My source for much of this blogpost is a Short Cuts piece by Maya James, an environmental consultant, in the London Review of Books on 12 May 2022. The opinions expressed, however, are mine for the most part.
- In June 2019, legislation committing the UK to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 was added to the Climate Change Act. This move was one of Teresa May's last before resigning as prime minister and was strongly supported by the Conservative Environment Network, whose members now include half the Tory MPs on the back benches.
|These were the percentages back in 2014 - this issue commands even more public support now.|
- There is therefore a divide within the Tory party of government in the UK. Around half its MPs are not prepared to strongly support this commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 - still 28 years away. But we need nearer deadlines than this. The climate crisis tipping-point is coming closer and closer. Some scientists say we may have already passed it. Yet a significant minority of Tory MPs - the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, with at least 19 members - believe that net zero is an impossible target to achieve without hollowing out industry and impoverishing the country. So they say no to green taxes, no to wind farms, no to a Climate Change strategy that is too costly.
- I want to speak truth to power. These politicians are Tories who believe in the power of the free market to bring prosperity to all. After Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, and particularly since 2010 when Cameron, Osborne and Clegg introduced Austerity, the evidence strongly indicates that inequalities have deepened as a result of these free market policies. More and more adults and children have been forced into living impoverished lives in a country that still ranks as around the sixth wealthiest in the world. For the last dozen years, the UK economy has scarcely been growing. Yet the few have still been able to grow much richer, whilst many of our citizens have become poorer. The free market is not delivering on its promises.
|There will be no second chances. |
- An inadequately regulated free market will drive us closer to global extinction. This is the truth - and we need to speak truth to power. We still live in a country where we can change governments in free elections - so this is a truth that we can act on when we cast our vote in elections. But in a society where the powerful and wealthy shape so much - political parties, the media, so much thought - it seems very hard for ideas that offer sanity and compassion to break through. I can empathize with the frustration of those who have joined the Global Extinction Movement and are prepared to glue themselves to motorways in a bid to get their message through to people. But I am not convinced it is working.
- The Quaker belief is that assumptions of moral superiority in central conflicts are always self-defeating. 'Self-righteousness is a rock on which negotiation always founders' (US Quakers, Speak Truth to Power (1955). I offer 'empathy as a weapon of war' in my book The Road to Corbyn (2016), pp.109-110. (Press the link to purchase.)
|The forces of nature are humbling when you are confronted with them|
- It does, however, remain the case that there is a global move to decarbonisation. More than 140 countries, accounting for 90% of global emissions, have committed to net zero by 2060 or sooner. But even if they were all met, these pledges have less than a 10% chance of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C, which is the threshold we must not exceed if we are to avert the worst effects of climate change.
- Since 2013, when Cameron promised to 'cut the green crap' from government policy, planning rules have prevented any systematic large-scale construction of wind turbines in England. But in 2020 wind turbines were admitted to the renewables subsidy scheme. Since then planning applications have boomed with almost all the new sites in Scotland, where the law gives less weight to local feeling. Scottish independence would, therefore, play havoc with Westminster's boasting about the UK being green champions.
|What price net zero carbon emissions by 2050 when that date is close to 20 years after the tipping point has been reached?|
- The government knows that dropping the net zero goal is a call that ignores environmental, economic, and geopolitical realities. But it is not keen to admit what facing these realities might look like. Plans for 24 gigawatts of nuclear power by 2050 are ambitious to the point of implausibility. Meaningless rhetoric, like so much that comes from this limping government in the UK.
- The cost of gas will continue to increase as the world decarbonises; one of the pressures on energy prices at the moment is the greater demand for liquified natural gas as China and others move away from coal-fired power stations. This has been predictable for some time, but in 2017 the Tory government in the UK allowed Centrica to close Britain's biggest gas storage facility rather than subsidise repairs. So much for the advantages of the free market! State intervention is critical at times.
|The young care about these issues - this will still be their world when those responsible for this toxic time-bomb are dead. |
- The green industrial revolution poses a fundamental challenge to Tory thinking. It can't be achieved without substantial government intervention of a sort it is not at all willing to make. Yet the German government is investing 8 billion euros in hydrogen technology to decarbonise heavy industry, displace fertiliser emissions, and store energy when the wind doesn't blow. in contrast, the Tories have pledged £900 million - less than one/eighth of German investment. Italy is offering to pay 110 per cent of the costs of installing a heat pump, solar panel, or insulation in homes as part of a scheme that has already cost £17.5 billion. See my blogposts and my book Dying to Know - Running through a Pandemic' (2022) (press the link to purchase) for detail about Modern Monetary Theory which shows quite clearly why governments that issue their own currency, as we do, can create money in a way that ordinary households cannot. How else did Sunak finance furlough during the pandemic lockdown?
- We have seen only one attempt at a national insulation project in recent years: the Green Homes Grant, which was a 'slam dunk fail' according to the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. The scheme was of course sub-contracted out (another instance of the pernicious neoliberal economic ideology that shapes the Tory mind-set) - this time to a company in Virginia, USA, that cancelled after six months following a number of failings including an IT meltdown.
- In Maya James' words, 'Cabinet ministers know you can save money by insulating your home and turning down your thermostat. They know we need to replace our gas boilers and eat less meat. but they won't say it. They'll go out of their way to avoid any suggestion that life might have to change, or that the price of inaction might be infinitely greater than anything we are asked to pay now'.
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