Alan Simpson: When asked, over half of Britain’s adult population felt we cannot afford to put off implementing policies to tackle the unfolding climate emergency. One in five took the opposite view; that we can’t afford the financial cost of doing so. But almost a quarter of the population “didn’t know.” Smart technologies can run integrated, local energy grids. Zero-carbon transport is no longer a pipe dream. Communities are bringing nature and beauty into the middle of bleak urban landscapes. Houses and businesses can generate their own renewable energy. And buildings can be constructed (and refurbished) to near-zero energy standards. But all of this exists in fragments. Never has the world been governed by leaders so bereft of vision or coherence; so adrift from the urgency of how little time we have to make this the centrepiece of a new (sustainable) economics. [Conservative] ministers’ current proposals would often make the predicament far, far worse. But none of this subtracts from the emergency. It merely reflects the civil war taking place within the Conservative Party itself. Labour, however, is no better; preferring a civil war of its own against radical voices on the left, but with barely a jock-strap of radical climate policies left to dress itself up in. Ed Miliband and Alan Whitehead know the scale of transformations needed, but both are restricted by the leadership’s predilection for paddling towards radical change rather than taking a headlong plunge. To deliver a minimum annual cut of 10 per cent in UK carbon emissions involves turning current economics on its head. The trouble is that Labour (and its favoured trade union leaders) want a revolution that looks more like “All Our Yesterdays” than a visionary tomorrow. The furore around today’s energy price rises captures it all. The government may strut its target of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 but the current rate of installations (35,000 per annum) barely gets Britain into the game. Meanwhile, the UK installs gas boilers at a record rate of 1.7million per year and looks to approve new offshore gas and oil developments. It does so backed by a Treasury that puts the bulk of climate taxation on electricity rather than gas. Whatever Boris says, his government is a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party of policy contradictions. Greenpeace, as ever, offers a saner starting point. Its latest report shows that an ambitious programme of energy saving – insulating Britain’s 25 million existing homes (and swapping gas boilers for heat pumps) – could radically reduce the amount of energy we waste. In doing so it could create 138,000 new jobs, inject £9.8bn into the economy… and radically cut carbon emissions. So where are its political champions? To this, Britain should add a national programme to reclaim disused coal mines; not for coal, but for the hot water that fills their abandoned galleries. Heerlen in the Netherlands has led the way; tapping into the hot water, boosting it with heat pumps and providing a (renewable) district heating system for the whole town. Britain has 25,000 such disused coalmines. An estimated one in four of the population live above flooded galleries waiting to be tapped for renewable district heating.
Morning Star 24th Sept 2021 read more »