See beyond the tie ... David Cameron giving a speech to the Open University. Photo: The Open University via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Buy Conservative! No other party washes greener
24th July 2015
Are you suffering from cognitive dissonance? You should be, writes Oliver Tickell. After the most ferocious attack a UK government has ever mounted on the environment, David Cameron just claimed that his is the 'greenest government ever', as Amber Rudd proclaims her commitment to climate action. What's going on?
Of course there will be some people who see through the elaborately constructed mirage and can see what's really happening. But not too many - the press will see to that. And hey - they'd never vote Conservative anyway.
David Cameron said an amazing thing this week: "I believe we've been the greenest government ever".
Yes, not five years ago - this week! He made this astonishing claim at the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells, mid Wales.
Some might say that's he's had precious little time in which to establish his government as the anythingest-ever. After all it's been in power for barely two months.
But more to the point, what a two months it has been! During this time he and his chancellor George Osborne have managed to generate a prodigious trail of environmental wreckage:
- an end to subsidies for onshore wind
- the imposition of onerous planning requirements for onshore wind power
- the taxation of low carbon energy by imposing the climate change levy on renewable generators
- the failure to raise the 'subsidy cap', the so-called 'levy control framework' for renewable energy, in line with falls in wholesale power prices
- funding cuts to medium scale solar farms following on from last year's cuts to large scale solar farms
- the scrapping of the requirement for new homes to be 'zero carbon from April 2016
- yesterday's scrapping of the Green New Deal, the UK's flagship renewable energy programme
- breaking earlier promises, permitting fracking on SSSI nature sites, in groundwater source areas, and beneath national parks
- the sell-off of a majority stake in the Green Investment Bank
- tax breaks for oil and gas exploration and production, announced earlier this month, to be included in the Energy Bill
- the imposition of heavy cuts on the energy and climate change department, DECC, which will result in the loss of about 90% of its discretionary spending on greening the UK's energy supply
- a renewed commitment to the world's most expensive ever nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C
- Giving permission for farmers to use bee-killing 'neonic' pesticides on oilseed rape crops.
Is that enough? There's probably more. These last few days the pace of the attack on the environment has been dizzying. Announcements have been coming out so thick and fast it's hard to keep up with them all.
And today, more greenwash
This morning the energy secretary Amber Rudd gave an extraordinary speech to an insurance industry conference on climate change and its financial implications. It was as if none of the above had happened. Instead soothing ripples of purest greenwash poured over the assembled delegates. It sounded so convincing it was hard not to be carried long in the melifluous flow of it all.
"I see climate action as a vital safety net for our families and businesses", she purred. "Protecting our homes, our livelihoods, our prosperity ... if we act in the right way by backing business and helping them grasp the opportunity that clean growth represents - we actually improve our economic security, improve our prosperity, improve our way of life.
"The bottom line is this: if we are acting on climate change to preserve our economic prosperity, we have to make sure that climate change action is pro-growth, pro-business. That is why our approach will keep the costs of bills down and encourage businesses to innovate, grow and create jobs."
Stop right there! How is hammering the cheapest form of renewable electricity we have, onshore wind, keeping bills down? How is it creating jobs to pull the rug out from under solar power installers just as the sector is heading to be cheaper than gas fired generation by 2020?
How is it encouraging business to do anything but retreat into a corner and cry, if you impose a carbon tax on renewable power generation, cut away the funding pipeline for future projects, and put complex new hoops in the way of planning permission?
You call this cost-effective?
"Governments can set the direction, set the vision, set the ambition", Rudd went on. "We can create the framework, create the rules, provide the support, predictability and stability needed." Yes - and then kick the supports away and leave entire industries floundering as investors flee to other countries like Germany and Denmark which reallly mean it.
"But we need to reduce our emissions in the most cost-effective way", she said. Now hang on - this from a government committed to building the Hinkley C nuclear power station under a support package independently costed at £76 billion (€108 billion)?
Making energy users pay double the going rate for its power until 2050 or beyond, even as ever cheaper renewables bring costs down? While pressing ahead with another eight nuclear reactors at similar exorbitant expense? And so committing the UK to a future of the world's highest electricity prices?
Of course the single best investment we can make in greening out energy landscape and reducing emissions to make sure we use energy more efficiently through common sense measures like draught proofing doors and windows and insulating our homes.
And that applies particularly to new homes: high levels of insulation can be built in at minimal extra cost, but it's expensive to come back and do it later. So what does Rudd do? Scrap the 'zero carbon home' requirement on housebuilders due to come in next year; and close down the Green New Deal.
And yet, total commitment to climate change targets
Now for the real mystery in all this. Even as the government does everything it can to destroy the renewable energy sector and lock us into another generation of high domestic fuel costs, here is Amber Rudd talking it up big on climate change:
"We are committed to climate action; committed to economic security; committed to decarbonising at the least cost. In December, world leaders will gather in Paris to finalise the first truly global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The UK is lined up with the progressive countries of the world on this. We want a strong, ambitious, rules-based agreement that makes the shift to a clean global economy irreversible."
Is a pattern emerging here? In the US, politicians who have sold out to fossil fuels (and that's most of them) fulminate against the 'climate change conspiracy'. But that wouldn't work over here, where people are smart enough to figure that if over 99% of climate scientists think there's a problem, they are probably right.
So different tactics are called for. To whit, a two-track approach. On the one hand, accept climate change. Make big speeches about how it's the world's greatest challenge. Grandstand at international conferences. Pull every rhetorical trick in the book to show how much you care.
Sign up to pretty much any climate agreement that's going. After all we've been doing climate agreements since 1992 and the collective effect has been absolutely nothing. The world's emissions trajectory is firmly on the IPPC's 'let rip' track to climate perdition. Meanwhile the main beneficiaries have been the biggest greenhouse gas emitters - on the new 'polluter is paid' principle.
And at the same time attack renewable energy for all it's worth. Make sure it runs out of money. Subsidise fossil fuel producers at home and abroad. Encourage power company monopolies and their systematic ripoff of consumers. Go for nuclear energy as the best way to maintain the centralised energy model that keeps power where it belongs, in the hands of government and corporations.
Now of course there will be some people who see through the elaborately constructed mirage and can see what's really happening. But not too many - the press will see to that. And hey - they'd never vote Conservative anyway.
So if you find yourself suffering from an unsettling sense of 'cognitive dissonance' - a feeling that the words you hear are saying the exact opposite of the actions you see, don't worry. You're right. And at least you understand.
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
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