Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

A very unsustainable Energy Bill

with 15 comments

Here in the UK, the Coalition government has published a draft Energy Bill for consultation. Crucially, this does not contain any commitment to phase-out the use of fossil fuels by 2030 – or any other date (i.e. as per an agreement reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh (PA) in 2009).

The Coalition government says it needs to retain the flexibility to generate electricity by the cheapest possible means. However, if you are in the middle of negotiating the purchase price of any commodity, at what point after you have heard the fire alarm do stop your discussion and head for the fire exit? …That’s right! You stop arguing as soon as you know you have got a much bigger problem – mere survival… Our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, may have described the single currency in the EU as “a burning building with no fire exits”, but our looming energy crisis is not the same; we have a way out – it is called renewable energy.

As Bill McKibbin has pointed out recently, fossil fuel research, exploration, extraction and refinement are all subsidised by our governments; removing any incentive those involved might otherwise have to change their modus operandi and/or raison d’etre – and invest in renewable energy instead (i.e. our only hope for a long-term future for a habitable planet).

I have responded to these announcements by emailing my MP, as follows:

Dear [X],

Please accept my apologies for previously forwarding you such a ‘rabble-rousing-campaign’ email [i.e. from Bill McKibbin’s]. I should like to offer you this more reasonable-minded email; and ask that you forward this to Ed Davey [i.e. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change] instead?

Despite the efforts by those who seek to perpetuate doubt, the climate science has been well understood for decades: If we do not decarbonise our energy generations systems within this current decade, the cost of doing so will grow exponentially because the speed of both climate change and the required decarbonisation will only increase. I therefore believe that the Energy Bill should have a fixed date for eliminating fossil fuel use.

When such disparate institutions as the US Department of Defense (Quadrennial Defense Review in 2010); the Communist Party of China (Climate Change White Paper in 2011), and the International Energy Agency (World Energy Outlook in 2011) all agree with the Stern Review that any delay will be a false economy (as now does the formerly-sceptical American economist William Nordhaus) – I think UK politicians should admit they are not qualified to second-guess the science; and act on the advice of relevant experts.

Furthermore, I believe the World’s politicians should stop pinning all their hope on the fossil fuel lobby’s get-out-of-jail-free propaganda of carbon capture and storage (CCS). If it is ever proven to be workable on a large scale, CCS will be even more dangerous than burying nuclear waste because CO2 has no half-life (i.e. it will never be safe for it to re-enter the biosphere).

Yours very sincerely,


I will leave you with a quote from the author of the 2008 Greenpeace Report on CCS, entitled ‘False Hope’ (i.e. available via the link embedded in the final paragraph above):

“Carbon capture and storage is a scam. It is the ultimate coal industry pipe dream… Governments and businesses need to reduce their emissions – not search for excuses to keep burning coal.”

15 Responses

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  1. I understand where you’re coming from with regard to a commitment date for fossil-fuel phase-out. And I don’t completely like the rationale by your government (or my own), but have recently come to the conclusion that we aren’t likely to get something different for quite some time (a generation or so…?). Unfortunately, policymakers think that the public wants cheap energy to the exclusion of all else. The public wants as much renewable energy as possible – up to a price. I don’t think the public is prepared to pay the costs for 100% renewables by 2030 yet, but the policymakers are clearly behind the curve on what the public is ready for today.

    One of the biggest problems with all of the climate-related agreements is the lack of enforcement when targets aren’t met.


    24 May 2012 at 17:28

    • I watched a very interesting Question Time programme last night (i.e. where the audience ask questions to a panel of politicians/celebrities). With the leader of the UK’s Green Party (Caroline Lucas) on the panel, a question on Energy policy was inevitable; and the answers given very illuminating – 2 were very anti-wind and although Lucas mentioned energy efficiency and tidal, she did not mention demand reduction, micro-generation, or 24/7 solar. She did mention the application on the DECC’s website that allows users to determine their own energy mix and/or policy. I will clearly have to play around with this because the 2 anti-wind panelists both insisted we would have to cover 300 square miles with wind turbines to replace 1 nuclear power station; and Lucas did not say they were wrong!

      Martin Lack

      25 May 2012 at 09:30

    • I have a few comments about you statement “I don’t think the public is prepared to pay the costs for 100% renewables by 2030 yet.”
      First, if we removed the massive subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives and let people pay the subsidy-free cost of oil, gas and coal, I believe renewables would look mighty good. Second, if we put a tax (or some kind of fee) on fossil fuels to reflect the negative impacts they have on our health, environment and society (deaths and illnesses from poor air quality, impacts of leaks into the environment, lost revenue from all types of spills, wars fought over oil and gas… and I’m not even considering climate change), again, renewables would look mighty affordable.
      But, most importantly, if our media and our politicians were honest with the population about the risks (financial, social, ecological, health, etc.) of climate change, people would have no problem paying a little extra for renewables.


      6 August 2012 at 15:22

  2. Well, I think it is safe to say that government will not save us from the impending environmental crisis. As long as the majority of the electorate want consumption before sustainability, that is how it will be. Thus, we will vote in people who allow us to consume more, regardless of the unsustainability (be it ecological, economic or social). Greece, France and Italy are showing what happens to politicians who try and cut public consumption in any way or for any reason (no matter how legitimate that reason might be).

    Personally, I think that sustainable living can only originate from a grassroots level (something like the Ron Paul revolution currently happening in the US). Individuals have to start talking about this and acting on it in big numbers. The cool thing is that there is that any individual can cut his/her carbon/ecological footprints to sustainable levels with no help from the government. The even cooler thing is that this can be done in a way that leads to true health, wealth and happiness. All we need is the will…


    28 May 2012 at 21:10

    • Many thanks for that possibly pessimistic but I fear realistic view. I agree with you that the solution (if it can grow to be one) lies in the roll-out of localism and/or bioregionalism. The Transition Towns Network, started in Devon (UK), is slowly being replicated elsewhere in the world but I fear we have not time for such a system to become universally implemented (even if such a thing were feasible)… Therefore, success will depend upon everyone outside of such communities reducing their carbon footprint (especially that caused by transport) and their consumption of all resources (but principally electricity and water)… We must just hope that all will choose to make these changes to their behaviour before nature intervenes and imposes them upon us as a consequence of us having exceeded the Earth’s ecological carrying capacity for Homo sapiens.

      Martin Lack

      29 May 2012 at 09:15

      • Wow, our views certainly are very similar. That is good to see:-)

        In fact, the primary reason I began blogging three days ago is to further develop and disseminate a concrete plan for sustainable living written especially for all of those people just living a normal, modern life (with “normal” being an ecological footprint of 8 global hectares, a carbon footprint of 20 tons/year, massive amounts of debt and no zero regard for charity). This plan details the ecological, economic and social unsustainability of the path we are currently on and then proceeds to outline a simple plan for building an environment within which happy, healthy, wealthy and, above all, sustainable living happens totally automatically. The emphasis is not so much on saving the world, but more on the benefits that will come to the one doing the saving.

        The fundamental problem with our current society is that the environment within which we live just begs of us to over-consume, thereby steadily and automatically building on the plethora of ecological, economic and social crises we face today. If a person wants to break out of this rut, he/she has to construct a different environment where sustainable living happens automatically. That is the theory at least…

        If you have a few minutes, I would greatly appreciate if you could take a look at the illustrated version of this plan which can be downloaded from my blog ( and tell me what you think.


        29 May 2012 at 12:41

        • I will definitely look at your new blog – welcome to the blogosphere, BTW. However, in the interim, I have one question regarding the above: Do you accept that malnutrition, starvation and premature death are a consequence of over-population (rather than of poor food distribution) that cannot be addressed by charity alone?

          Martin Lack

          29 May 2012 at 12:55

        • Thanks, I’d appreciate that.

          With regard to your question; that would depend on the type of charity. The human race has a very troubling habit of always trying to address the symptoms rather than the root cause and this is no different when it comes to charity. The primary form of charity that I support is the education of girls and women – a charity that truly addresses the root cause of poverty (and all of the pain and suffering associated with it).

          In the long run, I think that this charity is the best route towards alleviating poverty simply because an educated woman will raise one or two educated children (who in turn will raise one or two educated children) instead of six or seven uneducated ones. This really can make all the difference. It is also very cost-effective at $50 per person per year.

          As bad as this might sound, spending money to directly address the symptoms of poverty (hunger, disease etc.) will only worsen the situation in the long run by allowing for unsustainable population growth. As an example, the population of Africa is projected to grow from 1 billion to 3.6 billion in the 21st century. Now that just aint gonna work…


          29 May 2012 at 17:03

        • Very true. If this is the focus of your solution/blog, I am clearly going to love it; as the education and emancipation of women (i.e. to give the control over their fertility) is something I have been talking a lot about recently.

          For example:

          Martin Lack

          29 May 2012 at 17:46

        • It will take me a while to read even the lite version of OiaB but, from a quick skim through it, you have done an amazing job of writing the book I wanted to write. Well done – you have saved me a lot of trouble.

          Martin Lack

          29 May 2012 at 18:43

        • Just popped over to – best of luck in your project. Are you going to post a little about yourself? Hope so, would love to read it.

          Paul Handover

          29 May 2012 at 19:19

        • Happy reading, Martin:-) If you find that you want to make some changes or additions, I can also send you a MS Word version so that you can make changes into the document.


          30 May 2012 at 08:20

        • Thanks Paul. I’ll see about the post about myself. I’m actually a bit of a shy guy and writing about myself does not come very naturally… I’ll think about it though.


          30 May 2012 at 08:22

  3. […] government published a draft Energy Bill in May this year, on which I commented at the time – in ‘A very unsustainable Energy Bill’.  At that time, I was concerned about the stated aim of the UK government to become less reliant […]

  4. […] A very unsustainable Energy Bill (24 May 2012) […]

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