By Jon Crooks
Our environment is our human life support system. A healthy planet is needed to support future generations and it’s in free-fall, but it’s not a priority for the Tories.
It’s also a marginalised issue for most of the electorate; perhaps because it doesn’t get the debate it should either in Westminster or in the corporate media. This needs to change.
“We won’t save the planet by putting the country out of business” – George Osborne, 2011
“There’s no economy on a dead planet” – Jon Crooks, 2015
We know The Tories think of our country as UK Plc and will always put profit before people and planet, but since they were re-elected in May they seem to be going much further. Craig Bennett, CEO, Friends of the Earth recently wrote that the Tories are sticking two fingers up to everyone fighting climate change. It certainly seems that way at times.
On-shore wind subsidies have been cut despite now being the cheapest form of UK electricity, the Green Deal has been scrapped and fracking, despite having been roundly rejected by the communities it’s continually foisted upon, is still being forced on us and will now even be allowed in our most precious wildlife sites. Two new gas power stations have been given the nod and George Osborne has even introduced a new carbon tax for renewables! The “Climate Change Levy” designed to penalise polluting power plants is now going to be applied to clean energy!! As Friends of the Earth said:
“…it’s like putting an alcohol tax on apple juice.”
Then there is the shocking recent proposal to cut support for solar. The Government has proposed huge cuts to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) – the scheme introduced by the Labour government in 2010 which supports small scale renewables.
The proposal suggests that the domestic FiT will be cut by 87%, decimating the rooftop solar industry in the UK. This will put at least 20,000 people at risk of job losses, result in almost one million fewer solar schemes being installed by 2020 and increase our annual carbon emissions by 1.6 million tonnes. It will take longer than 20 years for solar panels to pay for themselves, and only those with thousands of pounds of disposable income will be able to install them. Most families, schools, council tenants and community groups will be forced out of the solar revolution. The proposed cuts will only save at most £6 from annual household utility bills – far less than the £230 that energy companies routinely over-charge their customers. Even The Telegraph agree that this proposal will leave the UK trailing behind in the global solar revolution, and needlessly threaten jobs that will be vital to our future low-carbon economy.
Thousands of workers are employed in the green economy (this is the bit of the economy that grew 5% a year during the double dip recession). These are the jobs that can usher in a clean, long-term rejuvenation of the UK’s industrial towns and ports. Why crush them?
We all know that the most effective way to reduce bills is to conserve energy, to use less of the stuff through upgrades to boilers and insulation in our homes. The cost of building renewables is high in the short term and negligible in the long term – the fuel is free, after all. So killing energy efficiency projects and clamping down on renewables is inviting charges of hypocrisy when the changes are made in the name of “protecting consumers” and “bringing down bills”.
If it’s really about cutting subsidies to save the public money on their energy bills, why don’t the Tories withdraw support in the same way from the 70-year-old nuclear industry, whose costs continue to soar despite once promising electricity too cheap to meter? Where’s the insistence that it, too, must stand on its own feet? Could it be that there are deeper links between Britain’s nuclear deterrent and our government’s commitment to nuclear power? The financial support is eye-watering: 35 year contracts at twice the wholesale market price, representing bill-payer funded subsidies running into billions, most of which will line the pockets of state-owned utility companies abroad.
Oil and gas
And what does the Government have to say about all the hidden subsidies for oil and gas, totalling £3bn in new tax breaks in the last parliament alone? Or the Capacity Market, an obscure mechanism designed to keep old power plants hanging on, whose funding – via consumer bills, just like renewables – has quietly increased to £1.3bn? Right now, there’s little to stop our oldest and dirtiest coal plants seeking these taxpayer handouts this autumn. It’s clear as day: one rule for fossil fuels, another for renewables and energy saving.
Why, why, why?
The Tories know we have to take action on climate change, but they choose to go down the route of backing the old industries as a way of reducing our emissions in the short term (the nuclear industry and fracked gas) instead of investing in the new technologies that we need for the future. Why?
It could be a combination of reasons. The influence of money and power on the Tory party cannot be underestimated. It could also be about military might where the nuclear industry is concerned. It could be an ideology built our of a misplaced faith in big old-fashioned industries and a lack of respect for smaller scale newer industries like solar and wind.
What worries me most though is that the Tory mentality might be that we are already on course to exceed our emission reduction targets for 2020, for a variety of reasons including the downturn in the economy in 2008, and so we can afford to ditch renewables for a few years and maximise the profits of our oil and gas industries – this latter point was even written into legislation with the Infrastructure Bill earlier in the year! It’s classic Tory thinking of putting profit before people and planet.
Craig Bennet, CEO, Friends of the Earth, sums up what we need to do:
“Get off fossil fuels fast, ramp up clean energy and hugely invest in energy saving. But David Cameron is wilfully ignoring it, delivering instead an agenda that neatly sums up the zealous, anti-renewables, anti-environment ideology of a small handful of what he would probably once have called swivel-eyed loons on his own back benches. These same voices are those who shout loudest about the energy crisis we are facing. They are right: after decades of this country prioritising fossil fuels, nuclear and ignoring energy saving, we are facing an energy crisis. Their solution? To continue prioritising fossil fuels, nuclear and ignore energy saving. It’s old, failed thinking stuck on repeat.”
We need to start thinking about the long-term interests of the planet rather than the short-term interests of corporate profits. Public ownership of railways and the energy sector, divestment from fossil fuels and investment in energy saving initiatives for our homes, sustainable transport and renewables.
Not more in a series of cuts, not just to solar but also to onshore wind, at a time when it seems maximum effort and financial support is being expended on removing roadblocks to fracking and nuclear power and when new figures out this week from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show the cost of building nuclear or gas-fired power stations is rising – as wind and solar costs fall.
“We are the builders,” Osborne claimed at the Tory party conference last week. But government cuts and tinkering are destroying the renewables industry, not building it.