Don't miss that film, if you haven't already seen it. This week there's more about domestic energy, including free socks and star jumps. The government publishes its Climate Change Risk Assessment and the Climate Change Committee says, "Could do better!" The Net Zero Scrutiny Group of MPs flexes its muscles. Greenwash is still alive and well. Find out what major corporations say they're doing and how it compares with what they're actually doing. "Could do better", says the New Climate Institute. The Port of Newcastle in Australia is going green. I reveal why that's my Irony of the Week. And Greta warns, "This is not a drill!"
Don’t look up!
That's the title of a film which came out around Christmas and if you haven't already seen it you should seek it out. It's gone from general release in the UK but is still available on Netflix and the DVD can't be far off. It's the story of a couple of astronomers who identify a comet on a collision course with the Earth. The impact will devastate the world and wipe out humanity and there's only six months to do something about it. The story is about the difficulties they face in getting anyone to take them seriously. “Don't look up” is the chorus of the denialists who don't want to look up to see the comet clearly visible in the sky. You'll have to watch the film to find out how it ends but people have pointed out that there is an uncanny parallel with the current climate crisis. In the movie a comet is a clear and approaching danger. In real life the climate crisis is an approaching danger but much more difficult for people to visualise and accept.
In this episode of the Sustainable Futures Report I bring you a backlog of stories which has built up over the past few weeks when I've only been doing interviews. You'll find links to everything on the website if you want to follow them up in greater detail.
First let's go back to the energy crisis and to the uproar following last week’s news that the energy price cap was going to be raised by 54%. Even before that the energy companies were warning that price rises were on the way and suggesting how their clients could cope. The idea that people should cuddle their pets or do a few star jumps was not well received. The company which sent out 30,000 pairs of socks to keep its customers’ feet warm did not win many friends either. After Rishi Sunak came up with his idea of a £150 council tax rebate for most properties and a £200 discount on all electricity bills, there was renewed criticism. It was pointed out that some tenants pay council tax and energy costs as part of their rent. Landlords would get the rebates but it was not clear whether tenants would benefit. In any case, the £200 electricity discount will not be issued until October and has to be paid back over 5 years.
No talk of cutting emissions and energy costs by making the housing stock more efficient and better insulated. No talk of cutting fossil fuelled energy use to help us meet our net zero targets. By cushioning the increased cost the government’s policy helps everyone burn just as much. It’s a policy which can’t go on for ever. We won’t be able to afford the continuing cost as wholesale prices continue to rise and we can’t afford the emissions.
Voters Don't Care
But how do we change minds? MP Lee Anderson was quoted in the Daily Mail last month saying, “My voters don’t care about COP26, just their gas bills. Many of them are only just managing to make ends meet. They want to be able to switch on the heating without worrying about the next bill.”
It’s a political argument. It’s clear that in the UK - as in the US, and much more than in Europe - inequality is rising. It’s a scandal that food bank use is rising in this, the so-called 6th richest nation in the world, and that some people have to choose between food and fuel. No wonder that they have no time for arguments about how to tackle the climate emergency or what they can do about it. Why would they look up?
It’s not just those on the poverty line who will reject arguments that they should do more to save the planet. Those on average incomes are being squeezed as inflation is predicted to reach 7.5% later this year. They mostly haven’t got the money for extensive home insulation or for changing their boiler for a heat pump. And even those that have, see that while these investments will make a vital difference to the nation’s carbon footprint, they are unlikely ever to pay for themselves financially. And don’t talk about the cost of electric cars.
Universal Basic Income
What’s the solution? I come back to an idea that is anathema to our governing Conservative party and is ignored by the Labour opposition. It’s the Universal Basic Income, or what I prefer to call the Citizen’s Dividend. It’s paid to everyone from birth. Everyone, even those who say they don’t need it, because they can always give it to charity and anyway we’ll fund it from taxes on wealth, not on income. If the dividend goes to everyone it will be easy to manage. It will replace benefits, apart of course from what will continue to be paid to those who have special needs or disabilities. Everyone will have the security of a regular basic income. It will be a step towards eliminating fuel poverty.
The second part of the solution is to insulate the nation’s housing stock. That will cost the government billions but it will save billions as well. It will create jobs and the jobholders will pay taxes. Once insulation is in place, it works indefinitely. We know that the Green Homes Grant was tried and failed last year. We need to try again. Perhaps those people, not the politicians, who organised a successful vaccine rollout should be put in charge of a new scheme.
XR - Extinction Rebellion
These measures alone will not bring us to net zero.
XR has launched its 2022 UK Strategy and one of its goals is “Demand the end of fossil fuels.” I don’t want to be defeatist, but it’s next to impossible, certainly in the short timeframe that XR specifies. Although governments signed the Paris agreement they are still licensing exploration for new oil and gas, subsidising the fossil fuel industry and, subject to political tensions, supporting new infrastructure such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which will bring natural gas - a fossil fuel - to Europe for at least the next 30 years. The ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 is a step in the right direction if the motor industry doesn’t torpedo it, but there is no clear government initiative to eliminate emissions from our electricity generators. They pay reluctant lip-service to new nuclear such as Hinkley C, which wallows in years of cost-overruns and extended delays. They have offered support to a new plant at Sizewell, but non-one has put a spade in the ground there yet.
Climate Change Risk Assessment
The government has issued its UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2022, in which it says, “Climate change is happening now. It is one of the biggest challenges of our generation and has already begun to cause irreversible damage to our planet and way of life. We have clear evidence demonstrating the pace of warming in recent decades and the impacts we will face should this continue. As we redouble our efforts to achieve net zero, we must also continue to raise ambitions on adaptation to ensure the UK is resilient to the challenges of a warming world.”
Good stuff. But is the political will there to do anything about it?
Climate Change Committee
Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, said: “We strongly welcome the Government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment which is based very closely on the CCC’s independent view of UK climate risk. But agreeing on the risks is one thing – taking action to address them is another. Building resilience to a cocktail of climate impacts facing our country, including flooding, drought, heat exposure and extreme weather events, is a mammoth task and we’re falling well behind. We look forward to seeing the Government’s action plan to shift the dial and deliver a well-adapted UK.”
So now we need an action plan. A worrying development is the establishment of a group of Conservative MPs under the banner of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group. Many of the members were also members of the European Research Group, which agitated tirelessly for the strongest form of Brexit. That has not gone well and it has left our nation divided. Some members of the group claim the government’s plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050 have been dreamed up by out-of-touch elites and would impoverish working people, “making them colder and poorer”. In response Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, has warned that climate politics risk being dragged into a culture war. Group member Steve Baker is a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), an organisation wheeled out frequently by the BBC and other media outlets for the sake of balance, to challenge anyone warning of the climate crisis. The media have at last realised that the GWPF has no scientific basis for its arguments and that “balance” against the climate crisis is about as sensible as balance against the dangers of smoking.
It seems that the NZSG will present measures to achieve net zero as unacceptable infringements of personal liberty. The risk is that they will use these arguments to widen the divide left by Brexit.
And across the world in China president Xi Jinping has said that the country’s low carbon ambitions must not interfere with normal life.
They clearly don’t want people to look up.
Getting Your Oats
Meanwhile greenwash is alive and well. If you want to save the planet all you need to do is to drink the right brand of oat milk. Well, not exactly. The Advertising Standards Authority found that statements made in advertisements for Oatly oat milk were misleading, inaccurate or exaggerated and directed that they should be removed. Claims like these give the impression that tackling climate is very easy. Even if they were true, you’d have to drink an awful lot of milk to make a difference. Or perhaps you’d make a bigger difference by not drinking any at all.
Corporate Climate Responsibility
The New Climate Institute has published its Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor for 2022. The report assessed 25 major multinational companies who between them account for some 5% of global emissions. They say: “Headline pledges are often ambiguous and emission reduction commitments are limited
- Net-zero targets aim to reduce the analysed companies’ aggregate emissions by only 40% at most, not 100% as suggested by the term “net-zero”. Only three of the companies studied were committed to deep decarbonisation.
- Targets for 2030 fall well short of the ambition required to align with the internationally agreed goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid the most damaging effects of climate change.
There is a chart which shows what the companies appear to have pledged and what they have actually committed to. The report goes on with phrases like “little sense of urgency”, “overall integrity of renewable electricity procurement remains low”, “plans to offset or “neutralise” emissions are especially contentious”, “must be subject to scrutiny and regulation”.
Could do better
It’s disappointing that these major global players are falling so far short of what needs to be done. Those who say that business is the key to solving the climate crisis clearly need to think again.
Three more stories before I close, and I’ve had to hold a lot of stories over until next week.
Irony of the Week
The Guardian reports from Australia that in future the Port of Newcastle will be powered 100% by renewable energy. The Port of Newcastle is the largest port in the world for shipping coal.
Welcome Innovation of the Week
Have a look at the Big Repair Project. They say, “We would like your help to better understand household issues with the maintenance and repair of home appliances and electronics in the UK. This will help develop ‘Right to Repair’ government policy and support the UK towards meeting important environmental targets.” And it will be another step towards the circular economy. It's not just the government we need to get on board with that, manufacturers need to design things so that they can be repaired, refurbished and ultimately effectively recycled.
If you need reminding that we have a crisis out there, go to Natural Climate Solutions where there’s a short video with Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot. “This is not a Drill!”
You get the message. We live in challenging times. It might be easier just not to look up.
There’s a link to the rest of the clip on the website.
That’s it for this Friday.
The consensus so far seems to be that episodes should be shorter than 30 minutes or even less than 20 minutes. I’ll do my best, but I don’t yet know how long this is going to take to record.
People keep saying to me, “I don’t know how you can possibly find enough material to do a sustainability podcast every week.” Don’t worry. It’s not finding it, it’s what to leave out that’s the problem.
Thanks patrons! Thanks to all of you who are even now on your way to check out the patreon site. www.patreon.com/sfr
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Don’t Look Up
Eon sends socks
Voters don’t care about climate
Universal Basic Income
Climate Change Risk Assessment
Climate Change Committee Response
Net Zero Scrutiny Group
China hesitates on climate
Irony of the Week
Big Repair Project
This is not a drill