can we really assume that half of these positions are in the LCEGS sector?

The report’s statistical summary goes on to say that 154,992 people work in ‘Alternative fuels’, 70,538 in the LCEGS ‘water and waste water’ sector, and 22,563 in the LCEGS ‘energy management’ sector. This gives us a total of 442,813 people in these LCEGS sectors. But according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), only 177,000 people worked in the energy and water sector at all. If we now include people that work in the LCEGS ‘hydro’, ‘wave and tidal’, biomass, wind, geothermal, photovoltaic, and ‘additional energy sources’ sectors, there are 626,557 people working in LCEGS energy sectors according to Innovas – many more people than the ONS claim.

It is plausible that the ONS and Innovas categorise jobs and businesses in different ways. But to claim that a greater number of people work in the LCEGS energy and water sector than work in the energy and water sector, when just a small percentage of Britain’s energy comes from renewable and alternative sources is just daft. We simply don’t believe it.

According to Eurostat, the UK produced 14,813,000 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) energy using renewables, against a total of 183,946,000 TOE. That process seems to have involved 533,455 people, according to Innovas’ statistics. If the UK’s total energy production was as efficient in terms of labour, it would have needed 6,624,378 people, or 22% of the workforce engaged in the production of energy. Perhaps this is what Brown and his fellows have in mind, when they are talking about the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs:

(image leaked from the UK government’s secret Low Carbon Industrial Strategy document)

Stupid custards.

It's All About Ethanol

Poor old Gordon Brown:

More than 80 Labour MPs have signed an amendment to the Climate Change Bill, which would force ministers to promise greater cuts in carbon emissions.

The Climate Change Bill commits the government to make at least a 60% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. The MPs want that figure to rise to 80%.

The rebels say the 60% goal will not do enough to control global warming.

This is the latest installment not only in Brown’s Prime Ministerial nightmare, but also in the razor wars that masquerade as environmental politics in the UK. Looking on the bright side, we’re right on course to collect on our prediction that somebody, sometime soon, is going to pledge that the country will be carbon negative by 2050.

Even more predictable is the excuse that the backbenchers offer for their rebellion:

[The rebels] also claim it is based on out-of-date science.

These figures aren’t based on science at all. They are plucked from the thin air of our ailing stratosphere and given authority merely by the use of the word ‘science’ in close proximity.

It all makes the negotiators at the G8 summit seem so last week:

World leaders say they will aim to set a global target of cutting carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2050 in an effort to tackle global warming.

Only 50%! Ach, they’ll get the hang of it. Especially with the G5 developing nations snapping at their heels:

Mexico, Brazil, China, India and South Africa challenged the Group of Eight countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80% by 2050.

Not to mention that bastion of objective, detached scientific investigation, the IPCC’s chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri, who complains that the developed countries should be showing leadership on such matters:

“They should get off the backs of India and China,” he told reporters in the Indian capital, Delhi.

“They should say: ‘We’ll assist you to move to a pattern of development which is sustainable, low in terms of emissions intensity. But we as the richest nations are willing to take the lead and we affirm our commitment to do so.'”

But the G8 statements on carbon emissions have been eclipsed by discussions of the global food crisis and biofuels, and the supposed causal connection between the two. The G8 pledge to ensure that biofuel policies are compatible with food security comes in the wake of the leaked World Bank report that the push for biofuels accounts for 75% of the food crisis by competing with food crops for agricultural land. Suddenly, it seems, all the world’s problems are less about oil than they are about ethanol.

But, in Food price rises: are biofuels to blame?, James Heartfield provides such anaemic thinking with a healthy dose of red-blooded realism:

For more than 20 years now, both the US and the European Union have pursued policies designed to reduce food output. They have introduced policies that reward farmers for retiring land from production (such as the EU’s set-aside and wilderness schemes). At the same time, the United Nations has used its aid programmes to penalise African farmers who try to increase yields with modern fertilisers or mechanisation […]

The programmes of land retirement and reservation have been so successful worldwide that between 1982 and 2003, national parks grew from nine million square kilometres to 19million, 12.5 per cent of the earth’s surface – or more than the combined land of China and South-East Asia. In the US more than one billion acres of agricultural land is lying fallow. So the idea that land has been lost from ordinary crops to biofuels is not really true; rather, it has been lost from agricultural production altogether.

For the environmentalist critics, blaming biofuels is a desperate act of scapegoating. For years now, they have been propagandising against mass food production, favouring a return to less efficient farming methods, and for the return of farmland to its natural state. It was environmentalists who lobbied for the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, that biased UN programmes against modern farming techniques in Africa (in favour of ‘appropriate’, which is to say poor ‘technologies’). Just when it suited large-scale agriculture to wind down output to protect prices, the environmentalists were on hand to support land retirement schemes. Farmers, according to Britain’s Countryside Agency, would no longer farm, but become stewards of the countryside.

It’s interesting, then, that the G8 summit has also committed to fulfil a pledge to raise annual foreign aid levels by $50bn by 2010, of which $25bn is intended for Africa. Not that that is a Bad Thing in and of itself, of course; it just depends how it is used. If it’s spent on more of the same, and if similar strings are attached, we can expect more land to be taken out of agricultural production in the name of the saving the planet, more food shortages, more scapegoating, and more tin-pot explanations for why the world is screwed and we’re all going to die. As we keep saying, Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A major question remains regarding the green U-turn on biofuels. Why did Environmentalists ever push the bloody things in the first place? OK, so they are, theoretically, a carbon-neutral source of energy. So far, so green. But the fact remains that it was hardly rocket science to work out that they would necessarily jostle for space with agricultural land and wilderness areas.

So please indulge us while we speculate wildly, and quite possibly wrongly… Could it be that those who were pushing biofuels at the start of the century were figuring that, come 2008, primed by the Green Great-and-Good, the world would have moved on to debating how best to go about reducing the human population to more ‘sustainable’ levels? And let’s face it, if there’s one thing that Environmentalism doesn’t like it’s humans – especially lots of them. And you can bet that, while Environmentalism is not the conspiracy that many of its critics accuse it of being, its adherents do have some sort of long-term strategy. While Gordon Brown, his backbenchers, Tory leader David Cameron and pretty much everybody else in parliamentary politics grasp desperately and opportunistically at Green policies in the absence of any other, better ideas, we at least know where we stand with environmental idealogues such as Jonathon Porritt and Paul Ehrlich (who are both, as it happens, trustees of the Optimum Population Trust, a group for whom ‘optimum’ means – in case you hadn’t guessed – ‘much smaller’).

The trouble is that they underestimated the humanity of, well, humanity. The fact is that in 2008, and despite the efforts of Porritt, Ehrlich et al, the vast majority of us remain repulsed – and may we remain so for ever more – at the thought of population control, just as we remain repulsed by the notion a moral equivalence between nature and civilisation. The result is that they have had to think again.

That said, we are keen not to fall into the trap of painting a simplistic, one-dimensional picture of Environmentalism. There has always been a significant element of the movement that is against the dealings of big-business – especially big agri-business – as a matter of principle. But at the same time, other greens have appealed to market forces in the fight against ecological meltdown. (To repeat ourselves again, Environmentalism transcends traditional Left-Right distinctions.) In which case, the whole messy business might be the product of the push-and-pull between these various Green factions. A bit like the Labour Party, perhaps.

Environmentalism According to Lucas

Over the last year, we have looked at some of the words and ideas coming from the environmental movement through the Green Party’s MEP for SE England, Caroline Lucas. With her breathless, urgent catastrophism, Lucas epitomises Environmentalism and its hollow vision, shallow intellect, and deep misanthropy. In these respects, Lucas never disappoints us.

However, we are never very successful at getting Lucas or her press office to account for anything she has said. Luckily, she was on BBC TV’s Question Time last week, and has been appearing at a number of public events of late. So here is another opportunity to subject Lucas’s political ideas to some scrutiny.

The Question Time panel were asked if the Labour Party were suffering from a leadership crisis, to which Caroline Lucas replied that Labour’s problem is that it lacks values, that it no longer knows what it stands for, that it has abandoned its traditional values such as equality, and that Gordon Brown is a man who doesn’t know what he wants.

[youtube j8t-0mynExg]

We agree with Lucas that the Labour Party is in crisis because it doesn’t know what it stands for. As we say in our first ever post, “Environmental concerns are serving to provide direction for directionless politics”. That is why Blair and Brown were keen to be seen to be acting on climate change, and that is why, in response to that action, the Tories committed themselves to a policy of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, against Labour’s 60%. And that is why, not to be out-done, the Liberal Democrats upped their bidding to a 100% reduction by 2050. But are Lucas and the Green Party offering anything so different?

As we have also pointed out, Environmentalism thrives in this atmosphere of political vapidity, not because it represents an alternative, but because it captures the nervousness caused by a lack of political direction. Environmentalism nurtures a general sense of doom with ideas about societal and ecological collapse. Without that sense of doom, environmentalism would be nothing.

As political movements across the political spectrum have increasingly found it difficult to generate ideas through which to connect to the public, so they have had to turn to other ways to achieve their legitimacy and authority. As Lucas points out, the Labour Party is suffering from a ‘crisis of direction’. But Lucas and the Greens have not found a direction by locating a new political vision to steer towards, but a nightmare to claim to be steering away from. Lucas attacks Brown for having no values, yet her arguments for social and economic change are not formed out of her principled objections to the way in which people relate to one another through social and economic structures. Instead, Lucas’s philosophy depends on a conception of humanity’s relationship with nature. She is, in terms of values, as poverty-stricken as any of those she attacks. Lucas doesn’t have some great store of values, with which she can create a positive view of how the world could be. Here is Lucas, speaking at a recent debate held by the World Development Movement, setting out her case for carbon rationing, trading and ‘equality’ and selling her argument for ‘equality’ in such (pseudo) scientific terms.

[youtube htTOxudmjvY]

Notice that, in that speech, Lucas is using the word ‘resources’, not in the sense of stuff that we have, but in terms of the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

It seems that, in order to make a case for equality, Lucas needs there to be a finite world, as if, were there no such limits (to the absorption of CO2 by natural processes), there would be no case for equality. This prevents her from conceiving of a world in which equality is achieved, not by rationing and people having less, but by people having more, and having their expectations raised. Lucas doesn’t have ‘values’, and hides the fact behind science. ‘Science’ is being used in place of values. ‘Science’ is Environmentalism’s fig leaf. It is being used to create the idea of limits, so that Environmentalism doesn’t have to commit itself to providing anything more than less and less. And just as science is used instead of values, doom is a stand in for political vision. If we don’t do as ‘science’ (environmentalism) says, then catastrophe awaits. Here, for example, Lucas tells us that unless we put up with high fuel prices and tax, we wont adjust our behaviour, and society will collapse.

[youtube mBTE4w3qIaw]

It is an ‘interesting’ argument that says we need to artificially keep oil prices high because… err… the days of cheap oil are over because… err… of peak oil. For someone who lectures us about ‘science’, the logic of the causal world seems to have escaped Lucas’s understanding. Scarcity would do Lucas’s work for her. Obviously, what is at issue is not rescuing humanity from a looming catastrophe, but the legitimacy of a political movement bent on creating a behavioural and cultural change for its own benefit, on the premise that only it can save us from the terrible chaos that awaits us.

[youtube XsCfzjqeTPE]

As much as Lucas tries to make her ideas sound positive, they are underscored and sold by a vision of catastrophe. She may talk of progressive ideas such as ‘equality’, ‘justice’, and ‘liberty’, but all of these ideas are mediated by, and through the environment. Our freedom is limited, not guaranteed by the environment. Equality is measured in environmental, pseudo-scientific terms of resource distribution. Social justice, according to Lucas, is equivalent to ‘environmental justice’. But what a pale imitation of justice that is; it doesn’t right any wrongs, or create the possibility of a better standard of living. And where Lucas promises that there will be less unemployment under a Green Government, it is because a ‘zero carbon economy’ is far more labour-intensive than its fully-powered counterpart. In such an economy, the job that oil did will be done by people. Fancy a job as a serf? How about a career as a treadmill operative? This will be the ‘equality’ and the ‘social justice’ that Lucas has designed for us.

The use of science to limit political possibilities, and lower our horizons by constructing plausible catastrophic scenarios is the everyday language of environmentalism. But, surprisingly, the failure of this unremittingly negative view of the world hasn’t escaped Lucas’ attention.

[youtube -JfDb4K4GUU]

What? Caroline Lucas is against climate alarmism? The same Caroline Lucas who, in July last year, compared climate scepticism to holocaust denial? The same Caroline Lucas who said in July last year that,

… if you look at the implications of climate change, of runaway climate change, we are literally talking about millions and millions of people dying, we are literally talking about famines, and flooding, and migration and disease on an unprecedented scale. And so yes, I know these are sensitive words that I’ve used, but I feel so strongly that we urgently need to wake people up and stop this march towards catastrophe that I very much feel that we’re on.

Is the Caroline Lucas who is now against catastrophism the same Caroline Lucas who said in November,

… when you hear scientists say that we have about eight years left in order to really tackle climate change, I don’t think what the public actually want is cautiousness, what they want is real leadership, and that is what
the EU is promising to give, and yet that’s what we’re failing to do here.

Is it the same Caroline Lucas who said in February,

Around 75 per cent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, mainly chemicals…

Is the Caroline Lucas who doesn’t believe that alarmism works, the same Caroline Lucas in this video?

[youtube Higin1kY3PM]

Lucas appears to be very confused about what she is selling, and how she is selling it. She claims that we must change the way we live, to expect less, and to make do and mend, but that, somehow, this will make us all happier. She claims that she doesn’t depend on catastrophic visions to connect with the public, yet without it, there is no imperative to give her ideas a second thought. She claims to be part of a democratic movement, yet demands that the state regulate our behaviour. She claims to speak on behalf of the poor, yet would deprive the poor of the material means to change their lives; cheap goods, fuel, and mobility. She claims to have science on her side, yet she campaigns against the benefits of science; she is against animal research, and against evidence based medicine, favouring instead ‘alternative’ therapies; she campaigns against the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals; and she campaigns against anything which might have the charge of ‘unsustainable’ thrown at it. She claims to be against the coercive influence of big business, but in its place, she would put an authoritarian government that would regulate your freedom to travel, to buy things, and coerce you into observing an ‘environmentally friendly’ lifestyle.

A loss of values in politics is a bad thing. But the Green Party is far far worse. Give us disorientation over deeply confused misanthropy, any day.

Something old, something blue, something borrowed, something green

Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, asks in the Yorkshire Post (H/T Benny Peiser):

In the election for London’s Mayor, the Greens got just over three per cent of the vote. Leaving aside such misguided places as Norwich, where the Green Party gained three seats, they struggled elsewhere to poll anywhere near that. […] Yet Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Nationalists dance slavishly to the Green tune. […] Why do we put up with this “green” extortion to so little purpose? That’s the real mystery.

We have asked this question before. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet its influence on policy decisions is not challenged politically in this country, and barely anywhere else. How come?

The closest thing to a challenge are the scientific discussions offered by ‘sceptics’, ‘deniers’, ‘realists’ or whatever you want to call them. Of course, these challenges are waved away by many as ‘politically-motivated’ – as if Environmentalism was above that sort of thing. And there’s the rub. ‘Politics’ has become a dirty word, and Environmentalism fills the void, because, with ‘scientists’ backing it, it is presented as a ‘value free’ set of imperatives that we must all respond to. Environmentalists will tell you that it’s not a question of political values, it’s a matter of material fact, scientifically established by the IPCC. But the truth is that the unchallengeable measurements that the movement depends on do not exist. Instead, science only lends Environmentalism credibility through the ‘precautionary principle‘; it is superficially plausible that anthropogenic CO2 will cause global catastrophe (given a substantial number of mainly political assumptions), therefore it is worth treating the possibility of a nightmare as a certainty, according to this doctrine.

From here, Environmentalism easily becomes a religious world view: we start to see disobedient countries through this prism (Burma and its missing mangrove swamps being the latest example); we start to judge the actions of others through green-tinted spectacles; and we start to do the things that are demanded of us, ‘for the sake of the planet’ – not for a genuine conception of a ‘greater good’, but just the mitigation of a worse bad.

Back to Ingham’s question: the Tories (as any party would) will explain their recent success at the polls as a consequence of their taking green issues more seriously. For example, last Friday, on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, Chairman of the Conservative Party, Caroline Spellman, said of the successes her party had enjoyed the previous night,

Our council candidates campaigned very simply on following policies that would deliver a cleaner, greener, safer country, one that is more family friendly, and one that gives tax payers better value for money. That is a very simple message, it’s one that the electorate like, that is why they have returned conservative governments – in local government – because they like what they see.

Spellman’s words offer no political vision whatsoever; just a promise of better management of public (and, most likely, private) life than the Labour Party – which is exactly the basis on which Blair took power from Major in 1997. The vote did not reflect an ideological shift among the public, nor Blair’s resonance with the electorate. But contrast Spellman’s words to those of Sir Bernard’s former boss. Whether you agreed with her or not, Thatcher’s aim was a political transformation of the UK, if not the world. She went Green as that vision was running out of steam, in spite of its success (and she closed far more coal mines than any environmental protest could wish for).

Surely, if anyone knows how that played out, and consequently, why the world seems to have gone green, Ingham does?

Disagreeing that politics is dominated by a green consensus is the Independent‘s Andrew Grice, who complains that “nobody is talking about climate change” anymore.

We might just look back on May Day 2008 as the moment when the power of green politics peaked and went into reverse. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it. The reaction of the two main parties to the elections was instructive. Desperate to prop up his own position after Labour’s rout, Mr Brown needed to toss a few bones to the voters and jittery Labour backbenchers. So it suddenly emerged that he was about to dump the so-called “bin tax” – allowing councils to charge householders who do not recycle their rubbish. Downing Street didn’t confirm it, and five token pilot schemes will go ahead, but it’s clear the bin tax has been binned.

A temporary halt to the progress of a law demanding that people recycle, or face punishing fines means that climate is off the agenda, apparently.

Grice goes on to complain about the possibility that a 2 pence rise in petrol/diesel tax will be scrapped – even though the current high price of fuel makes these entirely unnecessary, as the Inland Revenue already takes VAT (17.5%) of the sale price (~£1.108) on top of ~£0.50 a litre of petrol. A genuinely ‘anti green’ policy would surely make fuel cheaper, rather than allow it to get much more expensive. Grice continues:

Mr Brown was not alone in relegating the environment to the back burner. David Cameron, the wind in his sails after the elections, held a prime ministerial press conference in which he set out his priorities for government. Significantly, the words “environment” and “climate change” did not appear in his 1,200-word statement.

It is indeed a rare thing when David Cameron utters 1200 words, none of which are green. These seem to be the ones Grice is referring to. Here is another speech Cameron made shortly before that one:

If Cameron has indeed abandoned the environmental cause, he has done it very suddenly. But there’s nothing in the later speech which contradicts it, in spite of Grice’s claims.

Of course, 1200 is a small number of words. If, perhaps, green was ommitted from Cameron’s speech, it was because the cause has been fully embraced by all of the parties. Why mention it? Likewise, does the fact that we can find 1200 words uttered recently by Caroline Lucas that include no reference to the environment mean that our favourite Green Party MEP has also turned her back on Mother Nature? As is the case with most shrill environmentalists, Grice confuses omission with opposition. It is what Cameron didn’t say which upsets him. A bit like a failure to say Amen after a prayer, or to say grace before a meal; it offends religious sensibilities. So Grice treats it as a statement that the Tories have dropped all green policies, and are to stand against them in the future.

No such luck. And, as is clear from the past, the Conservatives have been key to establishing environmental orthodoxy in the UK.

The reason there is no challenge to Environmentalism is that there is nothing to challenge Environmentalism with. Instead, Environmentalism, and the senses of crisis and urgency it generates, are useful vehicles for policies for the sake of policies, and for the purfunctory policy initiatives that masquerade as ‘progress’. Historically, for example, it has been sufficient to announce programs to build new homes on the basis that places for people to live are a good thing. New towns, however they turned out, were planned on the premise that it would make life better, and society more rewarding. Now, homes themselves are problematic. The very idea of housing developments upsets people. They use up resources and roads. They change the view. They are the manifestation of the idea that ‘hell is other people’. Environmentalism is on hand to furnish ways in and out of that problem. For those wishing to resist new developments, instead of making selfish objections to the planning process, they can appeal to the ‘greater good’, and claim that the principle of environmental ‘sustainability’ has not been given due attention. Developers, in reply, can greenwash their proposal, to claim that the greater good is being served. Never mind that homes are supposed to be all about people.

Politics today, whether it be Cameron’s or Grice’s, needs crises – real, or imagined – in order to maintain their relevance to an increasingly disengaged public. These appeals to catastrophe are wrapped up in the language of political change. But claims to be about radical change for the sake of “SAVING THE PLANET” belie an exhausted political perspective on the world that increasingly fails to connect with the public in any other way than through high drama, and struggles to distance itself from its opposition.

The current success of the Conservative Party follows the descent of the Labour party, whose 1997 success followed the descent of the Tories, who had enjoyed, since 1978, success at the polls after Labour’s problems in the 1970s. It seems that rather than winning elections, parties loose them. We punish their embarassing yet inevitable failure to connect with the public and reward their increasing mediocrity. This is the environment that Environmentalism has thrived in.

Critics of Environmentalism from the right claim that it is the reincarnation of failed socialism. Clearly, that criticism is incomplete. Critics of Tory policy, such as Grice, claim that ‘vote blue, go Green’ rhetoric is nothing more than spin; empty gestures to convince the public that it is responding to their fears. This too misses the point that that is also the very nature of the environmental movement, which has, like conservative ideologies of the past, used such fear to stand in the way of progress and harked back to traditional ways of life and natural social orders, lest unintended consequences of change cause upheaval.

Challenging environmental orthodoxy will take more than not mentioning it. That is not because Environmentalism is a powerful political idea, but because it exists as a consequence of the inability of political perspectives – Left and Right – to reflect on their own collapse.

Emissions Policy Policy Omission

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.

Carbon Neutral Policy Surfeit

Apologies for being off-line recently. It’s been summer, we’ve been busy, and there’s been less news around. Now that the Summer is over (did it ever really begin?), we’ll be back with more regular postings.

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The Liberal Democrats announced last week their plans for a ‘zero carbon Britain‘ – including banning all petrol cars from UK roads by 2040, and the end of atomic power. As they tell us,

The measures, which will be debated at the party’s conference in Brighton next month, strengthen the Liberal Democrats’ position as the only major political party with specific proposals designed to face the challenge of climate change.

This indeed trumps the Labour Party’s 60% cut of CO2 by 2050, and the Tory’s 80%, and even the Climate Camp protesters’ 90%. All you need to be radical these days is to add a few percentage points more than you opponents. But this is politics by numbers, and is better explained not by some new-found commitment to environmental politics or even the consequence of scientific research, but a need to find a new niche in the face of poor ratings. There are no ideas, no principles, no philosophy, and no matters of substance separating these parties. And there are barely any differences of approach to what the Lib-Dems are calling ‘the number one challenge facing the world today‘.

If the parties only offer differences of degree, all citing the same “science” (Stern, IPCC, Tyndall – none of which are “the science”), what science can they possibly be deferring to? Where is the science which tells us what percentage cut of CO2 will save the planet? How can four readings of the same research produce such “different” policies?

The answer is, of course, that the science has little to do with it. And in spite of this being ‘the number one challenge facing the world’, as we reported before, 56% of the UK public don’t seem to see things the same way. Perhaps that’s because, in spite of the poll’s authors’ contempt for them, the public are fairly good at spotting nonsense. Which is a problem for the Lib Dems, and the political parties generally, because in their bids to out-do each other, none dare to challenge the consensus or the political orthodoxy , but attempt to demonstrate that they better represent it. What appears to be the most radical figure – the 100% – is in fact the most cowardly. The Lib-Dems are, after all, yellow.

Which party will be the first to offer a carbon negative UK? Place your bets, it’s only a matter of time, and it’s the only way to go for the exhausted party politics of “the mother of all democracies”.

Lib Lab Lip Service

Yesterday, the UK’s third political party – The Liberal Democrats – launched their Climate Change Starts at Home campaign.

Menzies Campbell unveiled bold proposals that demonstrated how upgrading Britain’s homes could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by millions of tonnes, save energy, and lead to significant cuts in energy bills.

Last week BBC2’s Newsnight featured a review of a journalist’s gruelling year-long attempt at ‘ethical living’ which reduced his family’s ‘carbon footprint’ by two tonnes. But as Bjorn Lomborg pointed out on the program, if that reduction were to be acheived by families nationwide, the saving would postpone the effect of global warming by a mere seven hours by the year 2100.

‘Millions of tonnes’ sounds big, and makes good copy, but it doesn’t change the planet at all. This leaves Menzies with only the claim that insulation, paid for with ‘Energy Mortgages’ secured on homes, would shave hundreds of pounds a year off consumers’ energy bills. But with an added risk of losing that home on top of having to pay back the loan, it seems unlikely that this scheme will make much of a difference to anyone for whom £300 a year makes a difference.

Away from home, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is due to take the issue of climate change to the security council on the basis that ‘the cumulative impacts of climate change could exacerbate these drivers of conflict, and particularly increase the risk to those states already susceptible to conflict.’[DEAD LINK]

Perhaps this is a case of Blair attempting to secure his legacy by getting the world to move on climate change. Indeed, it’s not like him to be against things that ‘exacerbate the drivers of conflict’. Or perhaps it’s just an attempt to offset all that carbon used in the Gulf war…

In Crisis Politics, the Only Way Is Up

UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron has announced his commitment to an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. This move ‘beats’ Labour’s promise of a 60% reduction by the same date.

Cameron’s announcement follows statements by the Conservative Party’s Quality of Life Challenge policy group, whose website announced last weekend that they had ‘publised [sic] an important update to the Quality of Life Group’s recent report on acceptable climate change and CO2 emmission [sic] targets‘. The policy group challenge the Stern report, drawing on the IPCC’s WGII summary for policymakers, and others, to conclude that ‘the existing 60% goal is likely to prove inadequate […] UK emissions will have to be reduced by at least 80% by 2050’.

The statement is justified on the basis that ‘the politics must fit the science and not the other way round’ (‘Don’t give up on 2°C [PDF -NO LONGER AVAILABLE]‘). On the face of it, this seems a perfectly sensible approach. The trouble is that the science doesn’t actually say that mitigation is a better strategy than adaptation, let alone whether an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 is better than a 60% reduction. Mitigation, far from being a no-brainer is a complicated and controversial field scientifically. By claiming that their 80% figure is derived from the science, the Tories are hoisted by their own petard – this is a clear case of the science being stretched to fit the politics.

Moreover, mitigation policies cannot be a matter for science alone; they must also be informed by moral and political considerations. And yet when parties hide behind claims that their policies are derived from the science, these are necessarily excluded from the discussion. For example, in a recent article in Nature called ‘Lifting the taboo on adaptation‘, Roger Pielke Jr, Gwyn Prins, Steve Rayner and Daniel Sarewitz argued that the case for adaptation had not been sufficiently heard.

Yet policy-makers need to understand the limitations of mitigation for reducing vulnerabilities, and give more urgent consideration to broader adaptation policies — such as improved management of coastal zones and water resources — that will enhance societal resilience to future climate impacts regardless of their cause. To define adaptation as a cost of failed mitigation is to expose millions of poor people in compromised ecosystems to the very dangers that climate policy seeks to avoid.

So why would the Tories wish to exclude discussion of alternative strategies? Why would they claim that alternatives would contradict the science, that they are ‘at the margin of the debate’, and that ‘we cannot risk them being wrong’? The answer is simple: lacking a framework of political principles, they have such little scope to set themselves apart from their Labour and Liberal (and for that matter, Green) counterparts that their only option for demonstrating their fitness for leadership is to appear to be taking the issue more seriously. And that’s the only option open to their counterparts, too. The result is an escalation of the ‘crisis’ that ends up looking more like the razor wars than politics.

Cynics on both sides of the issue may dismiss Cameron’s words as empty rhetoric, as mere postures assumed to embarrass the Labour Party, and to rob the liberals and the Greens of their environmentalist edge. They may well be right, but what is important here is to recognise how dramatically environmental thinking is narrowing political discussion about the future. Crisis politics dominates thinking right across the political spectrum and hides politics behind scientific absolutes which simply do not exist, and cannot be interrogated. Even the Socialist Workers Party is getting in on the act, calling for cuts of ‘at least 80 percent […] by 2030‘.

That all parties are pushing in the same direction on this one might lead some to argue that they can’t all be wrong. But it would be more true to say that they can’t all be correct. Discussions about the future are being reduced to an arms race of gimmicks that appeal to the very same fear that they generate. It’s enough to make five blades in a disposable razor seem like a positively radical, world-changing idea.