We need practical greenery, not more taxes.

During this second cold and wet summer in succession it is good to enjoy the occasional day of warm sunshine, and remember wistfully past summers which were so much hotter. At least I can blog more, because week-end games of cricket are being cancelled all too regularly owing to rain and bad light! This week I was in a game where we played on into the dark after 6.30 pm at considerable hazard to fielders.

It was against this background that I found the following comments of Dr David Evans, the author of the Australian carbon accounting model, most interesting:

“ The satellites that measure the world’s temperature all say that the warming trend ended in 2001, and that the temperature has dropped about 0.6 degrees in the past year….The world has spent $50 billion on global warming since 1990, and we have not found any actual evidence that carbon emissions cause global warming” (This first appeared in an article in the Australian)

I was also sent copy correspondence Christopher Monckton has been having with the American Physical Society over an article of his written for their Journal in July 2008. Apparently they commissioned him to write a piece claiming that the extent of the likely impact of human generated carbon dioxide on global temperature change is less than commonly thought. He tells me wrote it and that they asked for other professional opinion on it. He was therefore surprised to learn that they intended to place a disclaimer on the article saying “The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Committee of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article’s conclusions”.

All this is looking very dated, as the world faces recession, credit crunch and downturn. In these circumstances there should be more opportunity to concentrate on practical greenery. Most could surely agree it makes sense to recycle and re-use more, to generate more power from sources other than oil and gas, to waste less fuel and raise the efficiency of everything from home heating to industrial production. All these things will help cut the costs of production, help price firms back into weak markets, and help householders reduce their bills.

There are two ways of going green. The UK government belongs to the tax them and regulate them camp. They have put taxes on petrol and owning cars, taxes on business and taxes on using city centre roads. They have with the EU written endless pages of new regulation. They have made the green cause unpopular, by seeing the opportunity it affords to introduce everything from more taxes to a spy on your rubbish bin. People feel robbed. They are nervous about whether they are conforming with the mass of new regulation bossing them around.

The alternative approach is to rely on incentives and new technology. At the end of the nineteenth century people were worrying about how to handle all the horse manure in London from the build up of horse drawn traffic. They did not foresee the technical revolution that the car and bus represented. It is going to be possible to cut the amount of carbon and of noxious gases emitted by engines to produce much greener motorised transport. It is going to be possible to generate more of our own power and capture more of our own water at home, and to insulate our homes to much higher standards. We know how to generate electricity without needing to burn oil or gas.

The best green policy the UK has enjoyed in recent years was the duty reduction on petrol to encourage people to switch from leaded to unleaded fuel. The modest tax incentive achieved the switch effortlessly and comparatively quickly, as people saw the need to cut lead in the atmosphere and liked the cut in their bills. We need more policies like that, to go with the grain of human nature, to cut our fuel use and to promote better technology.

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15 Comments

  1. David Eyles
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    It has always been perfectly logical to me that the right kind of green inspired policies would actually help the UK economy considerably. Saving fuel with much better insulation makes sound financial and economic sense at both personal and macro-economic levels. Developing our economy so that people have to travel less to get to work would be a step in the right direction too.

    It is sad that so many people who espouse the free market think that they must also knock anything that has a whiff of the beards and sandals approach to it – witness the amount of windmill tilting we see at the moment – and are determined to champion the big and splendid over the small and local. Personally, I like windmills. In the right place and not too many. They are quick to put up, are becoming more efficient and can be on-stream very swiftly, all of which is the opposite of nuclear power. But we need both.

    Recycling is something we need to do more of, for this again saves resources in many ways. But it isn't worth becoming obsessive about until sensible, practical ways are found to overcome the inefficiencies in the system without sending innocent people to prison just because they have left their wheelie bins open.

    In the end analysis, we are currently moving most of our population to the south-east corner of the nation, having to transport them in and out of London and building so-called "eco-towns" to house them on floodplains and good agricultural land. Having done that, we are then taxing them out of their hard-earned and criminalising them if they don't comply with countless regulations. None of this is doing our nation any good whether socially, economically or spiritually.

    If this country could move work to where the people live, instead of the other way around; save on heating homes and the workplace and generate power in lots of diverse ways, we would, surely be able to compete economically with the powerhouses of China and the Far East, to say nothing of an increasingly hidebound EU.

  2. adam
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I was suprised the government choose wind power. I dont know why or how but its quite possible this lot choose it by lucky dip.

    I thought wind was just second hand solar, air is heated and rises then cold air flows in underneath.
    I also thought solar is more cost effective and has greater potential for improvement. After all the technology is still new and inefficient so will improve and often all that requires is a new lick of solar paint.

  3. adam
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    If we are to continue to provide aide to african nations, one thing to consider would be building solar panels. It would reduce fossil fuel dependence of nearby countries
    and that in turn might make our energy cheaper and would provide a source of income for local people or gov.

  4. Herbert Asquith
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    We need to hammer home that people will benefit, not lose out, from green measures. Become more efficient, spend less, enjoy more and better leisure time. A visit to the great outdoors costs little, sometimes nothing, and is more rewarding than a trip around your clone town to shop at Primark and Pizza Hut.

    I would not do away with the stick altogether, as some behaviours have got to be restricted. To carry on as some have been doing will ruin things for the rest of us, as Mill would have been the first to point out if he were with us now. I also think the level of immigration over the last 10 years has been far too high, and am happy with a naturally falling population, rather than endless waves of immigration which benefits only large corporations and property speculators. There should also be a drive to stem the rising population of the world through female education and contraception.

    But practical greenery is indeed the average person's friend. And "green jobs" would be worth more in terms of classical economics, as well as every other way, than labouring in service-sector non-jobs, or doing pointless admin work. This has not replaced heavy industry, which proved in the 70s and 80s that it was not sustainable.

    We will be pleasantly surprised at how bright our future is if we now get a grip and encourage sustainable, healthy living which will be the source of our economic prosperity as well as our spiritual prosperity. We are already part of the way there, as for example our waterways are far healthier than 50 years ago, and we dealt successfully with the acid rain which was a severe problem not so long ago through exemplary policies which did no harm to the economy. Overpopulation and climate change can be dealt with likewise.

    Conservation is conservative and practical.

  5. Neil Craig
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    The most important single environmental laws were the Clean Air Acts from 1956 (Tory government) on, the various laws cleaning up rivers & beaches (not fully implemented even yet but I remember when crossing a bridge near where I live in the summer was a stomach turning experience) & the differential pricing of lead free petrol. The last is a very good example of how the price mechanism can support environmentalism without having to have books of rules & new rulers to enforce them.

    The role of those whose political power is based on "environmentalism" on these issues was between slight & none. Indeed some of the things they support (windmills & fortnightly bin collection) are clearly damaging to our environment. The Conservatives should clearly differentiate between those who want to conserve the environment & those who are merely Luddites &/or pseudo-Marxists. The truth the Luddites hate is that improved technology, because it produces more efficiently using less expensive resources, by definition, tends to produce less waste & pollution. Hi-tech & progress are therefore the handmaidens of environmental improvement not its enemies. Hence the western world is far less polluted than it was 40 years ago.

    An interesting example of the use of incentives you mention is John McCain's promise that he will offer a $300 million X-Prize for an improved sort of battery. This is a very small prize for the aim but would be more useful than all the bio-fuel subsidies in the world put together.

    I am very pleased to see that you are the first mainstream politician to say that the global warming emperor has no clothes. You are also right that it is possible to produce unlimited electricity without burning things.

    The day will come when we get our power will come from nuclear or solar power satellites, our food from relatively small GM farms, travel by automated electric vehicles & we will have replanted the woodlands of Britain. They will contain large amounts of new & comfortable housing which will, because of the replanted trees, be unobtrusive. Britain's woodland will be very lightly tended & will be enjoyed as wilder parkland.

    And there will still be people saying the end of the world is nigh.

  6. Ken Stevens
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Fully agree (to show that I don't just pounce when you have a go at English Democrats!).

    Reasonable ecological and economic measures (and, securitywise, to minimize dependence on fuels from unstable overseas territories) are eminently sensible.

    But global warming hysteria? Harrumphhhhh!

    Mind you, as regards your leaded/unleaded fuel analogy, I don't trust governments. Isn't diesel cheaper to produce? And wasn't it cheaper to buy? So why is it considerably more expensive, now that many people have switched?

  7. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    One could always cut VAT on domestic appliances that use very little electricity and reduce it on fuel efficient cars – from 17.5% to 5%. VAT could rise to 17.5% on domestic fuel & power and the winter fuel allowance be axed so that OAP's would have some of their energy brought for them free of charge by the state from a green supplier. Getting a growing share of the population to use green energy providers would help alot I think .More drilling for oil in the South of England and greater usage of clean coal technology and new nuclear power stations would make us less reliant on volatile places for fuel & power . As the UK economy only adds 2% p/a to the global carbon footprint the main aim should be to cut energy usage and develop our own domestic provision so that we can operate an effective 21st Century economy without fear of higher oil prices causing a recession and the lights going out causing mayhem . A mixture of tax & technology is the key . In the short term a 15p a litre in road fuel duty is wise to limit the tax burden & inflation – but in the long term the North Sea Oil surcharge needs to go to encourage more domestic oil supply ( of which we will need less I hope long term ) rather than rely on Russia , Middle East and South America.

  8. adam
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Overpopulation, Herbert?

    The subtle agenda that runs through the core of the sustdev movement. Just what is a sustainable population level?

  9. mikestallard
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    "Green" is a rather loaded word. To me it conjures up a lot of lefties who neither wash nor shave much. They also do drugs and leave a lot of litter all over the place.

    To my horror, I am completely green!
    1. I love composting things.
    2. I thoroughly enjoy filling our four different bins with appropriate materials.
    3. I cut back on electricity and heating by turning things off and going without if I possibly can.
    4. I loathe wastage in every form.
    5. Whenever possible, I repair things until they have to be thrown away.
    It's because I was a boy in the time after the 2nd WW when we were poor!

  10. adam
    Posted July 20, 2008 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    There is a piece in the FT called 'Band-Aids wont save Britain.'

    I have been getting significant abuse from the left when i claim Britain is dying, they really believe bad things are just made up to fill the pages of the daily mail.
    But now if the chattering media classes are talking about it at dinner partys thats a real change.

    The country needs to be saved somehow not thrown to the frothing mouths of the greenie meanies.

  11. Michae Martin-Smith
    Posted July 21, 2008 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    We should not overlook the true danger of Anthropogenic Global Warming- namely the growing drift towards totalitarian aspirations on the part of those who espouse the theory.

    Extreme Greens now openly call for a reversal of the Enlightenment values- freedom of thought , inquiry, and aspiration, upon which our scientific and democratic culture are built- in order to "Save the Planet"- a classic fraud au Dr Goebbels.

    AGW does not threaten the 4.55 billion year old Mother Earth- but activcely endangers the fragile 3 centuries old Enlightened scientific cuilture of the West!
    In a direct challenge to Humanism, Green orthodoxy hankers for absolutist and police state methods which are certain to kill far more people than any climate change we can imagine.

    IF AGW theorists ever build an ideological police state ( as advocated by some) the results- as proven by history- begin with lies, and culminate inexorably after thought suppression, corruption and rapacity on an epic scale , in mass murder- in this case, presumably by artifical famine, as pioneerd by Mao Zedong.

    As for Malthus, and other hazards – these threaten Human(e) civilisation ONLY if we remain confined to one planet- surely an unnecessary and preposterous notion!

    Only one part in two billion of the energy emitted by our Sun ever reaches Earth, while only one ironically named Aten class asteroid ( asteroid Amun!) contains 30 times as much iron as Humanity has mined in its entire history. All thought of Limits to Growth are born solely of myopia..

    We can build an open, cosmic future- or succumb to a mix of neo-Malthusian based totalitarian tyranny in which mere extinction would seem a blessed release.
    The choice is up to us!

  12. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted July 22, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately the choice is not up to us, but to the the toy parliament in Westminster, a subservient entity to the real government in Brussels. In practice our parliament does not function as it should, to calm the egos of the executive. The "green" story is the scam to end all scams. It will not reduce costs but inflate them as it is doing at present with food and electricity. Without the large subsidy no company would build wind farms on land let alone at sea. The costs are immense for a dodgy source of power which will be even more expensive to maintain. There is no logic in these farms just an ego trip and extra profit for the energy companies. Someone referred to the growing economies of China and India, China- what is it, 2 coal fired power station a week, dirty ones at that.
    This Country contributes a mere 2% of carbon emmisions, not a lot, but we are to pay billions to meet targets set on the basis of a myth. The lunatics are really in charge of the asylum.

  13. Michae Martin-Smith
    Posted August 1, 2008 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    My suggestion that "The Choice is up to us" is meant as a philosophical view of the evolutionary choice presently facing Human civilisation , even perhaps Humanity itself , as a mindful species. This is a somewhat Stapledonian view, I know- but the fact that most people have not come across Olaf Stapledon's classic "First and Last Men" is itself an indication of the superficiality of our culture and our ways of looking at things…written in 1930, such a work could scarcely be conceived today, and yet it has much to tell us!

    Britain COULD make a contribution to an open cosmic future, as I propose- NOT by throwing wads of money at huge Government space programmes (although that would actually be better than throwing it at ever more onerous regulation and nannying of a subject people as at present- if only by denial of funds to bureaucratic cliques with a vested interest in the machinery of tyranny).

    Government space programmes produce, at the very least, major cultural and inspirational enhancements ( Hubble, Cassini, Astrobiology, etc)- unlike the growing apparatus of supervison and control. Our culture needs a dramatic shift towards the valuation of science as an expression of curiosity, engineering, and exploration- upon which the values of Liberty, and wealth generation ultimately depend. We sorely need to look up from our navel-gazing and look out into the wider universe, if we are ever to build a meaningful place in it.
    They also help us in the real task posed by current environmental concerns- our ongoing task of informed stewardship of this planet.

    It is time to put Britons back into Space- by encouraging and unshackling those few who are trying to do just that- just as once we "ruled the waves". Until we do so, Britain will never find her true path of pre-eminence in exploration and enterprise.
    Insofar as Mr Redwood's ideas lead in this direction , he deserves our widest support.

    It is truly shaming that the nation which produced Drake, Cabot, Newton Darwin, Brunel, Faraday and Shackleton is the ONLY First World country ( including Israel!!)_without an astronaut corps! I would back John Redwood over most other politicians to right this humiliating error.

    • Neil Craig
      Posted August 1, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      As Michael says the future potential of the human race must include space development. As Arthur C Clarke said – if humanity is to survive, for most of the race's existence the word "ship" must mean a spaceship not a seagoing vessel. The way to achieve permanent space development is to make it financially sustainable & the way to do that is to introduce commercial standards. Government is good at throwing money at exploration but that is not settlement.

      What is needed is a cheap way to orbit which the shuttle definitely is not. The way government can do this is by putting up an X-Prize, to encourage the sort of enterprise government is not good at. As Dr Pournelle said for

      " 1. The sum of $2 billion to be paid for construction of 3 operational spacecraft which have achieved low earth orbit, returned to earth, and flown to orbit again three times in a period of three weeks."

      This is nothing compared to what NASA spends, indeed it is only what we give to ESA over 3 years & absolutely nothing compared to the £100 billion Brown wants to spend on windmills, yet it would be remembered for as long as the human race endures, quite literally.

      It would also put the UK economy at the technological cutting edge. In the unlikely event that it didn't work, not awarding prizes costs nothing.

      It shows the lack of vision among Britain's & indeed the world's politicians that this was not done years ago, while there is unlimited money to finance Ludditsm. nannying regulations & false eco-scares.

      Dr Pournelle's proposals in full http://jerrypournelle.com/topics/gettospace.html

  14. Rob Whittle
    Posted May 31, 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I concur with many of Herbert Asquith's sentiments on Practical Green as well as John's historical wisdom concerning technology and better, more efficient practices.

    My area has been waste. This says it all where wasting is poor practice and inefficient.

    Currently landfill and incineration (skyfilling spun as Energy from Waste EfW or Combined Heat and Power, only 27-29% efficiencies) are both inefficient means to dispose to a Narnia land called "Away". We can do better it a multilayered technology/efficient collection/closed loop direction.

    Alternative Weekly Collection is the most efficient and practical collection method that realises both maximum recycling and understands residual black bag waste as a reality. On top of this we need weekly food waste collections (just like historically the C19th collections to pigs), but this is converted into Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and compost back to the farmers via the latest Anaerobic Digesters (70% energy efficiencies..one of the few things Defra have got right- but limited incentives for a national rollout). DailyMail/Dorreta crew should wiseup a little from the reterograde bug paranoic back to weekly wasting scarmongering, to campaign positively for an efficient weekly food waste collection, especially in Urban/Suburban councils where densities make small vehicle collections viable and nippy. Going back to an extra collection of rubbish will cost the council tax payer a likely £20-35 a year on their existingly high council tax bills, and double the landfill/burner requirements and gate fees for dealing with guilt edge service wasting!

    Secondly, there are practically about 20-30% of materials that can't be recycled, can't be recycled easily or not viable or practical to undertake closed loop recycling (often ignored or denied by Zero Waste zealots with non practical agendas/alternative idealogies). We have to look at maximised recycling and composting next after affective minimisation, 400Kg> total waste/head is a realistic minimisation figure prior to recycling with 70% recycling levels also attainable. 30% left as projected by Wales. What to do with it?

    The short to medium term solution is technological for this difficult residual and composite. Long term redesign /streamlining/end of life designing are the solution but this required decades of change globally from producers/consumers/recyclers.

    Currently we have a number of fully proven volume reducing and recovery technologies such as mechanical sorting with either biological or steam action (MBT/MHT), allow with energy recovery/gas conversion technologies following these mechanical recovery routes. AD or Anaerobic Digestion is the best CHP (Best Available Technique) for food waste/farm organics, In-vessel composting for garden waste; plasma gasification/gasplasma (60-65% energy efficiency..more if gas goes to H2 fuel cells) for plastics/composite residual waste. With plasma gasifiers or plasma converters we are talking treatment of 10% of total waste; not the 40-50% of waste now earmarked for wasteful inefficient incinerators now threatening proliferation nationally (30 large scale..see UKWIN website and map)

    Where are the landfills or CHP incinerators, are they needed? No!

    Well neither are needed as recycling and modern CHP with mechanical layered technology has substituted for them, more energy efficiently, more practical, less wasteful, cheaper, more revenue output, less subsidy, less residue to landfil, more gas and saleable closed loop product with less carbon and physical footprints relative to population centres, scmaller modularised scales. Thus more acceptable to local people who have to accomodate such facilities.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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