Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Half-life Huhne and the Dirty Deal

The British Coalition Government is a real cacophony of incoherence when it comes to the rather vital issue of global warming.

Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, flanked by Liberal Democrat pseudo-greens Nick Clegg, the Deputy PM, and Chris Huhne, Energy & Climate Change Secretary, assured the public that this will be the "greenest government ever."  In a sharp contrast with the vast majority of Conservative MPs, many of whom question the existence of global warming let alone remedial action, Huhne has pledged that the government will cut carbon emissions by an ambitious 10% in its first year.

That was in May. Now, their claims are looking decidedly suspect. Over the summer, the Coalition has decided to axe the Sustainable Development Commission, which was responsible for identifying energy cost and carbon savings in government activities, even although it achieved £70 millions in savings for an annual running cost of just £3 millions. This was a bizarre decision attacked by veteran environmentalist Jonathan Porrit as a purely ideological move. Considering that the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, heavily subsidised by the public purse, has survived relatively unscathed (in spite of paying £5 millions in performance bonuses to managers last year), his criticism may hold some fairly heavy water.

Turning conventional wisdom on clean energy on its head, the Coalition has committed itself to supporting eight new nuclear power stations, to be operational by 2018.  After clearly opposing nuclear energy as late as mid-May, Huhne underwent a change of heart, finding room for nuclear in Britian's energy mix, a revelation now dutifully shared by his party members, never ones to let principle get in the way of a good pay cheque. The Lib Dems had stood on an anti-nuclear platform, but have deleted their "no to nuclear power" website and taken down Huhne's video forcefully proclaiming his total opposition to nuclear energy. Just in case you missed it, here it is:

Although the Lib Dems' rush to radioactivity is likely a product of their Stockholm syndrome-like association with Tory Party atomic fetishists, a consequence has been the abandonment of any strategy for developing clean, renewable energy. For example, although the Government claims to wish to develop offshore wind farms, it has cancelled a job-creating project to develop port facilities to service the planned wind farms at a loss of 60,000 jobs and the manufacturing infrastructure required for the future.

Now this week, Huhne and his colleagues have announced the Green Deal, a scheme to insulate energy-inefficient rented properties. This will somehow happen with no public funding required - DIY superstore B&Q among others will provide insulation kits on a buy-now-pay-later basis: the cost will be recouped over as many as twenty years through higher energy bills. Although the rented sector will be the first target, the aspiration is to cover as many as 14 million buildings, domestic and commercial, over the next decade to the tune of £90 billions, all of it met from people's own pockets - not a penny of public money will be committed, making it highly unlikely that any significant progress will be made.

The ideological streak running through all this is evident. Clean, alternative energy has been sacrificed on the altar of supposedly unavoidable public spending cuts - and public funding of energy efficiency measures has been slashed in favour of expensive nuclear and carbon-based projects.

For example, within days of coming the power, the Coalition ended the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, which provided grants to install alternative technologies such as heat pumps and solar power. At the same time, a pro-nuclear energy tax regime has been created and the decommissioning costs of our current nuclear plants will continue to be 60% state-funded (£1.7 billions per annum) even although they are privately owned. Likewise, another £1 billion of public money will go towards the discredited, voodoo science of carbon capture in an attempt to create clean coal-powered electricity. From 2011, there will be money allocated to the new Renewable Heating Incentive with a focus on renewable energy, but this is still partial and substantially lower than the resources going elsewhere. The fact is that in spite of his protestations to the contrary, by the logic of Mr Huhne's own argument in the video, the public will end up subsidising these new nuclear reactors to the tune of tens of billions.

There was a real alternative: the Green New Deal, formulated by environmental experts and economists in 2009 and adopted by the Green Party for the general election earlier this year. This would have invested in a nationwide programme of free insulation to bring all UK buildings up to standard within five years. It would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs, cut the costs of householders by an average of £260 per year, and significantly reduced Britain's carbon footprint. It would also, by keeping people in work, have reduced the costs of unemployment and generated tax income which this government will never see. A successful pilot scheme had been introduced by Green Party Councillors in Kirklees in the north of England.

2010 has been the second warmest year on record. The drought in Russia is now driving up food prices and across the planet the climate emergency is growing. We do not have any time for the luxury of massaging the egos of Huhne and his likes in this country or elsewhere. Their craven desire to cling to expensive, dirty energy to the sole benefit of big business and their hollow words on being the greenest government ever must be exposed relentlessly as nothing other than a huge and dangerous deceit.

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