There has always been money to be made from selling fear
It’s a policy that takes money from pensioners who can barely afford to heat their homes and transfers it to rich landowners. It ruins beautiful landscapes in the name of conservation. Because it is based on unreliable sources of electricity, it increases our dependence on some of the world’s most odious oil and coal exporting regimes. And, to top it all, it has not prevented the growth in global pollutants. The largest percentage increase in carbon emissions occurred in 2010, 20 years after the Kyoto summit warned that disaster would engulf us without immediate action. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the political establishment’s energy and climate change policy.
It is a great shame that Owen Paterson had to be sacked as environment secretary to expose what is an expensive futility. But earlier this week, in a wide-ranging speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, he tore into Britain’s cross-party consensus on climate change. He was met with a torrent of abuse from green campaigners but the BBC deserves credit for pointing out that many of the loudest voices in defence of wind farms and other immature renewable technologies are beneficiaries of public subsidies. Al Gore is far from the only prophet of climatic doom to have become fat on taxpayer transfers to the environmental movement. There’s always been a lot of money to be made from exaggerating danger and selling fear.
Mr Paterson is not a climate change denier — a term deployed against anyone who challenges the Big Green companies that are as self-interested as Big Oil. He told the foundation that he accepted most elements of greenhouse theory and that CO2 emissions “will produce some warming”. But proving himself to be more pragmatic than his critics he also noted the inconvenient truth that the doomsters’ warnings were not coming to pass. On many measures, warming has either slowed or even stopped over the past three decades.
This pause gives western governments the opportunity to invest in clean sources of power that might be able to reduce emissions without saddling manufacturing and low-waged households with scary electricity bills. Solar energy, which Mr Paterson hardly mentioned, is one such promising technology. Unlike the British government’s increasingly expensive bet on offshore and tidal power, the price of solar cells is falling rapidly. It may be an excellent complement to the energy source that Mr Paterson most favours — shale gas.
The real casualties of the West’s green policies aren’t the poor in this country but in the developing world. Aid money that could be going to tackle malaria or to build a health infrastructure capable of containing ebola often goes to dubious green projects. Barack Obama has stopped US aid from helping build any new coal-fired power plants. This policy will literally kill people. The alternative to fossil fuels for many poor nations isn’t expensive renewable energy but no fuel at all. And no fuel at all means no refrigeration for medicines in health clinics and no warmth for very poor families on freezing nights.
In reaching for the moral high ground there was one striking omission from Mr Paterson’s speech. He made no criticism of the Hinkley Point nuclear deal. Perhaps he felt embarrassed that he sat around the cabinet table that agreed £18 billion of public subsidy over the next 35 years for the nationalised French energy company EDF and a price per unit of electricity that is twice the current rate. Mr Paterson is right to be angry at the subsidies that onshore and offshore wind power require but opponents of the green movement must be consistent. Mr Paterson is close to sanity on energy policy but not yet close enough.