Head for the Hills

Apologies for what will be an entirely off-topic rant – and on a Saturday morning too – but I woke up with this going more-or-less fully formed around my head at some ungodly hour and I thought I might as well inflict it on everyone else.

Last night I caught a snippet of Amber Rudd’s speech about the government’s climate change policy and it left me feeling a bit sick. She dressed it up in lots of rhetoric about green growth – no climate-change denier she – but that makes it no better, frankly. According to this government, the cost of green policies has got out of hand and they’re just rebalancing things because the UK is doing too much and the rest of the world isn’t doing enough.

This is crap. It’s fundamentally economically illiterate too. Choosing your climate change policy isn’t like choosing between fairtrade and non-fairtrade bananas in the supermarket and deciding that, while it would be nice to help the poor farmers and all, in the end the household budget can’t afford that extra 20p. It’s like choosing whether you’ll pay the bare minimum of your credit card bill now, or enough that it doesn’t get out of hand later. As the Stern report made clear years and years ago, climate change charges compound interest and it charges it at loan shark rates. And when it finally comes for its bill, it won’t come with a court order for bankruptcy, but a baseball bat, the kind with nails hammered through it.

Think about steel mills. They’ve been complaining that energy costs are too high in the UK. So they can do two things – they can go running to the government and threaten to move elsewhere and get their bills down – or they can start to invest in things like more efficient steel-prduction, or even start generating their own electricity (perhaps recycling some of the heat generated in making steel). Lobbying for lower energy costs means we can all carry on as normal pretending we’re not doomed until suddenly we are. Learning to live with them, ahead of the competition, means we might just still be able to produce steel when things get really tough. You can bet that the German steel producers are doing just that. Meanwhile UK producers have probably got the message that only a fool would invest in that sort of thing because the government is quite open to being lobbied over energy prices.

What bugs me is that Amber Rudd dresses all this in the language of caring. Take fuel bills. Amber Rudd wants green policies but not at the expense of high fuel bills for households. But if this government really cared about household bills, they wouldn’t have quietly scrapped the requirements for new houses to be energy neutral or scrapping their (admittedly not very effective) Green Deal without replacing it with something that actually worked. You don’t help people by knocking off a few pounds from their bill now – at the cost of strangling investment in sustainable energy – but condemning them to live in damp draughty houses for ever more, oh and their fuel bills are still high because we didn’t invest in sustainable generation before it was too late. You lay out the cash to get existing houses insulated, and build the new ones right from the start so that we’re not adding to the problem in the future. Compound interest, remember?

No, actually, what really bugs me (apart from the fact that we’re all doomed) is that it’s not even us who will properly pay the price in our lifetimes. Yes, London will get a bit hot and there will be a bit of flooding, and crops will fail, but frankly we live on a cool wet island and if any country will be able to weather a bit of climate change, it’s the UK. The people who will pay are the people who are already paying and who have no resources to weather the coming storm. And if you think a few thousand refugees at Calais is a problem now, you’ve not seen anything yet. It’s only when the planet starts to properly cook that we’ll start to suffer. And by then it will be too late.

I do try to live my life as if riding a bicycle, growing my own vegetables and putting on a jumper instead of turning up the heat might actually save the planet. It makes me feel better and it’s hardly a sacrifice, apart from when I can’t get any more jumpers on and it’s still freezing. But occasionally the background drumbeat of coming disaster breaks through and I can’t ignore the fact that we’re on a road that will lead us all to perdition, and it’s going to take a bit more than a few cycle paths to change that. In the last few years, it has seemed as if governments recognised this and were going to act – if not enough to prevent the temperature rising by a few degrees, then at least enough to stop the earth from turning into Venus. China, for instance, and maybe even the US. Not this government though. It seems determined to join in a race for the bottom instead – and why then should countries like China do anything different. It was almost better when they were climate change deniers, because that made a sort of sense. This is just pure madness. It makes me want to go and stand in Oxford St with a placard saying The End of the World is Nigh. Because what else can anyone do?

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9 Responses to Head for the Hills

  1. I agree totally with your annoyance. Why can’t we become a leader in Green energy rather than say oh sorry we’re doing too much! Much of the speech you hear is short sighted. We need to invest and we need to do more of it. Taking wway green incentives for homes is also a bad way to go but for unsurprising really with this Govt.

  2. Dayna says:

    Totally with you on this, but from half way round the world. You could just as well be commenting of the state of play in Australia right now. The current Liberal-National coalition are telling people a Carbon Tax/ETS is the same thing and (re)introducing one will only raise household electricity prices. Don’t mind the ‘reduce CO2’ bit. Oh, and “Coal is king” – a great line from our PM.
    Our emission levels have only skyrocketed since that Carbon Tax was scrapped a couple of years ago when they got in, and aren’t likely to change without a huge swing towards better policies.
    It really is enough to do your head in, but thanks for the post.

  3. Paul M says:

    Most of the idiots who don’t explicitly deny climate change but shrug it off on the basis that warmer summers and the ability to grow grapes would be quite nice seem unaware of one of the key tipping points in climate change.

    The Atlantic Conveyor (gulf stream) which bathes us in warm water and explains why we have a far milder winter climate than our latitude suggests (look at Montreal – further south than London but what winters!) depends for its existence on a pool of cold water emerging from the Siberian tundra. That water sinks below the warmer water around it, tugging in a current to replace it, and creating a convection current of cold water flowing south along the sea bed and warm water flowing north at the surface.

    Global warming is a direct threat to that convection. Without it, our winters would make Labrador look balmy.

  4. Well said. Depressing, but well said.

  5. Andy in Germany says:

    Trouble is, we aren’t the intended audience for that speech: it was a snippet of an ongoing conversation between the government and their supporters in industry.

    The purpose of the speech is to reassure the industrialists that they still have the ear of the cabinet, so the brown envelopes keep coming.

    We have a similar situation here where a massive reaction against the local airport expanding brought together hardcore environmentalists and middle class shopkeepers in such numbers that the state government had to stop the project. Now we are getting the backlash in the form of a massive project being pushed through at all costs, to reassure big business that government is still ready for orders.

  6. Autolycus says:

    Amen sister!

    >>As the Stern report made clear years and years ago, climate change charges compound interest and it charges it at loan shark rates.<<

    I believe someone* once said, a few decades ago, that we don't own the Earth, we only have it on a full repairing lease.

    *Bossy sort of woman, politician, blonde, funny voice, her party all thought she was the bee's knees. Just the sort you'd have thought the likes of Amber Rudd would have as a role model. But then, La Thatch had at least some understanding of science, even if it was primarily about inflating ice cream.

  7. disgruntled says:

    Glad I’m not alone in my frustration. Even if it seems I’m agreeing with Margaret Thatcher …

  8. thaleia says:

    Bravo. We have an idiotic ‘coal is good for humanity’ PM down here as Dayna pointed out. But I’d assumed things were better over there, especially since one of your Tories called our PM an environmental numpty (I’m paraphrasing). Rereading it now, it seems that Richard Benyon is a former environment minister, sadly for the planet. Link if you fancy.
    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/leading-tory-mp-calls-tony-abbotts-climate-change-policies-incomprehensible-20150722-gihsio.html

    Also, as someone who rarely, actually, never comments but has been reading your blog since long before you left London, I finally downloaded your book. Thank you, it was gripping, I really enjoyed it, even though it kept me up very late because I couldn’t put it down.

  9. disgruntled says:

    Thaleia – thank you so much, that comment just made my day!

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