Environment, 'Justice', 'Fairness'

by | Sep 27, 2011

Apologies for this very long post — things which I felt needed to be said kept occurring to me…

Mike Childs is Head of Climate at the Friends of the Earth, and Chair of FoE Europe. He writes in a blog post at the FoE site today that,

One of the reasons I joined Friends of the Earth over 20 years ago was that it was an environmental group with a strong record of joining up social justice, development and environmental issues. This position has been maintained through the years.

I like the ambiguity of the language. ‘Joining up social justice, development and environmental issues’ doesn’t mean a commitment to ‘social justice and development’. Rather, it means subordinating them to ‘environmental issues’. This has been discussed previously on this blog. One-time ‘development’ agencies such as Oxfam, for instance, have abandoned their emphasis on development, to emphasise instead that ‘pastoral society’ is the best way of life for people in the developing world. It’s ‘sustainable’, you see, whereas life in industrialised, democratic, and wealthy economies — where we’ve moved on from such proximity to nature — isn’t. Never mind what people actually want, the influential, well-funded and ethically-unimpeachable NGO ‘joins up’ the notion of ‘social justice’, ‘development’, and ‘environmental issues’, and decides for them what’s in their best interests. Instead of talking about poverty and the need for development, Oxfam now are concerned with ‘climate poverty’ and are opposed to development.

Childs continues…

And that’s why we wanted to answer the question: can the UK shift to a low-carbon society operating within our share of a global carbon budget, in a way that doesn’t unfairly impact on poorer households?

It’s a bit late for that. As the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) admits themselves, the number of people living in ‘fuel poverty’ has more than doubled since 2004. Debate surrounds the extent to which the Climate Change Act has driven the rise in cost of fuel bills, and is thus responsible for the rise in fuel poverty. Bracket this question for the moment, I will return to it. There are two things which are, meanwhile, indubitable.

First, renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy. This is owed in the main part to the fact that fossil fuels are energy dense, whereas ‘renewable’ sources of energy are more ‘ambient’. Therefore, renewable energy requires more machinery, and/or more human labour to turn that ambient energy into something useful. Notwithstanding that oil is ‘finite’ (and wind is too), wind can never contain as much energy as oil, even if we get better at converting wind into something useful; we can also get better at turning oil into useful energy.

Second, increasing prices puts stuff out of the reach of people with less money. Thus, higher prices — whatever the cause — ’causes’ fuel poverty. A caution here about the expression ‘fuel poverty’. I don’t believe in special terms such as this. There is no need for a term to describe the effect of rising fuel prices. If somebody does not have enough money for food, we don’t say that they are living in ‘food poverty’. If somebody cannot afford adequate housing or clothing, we do not say that they live in ‘house poverty’, or ‘clothing poverty’. So let’s be clear, rising fuel prices increases poverty.

These two truisms established, the Climate Change Act (CCA), then, is undeniably the cause of some increase in poverty. And Mike Childs, as Head of Climate at FoE, which campaigned vigorously for the CCA must take some responsibility for that problem. When the CCA was passed, FoE congratulated its members:

On the evening of Wednesday 26 November, 2008, the UK Big Ask campaign officially ended…

… and the Climate Change Act was passed into law.

World first

The Climate Change Act is the first national law committing to legally binding annual cuts in greenhouse gases.

It should make sure the UK plays its part in keeping global temperatures below danger levels.

And it could put Britain at the forefront of international efforts to tackle climate change.

Energy Act

Another vital new law – The Energy Act – also received Royal Assent.

This new law includes commitments to bring in Feed-in Tariffs – boosts to renewable energy that could see you getting paid for the energy you produce at home.

Both of these fantastic victories are the result of an awesome show of people power.

It’s people like you:

Taking action on our websites
Visiting and speaking to your MP
Signing post cards
that have made this happen.

We now need to keep up the pressure on Government to:

Decarbonise the UK
Ensure emissions reductions are made in the UK – not traded abroad
Set up workable Feed-in Tariffs
Ensuring payments are high enough to make them work
But let’s pause for a second to appreciate our achievements …

Congratulations! We did it.

The FoE’s campaign for a ‘strong climate law’ was called ‘the Big Ask’. It’s inconceivable that FoE were unaware that this ‘Big Ask’ wouldn’t result in bigger energy bills, because it ran concurrent — though much lower profile — campaigns against fuel poverty:

Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged are today (Wednesday 9 April) taking the Government to court, for not doing enough to meet its legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty. The two charities are campaigning for the Government to develop a far more effective and comprehensive programme of domestic energy efficiency, to simultaneously end suffering from fuel poverty and tackle climate change.

Despite the Government being legally bound [1] to eradicate fuel poverty for vulnerable households by 2010 and for all households by 2016, nearly 3 million households in England are still struggling to adequately heat their homes. The Government currently estimates that by 2010 there may still be 1.3 million vulnerable [2] households in fuel poverty – nearly the same number as at the time of the Government’s Fuel Poverty Strategy in 2001.

The legal action failed. Friends of the Earth had succeeded in drafting and helping a bill through parliament, but had failed to hold the government to its promises to eradicate fuel poverty. We now see nearly double the figures for fuel poverty quoted by FoE in 2008. In November that year, FoE reflected on their failure.

The High Court gave Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged permission to appeal because the case raised difficult and novel legal questions. The organisations have asked the Court of Appeal to reconsider the issues and order that the Government release previously secret fuel poverty documents. Friends of the Earth’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said:

“We believe the Government has acted unlawfully by failing in its legal commitment to end the suffering of fuel poverty. The Government must introduce a massive programme to cut energy waste, slash fuel bills and ensure that people heat their homes and not the planet.”

So FoE knew that the government were failing to meet its promises to abolish fuel poverty; they knew that levels of fuel poverty were rising, and yet they still pressed for legislation — ‘strong climate law’ which they knew would push energy bills up further. And the government knew that energy prices were rising — it was late 2008, after all — and that this would have a material effect on consumers’ bills. And they knew that this would cause an increase in energy poverty — FoE had told them.

The following year, a group of NGOs, including FoE, joined forces.

A new coalition of leading UK environmental and social justice groups, convened by Oxfam and NEF (the new economics foundation) and including Friends of the Earth and the Royal College of Nursing, says the government cannot choose between tackling poverty and climate change; it must begin to tackle these related issues together and it must take action now.

At a time of rising unemployment and economic insecurity, some people argue that we cannot afford the ‘luxury’ of protecting the environment; but the report, Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty shows that tackling climate change actually offers a huge opportunity to boost the economy and tackle UK poverty at the same time.

It’s never been clear to me how NGOs have managed to make the issue of climate change and poverty ‘related’. It’s not as if there was no poverty in the UK before climate change. They are of course related insofar as climate change policies make energy (and therefore everything that requires energy) more expensive. And they are related to the extent that climate — changing or not — is a problem if you don’t have the material means to protect yourself from it. But there is no obvious connection between poverty in the UK, and climate change; you don’t need to talk about the climate in order to understand the phenomenon of poverty. The government’s energy poverty eradication programme was 8 years old by 2008, and neither it nor any of its existing or new climate policies were having any positive effect on the levels of fuel poverty. So in what respect could the issues of poverty and climate change be related? The NGOs claimed that their research showed,

One in five people in the UK still live in poverty, often without enough money to heat their homes or to eat healthily. The new report shows that the poorest people in the UK will be most affected by the effects of climate change. They tend to live in poorer housing, have poorer health, less access to home insurance, and less money to adapt to price rises. Their situation could be worsened by measures to combat climate change such as higher taxation on fossil fuels.

But the report also shows how the need to combat climate change could present a huge opportunity to tackle poverty too. Home insulation cuts fuel bills, keeps homes warm, and reduces CO2 emissions; investment in public transport provides affordable travel for all and cuts air pollution; and the move to a low-carbon economy could be a stimulus for new skilled jobs in home insulation and energy efficiency.

So the first paragraph showed that poor people were damned by climate change (though it does not explain how a warmer climate would harm people who struggled to pay their heating bills), but also by climate change policies. But, the second paragraph argued, fighting climate change and poverty together might create an ‘opportunity’.

But just as it’s not clear how climate change and poverty are ‘related’, it’s not clear how intervention to solve the issues of poverty and climate change together represent ‘opportunity’. Yes, insulating homes creates the possibility of their inhabitants using less fuel, and therefore paying less in total for energy. But that saving is absorbed by the rising cost of energy, thanks to climate change legislation. Any gain made by ‘efficiency’ is lost by the policies designed to disincentivise energy use. On top of this, the cost of insulating so many homes — the labour and materials — needs to be paid for. That’s an opportunity for the person who is contacted to insulate homes, but it’s not an overall opportunity. It doesn’t actually yield anything productive by itself; there is no value added to anything by this ‘efficiency’.

Reading the NGO coalition’s statement, however, I was reminded of something. The words looked familiar. I was sure I had written something about a ‘low carbon economy’, energy efficiency, and new jobs in the renewable sector before…

I had, in April 2009.

Apparently 400,000 new “environmental sector” jobs will be created by 2017, according to Gordon Brown, who reckoned 1.3 million people would by then be working in “green” jobs. According to Mandelson, “The huge industrial revolution that is unfolding in converting our economy to low carbon is going to present huge business and employment opportunities.”

In fact, I had written the article for the Register in March — less than 6 weeks after the NGO coalition had met and published its report. It looks as though FoE were still influencing government thinking, after all. The NGOs were calling for precisely the things the government were now promising in their ‘Green New Deal’. And funnily enough, the ‘Green New Deal’ was also the title of a project conceived in July 2008 by parter in the group of NGOs, the New Economics Foundation (NEF).

The Green New Deal will rekindle a vital sense of purpose, restoring public trust and refocusing the use of capital on public priorities and sustainability. In this way it can also help deliver a wide range of social benefits that can greatly improve quality of life in the future. The Green New Deal includes policies and novel funding mechanisms that will reduce emissions contributing to climate change and allow us to cope better with the coming energy shortages caused by peak oil.

The Labour government were taking policies directly from NGOs and green-left think tanks. They weren’t even giving these policy ‘initiatives’ new names.

And as a Wikipedia article on the ‘Green New Deal’ shows, there are many ‘Green New Deals’, throughout the world, each hoping to use the climate issue to overcome financial woe. Each promising growth, jobs, and a shiny bright happy future. NGOs and think-tanks were instrumental in pushing governments towards these policies.

The following year, the UK Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties formed a coalition government. The previous government’s ‘Green New Deal’ was forgotten altogether, and the coalition, in a stunning act of original thought, promised the UK a ‘Green Deal‘. (Obviously, a New Green New Deal would have been absurd.)

The Energy Bill introduced to Parliament on 8 December 2010 includes provision for the new ‘Green Deal’, which is intended to revolutionise the energy efficiency of British properties.
The Government is establishing a framework to enable private firms to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, and to recoup payments through a charge in instalments on the energy bill.

I’ve discussed the identical nature of, and rhetoric surrounding the Labour Government’s ‘Green New Deal’ and the coalition’s ‘Green Deal’ here recently. Here again is Chris Huhne, announcing the policy.

[youtube jE0lQwNADNE]

Huhne’s bluster is of course as hollow as ‘his’ policy ‘initiative’, which was as hollow as the previous governments policy, which was as hollow as the ‘thinking’ of the NGOs and think-tanks which lobbied for it.

Lots of fanfare. Lots of talk about ‘revolutions’ comparable to the industrial revolution. Promises of jobs. Promises of warm homes. Lots of hope and hype about economic recovery.

The reality is, however, no economy recovery on the horizon, but concerns that things are about to get worse. Nothing resembling an industrial revolution, but, on the contrary, concerns that the UK’s energy policies will send prices up, and industry away from these shores. No sign of any jobs, but, on the contrary, over the period discussed in this blog post, unemployment has risen from 5 to 8% — equivalent to the number of jobs promised by the Green New Deal. Fuel bills have risen faster than any government scheme to insulate homes can stop their occupants falling into ‘fuel poverty’. And there’s very little chance that carbon emissions will be reduced by any meaningful measure, and even less chance that a global deal will follow this vapid posturing.

I promised to return to the question about the extent to which climate change and renewable energy policies have caused bills to rise, and will continue to cause to rise. I must say that, by now, it seems almost pointless: the UK’s climate change act and its grandiose gestures — Green New Deals, green energy revolutions, and so on — are catastrophic failures on their own terms. However, DECC and its defenders have answered criticisms of rising levels of fuel poverty by the policies of the Climate Change Act by claiming that rises in energy bills (the kind you pay for directly, not draft legislation in Parliament) are due to the market, over which they have no control.

This is perhaps true. But admitting that they have no control over the market, they must admit that their plans to mitigate the effects of rising energy prices by offering schemes to insulate homes was inadequate. They appear to have failed to anticipate rising energy costs, and thus put their environmental concerns above the ‘energy poor’. Put another way, the policies intended to prevent carbon emissions and reduce fuel poverty were in contradiction, and one enjoyed greater emphasis than the other — completely contrary to the claim that the two goals are equivalent, as FoE and co had claimed. Put another way again, the idea that ‘the market’ may beset progress in the UK’s climate reduction plan was anathema to the policy-makers and NGOs. Yet the market was able to move in such a way as to put millions of households into fuel poverty.

But, what DECC emphasise is that by 2020, ‘the market’ will have made energy prices so expensive, that the costs caused by climate and energy policies will suddenly become insignificant. Renewable energy will become nearly as cheap as conventional energy. And our insulated homes will require less energy to heat them. As Carbon Brief candidly explained,

DECC base their analysis of future energy bills on the assumption that energy efficiency measures (for example increased home insulation) will reduce household consumption of energy – so while prices go up energy bills may remain steady or even go down. While DECC predict that climate change and energy policies will cause gas prices to go up by 18% and electricity prices by 33% by 2020, they estimate (as of July 2010) that because of reductions in energy use “compared to the counterfactual scenario in which climate change and energy policies do not have an impact on energy bills, on average, domestic energy bills will be 1% higher in 2020.”

So, the government has in fact anticipated higher energy prices. It cannot blame the market for then delivering them, for its failed policies. We can say with some certainty, then, that the emphasis that the government and FoE have put on fuel poverty have been little but token gestures. FoE knew what it was asking for: for policies that would make life difficult for people, and it knew that the government wasn’t capable of, or interested in, solving the problem of fuel poverty in any meaningful way.

Perhaps I sound like I may be being too hard on Childs and FoE here. But consider this passage from his blog post:

We looked at the impact of extending the life of existing nuclear power plants but found this had little impact on emissions as they were simply competing with renewable energy.

There is a crisis now, surely, for the 5.5 million households living in fuel poverty. But meeting the demand for energy — and perhaps lowering the cost — by increasing supply without the need for capital investment is ruled out, because it makes renewable energy investment less attractive. Again, we see FoE’s priorities, which reflect the government’s, in a document in which FoE claim to consider a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy.

Last week, Scottish and Southern announced that they were considering pulling their 25% stake in a nuclear energy consortium, to focus instead on renewable energy. An FoE spokesman said,

Scottish and Southern’s decision to abandon nuclear and focus on renewable power is welcome news. But they have a long way to go – 88 per cent of the power they supplied last year came from coal and gas, leaving consumers with soaring fuel bills caused by our fossil fuel dependency. Sufficient investment in renewables and cutting energy waste must be a Government priority, along with measures to help households, businesses and communities to free themselves from the shackles of the Big Six energy firms by developing their own green power.

FoE are opposed to old nuclear, and they are opposed to new nuclear. The cheapest cleanest, greenest, safest, and most proven form of low-carbon energy production is ruled out, because it interferes with windmills.

When Cuadrilla Resources announced that it had found a vast reserve of shale gas, FoE announced that,

Drilling for shale gas raises serious safety concerns and risks polluting water supplies – and it could take vital funding away from the clean energy solutions we know are safe and will work. Our future power needs should come from the wind, sun and waves and using our energy more carefully – this will slash emissions and boost the economy by creating new businesses and jobs. There should be no more fracking in Britain until safety and environmental concerns have been properly addressed.

Shale gas, of course, could do much, much more than ‘renewables’ to boost the economy, create new business and jobs, and slash our emissions — if that is important — by replacing our ageing coal power stations. It would also do much to lower the cost of energy bills. So too would nuclear energy. But as immediate answers to economic problems, fuel poverty and unemployment, and intermediate answers the problem of climate change, they are unacceptable to FoE. But the point of the policies they have pushed for is not simply carbon reductions, but renewable energy… expensive renewable energy.

And the government has responded. It has invited FoE to comment, and to recommend policies. It has welcomed the ‘pressure’ it has put on the policy-making process. It enjoys the PR role that FoE serves, in ‘communicating climate change’, and giving their policies the legitimacy that only an NGO seems able to give them in today’s world.

So finally, we have an answer to the question ‘what proportion of energy price increases are caused by policies’…

All of it. Every single penny rise is the fault of the previous and coalition governments, their policies, and NGOs like FoE. Because rather than emphasising the need for energy, for cheap and abundant energy, and allowing such development to take place, the government has designed policies which emphasise renewables, rather even than low or lower carbon alternatives to coal such as gas and nuclear. They have campaigned in the UK and internationally for policies which are hostile to conventional and nuclear energy. They have promised handsome returns to energy firms who in turn promise to help them deliver on their political targets, while a fifth of all UK households struggle to afford their bills. They have created an atmosphere in which energy firms are disinclined to deliver functioning energy infrastructure, and have emphasised their desire for ‘smart grids’ that will cost tens, if not hundreds of £billions. That is why SSE are considering pulling out of the nuclear energy consortium: they sense the lack of political commitment to the idea of nuclear, and the smart money is following the easy money. And shale gas… The Guardian reported last week,

The UK’s “dash for gas” will be halted by the government because if unchecked it would break legally binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions, Chris Huhne, energy and climate change secretary, said on Monday evening. “We will not consent so much gas plant so as to endanger our carbon dioxide goals,” he told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats party conference in Birmingham.

“We will not consent”, therefore, “so much gas plant so as to endanger…” reducing energy bills, and reducing energy poverty.

All of this will be lost on Mike Childs, head of climate at FoE. He still believes he is committed to ‘justice’.

We came to the conclusion that yes, it is possible for the UK to go low-carbon in a way that’s fair for everyone who lives here. But that it will take a determined effort by government, businesses and individuals to do so. It will undoubtedly require decision-makers to stand up to vested interests such as the big 6 energy companies.

So, heroic changes and a determined effort to address social justice is the order of the day. Not so different from when I joined Friends of the Earth 20 years ago.

There could be a very different discussion about energy. There could be a situation in which there is no problem of energy poverty. Whether you believe energy supply and R&D needs more or less government intervention, a different, more positive discussion could have been dominated by questions about how to get more energy to more people for less cost. That could have been the priority. That could have been the measure of a ‘just’ energy policy. Then, environmental concerns could be heard. But the value of energy is limited to the discussion about ‘keeping the lights’ on, and only then with behavioural change experts ‘nudging’ us to turn them off, anyway.

It is no use discussing the rights and wrongs of climate change and energy policies and their scientific bases when, it seems, we have lost any sense of what we want energy for. The loss of this idea — that energy creates the possibility of real opportunities for longer, more rewarding and more comfortable lives — has allowed the likes of Friends of the Earth to enter the debate with their entirely degraded notion of ‘justice’ — one completely subsumed by their commitment to an absurd ideal of ‘nature’ and life ‘in balance’ with it. This notion of justice turns out to be, much less a liberating idea, but an idea which calls for increased intervention in and control over people’s lives — especially those it claims to want to help — for behaviour change, and for policies which ignore the interests and desires of people. The better argument is about more than merely ‘keeping the lights on’.


  1. Mooloo

    Drilling for shale gas raises serious safety concerns and risks polluting water supplies

    No amount of engineers or geologists are able to persuade them it is safe. This is, yet another, example of the greens being profoundly uninterested in what scientists say.

    I don’t get the problem. The companies promise that their drilling will have no effect. They drill. The water quality is tested regularly anyway. If they pollute it then they pay a fine and/or stop drilling. That’s how any other business would be allowed to operate.

    But no, fracking must be prevented at all costs from bring us cheap fuel. So they roll out the scare tactics and refuse to be budged.

    Meanwhile the label the climate change sceptics as being “anti-science”, in a quite incredible display of chutzpah!

  2. George Carty

    Don’t forget what kind of misanthropic bastards we’re dealing with here:

    “Childbearing should be a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license… All potential parents should be required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.” – David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth

    As for the Cuadrilla fracking plan in Lancashire, I’m cautiously supportive (even though I prefer nuclear power) because we already have a lot of gas-fired capacity built to back up the wind turbines, and it would allow us to buy less gas from Gazprom in the short term. In the longer term of course I would like use to use nuclear for almost all our electricity generation, but if the gas hasn’t run out by then we could export it to Germany and other stubbornly antinuclear countries. :D

  3. Philip

    Apologies for this very long post

    Don’t apologise, Ben, that was worth every last word. You’ve here clearly laid out the root causes of the problem and the correct strategy for starting to solve it. Come on, Cameron and company, how about it?

  4. Alex Cull

    Bloody hell, Ben, you’ve outdone yourself this time. This post should be bookmarked, linked to, tweeted, referenced and quoted often, and should be remembered in its entirety every time Chris Huhne, David Cameron, Andy Atkins, Ed Miliband or Tony Juniper open their mouths on the subject of energy. Well done.

  5. Jack Hughes

    Counting Cats has a well-written take on “campaigners”:

    It is a very unfortunate thing that in the Anglo nations, “campaigners” are seen as having an almost automatic halo of righteousness. Words like “reform” carry with them an automatic implication of virtue. We raise “reformers” to an almost sanctified state; Wilberforce and his slavery, Florence Nightingale and her hospitals, Mrs Pankhurst and her hats. There is a general belief in “progress”, such that society is seen to be in some inferior state, and then a great reforming campaigner comes along and, after much effort against resistant conservative types, drags society kicking and screaming into a Better State, and we are all eternally grateful.

    Read the whole thing

  6. ProgContra

    Ben, an excellent analysis. Although the focus here is on UK policy, I would assume that there’s a European angle here as well. FOE Europe received substantial funding from the EU to campaign for more stringent policies at a European level – these in turn bolster national level policy. FoE, WWF and others are becoming increasingly integrated into trans-national bodies such as the EU and the UN.

  7. Ben Pile

    Jack, that’s a splendid, and very honest argument from Counting Cats. It’s very interesting to see who ends up where on the issue of the regulation of the green belt. Once again, it’s not an easy left/split, though I think libertarians (left and right) are definitively on one side. On the other, there’s that unpleasant paternalistic we-need-the-green-belt-to-protect-the-poor-people-from-urban-sprawl brigade, who forget that it’s such legislation which locks people into concentrated developments, and precludes them from building for themselves, where they’d like to. And next to them, people who seem to believe that any expansion into the green is equivalent to ‘concreting over the entire countryside’, oblivious to the fact that 90% of the country is not developed at all. (I’m not going to call them Nimby’s, because I think it misses the point, and the emphasis on people ‘investing’ in asset inflation has political origins. People hide behind this idea of there not being enough green space to avoid that debate.)

    Nonetheless, I think the call for a ‘Thatcher Moment’ (the author’s caveats notwithstanding) — is unfortunate. It seems to me that the rise of the NGO/activist/etc corresponds to the post-postwar-consensus. But correlation is not causation, I don’t mean to say that NGOs fill the vacuum left by unions, but that they certainly do something for government. The article mentions Thatcher’s attachment to the climate issue, and avoids it. But I think it’s an important moment, because it’s when she also seems to attach herself to the Brubdtland/WCED report, which makes room for NGOs in global and national policy-making processes.

  8. Lewis Deane


    I’m about to read your post (as you say its very long!) but I wanted to copy and paste this post I made on Keith Kloor’s site – I hope it’s not in the wrong place (I’ll find out in a moment!):


    I think, the first thing to say, is your ‘taking note’ of US domestic politics is really off point. The petty wranglings of Dem v Rep is that kind of hot air the ‘enviromnent’ does not need. First, because it will make no difference (and, if you know history, as much as I think you do, you should understand this) – what, a Geddes moment (I think that’s right, from Citizen Kane?!)? – the weight of government, now, is invested in their institutions, not in the ephemera of who is the President or who dominates the congress. Your (I’m supposing this for the sake of argument, so don’t take it personally!) naivety reminds me of, in my country, certain liberal libitarians who assumed that, if you changed the ‘home office’ (the ‘interior ministry’) minister, they would change the laws for the better. Of course, every new minister, after having being ‘inducted’ (and shown a special dossier, I’m sure, which has some terrible this or that ‘threat’ to the country), became worse than the last, no matter how good their intentions. It also reminds me of poor old Mrs Clinton, during her husbands presidency, and her health reforms.
    Second, we are dealing with extremely profound historical forces here. Why all ‘Utopians’ and other ‘environmentalist’s plans fail is because they refuse the reality of history – at least, Marx (in the ‘original’) postponed his ‘paradise’ till after the collapse – and, even then, he said ‘Either communism or – barbarism’, leaving us a choice (unfortunately we got both!) – the point was, he saw that the historical forces must play themselves out – this was his great thought, his real contribution to ‘knowledge’.
    So, ‘politics’, in the narrow sense, even in a country as important (and it still is and always will be!) as the US, is just meaningless chatter – and growing emptier by the day. Keith, there is some hope in the future – but it will always be mankind getting himself out of a difficult fix by, ‘surprisingly’, creating wonders that the mind, and our imagination, cannot conceive!

  9. Lewis Deane

    ‘On top of this, the cost of insulating so many homes — the labour and materials — needs to be paid for. That’s an opportunity for the person who is contacted to insulate homes, but it’s not an overall opportunity.’

    I’m surprised you didn’t notice the temporary jobs that might be filled. What do they do after?

    ‘First, renewable energy is more expensive than conventional energy. This is owed in the main part to the fact that fossil fuels are energy dense, whereas ‘renewable’ sources of energy are more ‘ambient’. Therefore, renewable energy requires more machinery, and/or more human labour to turn that ambient energy into something useful. Notwithstanding that oil is ‘finite’ (and wind is too), wind can never contain as much energy as oil, even if we get better at converting wind into something useful; we can also get better at turning oil into useful energy.’

    I think this comes down to perfectly feasible facts and not some theoretical nonsense. We know that, so called, renewables, are not feasible. We know that, if the ‘market’ had to decide, it would go for gas and coal (as in China and India – the latter has a residual interest in nuclear because of the bomb). We know that, with good care, these energies are clean and efficient. These are facts.
    But what your post addresses, in the main, is the parasitism of the supposed NGOs. Well, that reminds me of the fact that most ‘charities’ seem to be funded by pharma or etc. Take the medical ‘charities’ – a large proportion of their funding comes from Glaxo etc – so when they ‘demand’ a ‘new’ drug to help cancer sufferers live one more month (on what basis – I mean how would they live that extra month?), when, in most cases, a placebo and a pat on their head would be best, who are they serving?
    Finally, Ben, calm down, don’t be so angry, history will take care of itself. Have that faith that you have in human ingenuity!
    But do they really believe what they’re saying? Can they really reconcile the contradictions of who they are and what they say in their tiny little heads?

  10. Lewis Deane

    So, OK, I went over the top (I think?) but this was a response to Mark Lynas’s ‘The Myths Of Easter Island’ and to the asinine comment of our friend ‘bigcitylib’ (how dare he call himself that!):


    Infamous of old. As you know, this isn’t a matter of ‘fringy debate’ but one, rather, of your and other ‘big city libs’ central metaphors – that man is irremediably evil, left to himself, without God or, failing that, the ‘experts’ (your ‘experts’!). It is that, in your lights, democracy fails, because the public are to stupid, therefore you and your ‘experts’ must tell us how to behave!
    Idiot, do you think the historical forces that are overwhelming you and for which you only have specious understanding and even more infantile solutions, will not, in the end, wash you and your like away. In your guts, you know this, hence your absurdities!

  11. Lewis Deane

    Last (I’m sorry for multi posting but I’m a bit over active at the moment – it’s the last I promise!) I, at


    made this comment:

    An interesting article. However, I note you don’t actually examine and challenge any of these ‘eco metaphors’ but merely various interlocuters’ versions of them. Let us ‘challenge’ the idea of ‘nature’ (as human beings have been doing for 250000 years, first, by ploughing it!) as a Stoics fantasy of a sacrosanct nullity! Nature nor the climate, can never be pristine nor have ‘we’ dirty humans been dropped into it and begun to expand like a vicious oil stain, ‘upon the waters’. We are nature – for good or worse. So, the reason why, if, we damage ourselves and the ‘world’, is because we hate ourselves and the world. So called nihilism. But it is ourselves and our garden to mess up.
    I would say, have faith in ‘nature’, in yourself that is, we will repair and improve on any damage ‘we’ might have done. Were is your famous American optimism? Or do you insist that, along with Krugman et al, that should be ‘infamous’? Surely not!

    What I don’t want you to do, is lose heart! Be good, be hopeful, be strong!

  12. Hilary Ostrov

    Thanks, Ben, for an excellent exposition of a pattern that is becoming all too (depressingly) familiar.

    Over here in my neck of the virtual woods (Vancouver, BC), thanks to the implementation a provincially legistlated “Climate Action Plan” (drawn up by representatives from NGOs and IPCC insiders circa 2007), we’ve had a “carbon tax” for a few years now.

    And we now have the obscenely ludicrous situation (thanks to this “Climate Action Plan”) of [cash-strapped] schools and hospitals being forced to purchase “carbon offsets” – and a “smart-tool” to calculate their “carbon footprints”. [details and links at Machinations of modern medieval madness]

    But the pattern (whether international e.g. Kyoto, national e.g. your Climate Change Act, or provincial e.g. BC’s Climate Action Plan) that keeps recurring seems to be:

    1. Greens get support for (and help write) legally binding acts to be implemented several years into the future. Most folks are far too concerned with daily life in the here and now to think about (let alone worry about) the future implications.

    2. Green lobbying and propaganda machines (generously funded, often by governments) move into action, lulling (or brow-beating!) the public into quiescence, aided and abetted by MSM “churnalists”. After all, what’s not to like about “the environment, justice and fairness”?!

    3. Legislation is rolled out by government steamrollers.

    I know it’s far more complex than these three steps, but this pattern is what it all boils down to, is it not?

  13. Roger Longstaff

    As posted on Bishop Hill:

    Please may I remind everybody here that there is an epetition to repeal this disgusting legislation:


    This has been running for over a month now and there have only been 574 signatures. Does anybody here have any ideas how to promote it, or are there any better ideas how to stop this nonsense? It is no use just to complain – we need to do something!

  14. Harpo2

    Bit late, I know, but I have just come across this blog. if you are interested, I have just dropped this comment on a CCS article in European Energy Review as a reposte to that FoE “Head of Policy”, Mike Childs

    “So, tell me, Mike Childs, how do you propose to succour the exploding world populations without increasing carbon dioxide in the air? Go on, where is your practical workable technologically based thesis for cheaply solving the world’s problems with CCS? It would seem that scientifically-intellectual practical minds better than ours are having problems and have done for years and will do into the forseeable future because it is all about money.
    Carbon dioxide is a life-source and not a pollutant. Professional greenhouse crop growers artificially increase the level of CO2 to increase crop yields.
    We will not make the transition to renewables, thank goodness, for two reasons.
    1. You can fool some of the people for some of the time, but not all the people for all the time.
    2. Renewables are NON-sustainable, stochastically intermittent and erratic and at least 100,000,000 times worse in releasable energy content than any demandable secure hydrocarbon fuels. [ for nuclear, insert 1000,000,000,000,000]. They are not free as the Sun’s energy is not free.

    This is a modern world now, not one to be driven back to the Middle Ages with previously discarded renewables and by cranks’ takes on technology.
    Have you ever wondered, when uttering your “green” blarney about “dangerous climate change” that humans have adapted to environmental lives across our planet where the temperature differences exceed 95 degrees centigrade? So what is your peer-reviewed premise for “dangerous climate change” and its possible effects on the planet? Seems like a 100 degree rise is not a source of “dangerous climate change”.
    Your “dangerous climate change” speaks about 2C differences for a climate which has changed up and down throughout history, and your personal history only amounts to about 20 years of that 65,000,000 years – hardly worth thinking about but a demonstration of some men’s supercilious self-deceit.
    Norfolk Dumpling”

  15. Ahmad

    I’m impressed, I have to say. Really not often do I eontuncer a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you have got hit the nail on the head. Your thought is excellent; the problem is one thing that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very completely satisfied that I stumbled across this in my seek for one thing referring to this.



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