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Matt Ridley: A costly temper tantrum

Matt Ridley, The Times

A temper tantrum by mostly middle-class protesters to bring London to a halt will do nothing to help the climate and a lot to ruin ordinary people’s lives.

They want net zero carbon dioxide emissions from the UK economy by 2025 to avoid “extinction”.

I am not sure they have thought this through. That target would mean scrapping more than 60 million gas boilers and car engines. Because there is not time to build a fleet of nuclear plants by then, replacing all that combustion with emission-free electricity would require carpeting the entire country and most of another country somewhere with wind turbines (made using 150 tonnes of coal each) or solar panels (made with mined metals) to the detriment of birds, forests and landscapes.

They protest that Britain is doing nothing about climate change. Not true. No country has enacted a more draconian set of emissions targets, but try protesting in Russia or China — it would not be such a walk in the park.

So far, analysis has shown, our policies have resulted in higher energy costs, borne disproportionately by the poor, and no greater emissions reduction than if we had gone for gas instead.

If it is extinction the protesters are worried about, they are aiming at the wrong target. Most species extinctions are the result of invasive alien species and habitat loss, itself encouraged by misguided climate policies to turn forests into fuel.

If it is human life they are concerned about, they should know that deaths from storms, droughts and floods have fallen by 98 per cent in a century, but about three million people a year die from the effect of indoor smoke caused by cooking over wood fires (harvested from wild forests) because of lack of access to gas or electricity.

Far from prosperity being the problem, it is the answer. It weans people off habitat-destroying dependence on burning wood, and it leads to reforestation, the creation of nature reserves and the return of wildlife. Why are wolves increasing, lions decreasing and tigers now holding their own? Because wolves live in rich countries, lions in poor countries and tigers in middle-income countries.

The protesters have been duped into old fashioned anti-capitalism. The campaigner George Monbiot gave the game away this week when he said the point of these protests was “to go straight to the heart of capitalism to overthrow it”.

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