Theresa May’s fittingly florid speech in Florence last week, which was a blatant attempt to wrestle back control from the slippery shit-show that is Brexit, was predictably empty and meaningless. There was nothing new in it and the pay off had been leaked long before she clacked onto the stage in her leopard print heels. As always it was Theresa trying to appear momentous whilst offering as little as possible in real substance, which is basically the script for her entire premiership.
Whilst the media has focused on dissecting her dodgy delivery of a public address that seems likely to help with the deadlock in negotiations with Europe in much the same way that the Luftwaffe helped with urban regeneration in London in 1941, my mind was on another bit of public wittering she’d been treating us to a few days earlier in the hallowed halls of the United Nations.
Reports of that speech included what many regarded as a veiled criticism of her best buddy Donald Trump, someone who she had previously been seen holding hands with before inviting him over for tea and crumpets any time he was passing.
The implied admonishment was a pretty tame reference to his lack of commitment to the principles of the Paris Climate Agreement which his predecessor had signed up to, something that old Trumpers saw as his solemn duty to undo, in the same way he has sought to obsessively demolish any of Obama’s better moments in office. As with May’s own Brexit strategy, Trump has of late been dancing the Hokey Cokey around the Paris Accord, seemingly undecided if he wants to be in or out while global climate events shake it all about around him.
Our dearest Theresa is pretty good at shaking up the facts herself. Considering it’s fairly well accepted now that the UK is unlikely to achieve even its own modest target of 15% renewable energy by 2020, one might think she should keep her expensively coiffured head down when it comes to slinging rocks at glass houses. Yet as with so many of the Conservative Party’s policies, they remain as divided on the environment as they do on pretty much everything else.
One of May’s first actions as a shiny new PM was to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change, shortly after appointing Andrea Leadsom to the position of Environment Secretary. The same Andrea Leadsom who on becoming Energy Minister touchingly asked her officials: “Is climate change real?”.
The UK may well still be signed up to the Paris Accord, but it’s fairly clear that the Tories have very little appetite for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. While we’re dragged kicking and screaming along the path towards a renewable future, other European countries are passing landmark after landmark in ridding themselves of dependence on outdated dirty fuels like oil and coal. Despite this, we can’t even deliver on the promise to rid ourselves of the dirtiest fuel of them all (coal) without changing our mind as often as we change energy secretaries.
Wind power has come a very long way from its origins as a mad dream pursued by hippies and hopeless optimists. In February this year, Denmark managed to supply 100% of its energy needs from wind turbines for one whole day. A small feat, but something to build on. Here we see more and more turbines being installed along with the ability to purchase energy from companies supplying exclusively from renewable sources.
As an island with a long coastline we have enviable resources that are gradually being exploited in the form of offshore wind and tidal barrages. Yet the government continues to undermine new breakthrough technologies in wave power and cancels green initiatives that were starting to level the playing field for renewable energy against the behemoth of fossil fuels.
David Cameron famously announced that his government would be the “Greenest Ever” before abandoning that aspiration a few years later, writing off environmental protection measures as “Green crap”. The government also continues to throw billions of public money at private fossil fuel companies, keeping them afloat in the face of mounting pressure from many private investors to de-fund the industry. We’re the only G7 country to still be actively increasing these subsidies.
Perhaps their most baffling obsession is their continuing love affair with extreme energy – more commonly known as fracking. This is bottom of the barrel, last century technology dressed up as something new and ground-breaking.
It certainly fulfils the latter description, as fracking companies are allowed to decimate the very bedrock of our country to release yet more carbonising fuels into the atmosphere from thousands of metres down where they had been safely locked away. The paradox of this approach when so much research has also gone into the concept of carbon capture – which aims to do the exact opposite – is truly mind-blowing.
Described recently by Co-Leader of The Green Party, Caroline Lucas, as “corporate-driven climate breakdown”, fracking not only adds to the global fossil fuel burden it also contaminates water sources and produces vast amounts of toxic waste. It’s been banned by several of our EU partners including France, Germany, Ireland and of course Denmark. Even in the USA, arguably the champion of the technology involved, it is falling very far from favour, being outlawed in several states due to the damaging impact it has on both the local and national environment.
The costs associated with just the drilling process mean that it is quite frankly a ludicrous amount of effort for a minimal return – and makes the whole idea seem like total lunacy. The only time fracking makes economic sense is when oil prices are high, which in itself is a bad enough reason to support it. The rest of the time it’s by no means a given that the extreme costs of energy technologies like these makes any sort of economic sense when set against emerging and established renewables.
With the cost of renewables reducing all the time and the almost universal opposition to the extreme energy prospecting from local communities already targeted by drilling firms, the illogicality of the equation becomes even more stark. Already hard pressed police forces are having to find additional funding to cover the cost of policing protests outside drilling areas. For example, Lancashire Police have estimated the cost to be in the region of £450,000 a month at just one site in Preston New Road.
This, of course, ignores the other costs of diverting limited manpower resources towards facilitating these firms in pursuing their own profits at the expense of the local environment. Many of the police involved may themselves be affected by the pollution, noise and disruption that multiple wells and drilling rigs will impose on the area.
Then we need to add in the social cost of multiple arrests and even injuries at these sites involving over-zealous police action. The literal last gasp of the fossil fuel dinosaurs is not worth this kind of damage to local communities.
Quick and Clean
In contrast to the battleground of fracking, we have projects like the Rampion turbine array off the coast of Brighton, where 116 windmills have been installed and are on track to start producing substantial amounts of energy later this year. The work to complete the installation took a mere 6 months.
Admittedly, offshore arrays like Rampion and the London Array in Kent are not universally popular, land based turbines even less so, but they rarely attract the kinds of protests involved with fracking or require a police presence to facilitate the works. In fact, these installations often attract tourists rather than protesters.
Wind power may not be entirely without environmental cost, but the energy generated is, on the whole, clean and abundant. Coupled with local battery storage systems coming on stream now, and mixed with other renewables like solar and hydro, added to micro-generation schemes, the long term future for consistent generation of renewable energy balanced with demand is very bright.
So Theresa May’s lecturing of Donald Trump during her UN speech would seem to be a case of political posturing over an issue that she shows little personal commitment to. There’s also worrying speculation that after her power grabbing EU Withdrawal Bill is passed into law, many of the European regulations and targets on climate protection will be quietly dropped. Considering the UK regularly flouts many of these rules, it would seem unlikely that we’ll be looking to enshrine them on to our own statute books.
Moreover, while the Tories continue to accept large wads of cash from the oil and gas industry, and in some cases from companies with seriously questionable pedigrees, it’s little wonder that they pledge their undying support for them on a regular basis. Some Tory MPs have even been accused of having a direct connection to fossil fuel companies, notably many on the fracking sector.
There’s a definite whiff of hydrocarbon hypocrisy coming from the direction of the PM and it’s not a smell she can cover up with any amount of Chanel No 5. If she and her cabinet are really serious about honouring the spirit of environmental protection and doing their bit towards saving us all from the inevitable horrors of climate change, they need to start doing a lot more than talk about it.
Solar, wind and hydro power may not be as lucrative to them and their campaign donors, but as we’ve seen around the world this year, all the money in the world can’t stop mother nature when she’s got her gander up. Maybe the Conservatives should take their own logo and brand name seriously and start paying more than lip service to principles of real conservation while we all still have something worth conserving.
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