Saturday, July 13, 2019

Neo-Climate-Denialism 2

Okay so we have, albeit half a century too late, seen off the climate deniers. There may still be a few who claim that the planet is not heating because humans have changed the composition of the atmosphere but these charlatans or fools can be safely ignored.

We now have a new threat, insidious and dangerous. It is the enormous number of people who say they accept the consensus view of climate scientists and yet do not act as if there is an emergency. They talk about net-zero carbon emissions by various future dates, they talk of carbon taxes, they talk of frequent flyer levies, they talk and they talk.

2019 will see the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in any year. 2020 will almost certainly see that increased. 2019 has recorded the highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere since Homo not-so-very-sapiens walked out of Africa. 2019 has seen about 1°C of heating since pre-industrial times, averaged across the globe, more over land, much more in the Arctic. 1.5° and 2° are for the birds. We will need to adapt to a 3° world and beyond.

These realities do not match the talk.  The urgent task is not to slow down and eventually reach zero emissions but to drive emissions negative and fast. We have to get the CO2 content of the atmosphere back down from 415 ppm to below 350 ppm. Next year it will be above 417. We actually have to stop burning pretty much all fossil carbon and sequester what we have already burnt. It means changing everything, fast. To deny this urgent need can only be regarded as the neo-climate-denialism.

Thursday, June 27, 2019


There's just one little problem with that net zero carbon by 2050 target that is being mentioned so often by politicians trying to look concerned about the future, it means we will sail through that 2°C target and then human civilisation as we know it will break down leading to the greatest genocide in history.

Aiming for net zero by 2050 is just a new form of climate denialism.

We should not be talking about target dates for net-zero carbon emissions, but rather about target dates for getting the CO2 in the air back well below 350 ppm.

Current action is increasing the CO2 and increasing it at an increasing rate. This year's increase, to a peak of over 415 ppm is the highest ever. Next year's increase may be higher still.

Current policy discussions are just about reducing the rate of increase.

While pretty much every honest and sane person now acknowledges the existence of man-made global heating, this talk of net zero emission targets is so far adrift from what is required it must surely be described as the neo-climate-denialism.

Also, a couple of observations:

As I write this much of Europe is slipping into the greatest heatwave since humans walked this land. There is much talk of a 1.5 or 2°C rise in global temperatures but many folk do not realise that it's the extreme events, not the average, that kills.  We've had about 1°C of global heating so far, but that's the average over the planet. It's less near the equator and more near the poles, and, importantly, less over the two thirds of the planet that is ocean and more over land. So another degree of global heating does not mean a degree of heating where we live.

Most importantly, the increase in temperature highs in extreme weather events is much higher than the increase in averages. This is a non-linear system. A further 1°C of global heating will result is far more extreme weather than the first degree produced.

If you are concerned about this week's European heatwave, you've not seen anything compared to what we are now committed to experience when we sail through that 2°C target.

And don't even think about India.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Brexit, Further Facts and Speculations

In Brexit, Facts and Speculations, written last February, I explained why the UK would not leave the EU. Astute observers of the political scene may have noticed that March turned into April and we did not leave.

Theresa May has succeeded in avoiding our departure but with her own departure a new paragraph might be in order.

It has been re-emphasised that the Withdrawal Agreement did not have Parliamentary support and there is no Parliamentary majority for a no-deal Brexit. Any new PM will be faced with two alternatives:

1. Attempt to pursue the default position of no-deal Brexit on October 30th,
2. Revoke Article 50.

The first would trigger a vote of no confidence followed by a general election and risk the installation of a Labour government with Corbyn as PM. Any new Tory PM would seek to avoid that.

Revoking Article 50 would be an embarrassment, especially, as seems likely, the new PM will be someone keen to leave the EU. But once we reach the wire even Boris (who, we recall, was a remainer four years ago) might find a way to explain that #2 is the preferred alternative. Embarrassment has not been a concern of his in the past.

The third possibility, once the first two have been shied away from, is that the new PM washes their hands of the decision by calling for a new referendum.
I concluded my February blog thus:

"Then we will have a second referendum, remain will win. We will see which party comes out of it all worst. But that's for future speculation."

I still see a new referendum with remain winning as the most likely outcome but there is now more evidence that Labour will come out of the process on top. Corbyn's fence-sitting tactic may prove in the end to have been successful. He managed, as best as was possible, to avoid alienating the Brexit supporting Labour voters. With the success of Lib Dems and Greens in the local and then the EU elections and the utter failure of the Conservative Party to 'sort the mess', he will be able to support Remain unequivocally in the new referendum and win the following general election, the rump of the Tory Party, after defections to Lib Dem and Brexit Party, quite unable to form a government.

That last paragraph is, of course, speculation, but it arises from the facts outlined above.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

414 is a very bad number

After a couple of weeks of action by Extinction Rebellion, Parliament made a formal declaration of 'Climate Emergency' 
The Committee on Climate Change has produced some recommendations

The reports key findings are that:
The Committee on Climate Change recommends a new emissions target for the UK: net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050.
In Scotland, we recommend a net-zero date of 2045, reflecting Scotland’s greater relative capacity to remove emissions than the UK as a whole.
In Wales, we recommend a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.

A net-zero GHG target for 2050 will deliver on the commitment that the UK made by signing the Paris Agreement. It is achievable with known technologies, alongside improvements in people’s lives, and within the expected economic cost that Parliament accepted when it legislated the existing 2050 target for an 80% reduction from 1990.

The UK is currently not on track to meet even the existing target of 80% reduction by 2050.
Even if we, and the rest of the world, stopped all carbon emissions today the global warming since the start of the industrial revolution will exceed 1,5°C
To avoid the worst of the upcoming climate catastrophe we have to do everything we can to halt greenhouse gas emissions quickly and sequester atmospheric carbon, driving net emissions negative.
The targets of net zero by 2025 or 2030 suggested by Extinction Rebellion and the Green Party are more appropriate to survival of civilisation than those recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.
Climate change is with us today. The last few weeks have seen two unprecedented cyclones reach Mozambique, new April record temperatures have been seen from Vietnam to India and as I write Cyclone Fani is about to strike India, earlier in the season than ever.
Our best proxy measure of things to come, the Keeling Curve, shows that CO2 levels are now 3ppm higher than a year ago.
Four years ago, May 2015, I warned that 404 was a bad number.
Things are getting worse, exponentially.

Much of that CO2 will remain in the air for centuries and millennia, forcing warming and, as it gradually gets absorbed by the seas, forcing ocean acidification.
Sea level will continue to rise as much of the ice melts.
Action emerges but complacency still rules.
With government not delivering the required leadership, we need the Extinction Rebellion.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Biff’s Easter Message 2019

Today, Easter Sunday, Passover, the first Sunday after the full moon following the Spring equinox, many people celebrate an event that may have happened about 2000 years ago in Palestine; others celebrate events that may have happened in the Bronze Age in Egypt; yet others celebrate more ancient traditions of springtime.
But who looks 2000 years and further into the future? By then most of the world’s great ice masses, already out of equilibrium with today's climate, now over 1°C warmer than before we started burning the coal, will have melted, raising sea levels by 50 metres or more. Many of today’s cities will lie deep underwater and much of today's most productive farmland will be drowned. Unless rapid mitigation measures are enacted immediately temperatures will rise to the point at which much of the Earth's land surface will be uninhabitable. Civilisation as we know it will have been long gone. Whether the human species will be extinct or whether remnant populations will have found ways and means to survive is uncertain. What is certain is that the Holocene, those several thousand years of climate stability during which human civilisation developed and then inadvertently and irreversibly, changed the Earth's climate, will be long gone.
This moment is our best, our only, our last chance to change course. It requires a rebellion against all that led us to this position.
In the UK some continue to claim that the UK is a world leader on climate change. They point out that in 2008 the Labour government introduced the Climate Change Act. At the time, the UK was indeed the world leader, but of a very poor bunch. Not only was that legislation weak and not fit for the purpose of saving civilisation from climate catastrophe, but the UK is currently on a trajectory that will miss the legal commitments:
"Climate Change Act 2008 Section 1. The target for 2050
(1) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline."
The current Secretary of State, Michael Gove, is acting outwith the Law.
#ExtinctionRebellion does not call for 80% reduction by 2050 but 100% reduction by 2025. It is an ambitious target which itself will only mitigate and not stop the destruction. Some decry it as too difficult, even impossible. Not achieving this target, however, brings intolerable consequences for the next generation.
The gulf between government complacency and the existential requirement of the next generation is unbridgeable. Either the government will change or the lives of our grand-children will be nasty, brutish and short.
It is the duty of everyone to join the Extinction Rebellion.
Happy Easter.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Logical Fallacy of Hypocrisy

Many people are quick to use the false argument of hypocrisy to denounce climate protesters of the Extinction Rebellion. “They went by car.” “They have leather shoes.” “They drink coffee from a plastic cup.” Etc. It’s nonsense of course. My advice to lead a good life is no less valid, as good advice, if I myself am a sinner.

Here is how the late David Fleming approached the issue as he wrote in his philosophical masterpiece, Lean Logic.

Hypocrisy, The Fallacy of.  The fallacy that, if what I do falls below the standards of what I say, my argument can be dismissed without more ado.  The fallacy arises from the obvious discomforts of a contrast between good words and bad deeds, like those of Measure for Measure’s Angelo, upright in public, outrageous in private.
And yet, if an argument is a good one, dissonant deeds do nothing to contradict it.  In fact, the hypocrite may have something to be said for him.  For instance, he may not be making any claims at all about how he lives, but only about his values in the context of the argument.  There is no reason why he should not argue for standards better than he manages to achieve in his own life; in fact, it would be worrying if his ideals were not better than the way he lives.  He is not dazzled by his high personal standards; he does not make an icon of himself as the model of high moral standing.  He is not defended by his sincerity from the possibility of self-criticism.  His ideals are not limited to what he can achieve himself.  What matters is whether his argument is right or not.  With accusations of hypocrisy in the air, difficult questions about real problems short-circuit into ad hominem quarrel.
Hypocrisy is a bad thing with good qualities.  Sincerity is a good thing with bad qualities; it shines a light on the simple certainties of your feelings on the matter, rather than on the awkward realities of the case.  Some of the most intensely savage people this planet has ever produced were noted for their sincerity and their incorruptible and austere lives.  There was Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), largely responsible for the reign of terror during the French revolution, but, in his own life, he was the “Sea-Green Incorruptible”.  And there as Conrad of Marburg (d. 1233), thin with fasting, who, in imitation of Jesus, rode on a donkey from place to place on his mission to discover and burn heretics and witches.  For ground-breaking catastrophes, we have to turn to the incorruptible.  We are safer with those who are not preoccupied with admiration of their own moral standing, confident that they can think no wrong.
If required to choose between sincerity and hypocrisy (writes the theologian David Martin), “Give me a friendly hypocrite any day”.   

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sir James Bevan is a bit right and a bit wrong.

BBC News reports: He wants to see wasting water become "as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby. We all need to use less water", he is expected to say at a London conference.

Two points:

1. Global warming will mean that the climate of the British Isles will get wetter, not drier.
2. The probability of occasional lengthy summer droughts will increase.
3. It is in the interest of shareholders of the privatised water industry that people use less water.

Okay, that's three points but the last was politics rather than climate science.

Bevan is right to say that we need more reservoirs. Resilience to droughts is useful and will allow us to continue enjoying water features in our gardens.

Bevan is wrong to say "We need water wastage to be as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby or throwing your plastic bags into the sea."

Over the coming decades we need to spend far more on drainage and flood protection than we need to spend on water supply.

Swindon, Town Gardens.

Oh, and another thing, water is never wasted. It goes round and round in the water cycle, rain, flow, sloshing about, evaporation, rain... with a built in purification by distillation every time round.  Global warming drives the cycle faster and we need to adapt to that.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Letter to the Grown-ups

The grown-ups got a letter from young folk:

We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. Its devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe. Yet we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.

Young people make up more than half of the global population. Our generation grew up with the climate crisis and we will have to deal with it for the rest of our lives. Despite that fact, most of us are not included in the local and global decision-making process. We are the voiceless future of humanity.

We will no longer accept this injustice. We demand justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis, and so we are rising up. Thousands of us have taken to the streets in the past weeks all around the world. Now we will make our voices heard. On 15 March, we will protest on every continent.

We finally need to treat the climate crisis as a crisis. It is the biggest threat in human history and we will not accept the world’s decision-makers’ inaction that threatens our entire civilisation. We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes. Climate change is already happening. People did die, are dying and will die because of it, but we can and will stop this madness.

We, the young, have started to move. We are going to change the fate of humanity, whether you like it or not. United we will rise until we see climate justice. We demand the world’s decision-makers take responsibility and solve this crisis.

You have failed us in the past. If you continue failing us in the future, we, the young people, will make change happen by ourselves. The youth of this world has started to move and we will not rest again.
The global coordination group of the youth-led climate strike

Save Lincolnshire Usher Gallery

Here's a message for all who think the Usher Gallery ought to remain an Art Gallery open to the public.

Hi everyone
It's been a while since we communicated to the full emailing list. We have been working away in the background and catching up with the sheer volume of work and communications generated. Great for the campaign, but sorry it's taken so long. And just to warn you - this is a long email!

Just to let you all know what’s happening with the campaign at the moment and provide a summary of what’s happened so far.

There was a meeting last week with representatives from the SLUG Campaign and many other groups and individuals to talk about coordinating activity and working more closely together in the campaign to save the Usher but also other heritage sites under threat, such as the windmills and the Drill Hall. It was from this meeting that the two working groups mentioned above (Communications and Alternatives) were set up. Once these groups get going we are expecting that we will be able to take on much more work and run a smoother campaign. Prior to that the bulk of the work of the SLUG campaign was being done by less than a handful of people trying to do this alongside jobs, family and other commitments.  With more people on board, we are hoping that we can ramp the campaign up more.

As a priority, we are trying to arrange a public meeting. As I’m sure you will appreciate, this takes a bit of time to organise and we are currently trying to find a suitably sized venue for this. We are aiming for a date somewhere between 20 and 28 March, evening. As soon as we have more information we will share it with you. We will try to get representatives from the county council there (although there’s no guarantee they will choose to attend) and other key people/groups.

We all need to continue to spread the word about the plans and asking members of the public to take part in the consultation, write to their councillors and MPs, sign the petition and join the campaign. Flyers about this are being printed and we will soon be asking for help in distributing them. Posters are being designed, to be printed and distributed as soon as we can arrange that. A small communications group has been set up to help coordinate this and other communications activities, including the public meeting and demonstrations. Further flyers will be printed soon with details of the public meeting, just as soon as we have secured a venue.

We have set up Facebook , Twitter  and Instagram accounts. If you use these social media and want to help promote the campaign, provide your comments about the proposals, etc please don’t forget to tag the campaign using @SLUGcampaign or #SLUGcampaign when doing so. We’ll continue to put out posts from the campaign accounts but there’s nothing to stop you mentioning the proposals and campaign in your own posts.
We are particularly concerned to reach people who don’t use social media regularly or are not online at all. Many of these people are unaware of the proposals, or how they can take part in the consultation if they don’t do it online. This is why we are mounting a leafletting and poster campaign – to try to reach people who might otherwise be excluded, as the official council communications about the consultation have been mainly online.

We have set up a website at  If you want to sign up to the emailing list please do so from there using the contact form. Over the next week we will be adding more information and resources to the site, as we are aware there’s not much there at the moment. From the home page you can find links to the consultation , petition  and social media (see above).

Jane Riley has been interviewed on BBC Radio Lincolnshire a couple of times about the petition. Amanda Drury has been interviewed by BBC Radio Lincolnshire and Lincs FM about the campaign. We have had an enquiry from BBC Look North, but no interview from them yet. We have sent press releases to a variety of local media so they are aware of the campaign, and have offered to speak with them further.

Rather than just oppose the plans, we are being proactive in coming forward with suggestions for ways the Usher Gallery can be saved as a fully functioning art gallery. We have a group of people working on generating ideas for alternative options. It will take some time to generate options, carry out research and draw up plans. So I doubt there’ll be much to report on this for several weeks.
Alongside this activity, we are writing to the council about concerns, with requests for clarification and for more information on certain aspects of their proposals. It can take quite a while to get a response, so please bear with us on that.

If you have any particular concerns about the consultation process, the proposals, council claims or statements, you are well within your rights to write to your councillors or Councillor Nick Worth yourself about these. It might add more weight to the campaign and show the council the sheer amount of public concern and opposition to the proposals if you do. You don’t need to use physical mail for this. An email will do. His postal address is:
Cllr Nick Worth, Executive Councillor for Culture and Emergency Services, Lincolnshire County Council, County Office, Newland, Lincoln LN1 1YL and his email address is

To find out the email for your local county councillor you can find it here

We continue to get in touch with key people and organisations who can help with the campaign.

Karen Lee MP for Lincoln has now made a public statement “I’d just like to make it clear, publicly, that I am opposed to the closure of the Usher Art Gallery. Whilst I appreciate that local councils are in difficult financial times, some things must be sacrosanct, and the future of Lincoln’s Usher Art Gallery is one of those things.
As Lincoln’s Member of Parliament, I am working cross-party with Lord Patrick Cormack to ensure the future of the gallery and will keep my constituents updated as to our progress on this. The gallery was a gift to the people of Lincoln, and it must remain so.”

We are relying on everyone who supports the campaign to continue to spread the word about the proposals, the consultation process  and the petition , as well as encouraging people to write directly to their councillors and MPs about their views. This website is useful for finding who these are and how to contact them .
Don't forget to take part in the consultation, sign the petition and write to your representatives yourself, when you are ready to do so.
If you use social media and see media sites covering the story (e.g. The Lincolnite) and want to share your opinion, please do. We try to keep an eye on these stories and add our responses, but the more people that do as individuals, the better for the campaign. If you oppose the proposals, this is YOUR campaign and we are relying on as many people as possible to put pressure on the council to stop this happening. The SLUG campaign is just one voice amongst many and all our voices are needed.

I think that’s all for now.  We’ll continue to communicate more information and calls for help once we have it.
Fiona Hodges
SLUG Campaign
Tel: 07762 096785
Facebook: @SLUGcampaign
Instagram: slugcampaign
Twitter: @SLUGcampaign

Friday, February 15, 2019

Brexit Facts and Speculations


1. Theresa May campaigned in favour of remaining in the EU.
2. The great majority of MPs campaigned in favour of remaining in the EU.
3. The majority of the electorate would now vote to remain in the EU were we to have another referendum.
4. There are few MPs who support a No Deal Brexit.
5. Theresa May's 'Deal' does not have the support of the majority of MPs.


1. Parliament will not allow a No Deal Brexit.
2. Parliament will not allow Theresa May's 'Deal'

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." - Arthur Conan Doyle

Theresa May (and Jeremy Corbyn) were confronted with the problem of how to remain in the EU whilst minimising the backlash from the 17 million people who voted Leave. Her task was to set up a situation in which she would be forced to call a second referendum which would produce a reversal of the first result, whilst appearing to do everything possible to 'respect' the 'will of the people' as expressed in the first referendum.

She has succeeded is creating options that are impossible, leaving the improbable as the only truth standing. Article 50 will, at the last moment, be withdrawn and a People's Vote announced.
Jeremy Corbyn has been in a similar position, determined to uphold the appearance of support for the electorate of Sunderland and suchlike constituencies, but keeping the escape card of a second referendum at the back of the pack of all the impossible cards that have to be played first.

Both leaders have a common goal, remaining in the EU, because they know it's worth it, and both leaders have a common goal of making it look as though it was forced upon them, and both leaders have a common goal in making it look as though it was the fault of the other party.

It's that last goal that ensures the process will not be resolved until the last possible moment.

Then we will have a second referendum, remain will win.

We will see which party comes out of it all worst. But that's for future speculation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Green Transformation: Labour’s Environment Policy

The Labour Party's new environment policy document was published today, 13th February 2019.
It starts with pretty pictures and fine words and, importantly, on page 5 where it really starts we get:
1. Ambition is based on science
 Leading to ...
" This underlines our commitment to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rises to no more than 1.5 °C."
but as we in the climate science community know, that one's for the birds.
The first 'Action on Energy' (page 9) is
"Ensure that 60 per cent of the UK’s energy comes from low-carbon or renewable sources within twelve years of coming to power"
So in the early 2030s Labour policy is that about 40% of energy will still come from fossil fuel. Sorry, but that's humanity's death sentence. We've got to do much better than that if our grandchildren's lives are not to be nasty, brutish and short.
By the time one reaches page 16 (a picture of Jeremy Corbyn in a crowd of young smiling folk on a green background) one realises that they have included lots of good policies on lots of things, a few bad policies (HS2 instead of being cancelled gets extended to Scotland and airports are allowed to expand) and some notable omissions (the words 'nuclear' and 'Hinkley' do not appear), one realises that the Labour Party has absolutely failed to understand the urgency and seriousness of the climate catastrophe that we are beginning to witness.
The issue of economic growth is ignored. The word 'growth' only occurs twice, once to guarantee "airport expansion ... growth across the country supported" and once to "encourage the growth of wildflowers". Can't argue with the latter!
This policy document does not put the country onto a 'war-footing', transforming everything we do. It just indulges in some useful mitigation work at the margins.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The UK Will Not Leave the EU.

Warning note: all predictions, especially concerning the future, tend to be wrong.

The Spellman amendment showed there was no Parliamentary majority for a No Deal Brexit. It is not legally binding but certainly is politically binding; we can now rule out crashing out with nothing but WTO rules.

Other amendment involving delaying Brexit were lost.

The Brady amendment was passed, on a slim majority, so Theresa May can go back to the EU and tell them what Parliament wants. The EU have said, repeatedly, clearly, unequivocally and for very sound and understandable reasons, that there will be no renegotiation. She is wasting her time. In this case the time twixt now and February the 13th when the House of Commons revisits the matter.

As Caroline Lucas (and many others in various ways) described it all, it is "Pure fantasy".

What are we then left with?

Withdrawal of the Article 50 letter. It has been established that this can be done, unilaterally, by the UK Government. The Withdrawal Act will have to be repealed but this can be done by passing a simple Repeal of the Withdrawal Act Bill.

There will follow legislation to enable a People's Vote. This would be carried out with much closer scrutiny of campaign spending and with an electorate that is much wiser and with a cohort of elderly voters replaced by a new cohort of younger ones. Legality, knowledge and demography will ensure a substantial majority for remaining in the EU.

The EU, being a democratic institution, will allow the necessary delay in the UK part of the EU elections, allowing UK MEPs to take their seats in the EU Parliament.

What then happens to domestic politics is shrouded in the clouds but the UK economy, despite being firmly back in the EU, will take a substantial hit, much business already having been lost. The blame will be seen to lie with the Conservative Party, Corbyn's fence-sitting turning out to be a master-stroke of blame avoidance.

Looking on the bright side, the Conservative government will fall, the DUP no longer having any reason to support them, and a general election will produce a landslide victory for Labour. To keep the working class leave voters on board Prime Minister Corbyn will ennoble Yanis Varoufakis and offer him a cabinet post with special responsibility for promoting EU reform through support of DiEM25.

Farm diversification will include unicorn herding.

I painted my ceiling.

P.S. Here's the People's Vote Bill

Monday, November 05, 2018

UK’s 25-Year Environment Plan - David Clayton

Guest post.
UK’s 25-Year Environment Plan:
Missing Dimensions and Historical Analogies

David Clayton,
Department of History, University of York[1]

Policy Recommendations:

·       Strengthen the incentives to divest from coal, gas and oil (including plastics) using holistic bespoke compensation packages that factor in adjustment costs borne by investors and workers.
·       Promote the transfer of carbon-neutral technologies overseas using the international aid budget.
·       Reduce personal consumption systematically using progressive taxes to internalise hidden environmental costs.

The Climate Catastrophe-Policy Mismatch
The UK government has a 25-Year Plan to improve the environment, a statement of intent. This essay argues that we must learn from historical analogies before reformulating and implementing UK environment policy. Let us address the current policy framework briefly before turning to history.

The government argues that future decision making by governments, producers and consumers should account for ‘natural capital’. It assumes that improved flows of information about the environmental consequences of human actions will even alter ‘small choices—which coffee to buy and in which kind of cup; whether to drive to work or take the train’.

The radical view on this initiative is that ‘putting a price on nature will only speed its destruction’ (Guardian, 16 May 2018). This is unfair. Improved knowledge of the environmental costs of systems of production and consumption will alter incentives and thus facilitate a transition to ‘clean growth’, but, the UK government’s market-enhancing strategy is cautious, based on voluntarism rather than compulsion.

Incrementalism would make sense if we had plenty of time to mitigate climate change. But the mainstream scientific community is of one voice: to avoid the risk of runaway warming we need to mitigate the worst effects of climate change NOW. The last World Economic Forum listed the four biggest risks to the world economy as extreme weather events, natural disasters, failure to halt climate change and water crises.

The UK’s ‘clean growth strategy’, announced in October 2017 before the 25-year Plan, aims to promote the uptake of carbon-neutral technologies by sharpening financial incentives. Leaving aside issues related to the scale of this intervention, this strategy is two-dimensional: it will be a necessary but insufficient condition for climate change mitigation.

What we need is a three-dimensional policy framework, which promotes:

1.)   Investment in clean energy:

That is:
·       the capture and storage of non-conventional less dense energy (and, if possible, any of their harmful by-products);
·       the creation of new national and international infrastructures to distribute intermittent flows of solar and wind.
·       AND, if we are thinking globally, as we must: the rapid transfer of clean energy technologies overseas;

2.)   Accelerated divestment from dirty energy

3.)   Drastic cuts in personal consumption

Let us derive some lessons from historical analogies drawn from contemporary British economic history to explore how we might implement this reformulated agenda.

1.)   Aiding the energy transitions overseas

In 2017 Prime Minister Teresa May stated that Britain had a ‘moral imperative’ to help poor countries overseas that ‘stand to lose the most’ due to manmade climate change (Guardian, 12 December). The UK government contributes to the International Climate Fund, which builds up the resilience of vulnerable communities overseas. It has also begun to use the overseas aid budget to help poor countries reduce their carbon emissions.

Is this action commensurate with the scale of the problem? The statistical evidence suggests not: only eight per cent of the aid budget is being spent on climate-change-related projects. There is a strong case to increase Britain’s commitment to international aid and to target expenditure on the energy transition overseas.

During this time of austerity, populists rally to damn overseas aid, and climate change projects have been signalled out as wasteful, of delivering ‘little benefit’ (Daily Telegraph, 12 March 2017). Let us cherry-pick a historical case to refute this argument.

The British aid budget was originally linked to an effort to improve and hold on to the British Empire. Using the export of capital (in the form of loans or grants) to compel people is wrong and ultimately self-defeating. But, under the right conditions, British colonial aid was helpful.

From 1945 an enlarged British aid budget was used to support colonial development, to build ports, roads, schools and hospitals, and, as recent research by Bowden, Clayton and Peirera has shown, it was even used to accelerate the take up of a luxury communication technology: the radio receiving set. In this particular case, British governments had a dubious motive: to control flows of information.

This particular story did not end well: British colonialism continued to be repressive, supported by colonial radio stations that were propagandist. But what matters from today’s perspective was that, economically, this policy worked. Irrespective of prevailing income levels, British colonies that received pump-priming funds to develop radio infrastructures experienced higher rates of take up of radio receiving sets. The aid budget on radio broadcasting paid for equipment and skilled labour vital for the uptake of advanced technologies.

India today needs to leapfrog a stage of development, going straight to solar and missing out coal-fuelled growth. Like all developing countries, India needs more energy to enable its masses to escape poverty: it needs ‘clean growth’. We should aim to create a post-colonial, Indo-UK partnership to facilitate the exchange of clean technologies.

How to divest from dirty industries
A post-fossil fuel energy transition has to deliver energy-saving development at low social and environmental cost. Even without net subsidies, price shifts are encouraging investment funds to flow to renewables. We are hopefully already past peak coal. We need to accelerate this process, reaching peak dirty energy as soon as possible. This is important because of the problem of lock-in: unless these industries are shut down they will continue investing in what they are extremely good at—(i) sustaining dirty energy via innovation and (ii) PR to secure preferential policies and to sow confusion regarding climate change.

Divesting from dirty energy is a colossal task: it will require fundamental changes to systems of production which will certainly take generations to complete. Our current plans are completely inadequate, seeking to bolt renewables on to systems for fossil fuels.

Modern farming is a case in point. It is highly energy-inefficient and pollutes local and global ecologies. Let us cherry pick a metric by way of illustration: Bonneuil and Fressoz estimate that the number of calories obtained in food per calorie used in its production fell five-fold in Britain, 1826-1981. Older labour-intensive forms of production from the past may therefore provide practical tips about a future energy transition.

These are issues for agricultural and transport historians to delve into. Let us however consider another important issue: how to manage industrial decline.

The historical literature on divestment is thin, as historians focus on sunrise rather than sunset industries, but two contrasting cases from British economic history can be reverse engineered to provide general guidance on how to accelerate deindustrialisation at low social cost.

Case 1. The British cotton textile industry grew extraordinarily fast during the 19th century and experienced further investment booms in the early twentieth century. Capacity peaked in 1927. Thereafter the fundamental problem faced by the industry was how to reduce capacity in the face of a dramatic fall in demand caused by technological change (man-made fibres) and by globalisation (low-cost Asian production).

From the 1920s into the 1960s, as profit rates fell and market uncertainty rose, and as the industry lobbied for support, British governments used tax preferences on allowances and subsidies to encourage divestment and the modernisation of factories. As Higgins and Toms show the results were poor. Industrialists divested financially, by for example paying higher dividends to shareholders, but they did not prioritise the scrapping of plant.

The lessons from this case are that:
·       We must anticipate rent-seeking fossil fuel industries demanding preferential fiscal regimes. We might want therefore to ensure that compensation schemes for fossil fuel industries have a fixed start date, such as the signing of the Paris Accord.
·       We have to make the policy goal clear: is it to secure the modernisation of capacity (which will be needed for plastics) or is it the retirement of plant (as it must be for, say, oil refining)?
·       Government action has to be commensurate with the scale of the problem. In the case of the British cotton textile industry, from the 1930s to the 1960s, government initiatives were piecemeal, increasing uncertainty.
·       We need bespoke fiscal instruments for each industry that factor in the combined effects of tax and subsidies (and the expected responses of capital markets).

Case 2. The decline of coal production in Britain was slow, beginning c.1913, and nationalisation of the industry in 1947 did not halt this process. Indeed nationalisation allowed for a new moral economy of decline. During the 1950s and 1960s mine closures were negotiated between bosses and workers and miners gained assurances that they would be redeployed and that new industries would be relocated to areas that had been dependent on coal for generations. This holistic settlement, as detailed by Phillips, facilitated deindustrialisation at low social cost but it did not last long. Post-1973, the deindustrialisation of coalfields was achieved at high social cost: miners gained redundancy packages but local communities were hollowed out.

The lessons from this case are that:
·       To accelerate the decline of gas in particular, which employs thousands of workers, we need consensual political economies tailored to each industry that compensates redundant labourers with new jobs.  We need a “just transition” and one that those working in dirty industries accept.
·       Might we need therefore to consider the nationalisation of sunset industries, a mechanism by which the state kills off rather than saves declining industries?

Cutting Personal Consumption
High personal consumption reduces biodiversity and the macro-economic case to curb our spending on clothing and consumer durables is compelling because we need to transfer resources (via capital markets and via higher taxes) so that we can increase investment in post-fossil fuel technologies. The government’s plan is to improve the flow of information to embed environmental concerns within consumer decision making, but this is unlikely to deliver profound change NOW.

Ethical consumers demand that companies use ‘sustainable’ supply chains. And responsible companies signal that they have responded by labelling goods, inter alia, “fair trade”, palm oil free. This voluntary process will have a marginal effect on the transition to a post-fossil fuel future. Let us state some obvious problems with consumer-led behavioural change:

·       Most consumers prioritise non-environmental criteria (such as cheapness and fashionableness) over social and environmental ones;
·       Even environmentally-conscious consumers have poor proxies for making decisions: inter alia, the country of origin labels, ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ certification;
·       Voluntarism will never control the consumption of the hedonistic rich whose ostentatiousness saps the collective morale of the virtuous.

Let us consider radical policy reforms by drawing on the analogy between Climate Catastrophe and Total War.

In 1940, in preparation for Total War, the British government deployed two methods to cut back on personal consumption, a vital means of diverting resources to the production of goods needed to wage war: these were direct controls, in the form of planning and rationing, and indirect controls, in the form of prices manipulated by tax and regulatory changes.

Under planning and rationing, bureaucrats set consumer wants. Today, the case for using direct state controls over the whole economy is weak for political (as opposed to technical) reasons. No mainstream political party will advocate a carbon ration for citizens to ensure that Paris accord targets are met. But the case for extending planning and rationing selectively is strengthening. Let us cite two examples.

1.     In its 25 Year Plan, the UK government has committed to ensuring ‘interrupted water supply’ during periods of prolonged dry weather and droughts, which are predicated to occur because of climate change. The only way to do this equitably and efficiently will be by instituting water rations.

2.     Air travel is predicted to be the fastest growing source of UK and global emissions, and technologies to substitute the current stock of planes with electric ones will not alter the economics of air travel for generations. There is a case to give citizens an annual allowance for air travel.

Despite the UK’s long experience of healthcare rationing, restricting access to a wider range goods and services, especially those for which demand is rising, will be highly controversial and the rich and corrupt will seek to evade new regulations. Before introducing selective rationing, we need to learn from Roodhouse who shows that, underpinned by social norms regarding “fair shares”, rationing in 1940s Britain was successful because consumers and bureaucrats tolerated grey and black markets, creating flexible systems that delivered goods from petrol to potatoes at low social cost.

John Maynard Keynes, the liberal economist, argued in his text How to pay for the war, that the government had to increase direct and indirect taxes, including via compulsory saving schemes, as a way of diverting resources into war production and reducing inflationary pressures brought about by the war. Significantly, from our perspective, these ‘indirect controls’, continued into peacetime and smoothed the economic transition. The case for deploying such controls again to deal with the climate crisis is becoming compelling, and is on obvious way of implementing current government thinking on ‘natural capital’ accounting.  Let us highlight how two instruments used in the 1940s to substantiate this claim.

·       Between 1945 and 1951, the Labour government imposed progressive purchase taxes on luxury items of consumption. In the late 1940s, there were three bands, and the top one doubled prices! Could we reform Value Added Tax so that it is fit for a new purpose: internalizing the hidden environmental costs of consumption?
·       The government created ‘Utility’ products that economised on materials and which were cheap because they were exempt from purchase taxes. Should we create state-approved ‘carbon-neutral’ goods to internalize the high transaction costs faced by virtuous consumers wanting to be ‘green’ but having to choose between products claiming to be ‘natural’ and ‘ecological’? The UK’s new ‘Natural Capital Committee’ will generate more sophisticated measures than ‘carbon footprints’ to aid this intervention.
Even in the 1940s indirect controls were not comprehensive. They targeted luxuries but did cover items of consumption far more prevalent today, such as eating out and long-distance travel. To meet carbon reduction targets using indirect controls we would have to be much more radical than in the 1940s. Taxes would need to rise on a wide range of ‘high carbon’ footprint activities, inter alia, indoor swimming, playing golf, eating animal products and owning a carnivorous pet!

Preconditions for action
In 2016 and 2017 rhetoric about a ‘dementia’ tax and ‘taking back control’ had a large impact on electoral outcomes. Any proposal to tax Britain’s millions of pet owners and thousands of golfers would be similarly spun. Any political party advocating eco-austerity in the next four years would commit an act of electoral suicide. And the political analogy with 1940s austerity is not going to alter these calculations.

In 1951, the Labour party narrowly lost the General Election to a Conservative party promising to give power back to consumers. Conservative Party propaganda was effective because austerity Britain was dire for spenders. Despite high pent up demand due to war damage and depreciation, and despite rising incomes, real levels of consumption only increased five per cent from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.

The outcome of the 1951 election demonstrates the power of rhetoric. But the Conservative critique of Labour’s austerity was deeply unfair. By 1950, because of austerity, the economy was stable, on the road to a sustained recovery; the government had also revamped international aid and implemented a solution to endemic industrial unrest in the coal fields, nationalisation. Post World War I the transition from an economy geared to winning the war led to a deep economic recession in the early 1920s that culminated in serious social conflict, the General Strike of 1926.

In the 1940s, austerity was in the national interest. Today, eco-austerity is also in the national interest, enabling us to deliver a reformulated three-dimensional 25-year plan.

The UK’s 25 Year Plan already commits us to taking ‘all possible action’ to mitigate climate change and so we must have a proper debate NOW about eco-austerity. Aided by the press and by mass political parties, we must seek answers to the following questions:
·       Can voters be persuaded to back reforms to VAT that might factor in ‘natural capital’ accounting?
·       How can the populist view on overseas aid be defeated?
·       To what extent and how should we bail out declining industries from the public purse?
·       How do we create a new just fiscal settlement? If we introduce higher taxes on consumption should we hike wealth taxes and lower income taxes, perhaps via a tax-free citizen’s income?

Bonneuil, Chrisophe and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: the earth history and us, trans. David Fernach (London, 2017)
Bowden, S. ., D. Clayton and A. Pereira, ‘Extending Broadcast Technology in the British Colonies during the 1950s’, European Review of Economic History, 16, 1, pp. 23-50, 2012
Higgins, David, and Steven Toms, ‘Public subsidy and private divestment: the Lancashire cotton textile industry, c.1950-c.1965’, Business History, 42, 2000, 1,
HM Government, A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment (2018)
Phillips, Jim, ‘The Moral Economy and Deindustrialisation in the Scottish Coalfields, 1947-1991’, International Labor and Working Class History, Ixxxiv, 201, pp. 99-115
Roodhouse, Mark, Black Market Britain: 1939-1955 (Oxford, 2013)

[1] The author is a member of Greenpeace but writes in a personal capacity. He acknowledges the valuable insights of Matt Carmichael, David Moon, Chris Prior and Mark Roodhouse on early drafts of this essay.