Is the UK government on a flight from reality?
This week, I was very pleased to discover that some of my recent output has been listed on a Weekly round-up of blogosphere posts related to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) on the Science blogs website. However, I was even more grateful when I saw mention, within that round-up, of a very significant event in British politics last week.
Over recent months, I have posted quite a lot of stuff about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and carbon capture and storage (CCS); culminating in the items I posted last week (discussed below). It is therefore ironic that I did not notice the row that erupted last week as a result of a public letter to the Secretary of State for the Energy and Climate Change (Ed Davey) from the Chairman of the government’s relevant independent advisory body (the Committee on Climate Change [CCC]) – former Conservative Environment Minister John Selwyn Gummer (now Lord Deben) – as publicised in The Guardian last Thursday.
The UK 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 upon imported gas. More specifically, I was (and am) concerned that it is planning to replace this with oil shale gas (from fracking); rather than encouraging people to get off the grid altogether by investing in micro-generation (such as solar panels).
It seems, therefore, that anticipation had been growing that an announcement would soon be made that the UK is likely to remain reliant upon new gas-fired power generation (without CCS) well beyond 2030. If the UK pursues this strategy it will do so despite the following:
— 1. The widespread international agreement – of organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA); numerous scientists such as James Hansen; and even influential (and formerly sceptical) economists such as William Nordhaus – that humanity can no longer afford to delay decarbonising its energy generation systems.
— 2. The agreement reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 that – in energy generation a least – fossil fuel subsidies and fossil fuel use both need to be phased out.
— 3. The fact that the Earth has five times more conventional fossil fuel than is now considered safe to burn; and therefore now is not the time to be finding a whole load more unconventional fossil fuels to burn as well.
This all makes me wonder if George Osborne has been paying too much attention to what libertarian ideologues like Richard Lindzen are probably telling him. Wherever this transparently intellectually incoherent policy is coming from, it was clearly this refusal to phase out fossil fuel use (now that we know it is causing ACD) that drove Lord Deben to publish the CCC’s letter last Thursday. In it, he began by stating:
Extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity (i.e. without [CCS] in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets. These are, of course, designed to balance the costs and risks of meeting long-term objectives and they require significant investment in low-carbon power generation over the next two decades…
What is even more surprising is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to respond so promptly – quite possibly due to the CCC’s suggestion that pursuing gas (from fracking) instead of equivalent investment in renewable energy could be illegal because (as the CCC letter continues):
Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not form the basis for Government policy, given the need under the Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the 2050 [emissions reduction] target.
As I made clear on my blog last week, having benefited from an exchange of emails with Professor Robert Mair (on fracking) and with Dr Bryan Lovell (on CCS), I remain convinced that pursuing fracking as a panacea to all our energy problems is insane; but have reluctantly come to accept that we may have to rely upon CCS if we are to avoid significant ACD. However, this is no excuse for doing as George Osborne has done – effectively telling his own independent advisors that, once again, the non-scientist knows what the best course of action is.
Indeed, apart from putting your hands over your ears and shouting “La la la, I can’t hear you!”, there can only one possible reasons for doing as George Osborne has done – he must believe we can continue to burn fossil fuels with impunity and/or doubt the reality of catastrophic ACD if we do not use CCS to prevent it.
I therefore think it is crunch time for the UK’s Coalition government. Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I support on many issues, famously said he wanted to make it “the greenest government ever”. Sadly, it seems to be failing significantly in many ways: In addition to crippling the green revolution at birth – by removing most of the incentives to get individual households to invest in Solar PV panels on their roofs (etc) – it now seems set to pursue energy independence in the form of fracking. As The Guardian concludes:
The argument over the [decarbonisation] target is now likely to reach the top of the government with pressure mounting on Cameron to face down critics of the government’s green policies and adopt the CCC recommendations in full.