Climate Change Policy is as Dangerous as Climate Change

by | Oct 20, 2011

According to Channel 4 News,

An interim independent report predicts that 2,700 people will die this winter as a consequence of fuel poverty, a figure greater than the number killed in traffic accidents each year.

As argued here in recent posts, fuel poverty is a direct consequence of the UK’s energy policies. The government and others have argued otherwise, and blamed ‘the market’ for rising prices. But this isn’t good enough. The market does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a world dominated by politicians who aren’t making energy a priority, and who were aware of the effect of their policies on energy prices long ago. Rather than allowing R&D and investment in energy where it is needed, politicians have given incentives to more expensive forms of production, and allowed price to coerce people into reducing their energy consumption. This is not about how much of any fuel or electricity bill is ’caused’ by a given policy, as is possible with a tax. The point is about what happens when you see energy itself as a problem, rather than make the provision of of cheap, abundant energy a political priority, if not merely possible. This is about what happens when policy-makers roll over at the merest whiff of an environmental NGO’s campaign, if governments past and present weren’t already begging them for policy ideas.

Of the 27,000 ‘excess deaths’ that occur each winter when compared to deaths which occur in the summer, 10% of them can be attributed to fuel poverty, says the Hill Report published yesterday by DECC itself.

If I’m right, and these deaths are caused by the UK’s climate and energy policies, then that effect should be compared to what the policies that caused it were intended to achieve.

As discussed in the previous post, the WHO’s World Health Report 2002 attributed 150,000 deaths a year to climate change in ‘high mortality developing countries’ (HMDCs). (Actually the figure is 148,000, but they rounded it up in the press releases).

The HDMCs are listed as the countries belonging to groups AFR-D, AFR-E, AMR-D, EMR-D, SEAR-D. Or, for those who are interested: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Togo, Botswana, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Maldives, Myanmar, and Nepal.

According to this Wikipedia page (apologies for using Wikipedia, but, dammit, it is useful sometimes) those countries have a combined population of 2,792,190,752. So that means, taking the WHO’s word for it, the 148,000 deaths caused by climate change amounted to one death in every 18,866 people living in HMDCs.

Now, the UK’s population is 62,435,709, and 2,700 people died in the UK last year as a result of fuel poverty. In other words, on in every 23,124 people in the UK died last year, because of fuel poverty, caused by the UK’s climate change and energy policies.

What else can we conclude, but that climate change policy is as dangerous as climate change? In fact it is more dangerous, because those deaths occurred in the developed world. Imagine, then, what effect climate change policies are having in the developing world — the HMDCs.

Curiously enough for a report commissioned by the DECC, the Hill Fuel Poverty Review of doesn’t meaningfully discuss the possibility that the 2,700 deaths it attributes to energy poverty can thus be attributed to the shortcomings of policy-makers and their policies. It doesn’t consider that existing policies may have been the cause of fuel poverty. It concludes…

This Chapter has looked at the underlying causes of fuel poverty and who they most affect, as well as energy use. The main findings, summarised in more detail after each section, are:
• Poorer households live in smaller dwellings, reducing potential energy bills. Social housing is also more energy efficient than private housing. Being off the gas grid is a major factor increasing energy costs. Within tenures, energy efficiency (SAP rating) is not strongly linked to income.
• Those on low incomes are least likely to be on the cheapest, direct debit, tariffs. Where customers with prepayment meters have switched supplier following a doorstep sale, almost as many
switched to a worse as to a better deal.
• The net effect of government policies on different income groups will depend on how the interventions financed by some of those policies are distributed. On assumptions made by DECC in 2010, the net effect would be a loss on average for low-income households, tending to increase fuel poverty. Whether this actually occurs depends on decisions yet to be taken.
• We do not know what temperatures households are now living at. Data on actual energy use suggest that even better-off households do not live at the temperatures assumed in modelling fuel
poverty. However, the poorest tenth of households appear to be living at lower temperatures than contemporary norms.

The report concludes… (My emphasis)…

The issue of fuel poverty also ties in strongly with the urgent need to tackle climate change, as part of which a priority is to improve energy efficiency standards in UK homes in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But climate change policy delivery is made more difficult by the existence of fuel poverty. If the price mechanism is used to encourage carbon reduction, some low-income householders face disproportionate costs, but the capital investment needed to bring about efficiency improvements and carbon savings is beyond them. If carbon emissions from these households are to be reduced, assistance will be needed. Once made, interventions should have a sustained impact on the costs they face and then in a combination of warmer homes and their own carbon reductions.

How can the UK government only now be commissioning reports which state the obvious? How did it fail to anticipate that rising energy costs would cause harm to people? Why did it not consider the human cost of its policies before rushing them through parliament? Why did it not think to consider mitigating the effects of fuel poverty before creating the problem of increasing fuel poverty? Why should we think that the government’s attempts to intervene to mitigate the effects of fuel poverty will be any less damaging than their attempt to mitigate climate change?

Expect more intervention and more policies. Expect more fuel poverty. Expect more deaths.

Meanwhile, as was established in the previous post, there are 10% fewer cases of malaria — one of the main diseases that the WHO believed to be exacerbated by climate change — now than when the data for the WHO 2002 report was compiled. It seemed unlikely that the 150,000 deaths were attributed to climate change safely before we discovered that malaria rates were in decline. Now it seems even less likely. Climate change policies really are worse than climate change.


  1. Alex Cull

    That the UK government’s energy and climate policies are regressive seems very clear. And DECC admits this, in the report. From page 11:

    In this context, current policy developments have some immediate implications.  We show how government policies both increase and decrease potential energy bills (Section 2.4). For example, ‘products policies’, which enforce better energy efficiency standards on producers of appliances, should reduce energy costs for all households.  Here there should be a positive distributional impact, with the greatest proportionate benefit arising for low income households.

    By contrast, those energy and climate policies that lead to higher prices will largely have a regressive impact.  The net effect of these policies will depend on how their benefits are distributed (that is, who will receive the energy efficiency improvements they finance).  DECC analysis in 2010 on one set of assumptions for this suggest a net cost by 2020 equivalent to 0.8 per cent of income for the poorest fifth of households, but break-even for the richest fifth (Figure 2.14).  Whether this regressive outcome – which would tend to increase fuel poverty – occurs depends on both more recent developments (such as the Warm Home Discount) and decisions yet to be taken.

    So then, according to DECC, higher energy prices will be partially or totally offset by improvements in energy efficiency. But will they? Here’s a paper by Sam Marden and Ian Gough of the LSE, which disputes this. From page 26 (my italics):

    The UK’s growing reliance on emissions trading and the ‘mandated markets’ approach, means that the burden of CMPs falls on energy consumers, and ultimately on households – and this is intended. Rising fuel prices together with some impact from these measures have boosted average fuel bills by 70% from £694 in 2003 to £1200 in 2008 (DECC 2010a). DECC estimates that domestic gas prices will be 12% higher and electricity prices 40% higher by 2020. Yet it also assumes the uptake of energy efficiency measures and renewables incentives will be such that average domestic bills will rise by only 1% by 2020. These assumptions sound complacent; and it is also likely that the better off will gain more from energy efficiency measures.

    Ben Moxham, Senior Energy Advisor to David Cameron, is also doubtful. Quoted in the Telegraph, last month (my italics):

    The impact of our policies on household electricity bills (as opposed to prices) would be lower due to the effect of other policies, notably energy efficiency measures, in lowering electricity consumption: i) According to DECC, the effect of this lowered consumption on household electricity bills would outweigh the impact of policies in raising prices, leading to electricity bills that are, net, 1% lower in 2015 and 4% lower in 2020 than they would be in the absence of policies. ii) While the rest of the analysis seems broadly plausible, we find the scale of household energy consumption savings calculated by DECC to be unconvincing. Their analysis may be based on the assumption that many energy efficiency measures will be taken up without subsidy, whereas we believe a large number of measures will need to be subsidised given, the hassle factor and other barriers to consumer uptake identified at the Green Deal implementation meeting. We are interrogating DECC’s assumptions further.

  2. Ben Pile

    The FT have made quite an amazing point which I missed…

    The number of households in “fuel poverty” would fall almost a third to 2.7m if the government were to accept a new definition of the problem suggested by an independent inquiry.

    If things aren’t going your way, change the way things are measured. Either way, what Huhne can’t avoid is the fact of 27,000 ‘excess deaths’ a year.

  3. stefanthedenier

    Fuel will be less and less, no matter what. More people on the bottom are supporting the phony GLOBAL warming and implementing carbon taxes = natural selection is starting again in the former democratic west.Unless overpopulation problem is solved – carbon molesting is just the smokescreen, for people to look in opposite direction than where the solutions to the real problems are. The anarchist substituted CO2 for hammer and seacle – for them, overpopulation means, easier to start anarchy. In few years they will stop talking about the phony GLOBAL warming – people will be made to forget about it; same as they forgot about their Nuclear Winter we were supposed to have for year 2000. When China’s economy suffocates the western economies; the Warmist will start pointing how good communism is. One would say that they have already started – by demonstrations against corporate greed. Nobody will point to their Smarties that: in Africa /Latin America; where is no large corporations – Warmist’ Smarties don’t exist.

  4. George Carty

    Stefanthedenier uses so many stereotypical right-wing tropes that I wonder if he’s a Green black propagandist…

  5. geoffchambers

    Your last half dozen articles have gone a long way to identifying the social causes behind the insanity of much government policy. Infinitely increased computer capacity and the rise of a semi-numerate information-obsessed middle class has led to decisions being taken to satisfy the statistics rather than the voters.
    It’s not actually that shocking to change the definition of fuel poverty, given that it’s a wholly arbitrary second order statistic which doesn’t mean anything outside a think tank’s position paper. What has spending more or less than 10% of your income on energy costs got to do with anything in the real world? What counts is the temperature in you living room, how many pullovers you own, etc., figures not immediately available to the think-tankers. Governments measure the stuff they can easily get at, and encourage NGOs to push them to “improve” variables which sound impressive to journalists who like a good factoid. What’s needed is more William Briggs-type scepticism – not of statistics, but of the meaningless juggling with figures which passes for socially conscious journalism.
    for a good article by a statistician who hasn’t lost all contact with reality

  6. Alex Cull

    Geoff, good article. Meanwhile, Michael Pollitt, writing in the Guardian, yesterday (euphemism alert – my italics):

    So if the EU is serious about meeting its stated energy objectives, the unit price of household electricity and gas must rise over the longer term. This does not necessarily mean proportionally higher average energy bills, as households will naturally invest in energy efficiency improvements. However it will inevitably mean significantly higher energy bills (or reduced energy comfort levels) for those who are unable or unwilling to adjust to higher energy prices.

    Bread shortages on the way, then, but will chiefly affect those unable or unwilling to purchase cake.

  7. geoffchambers

    I’ve just noticed the figures inthe WHO table which make your point most graphically.
    Deaths due to climate change in the developing world: 153,000
    Deaths due to climate change in the developed world: 0
    This alone shows the attribution to cliimate change to be imaginary, false. Large discrepancies are of course explicable, but not infinitely large ones. Climate change, like unsafe sex and heart attacks, is everywhere (or it is nowhere). If no-one died of climate change in the developed world (where there are floods, droughts, cold spells, heat waves etc) what grounds can there be for attributing any deathes at all to climate change in the developing world?

  8. George Carty

    On the other hand, you may expect poor countries to be more susceptible to climate change for a reason other than poverty — they tend to be in warmer-climate regions of the world than most rich countries.

  9. geoffchambers

    George Carty
    Agreed, there are all sorts of reasons why poorer, hotter countries will have higher death rates from all sorts of causes. But if a global phenomenon has catastrophic effects in some countries and none at all in others, the obvious conclusion is that it’s due to a difference in the countries themselves, i.e. it’s due to poverty. People die in poor countries because they’re poor.
    People die in floods and heatwaves in poor and rich countries alike, but the deaths in rich countries cannot be attributed to climate change because they’re basically accidents, failures of emergency services etc. This would still be the case if floods, heatwaves etc. doubled in frequency. Any increase in mortality would be blamed by journalists and voters on the government, and they’d be right.
    Unless, of course, all journalists, politicians, etc. suddenly subscribed to some unchallengeable consensus view. But that could never happen in a democracy, could it?

  10. Ben Pile

    Geoff — what grounds can there be for attributing any deathes at all to climate change in the developing world

    It’s a point we’ve agreed on before. The only argument that seems to provide grounds for this attribution is that poverty in the developing world is a given. Yet any projections of growth rule this out as a natural, necessary fact. And it barely needs pointing out that, in spite of many environmentalists’ advocacy of ‘contraction and convergence’, their emphasis is on contraction, and their broader agenda is anti growth. Some of this is naivety of ‘realpolitik’, so to speak. The anti-growth pressure will be greater where there is less resistance: in more developed economies, there is a greater possibility of a challenge to this poison. Climate change policies will be worse for the poor.

    Figures provided by the WHO elsewhere show that 10,000 fewer infants (under-5s) die each day today than in 1990. That’s a remarkable figure, which depicts progress in the world, but perhaps not enough. I’ve met a few deep-green types of a peculiarly Darwinian bent, who seem to think that death is a part of life, but they’re few and far between, and I doubt they have much influence, or that their views are shared. Most greens, I think, would probably want to see infant mortality abolished to the fullest possible extent, just as we would. They just seem to think that ‘climate change’ accounts for poverty.

    Oxfam, for instance, published a report a few years back, which claimed that climate change had increased the levels of poverty in Bangladesh. Yet when we looked at the stats relating to agricultural production and GDP, we could see that both had approximately tripled over the last 50 years. If poverty had increased, it had nothing to do with climate change, or to the availability of food. More recently we’ve seen Oxfam and other development and aid organisations call for the preservation of ‘traditional’ and ‘pastoral’ forms of society.

    It would seem then, that the development agencies really are anti-growth and anti-development. They really do seem to believe that subsistence at least — if not poverty — is a given, and that growth is an impossibility. For organisations that were long-time critics of ‘trickle down’ economics, they have certainly seem to have managed to come up with something far more insidious.

  11. geoffchambers

    The position of development agencies is no doubt as self-contradictory as you state. Since they would claim they were pro-development, it should be possible, by pointing out the anti-development implications of their climate change policies, to engage in a dialogue. This doesn’t happen, and I would suggest that climate change has been chosen precisely because it enables them to stifle such dialogue by accusing their opponents of being “anti-science”.
    (I remember the Guardian’s David Adam engaging in dialogue here, until he realised he was losing the argument, announced “I’ve just realised you’re a denier” and signed off).
    The point I was trying rather clumsily to make was that the complete absence of climate change deaths in the developed world suggests a logical mistake in the reasoning, as opposed to a simple statistical error or exaggeration.
    Where deaths are higher in the third world than in the developed world for a given cause, it is possible to discuss policies rationally. (Cigarettes kill more in the third world? Let’s look at advertising codes, pricing, cancer screening, whatever).
    Where there are no deaths at all in the developed world, there is no quantitative comparison to be made. If global warming kills no-one in the developed world, then it’s not global. Therefore something else is killing poor people, not global warming/climate change.
    (Note to George Carty. Yes, many poor countries are already hot. But so’s Singapore, one of the richest countries in the world. But they have air conditioning).

    Your last few articles, criticising the use of statistics, graphs, bullet points like “development goals” etc., are leading into very interesting areas. It would be very easy to fall into the “damned lies … statistics” trap, and no doubt your critics will accuse you of doing just that.
    The real target, I take it, is not statistics as such, or even false or misleading statistics, but the deification of statistics, the cult of the graph and spreadsheet which turns every reader of the posh papers into an instant expert, and allows young graduates with a talent for constructing pie charts to create government policy.

    • Ben Pile

      Geoff – The real target, I take it, is not statistics as such, or even false or misleading statistics, but the deification of statistics, the cult of the graph and spreadsheet which turns every reader of the posh papers into an instant expert, and allows young graduates with a talent for constructing pie charts to create government policy.

      Absolutely. Your comment in the ‘poverty of diagrams’ discussion utterly nailed it:

      Try making a defunct organisation the subject of a verb in the present tense and you look pretty silly. Do the same thing with rectangles and arrows and nobody cares.

      It’s the same with the new data from BEST. The stats are seemingly held to speak for themselves… ‘Look! We told you! The world has got warmer!’… So preoccupied with the curves on graphs were the journos and activists, just as they have got excited about the charts depicting summer Arctic sea ice cover, that they forget the actual substance of the debate. Charts no longer simply depict temperature, but represent all of the other claims made in the debate: about poverty in the developing world, the need for windmills in the UK, and the necessity of a carbon tax, etc.

  12. Alex Cull

    Today (see here), EDF Energy have been fined for spying on Greenpeace, and have to contribute £430,000 in compensation to that organisation’s already substantial coffers.

    Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven said: ‘EDF could demonstrate real regret for its illegal spying operation by using its increased profits to help those in fuel poverty.’

    Given Greenpeace’s opposition to cheap energy, what a cynical statement.

  13. geoffchambers

    The role of EDF in Britain’s energy politics is a fascinating illustration of Ben’s point about the old left-right political distinctions being redundant (a point I don’t agree with, but still…).
    It was the Eurosceptic Thatcher whose privatation programme handed control of a chunk of our electricity supply to what is effectively a state organisation working for a foreign power. Of course, EDF have to comply with European competition rules, but you don’t abolish 60 years of Gaullist state controlled energy policy as easily as that. EDF works for France.
    The Greens in France are insisting on the closure of the EPR reactor which was Greenpeace’s target, and will withdraw their support for the Socialists, who need their support to be sure of winning the election in April next year. The Socialists are making Merkelish noises about closing down nuclear, but not yet. With 80% of France’s electricity supplied by nuclear, this is pure fantasy, though EDF is so profitable it can afford to subsidise useless windmills, keeping the fantasy alive in the public mind.
    Greens have a large reservoir of support in France, due in part to the supine political correctness of the media, and partly to a political system which favours small parties. By a wonderful irony, shale gas has been found under the Larzac plateau, a sacred site for the French left since a successful campaign caused Mitterand to close the nuclear missile site there and hand it over to ecologists to raise goats and make Roquefort cheese. Thousands demonstrated to stop drilling.
    The Greenpeace spying story received little coverage here, possibly because both Greenpeace and EDF are highly respected institutions, and journalists don’t like to attack national institutions (unless, like Sarkozy, they’re already finished).


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