Extinction Aversion 1214


Man made climate change has appeared to me for three decades to be sufficiently proven, and it has that cardinal virtue of a scientific hypothesis, you can see the things which it predicts will happen, come to pass before your eyes, like being uncomfortably hot in your Edinburgh flat on Easter Monday.

Direct action of the illegal kind is a very important weapon in the arsenal of protest. It represents a challenge to the state’s monopoly of force. While it may appear non-violent, in fact by imposing your body into a space and blocking it off, that is an assertion of physical force. What the Extinction Rebellion protests showed this week was the reticence of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with nice, middle class and largely white protestors. That reticence is to be welcomed; the fact that it is not extended to other groups is what is to be deplored. The alternative is to argue for everyone to get beaten up by Plod equally, which is not a sensible line to take.

I broadly support the Extinction Rebellion protest. In terms of gatecrashing climate change on to the political agenda, they have had a good and entirely necessary effect. Their use of what was in effect force, certainly did some harm in restricting the movement of people around London, and in some cases will have impacted the ability of struggling people to earn their living. It also disrupted public transport systems which are a good thing. But these are minor items if you accept that climate change is whirling its way to becoming an existential threat – and that is a premise which I do accept. The disruption is outweighed by the intent to do a much greater good, in terms of the justification of the people doing the protesting. Whether it succeeds in prompting real action by government and achieving a balance of good, is a different question. I fear we have to get rid of the Tories first.

I accept that climate change is a worldwide phenomenon and action in individual states of limited utility. But individual states can inspire by example, not least by showing that a switch to a greener economy can lead to a major stimulation of economic growth. I do not pretend to expertise in green economics. What follows are rather some homely policy nostrums which I believe should form a part of a coherent approach to green policy.

1) Home Insulation

The Tory Government has effectively abandoned and cancelled home insulation schemes; in effect nothing whatsoever is happening. Yet the government’s own plan to reach committed emissions targets by 2050 explicitly depends on one third of all savings being achieved by insulation in Britain’s existing stock of over 20 million very poorly insulated homes.

There is the clearest case here for government action. The aim should be to upgrade 4 million homes a year. Full funding should be provided to local authorities and housing associations for their stock. Householders should face a legal obligation to bring home insulation up to high defined standards – with generous means-tested grants available from central government funds, which should meet 100% of the cost for all those in straitened circumstances, and a decreasing percentage thereafter based on income and wealth. Private landlords should be forced to comply and self-fund up to the value of four months’ rent, with grants available for higher costs. Failure to comply should lead to the landlords’ property being confiscated by the local council, with tenancies protected.

Those are the broad outlines of a policy which would provide massive employment and contribute to a major Keynesian boost for an economy crippled by years of austerity, as well as make a major difference to emissions.

2) Ocean Energy

Wind energy has made massive strides, and to a lesser extent solar and hydro. But disappointingly little has been done to harness the restless energy of the seas. Government support for research programmes into utilising wave and current energy is pitifully small, given the potentially vast and reliable energy resource available, to the UK in particular.

On tidal energy, those objecting to the Severn or Wash barrage schemes on the grounds of effect on wildlife habitat are failing spectacularly to see the wood for the trees. Of course biodiversity is massively important, but we are fighting a battle in which some resources will need to be sacrificed. The Severn, Wash and Swansea Bay schemes do not require substantial technological innovation – they are basically just low head hydro – and should be pushed ahead as urgent projects. Simultaneously major research funding should be given to innovation. I suspect the harnessing of currents rather than waves would be the first to fruition.

3) Aviation Fuel Tax

Cheap flights are the opiate of the people. I cannot buy in to the argument that aviation fuel tax is only viable if everybody does it. Planes landing can very easily be taxed on any fuel they have in their fuel tanks brought in from third countries. If hub passengers transiting are reduced in favour of fuel tax free destinations, I cannot see that as a bad thing. An aviation hub is a particularly undesirable thing to become, from any sensible environmental view.

Flying is a major contributor to pollution and there is far too much of it. The tax free fuel status that makes flights cheaper than trains is ludicrous. Aviation fuel should be taxed at the same levels per calorific value as road fuels.

4) Expand Rail Networks

Nationalisation and re-integration is of course the sensible prelude to any development of rail transport. The UK is chronically behind most of the developed, and even much of the developing, world in terms of high speed rail lines. This needs to be rectified as does the chronic over-concentration of transport resource on South East England. HS2 should run on to Aberdeen and Inverness, not just be confined to the southern third of the UK.

On a wider note, with demand for rail transport buoyant, re-establishment of many Beeching axed lines should be undertaken with a view to a simple containerised nationwide freight distribution system as well as passenger transport. Rail is far more energy efficient than road. The preponderance of road transport is simply the result of perverse incentive from government policy.

Light rail and tram systems should be expanded in cities. Here in Edinburgh, the poor planning and execution of the start of a tram system should not put us off. Trams should be a local service, not fast and stopping frequently, but rather akin to buses, as in Manchester. They should not be confused as in Edinburgh with an express airport service, with very few and inaccessible stops.

5) Encourage Micro-Generation: Abolish Nuclear

The UK had an immensely successful programme of encouraging domestic solar generation through feed in tariffs, so the Tories cut it, as they cut the less successful insulation grants. Generous feed-in tariffs for domestic generation should be rebooted, while technologies such as heat pumps and exchangers should be zero rated for VAT (as should bicycles).

By contrast, the massively expensive nuclear power projects should be scrapped immediately. I lived almost all my adult life under the impression nuclear energy involved some fiendishly clever technology, until I realised it generates from bog standard steam turbines, and the nuclear part is simply a ludicrously complicated, incredibly expensive and devastatingly dangerous way to – boil water.

The real attraction to governments of nuclear power is the precise reason governments dislike micro-generation – nuclear power promotes a massively centralised security state, and links in well to weaponisation. It is the most expensive electricity of all, and should be immediately closed down.

The above represent my own thoughts on possible short term policy responses to climate change. I acknowledge quite freely that it is not my area of expertise and is perhaps insufficiently radical, and certainly insufficiently broad and detailed. It has however focused my mind on the great economic stimulus that can be gained from wholesale pursuit of the necessary technologies at the government level.

I have deliberately concentrated on unilateral measures rather than international negotiation, because I am sceptical there is sufficient will for progress on the latter or that governments around the world intend to stick to commitments. I have viewed it from a UK not a Scottish perspective because action is required immediately, and Scotland starts from a much better place anyway.

That I am thinking on this at all is in a way evidence that Extinction Rebellion achieved their aim from their immediate action, though it is those in power they seek to influence, not random bloggers. I am very sceptical of their declared desire to “negotiate with government”. If David Cameron were still in power, he would undoubtedly “hug a swampie” and make all kinds of green noises, then continue shutting down environmental programmes. Those around Theresa May are quite clever enough to recommend such an approach, as a potential Tory rescuing image as the party otherwise crashes to electoral disaster.

I would recommend Extinction Rebellion to keep blocking the roads and stay clear of the politicians. If they could refine their tactics to concentrate more on direct action against the big polluters and their financial backers, and move away from shocking the public through inconvenience, that might be tactically good for a while. But on the whole, I applaud. Vigorously.


1,214 thoughts on “Extinction Aversion

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  • Clark

    Money:

    – Last year, the
    [oil and gas] industry spent an astonishing $124,837,199 on lobbying politicians in the US. During the 2016 elections, the industry spent over $100m on campaign contributions; recent top donors include the Koch brothers, Chevron and ExxonMobil.

    – One recent study found that worldwide fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $4.9 trillion in 2013.

    – Since the Paris climate agreement on tackling climate change was signed in 2016, 33 global banks – led by big US financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase – have provided $1.9 trillion in finance to the fossil fuel industry. HSBC is funding the expansion of coal plants in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam; while Barclays bank has shelled out $85bn of financing for fossil fuels since 2015 alone.

    – It has been estimated that the US has spent nearly $6 trillion on its post-9/11 wars [wars for oil].

    With supporting links:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/25/climate-change-oil-companies-extinction-rebellion

    How many wind turbines could be built with that sort of money?

    • michael norton

      Apparently wind turbines have the highest support, of and power generation system in the U.K.
      by the people.
      Less so with Solar Farms, solar farms can have some environmental benefits, sheep can be put to grass, underneath them, other wildlife can benefit.
      Solar Farms are immensely quick to install, similarly, immensely quick to dismantle, with almost no damage to the land, compare that with the effort and time to dismantle a Nuclear Power Staion,
      100 years plus.
      With all electricity generating systems, dismantle time/cost – ground renervation,
      should be taken in to account, in the application stage
      but I doubt if much heed is given to fifty years down the road.

      • michael norton

        Before the introduction of man made fibres, essentially in the interwar years, there was only localized pollution, all pollution was biodegradable.
        Then we entered the Atomic Age, everything changed, now pollution essentially last for ever, ask the people who used to live near Chernobyl?

        • michael norton

          If Global Warming is going to make our World uninhabitable, say in 200 years when we are eight and a half degrees warmer, when will India and Australia and Brazil and China
          take note?

  • michael norton

    Israel seeks ‘friendly international help’ amid raging wildfires
    https://www.rt.com/news/460126-israel-wildfires-help-neighbors/
    Israel is seeking help from “friendly” neighbours as the country was hit by an extreme heatwave and subsequent wildfires that have already destroyed dozens of houses and displaced some 3,500 people.
    Raging fires forced evacuation of several small towns in central Israel on Thursday. The blazes affected wooded areas between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with firefighter crews and airplane tankers trying to push back the flames. Some 22 people have been reportedly hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

  • michael norton

    23 – 18

    Better performance for mixed tin-lead perovskite solar cells

  • Sharp Ears

    Today from the BBC website –

    ‘The Met will push for the prosecution of more than 1,100 people arrested over last month’s Extinction Rebellion protests, a senior officer has said.’

    BBC News – Extinction Rebellion: Met wants 1,130 climate protesters charged
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-48402495

    A police state.

  • michael norton

    I the recent Euroelections, the Greens did rather well, even beating the Conservatives.
    Two million votes and awarded 7 MEP.

    Will this make any difference to Global Warming?

  • michael norton

    HURRICANE Energy has said it expects to generate £200 million annually from production from a giant field West of Shetland and predicted its success in the area could be a game-changer for the oil and gas industry.
    https://www.heraldscotland.com/business_hq/17536061.giant-west-of-shetland-oil-field-on-track-to-start-production-in-next-quarter/
    Estimated to contain around 500 million barrels oil, Lancaster lies in an under-explored geological area West of Shetland which Hurricane’s founder Robert Trice realised had huge potential.

    The start of production from the field would put Hurricane on the way to generating massive amounts of cash that it could use to bring other finds on its acreage into production.

    The company’s progress has already helped stoked interest in the West of Shetland area as oil and gas firms look to make the kind of bumper finds that can underpin long term production.These are increasingly hard to make in well-drilled areas of the North Sea.

    If ever more new oil fields are brought on stream, Global Warming will not be stopped

  • Clark

    Hello and thanks, Sharp Ears and Michael Norton. Sorry I haven’t been replying; I have been extremely busy and I had a visitor come to stay. I expect to be busy for at least another week. Best wishes all.

    Regarding arrests and charges; Extinction Rebellion Chelmsford had twelve members before the London actions. Since then we’ve had a whirlwind of meetings, inductions, training, forming the various working groups and allocating responsibilities. We have several times the number of members now; I don’t know how many exactly, about sixty people attend each meeting, but there are many different faces each time. There were over a thousand arrests in London, which broke the existing record; detainees were being returned from police stations up to a hundred miles away. How many can the authorities can arrest and charge?

  • michael norton

    On 14 May, Britain generated a quarter of its energy from the sun – the largest proportion yet
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48473259
    Chris Skidmore, energy and clean growth minister, said: “The UK has the largest offshore wind capacity on the planet

    No coal fired electricity in U.K. for the last fortnight.

  • michael norton

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-48460184
    “By using waste which cannot be recycled as the fuel to create low-carbon electricity which will power plastics recycling we are creating a truly…energy-efficient waste management solution.”

    The firm said the recycling plant would put 60,000 tonnes of recycled plastic from bottles, pots, tubs and trays in flake and pellet form “back in the economy every year as a viable and sustainable solution to virgin plastic”.

    The site will be powered by diverting 320,000 tonnes of waste from landfill and generating 32MW of electricity – the equivalent energy used to power about 44,000 homes.

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