Yes, we must save the earth but or­ders to eat less and turn down the must be taken with alarge pinch of salt

Daily Mail - - News - by Ross Clark

SThis week he met mem­bers of Ex­tinc­tion re­bel­lion — who re­ceived him coolly — and then backed yes­ter­day’s re­port by the Com­mit­tee on Cli­mate Change (CCC), which de­mands Bri­tain cut its emis­sions to net zero by 2050.

To man­age this, the re­port says, we have to al­ter our be­hav­iour dra­mat­i­cally by giv­ing up red meat, re­plac­ing our gas boil­ers, aban­don­ing petrol and diesel cars, and plant­ing mil­lions of trees on farm­land.

Of course, cli­mate change is a prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed, and the pub­lic is gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of ef­forts to cut car­bon emis­sions — as it is of other mea­sures that im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment, such as the Daily Mail’s plas­tic and lit­ter­pick­ing cam­paigns.

Al­ready there have been great strides to­wards green en­ergy, with a third of elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by re­new­ables last year.

But if the Govern­ment just leaps aboard ev­ery pass­ing band­wagon, with­out think­ing through what it is do­ing, it is in dan­ger of im­pos­ing huge costs on the econ­omy and caus­ing con­sid­er­able pub­lic re­sent­ment — while mak­ing emis­sions worse.

The fact is, if the pub­lic are to bear the cost of all this, we should be wary. For past ev­i­dence shows that good in­ten­tions can go hor­ri­bly awry when the dead hand of the State is in­volved.

re­mem­ber how the Blair govern­ment en­cour­aged us to buy diesel cars in the name of cut­ting car­bon emis­sions, only to find a few years later that high ni­trous ox­ide pol­lu­tion from diesel ex­hausts was wors­en­ing air qual­ity? It meant that, through no fault of their own, peo­ple who’d bought diesel at the Govern­ment’s be­hest sud­denly found the ve­hi­cles were be­ing taxed out of ex­is­tence and fall­ing in value.

Smart me­ters, too, have been a farce, adding to con­sumers’ bills while do­ing lit­tle to cut en­ergy con­sump­tion.

The point is that it is very easy for politi­cians to flaunt their green cre­den­tials and set tar­gets — es­pe­cially ones for many years af­ter their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers will have ended. It is a lot tougher work­ing out re­al­is­tic ways in which they are go­ing to meet them.

LEAST the CCC’s pro­posed tar­get on green­house gases, which you can be pretty sure will be adopted by the Govern­ment in the near fu­ture, is a lot more prac­ti­cal than the one pro­posed by Ex­tinc­tion re­bel­lion, which de­mands zero emis­sions in just six years’ time.

Vir­tu­ally no one in the en­ergy in­dus­try thinks that is re­motely pos­si­ble, at least not with­out re­turn­ing the coun­try to a state of pre-in­dus­trial poverty.

Even so, the new tar­get is a lot tougher than the one laid out in the Cli­mate Change Act 2008 — which obliges the Govern­ment to cut emis­sions by 80 per cent, com­pared with 1990 lev­els, by 2050.

To be fair, some of the CCC’s pro­pos­als make sense — in­deed, LED light­bulbs, which use only a tenth as much en­ergy as tra­di­tional bulbs, are al­ready be­com­ing stan­dard. Thanks to them, my elec­tric­ity bills have halved.

But the CCC’s plan to re­move car­bon emis­sions en­tirely from our homes would mean rip­ping out gas boil­ers and re­plac­ing them with hy­dro­gen boil­ers or heat pumps — air con­di­tion­ing sys­tems in re­v­erse, which ex­tract heat from the sur­round­ing air or soil.

Ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy Sav­ing Trust, a govern­ment quango, an air- source heat pump typ­i­cally costs be­tween £6,000 and £8,000 and a ground-source heat pump £10,000 to £18,000. That may be just about ac­cept­able in new-build homes, but is a huge cost to im­pose on the home- own­ers whose ex­ist­ing gas boil­ers are work­ing per­fectly well, thank you very much.

The same is true of in­su­la­tion, which the CCC de­mands we im­prove. Newly-built homes are al­ready con­structed with high lev­els of in­su­la­tion, while 70 per cent of the 19 mil­lion Bri­tish homes with cav­ity walls al­ready have cav­ity wall in­su­la­tion.

But it will be much harder to deal with the 8 mil­lion homes, mostly built be­fore 1930, which have solid walls. Ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy Sav­ing Trust, solid wall in­su­la­tion costs an av­er­age of £7,400 if ap­plied in­ter­nally (which has the un­for­tu­nate ef­fect of mak­ing rooms smaller) and £13,000 if ap­plied ex­ter­nally.

In some cases it sim­ply isn’t prac­ti­cal — cladding build­ings with in­su­la­tion can cause damp prob­lems in old prop­er­ties which, like mine, were built with­out damp-proof cour­ses.

As for telling us to turn our ther­mostats down to be­low 19c, the Govern­ment is go­ing to have to be ex­tremely care­ful. It might be fine for those of us who en­joy good health, but un­til five years ago the Govern­ment was telling the el­derly to heat their liv­ing rooms to 21c to avoid hy­pother­mia. It now claims 18c is warm enough, a sud­den change of view which hardly in­spires con­fi­dence. What next? Will we have ther­mo­stat po­lice?

Many will ob­ject, too, to the CCC’s de­mand that as a na­tion we eat 20 per cent less red meat, on the grounds that meth­ane from sheep and cat­tle con­trib­utes to global warm­ing.

It also de­mands mas­sive treeplant­ing on farm­land — even­tu­ally UDDENLY, the Govern­ment is fall­ing over it­self in or­der to make ges­tures on cli­mate change. Last week, en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary Michael Gove grov­elled be­fore 16year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thun­berg, apol­o­gis­ing that not nearly enough had been done to cut car­bon emis­sions. AT in­creas­ing UK tree cover from 13 per cent of land sur­face area to 17 per cent. But why pick on the farm­ing in­dus­try?

It doesn’t ben­e­fit the en­vi­ron­ment if we end up im­port­ing more food from the other side of the world. And it cer­tainly won’t help the Govern­ment if all this pushes up food prices.

Phas­ing out all petrol and diesel cars, which Michael Gove has said he wants to do by 2040 — a date the CCC wants to bring for­ward to 2035 — may be pos­si­ble, but it de­pends on rapid ad­vances in bat­tery tech­nol­ogy. We would all have been driv­ing elec­tric cars by now were it not for two prob­lems: they are very ex­pen­sive and they drive for very lim­ited dis­tances be­fore hav­ing to be recharged.

Tech­nol­ogy might solve these prob­lems, but it can’t be guar­an­teed. Elec­tric cars may turn out to be like nu­clear fu­sion power sta­tions — which have spent the past 50 years be­ing the po­ten­tial an­swer to all our en­ergy prob­lems, with­out ever mak­ing the break­through.

With­out the in­ven­tion of un­fore­seen tech­nol­ogy, it is go­ing to be im­pos­si­ble for some in­dus­tries to elim­i­nate all car­bon emis­sions. One of them is the air­line in­dus­try. The CCC pro­poses these dras­tic cuts to emis­sions from our cars and our homes to com­pen­sate for emis­sions from air­craft.

But there is a se­ri­ous is­sue of fair­ness here. Would it re­ally be ac­cept­able for own­ers of mod­est homes to be forced to pay through the nose to elim­i­nate their car­bon emis­sions so that the likes of Emma Thomp­son can con­tinue to en­joy their transat­lantic jaunts while lec­tur­ing the rest of us on our cli­mate sins? Govern­ment min­is­ters don’t ex­actly set a good ex­am­ple ei­ther, fly­ing off to Davos to de­liver lec­tures on cli­mate change.

The point is that the Govern­ment needs to think very se­ri­ously be­fore thought­lessly com­mit­ting it­self willy-nilly to car­bon re­duc­tion tar­gets. Be­cause there are un­fore­seen con­se­quences ev­ery­where.

We can, for ex­am­ple, stop burn­ing coal in power sta­tions — which the Govern­ment has vowed to do by 2025 — but we will need coal for steel-mak­ing be­cause it is an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. Equally, it is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how we will ever make ce­ment with­out re­leas­ing a lot of car­bon diox­ide, be­cause it is a pretty much in­evitable byprod­uct of the process.

steel and ce­ment, of course, we can’t have wind­farms or so­lar farms, let alone roads, rail­ways or large build­ings.

The only way that Bri­tain could elim­i­nate car­bon emis­sions from these two in­dus­tries would be to drive them abroad (where, of course, the emis­sions would con­tinue). In­deed, it is only thanks to the em­i­gra­tion of heavy in­dus­try from this coun­try that the Govern­ment is able to boast that Bri­tain has re­duced car­bon emis­sions by 40 per cent on 1990 lev­els.

When emis­sions are cal­cu­lated on what is called a ‘con­sump­tion ba­sis’ — which tots up all the global emis­sions spewed out in the cause of mak­ing things and pro­vid­ing ser­vices for peo­ple in Bri­tain — our car­bon emis­sions have fallen by around 10 per cent.

We could only ever go fully car­bon-neu­tral if we have tech­nol­ogy to suck ex­ist­ing car­bon diox­ide out of the air and bury it in the ground — a process known as car­bon cap­ture. Again, like elec­tric cars, this is a tech­nol­ogy which

might work in fu­ture. Many demon­stra­tion projects have been built, but as yet no one has man­aged to com­mer­cialise the tech­nol­ogy, and it is not guar­an­teed that they ever will.

Of course, we should work to­wards low­er­ing car­bon emis­sions, prefer­ably — even­tu­ally — to zero.

But set­ting tar­gets with­out prop­erly think­ing through how you are go­ing to achieve them is just play­ing po­lit­i­cal games.

If the Govern­ment wants to cut emis­sions, it is go­ing to have to bring the peo­ple with it. It is not go­ing to achieve that by hec­tor­ing us into liv­ing monk­ish lives — es­pe­cially if min­is­ters them­selves carry on fly­ing round the world in lux­ury from one cli­mate change jolly to an­other. WITH­OUT

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