+ I had the telly on to watch today’s climate change debate. I noticed that as MPs were leaving the Commons chamber after PMQs they turned briefly at the bar of the House (a white strip in the carpet near the main exit) to bow (more of a slight nod) to the Speaker. An old tradition marking respect for the chair. But Andrea Leadsom just marched out. Clearly the Leader of the House is no respecter of tradition. She’s just a stuck-up snob with the manners of an oik.
++ Anyway, the debate itself was a case of déjà vu – it could almost have been a debate from 15 years ago. Then of course everyone was saying we were in the last chance saloon. Now it’s an emergency. So it was pleasing that Labour initiated the debate, and I thought Corbyn gave a good (but not excellent) speech. The trouble is, this subject generates a lot of vision but is rarely rooted in any kind of metric designed to discipline our behaviour. So at the moment the talk of the town is zero carbon emissions by 2050. This has an eerie ring to it – which goes by the name of NIMTO – Not In My Term of Office. That allows for a lot of flexibility. In response to the debate, Michael Gove illustrated the complacency which belies the emergency talk – everything is going swimmingly well, although we could do (a bit) better. But how would you measure the ‘success’ so far? Massaging the figures is the answer. This involves offshoring the carbon emissions our consumption generates and ignoring our historical emissions record. The SNP’s frontbencher did say that the solution would be painful for people but then couldn’t or wouldn’t say how. That’s the nub of it. It seems all the solutions actually rely on the market providing technological fixes which are thought to be painless, in other words electors must not feel any impact.
Some of the contributors to the debate probably did understand what’s required, but I sense there’s a kind of baby boomer mentality about, which is to say we know historically what adversity is (our parents might have told us about it) but we don’t believe today’s electorate would put up with it. Not least because the fascist media are so quick to make the point that green this and green that will cost you the earth when everything should be as cheap as possible. So there was an abundance of rhetoric, with mention of some good local schemes, and some primary schools that are doing something or other (always good to mention something from your constituency that can feature in the week’s press release) and, so far as today’s debate went, a sprinkling of environmental concerns which have nothing to do with climate change, e.g. a moan about the MoD not clearing up some radioactive waste on a Scottish beach).
Here’s six things that might have been said:
First, understand our responsibility. There is a global metric to calculate what that is, it’s called Contraction and Convergence. Adopt it and accept the consequences. It is the discipline required.
Second, translate that into sectoral targets, e.g. transport, domestic heating, industrial processes, etc. Divvy out the responsibilities.
Third, recognise that whatever word is employed, carbon rationing will be essential. The impact of this can be made equitable through a mechanism such as domestic tradable quotas. Poorer people who use less carbon will be better off. The rich will have to pay.
Fourth, stop all carbon intensive developments, such as extra runways, HS2, etc. and plan around the more efficient use of existing facilities and routes. We don’t need to accelerate around the country at ever faster speeds, we need to learn how to improve productivity.
Fifth, recognise that legislation on its own will not solve the problem – it is a necessary partner to investment, and it’s time the government invested heavily in e.g. renewable energy sources, insulation, demand reduction, etc. Taxes should be raised and hypothecated, so for example aviation fuel should be taxed and the proceeds devoted entirely to improving public transport and reducing its cost to passengers.
Sixth, some public services – power, transport, etc. need to be in public ownership and given a carbon reduction remit. In terms of power generation and distribution the need is to move away from a few large power stations to a honeycomb of smaller, evenly distributed sources. The important point here is that the big power generators have a disproportionate influence on policy. They need to be broken up in favour of more locally based initiatives. Public ownership in this sense should pass the benefits and profits of power generation onto local consumers, who would also be the local owners.
I might add that even though I have been a lifelong opponent of nuclear power, I would consider favourably the prospect of extending the lives of our existing nuclear power stations. In the greater scheme of things, the extra costs and risks would be marginal. But we should say no to new nuclear. It is just too expensive, and takes too long to build in any case, if it is thought it could make any meaningful contribution to zero carbon before 2050. We’d also save a lot of money by scrapping the Trident replacement. Such savings could be spent on improving our armed forces’ capabilities in tackling the various climate change crises coming our way. We can’t nuke climate change (but you never know, remember the ‘nuclear winter?).
Today’s debate ended with Labour’s motion passing, as it were, nem con. Sadly that means, as the Speaker adroitly pronounced (in so many words) that nothing will happen as a result. I hope that it might be possible to draw one good thing from it though, which is that one of our mainstream parties might get radical on the subject. One can live in hope.