Rip off government – or just muddled thinking? – Green taxes

The Taxpayers Alliance today have published another good piece of work pointing out just how much extra tax the government collects in the name of greenery, over and above the calculations of the cost of CO2 and pollution.

Others have worked out just how much more than the cost of road provision motorists have to pay. Whilst bus and train operators are allowed tax concessions on track use and fuel purchased, motorists and lorry owners have to pay tax after tax to use the public highway and burn fuel.

The public worked this out for themselves a long time ago. All the polls show that a majority of people have thought for a long time that the green argument is used by many politicians as another excuse to raise more money in tax so they have more of other people’s money to play with. Nor is this the only misleading spin and ill thought through policy we experience daily from this government.

Let us look at some of the other green contradictions we get from this administration.

They tell us that travel by car or plane is bad for the environment because these vehicles emit carbon dioxide. They tell us trains and buses are good for the environment, perhaps because these vehicles also emit carbon dioxide! They never truthfully tell us that all vehicles with diesel, mains electric or petrol engines emit carbon dioxide when the power is burned or generated. You need to do a proper audit of each journey someone undertakes to find out which is the greener way of travelling. Sometimes it is greener by car than by train or bus, depending on where you are going and how many other people are going there too. You need to consider the energy burned to get you to and from the train station as well as the per person energy used by the train. If you want to go from the village of Little Known to the village of Lesser Used in the Marsh at 11 pm it would not be economic or green to lay on a bus just for you.

We are told that travel by car could be made greener and safer if we limit the speed of cars on good roads. So we have to drive cars that would be quite capable of travelling at 80 or 90 miles an hour on a motorway at a maximum of 70. Meanwhile we are told that trains are better if they travel at 125 miles an hour, whilst the government subsidies the industry to spend a fortune on trying to achieve speeds of 150-175 miles an hour, in the knowledge that anything that gets in the way of trains travelling at that speed does not have a chance of survival. Trains cannot be steered round an obstacle on the track, whereas a high speed car has a chance of steering round an unforeseen obstacle on a motorway. The government strengthens its arguments for slower running cars by saying they then burn less fuel per mile travelled. Why doesn’t the same rule apply to a train?

Ministers and officials in air conditioned and poorly insulated offices tell the rest of us we need to improve the insulation of our homes, and lecture us to turn out unused lights and turn off appliances at rest. How often do you see a Minister or senior official turn out a light when leaving a room where the taxpayer is paying the electricity bill? Who turns their computers and screens off when they go for a break at work in the public sector? I find people at home are much more motivated than the public sector to use energy wisely, because we are paying our own bills. That’s why I have been drawing attention through Parliamentary Questions to the need for better performance from the government itself at saving us money by raising its game on energy efficiency.


  1. Mark Wadsworth
    August 28, 2008

    To be fair, if they are energy saver light bulbs, apparently it is bad to switch them off for short periods. And computer screens can be set up up to turn off after a few minutes' activity.

    As to car vs train vs plane, what I would love to see is a full "CO2 emitted per passenger mile" calculation.

    That would include, for trains, the coke burned to make the rails that have to be replaced every 5 to 10 years, the coal/gas burned to light up the stations and to power the trains (or diesel, where appropriate) and so on.

    And for cars or buses, we'd have to include the CO2 emitted while roads are being built and maintained.

    And for planes, what you have to remember is that a disproportionate amount of fuel is used for taxiing, taking off and landing. Once the plane is up there, they are pretty good in terms of fuel-per-passenger-mile.

    I would not be surprised if all forms of travel came out much the same (problem being it's all wide-margin-of-error stuff), except for buses in urban areas being far more efficient than cars in urban areas.

  2. Thatcher-right
    August 28, 2008

    Whilst I recognise that it is politically impossible to commit the heresy of questioning anthropomorphic climate change I would ask you to treat the 'chicken licken' scenarios with extreme scepticism.
    As a scientist, I find it very telling that the narrative has recently gone from 'global warming' to 'climate change'. The scientific method requires a creation of a model, using the model to make predictions and then testing the model against reality. The 'global warming' model has failed – there has been no significant rise in global temperatures in the last ten years. I'm still waiting for measurable predictions to come out of the 'climate change' hypothesis.
    Reduction in oil and gas use makes sense for geopolitical reasons – we don't want to be dependant on the Middle East and Russia.

  3. John of Enfield
    August 28, 2008

    I completely agree with the need for energy efficiency. It does everyone good. The application of technolgy to the problem will bring enormous economic benefits.

    However, the Carbon Emmissions issue is based on a fallacy. We should understand that CO2 in the armosphere is a RESULT of global warming NOT THE CAUSE. If you go back to the Ice Cores from Greenland they show over the last couple of millenia that the average temperature leads the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere – not lags it. Sources: IPCC, "An Inconvenient Truth", Channel 4 et al. So why are we taxing Carbon Emmissions when we are taxing only the symptom?

  4. Dan
    August 28, 2008

    The challenge with energy conservation for the individual is that (A) individuals are creatures of habit (B) individuals like their creature comforts and (C) individual will generally not spend money unless it relates to (i) survival (ii) adding to their comfort or (iii) saves them money in the near term that they can then spend on (i) or (ii) above.

    To me, as an average Joe homeowner, I think we would be more successful if we involved individual home owners in reducing their home's consumption of non-renewable resources in ways that did not (A) force them to change their current or create new habits and (B) did not reduce their current levels of comfort and (iii) saved them money in the near term.

    Start with a home energy audit so the home owner can learn more about home energy conservation in general and what they can do to their specific home. We had one done last fall and learned a treamendous amount in both respects, so much so that we wrote about the energy audit report we received on our home web page (in the ECOENERGY area). Have government encourage home energu audits. Have government provide grants in one form or another to reduce the cost of installing more energy efficient devices. Create more energy conservation courses as part of the pimary and secondary school curriculums so tomorrow's home owners already know what they can do and so they can educate their parents.

    There are a lot of possibilities out there for all aspects of energy consumption. Let's always keep in minid the little guy.


  5. Neil Craig
    August 28, 2008

    Once you accept that CO2 rise is causing harm then you are stuck in a Kafkaesque world of trying to negotiate out how much to cut & how to calculate what produces more under which circumstances & which CO2 doesn't count because it is from "renewable" sources. You end up listening to self styled experts claiming that, if just given the money, they can provide "carbon neutrality", "zreo carbon homes" & tree planting indulgences from St Al.

    This is all nonsense. Global temperature is falling, if CO2 has any measurable effect on temperature, for which there is no actual evidence, then that will be beneficial. The influence of CO2 on plant growth is certainly beneficial.

    This is what the 31,000 scientists signatories to the Oregon Petition say. A fact which is wholly censored by such pushers of the non-existent "scientific consensus" as the BBC decide not to report.

  6. Johnny Norfolk
    August 28, 2008

    This Labour government is the classic dont do as we do . Do as we say.

    They think they rule us not govern us. They should lead by example as any good manager does.

    I just cannot wait for the next election to see how much they lose by. Britain has always been at heart a conservative country.

  7. William B.
    August 28, 2008

    Now that we appear to be entering a prolonged period of global cooling the truly pernicious effect of so-called green taxes will be apparent to all because we will have to increase our consumption of fuels in order to stay warm, just a couple of weeks of additional central heating will make a big difference to those already struggling to pay their electricity and gas bills.

    A time of economic difficulty is a time of retrenchment, a time when we have to look for savings because expenditure is rising and income might be squeezed or even under threat of reduction. This is when fixed systemic costs show their true colours. The more fixed costs you build into a system the less room there is for retrenchment.

    The government seems keen on the EU's nutty carbon credits scheme which necessarily involves a carbon credits bureaucracy. That bureaucracy must remain in place for so long as the scheme operates and it costs money – additional money because it does not replace existing bureaucracy it is an extra layer. The cost of fuel to the customer must increase because the previous elements of price remain (the cost at source of the oil/gas, the cost of transporting it, the cost of supplying it and the existing tax) but a new element must be added. It is bad enough making essential fuel more expensive by increasing tax, it is inexcusable to do so in a way that creates a permanent additional cost so that other taxes cannot be reduced by the full amount raised through the new levy.

  8. Matthew Reynolds
    August 28, 2008

    Well done John ! Peter Ainsworth & Theresa Villiers could do their careers a power of good if they & their shadow teams went on TV and wrote articles in papers making all these points . What is more they could write stinging letters to their Labour opposite numbers asking questions about all the fine points that you have made . The voters worked all this out ages ago and by identifying with the mainstream majority Peter Ainsworth and Theresa Villiers could cement their places in the shadow cabinet by exposing Labour deception by proving that the Tories are opposed to PC lies and on the side of those who who cannot afford regressive ‘ green taxes ‘.

    We need more vigorous opposition on green taxes and George Osborne should be concerntrating on ending excess spending on QUANGO’s , government procurement , civil servants , Whitehall consultants and the tax credit scandal while raising the basic personal allowance . Giving wealthy married couples £20 a week off their income tax while levying more ‘ green taxes ‘ that hit the least well off the most is unfair and will not work . Higher fuel duties and APD hikes have not cut car & plane usage – does the Tory high command have to copy the Lib Dems at all times ?

    To say public spending is too high , the lower paid pay too much tax and that the scientific evidence proof for man causing climate change ( meaning that we need high ‘ green taxes ‘) is shaky is an understatement !

  9. mikestallard
    August 28, 2008

    I am one of those people who hopes that David Cameron and his party will put Humpty back on the wall again after the Labour fiasco of the last decade.
    I seem to remember, however, that the Conservatives went seriously Green at one point.
    I remember the Leader standing on an ice cap. I remember the promise of reducing taxation because Green taxes were going to be imposed instead.
    I do hope that in this present crisis, common sense will prevail.
    I am hoping, you see, that David Cameron is more Mrs Thatcher than Ted Heath.

  10. Kay Tie
    August 28, 2008

    I have a little gizmo in my house that calculates the electricity being used (per hour, per day, per month, etc.) and the cost of it. I used it to discover what makes a difference. Things that matter are: turning out unused lights, not boiling more water for coffee than necessary, turning off the (digital) TV when not being watched.

    One thing that takes so little power I couldn't even measure it: standby on my (digital) TV. So the lesson is: ignore everything Mr. Brown says because he's talking out of his butt.

    The complexity of CO2-e emissions is vast. So complex that no New Labour GOSPLAN can possibly assess what is the right thing to do in all cases. The way to reduce CO2-e emissions is to apply a carbon levy at the "pinch points" of oil imports and coal extraction in order to price in the costs of emissions, and then let the market work out how best to react.

  11. Derek W. Buxton
    August 29, 2008

    All the so called "green" measures result in the people, us, paying sums of money that many cannot afford for a myth. We can ponce about with restricting carbon emmisions, growing "bio-fuels" as long as the money lasts, not long, and it will not have any noticable effect on the planet. It is simply a scam for the elite, politicians ha ha, to steal ever more of our money. Climate always changes, get used to it. Whilst Mr. Redwoods articles are always worth reading, his leader goes his own way, "I'm greener than you are". Remember "green will make you poorer, very quickly".

  12. Freddy
    September 1, 2008

    I think the global warming scare is rubbish, but I am all in favour of reducing our dependence on importing energy from nasty places like Russia and the Middle East. So I should be in favour of substituting energy taxes for other taxes (assuming it really is a substitution).
    But the trouble is, surely this would be terribly regressive ? It would impact the poor far more than the rich ? That does not strike me as a good way to go.

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