Western governments think green was last year’s colour

Green is so much last year’s colour for western governments. Now they have stumbled into a policy which will cut carbon emissions sharply, their policy of falling living standards and recession, they are all rightly trying to run away from it. So are their voters, who might tell pollsters they want to live in a lower carbon world, but not if it means they have no car and have lost their job.

Let me make it clear. I see myself as a sensible green. I want to stop overbuilding, leaving some green gaps and lovely countryside between English settlements. I want to clean up the water and air through better technology and some regulation. I think the biggest domestic policy error of the Bush regime was the failure to work away at energy self sufficiency, to cut dependence on unreliable supplies from elsewhere, and see the UK government’s failure to find new, more fuel efficient home grown energy solutions as one of its more important mistakes.

What I dislike are the authoritarian greens, who see the cause of lower carbon as a means to try to stop personal transport, who wrongly think trains and buses do not cause some of the problem, and who refuse to look at the audit of where the carbon comes from. They do not accept that for some journeys the car is the lower carbon alternative to the nearly empty bus or the inconvenient train. They never tackle the carbon excesses of the public sector – all that air conditioning and over heating in bureaucratic offices, and all that travel on “fact finding” and “diplomatic” junkets, whilst condemning the commuter who dares to try to get to work through their congestion loaded streets by car. It seems to be freedom they want to stifle, rather than carbon.

The German government has faced a dilemma. Representing a car ridden economy, where the automotive industry is a very important part of their activity, the government has lobbied and argued for less onerous carbon regulation at the EU level. They have decided automotive jobs matter more than the latest fashion in carbon targets.

The US government faces a dilemma. President Obama is not yet in office, elected on a green ticket, before he is letting it be known that saving the gas guzzling car makers of Motown is important to him. Yes, he will dress up help with programmes to encourage them to make more fuel efficient cars, but in the meantime he accepts the reality that too many jobs are riding on making grossly inefficient vehicles to be a rigorous green. He is not about to say “thank goodness these makers of fuel wasting cars are about to go bust or slim down. That will help me to hit the new targets I want to impose”. Once again in the USA we see those two bank nationalising, war fighting, high spending and high borrowing advocates of big government, George Bush and Barak Obama, united in their approach.

In the UK we have come to expect contradictory responses, and differing language depending on the day of the week and the nature of the audience. One day we are told in the House that tougher carbon targets are the order of the day. The next we are told that propping up the auto industry and trying to get the banks to lend more money to the companies that make the cars and the individuals who might buy them is crucial to our future success. Meanwhile, in Labour inclining Manchester they vote by 4 to 1 against Labour’s mistaken green policy of trying to switch people from carbon emitting cars to carbon emitting public transport at a £1.6 billion cost of borrowed taxpayer money, and £5 a day for those who still want to use a car.

The Manchester defeat should be seen as the end of an era. Labour’s whole transport strategy was based on the premise that if they spent more on trams and trains, and taxed people more for using cars, they would achieve a “modal shift” . Only the rich would be able to drive their own personal transport, alongside the Ministers in their chauffeured limos. The rest of us would willingly take the shiny new trams or crowd onto the already full peak hour trains, saving the money on the Congestion charge to pay the extra taxes for the losses the public transport systems usually make.

This policy has recently suffered a defeat in London. Some Londoners voted Boris in to get rid of the anti car policies, and to scrap part of the Congestion zone. The consultation the new Mayor carried out was clear. The voters wanted the western zone scrapped, and he has said he will do so. Now it is defeated in Manchester.

The people are right. This very expensive switch will not make a huge difference to carbon output, but it will cost large sums of money and may make the journeys of many even more inconvenient. We need instead a positive policy of sensible investment in the railways to get more capacity out of them, and road improvements to cut congestion and improve the safety and flows at junctions. Motorists have had enough of taking all the blame for carbon output, when there are so many other sources of it from the inefficient domestic boiler to the old fashioned power station. The government needs to work away at improving the capacity and technical performance of much of the infrastructure, without inventing new taxes for people already groaning under the burden of wasteful government. 11 years have failed to deliver the modal shift, and the modal shift was not going to solve the carbon problem anyway.


  1. Duyfken
    December 14, 2008

    To all such sensible advocacy, I would add the need for a rational population policy, one that may eventually see a reduction in our numbers and less impact on the environment.

    1. Blank Xavier
      December 14, 2008

      This strongly – almost unavoidably – implies legally mandated birth controls.

      Do you propose such a thing?

      And if so, on what basis are reproductive rights to be distributed?

      1. Duyfken
        December 14, 2008

        Absolutely not, and I am surprised you should come to such a conclusion.

        There are a number of factors to consider a) the birth rate &/or fertility rate, b) net immigration, and c) the death rate. Behind these items, there is another aspect of increasing longevity.

        Rather than my explaining in detail the interaction of these and why a sensible population policy should be followed, may I direct you to a website at http://www.optimumpopulation.org/ for a fully documented argument how population growth both in UK and worldwide is a real threat to future generations.

        Or, for something simpler, please go to my website at page http://www.doot.co.uk/pop.home.htm .

        A sensible population policy should have nothing to do with “legally mandated controls”.

        So far as concerns the UK, the key is regulation of immigration, since without a net immigration increase, the population of the country would naturally decline.

        1. DeanB
          December 15, 2008

          I would say the best way to regulate this is via the Greens’ favoured mechanism of personal CO2 allowances.

          Each country should set a notional CO2 cost of having a child, based on the expected lifetime emissions it will generate directly & indirectly during its life, minus some discounting factor.

          It is then up to the potential parents whether they choose to allocate part of their CO2 allowance towards having a child, or having more flights / using more heating / driving.

          If people overspend their CO2 allowance, say because of having too many children, they get their passports or driving licences revoked until they have earned more.

          Obviously you’d need a range of sensible exemptions (twins, for example).

          The other option is to make “child permits” tradeable, so those wanting to remain child-free could sell them to “breeders”.

      2. APL
        December 14, 2008

        Blank Xavier: “This strongly – almost unavoidably – implies legally mandated birth controls.”

        I didn’t read it that way.

        I think anyone who has glanced at the population trends of the United Kingdom will see that the live birth rate has declined. The reason the population is still increasing is simple: immigration.

        But in any case, the ’67 abortion act is to all intents and purposes a mandated birth control measure. So as far as I can see it has already been not just suggested but implemented.

        Since 1967 we are some 15million souls less in this country than otherwise might have been. Factor in the loss of their potential offspring, and you might actually be talking about 25 million or so fewer people in the UK.

        This has had a massive impact on the demographic.

        1. APL
          December 15, 2008

          “Since 1967 we are some 15million souls”

          Sorry, my error, I think the figure is more like 5million. Amend the other figure accordingly.

        2. Blank Xavier
          December 15, 2008

          APL wrote:
          > But in any case, the ‘67 abortion act is to all intents and
          > purposes a mandated birth control measure.

          No. That law merely encoded an existing freedom. We are *free*. By default we can do anything. There have to be reasons to restrict freedom. An act which codifies a *freedom* is not an act which encourages or discourages birth control. That particular acts exist, which we are free to perform – abortion, taking the pill, sex itself! – does not mean that explicitly permitting those acts is the State working to modify our reproduction behaviour. The State is merely defending our freedom to act as we wish.

          An encouragement would for example be placing a tax upon women who are not pregnant, such as happened in Romania prior to the fall of communism.

  2. Neil Craig
    December 14, 2008

    You are quite right to say that the “environmentalists” have been been pushing for ending growth for years & that is what the current decession is. There is an article in the Independent with the boss of Corus (what remains of British Steel) saying that our CO2 restrictions leave them no option but to entirely relocate to China!
    That puts it in the starkest terms but more quietly it is this government suppression of productive industry that has caused our recession.

    You should not feel defencive about supporting greenery but not agreeing with everything the “environmentla” lobby wants. The “environmentalists” (apostrophes intentional) are merely Luddites in false colours. Most members & all the leaders of such groups are not in the smallest degree interested in the environment. These are the people who want the countryside turned into an industrial wasteland of 10s of thousands of windmills & insist that urban swellers must put up with fortnightly bin collections – a step back by more than a century.

    They wish purely to turn back progress. Particularly for the “common people”. Note how the aristocrats & public schoolchildren of Plane Stupid targeted not the big airports but the one used by the “common people” to fly on holiday, while these hypocrites are themselves, flying on more expensive holidays.

    A touchstone for testing whether an “environmentalist” really cares about the environment oris an fascist using environmentalism as a smokescreen is their attitude to nuclear power/windmills. Nuclear is the only possible way to power our society without CO2, windmills are merely an ugly way to put the lights out. It is not possible to honestly call for cutting CO2 (whether necessary or not)while opposing nuclear & a very few of them have said so (Professor James Lovelock & Bishop Hugh Montefiore who was expelled from FoI for telling this truth). Those who say otherwise are, without exception, lining up on the fascist Luddite side.

    Nobody should be defencive about not being an eco-fascist, least of all anybody who actually cares about the environment.

  3. mikestallard
    December 14, 2008

    Being 70 years old, I can remember a pea souper fog. Eeee lad! It was reet dirty then!
    No, you couldn’t see more than three yards in front of your face. I remember, as a boy, having great black greasy scabs on my heels which no amount of scrubbing (with carbolic soap) would rub off. I remember when, if any oarsman fell into a river, especially the Thames, they were rushed into hospital for a stomach pump. And we had a black and white cat which was always jet black with grime.
    Sounds silly? Maybe, but it is true.
    And I can remember pouring water out of our dormitory window to make an ice slide for the following day.
    But that was before the invention of China and India. Were they equalled, I wonder, by Germany and the USA who were also pumping out filth into the ecosphere in that far away time?

    1. APL
      December 14, 2008

      mikestallard: “Sounds silly? Maybe, but it is true.”

      Not at all. The thing is, you are discussing pollution, which anyone would rightfully be concerned about. And the Environ-mentalists are talking about ‘Carbon’ which is perfectly benign and the corner stone of 99% of life on this planet.

      They have taken the image of the foul chimney belching black smoke and mixed it up with *ALL* industrial processes, deliberately.

      Most industrial processes can now be made so clean their atmospheric discharges have a practically zero impact on the atmosphere.

      Do you remember ‘Jack frost’, he seems to have been banished by the double glazing salesman.

  4. Bazman
    December 14, 2008

    An article in the Observer claims that oiks that could not care less about the environment have a much smaller carbon footprint than the traditional middle class recycling people. Hardly surprising when many of them seem to think being green is 25 mile round trip in Volvo to the bottle bank.
    Being ‘green’ is energy efficiency. That is largely where it begins and ends.

  5. Ian Evans
    December 14, 2008

    Good analysis and am pleased to see that many of your readers are climate change sceptics (the evidence is so weak in either direction that making major and expensive policy decisions at present is scary at best). I came across an amusing link to a Newsweek article discussing climate change in 1975 :-


    The ‘consensus’ then was for dangerous global cooling! (I remember the eco-nuts then getting as over-heated then as their equivalents now.) So next time someone tells me that global warming must be occurring since it is the consensus view (notwithstanding the fact that the average temperature has been falling for ten years – at quite a fast rate over the last two years), I shall refer them to Newsweek 1975 for an indication as to the reliability of scientific consensus!

  6. Acorn
    December 14, 2008

    There are nasty rumors going around the energy world that the IPCC climate model is a crock. Running it backwards with latest satellite data is giving the wrong numbers for warming but shows up cooling

  7. Clive Bates
    December 14, 2008

    But haven’t you missed the point… the Congestion Charge was about dealing with congestion, not carbon. Congestion creates externalities – my drive through town slows you and other drivers down – and uses scarce resources (road space). Normally, you would expect Conservatives to see the merit of creating a market (albeit a crude one) to manage the allocation of scarce resources (road space in this case) rather than using regulation or command and control. Can you point to any other situations where it has proved advantageous to give valuable things away at zero marginal cost? The right price is rarely zero.

    Look at the underlying drivers (no pun intended) – car ownership is rising, car use per owner is rising… the space between buildings in cities is pretty fixed and cities want to give more of it to pedestrians because that makes cities more liveable and prosperous (visit York, if you doubt that).

    Eventually, these trends just can’t be reconciled. You might hope it will be self-limiting (ie. the only people that will drive will be those that can tolerate the delays), but that will be an inefficient outcome – the roads will be abandoned to time-wasters.

    It’s a pity Conservatives, especially from the more arid wing, don’t honk their horns more loudly for economic instruments and market based approaches to allocating scarce resources… it’s just that when it comes to motoring and freedom, you all seem to turn into Jeremy Clarkson.

    Congestion is a reality, road space is scarce – what’s the Redwood solution?

    1. APL
      December 16, 2008

      Clive Bates: “Congestion creates externalities – my drive through town slows you and other drivers down ”

      Yes it does. Yet you have already paid for the use of the road (road tax, vehicle VAT on your initial purchase,Fuel duty, Excise on fuel) you will very often find that the road is not congested at other times of the day. So instead of a congestion charge, if you find the congestion intolerable, drive to your destination at another time.

      Clive Bates: “and uses scarce resources (road space).”

      Which you have already paid for in total.

      Clive Bates: “Normally, you would expect Conservatives to see the merit of creating a market ”

      I do, but first you should remove all the other taxations that currently exist, before you start to levy an additional one under false pretense.

      1. Clive Bates
        December 17, 2008

        Surely, the general principle should be to arrange the transport taxation system to do three clear and transparent things: (i) to recover costs like building and maintaining infrastructure, as far as possible directly from beneficiaries; (ii) to internalise externalities like congestion and pollution in marginal costs experienced by those responsible, and (iii) to contribute to general revenue in a fair and efficient way, if the government chooses to include transport in the tax bases it uses to support general spending (alongside taxes on incomes, profits and consumption etc)… it isn’t strictly exclusively about cost recovery.

        I think there is great scope for Conservatives to lead on green taxation / economic instruments, but it can only be part of a contract with the public about the total burden of taxation – which I guess you would like to be quite a bit lower. That Labour shows no willingness to make this contract at any level (in fact it is doing the opposite) has meant that any new economic instruments are, quite reasonably, greeted with cynicism as a net increase or stealth tax rather than a redistribution of the tax burden. If there was clear commitment to a cap in total tax take, it might just be possible to hold an interesting conversation about where that tax should come from. Even at a lower overall tax take, I think there is a strong case for taking more tax in total from bad things like congestion and pollution than from good productive things like work or investment. I can’t believe you’d disagree with that…

        On your points:

        “Yet you have already paid for the use of the road”
        You may have paid for the road, but not for taking everyone else’s time while using it. The idea with pricing externalities is that the price should be applied at the margin (ie. when using the road, releasing the carbon, entering a congested area) if you hope to achieve an more efficient outcome as only pricing at the margin affects behaviour and reduces ‘over-use’ of road space that is free at the margin.

        “…road tax, vehicle VAT on your initial purchase,Fuel duty, Excise on fuel”
        The mixture of taxes you list covers cost recovery, many different possible externalities and general revenue raising. I think your position would be stronger if you had in mind a well designed economic instrument for congestion, with a flanking position covering whatever restructuring of transport taxation you think appropriate. You are free to argue that more of the tax base for general spending should come from income taxes and less from fuel excise duty, I just wouldn’t expect you to!

        “you will very often find that the road is not congested at other times of the day”
        This is an argument for a time-sensitive congestion charge to create the extra incentive to shift journey times as well as to reduce total traffic. Remember, if you want efficiency, it’s about allocating road space according to willingness to pay, not according to willingness to wait. Time sensitivity is increasingly used in charging – most obviously peak fares, airline seat pricing, Stelios’ Easy internet cafes increase charges according to how busy the cafe is) and new time-sensitive smart meters reflect the higher cost of electricity when the grid is busy. It isn’t that different to these. The reason that second or third best options, not time sensitive, are chosen is to avoid technical risk and possibly high transaction costs.

  8. Adrian Peirson
    December 14, 2008

    It’s a Tax scam, if I was in No 10 and really thought CO2 was a Problem I’d reduce the population by cutting immigration, British women have 1.8 children per woman, that’s obviously below replacement levels.

    I’d plant Billions of trees, in fact, I’d plant them any way, I much prefer trees to Concrete, congestion, rising crime, and landfill problems.

    It’s a Tax scam, stuff the country with as many people as possible then Tax them to solve all the problems we have created, hahahahahahaha.

    Someone should make a Comedy film about this, but then, the misery they are deliberately engineering would not be funny, and besides, who wold believe such a plot.


  9. Lola
    December 14, 2008

    On occassion I drive alongside the CTRL to Dover. I have never yet seen a Eurostar whizz by. Similarly I have driven through Belgium to Brussells and seen about two over the years since the TGV line opened. It is an engineering marvel, but green it ain’t. It’s a ‘get the eurocrats to Belgium in luxury and on expenses and home again to see their mistress’ white elephant. Typical totalitian project. And I was an engineer in a past life!

  10. Johnny Norfolk
    December 15, 2008

    Spot on John.
    I think this is what the vast majority think about it all.

  11. rose
    December 19, 2008

    “What I dislike are the authoritarian greens, who see the cause of lower carbon as a means to try to stop personal transport, who wrongly think trains and …”

    I share your libertarian preferences except in one respect: for me the biggest single oppression by far, the one which makes me wake every morning rigid with fury, besides coughing and spluttering with the unpleasant side effects of pollution-damaged lungs, is that of the motorists. That oppression by motorists is there all the time, day and night, whereas the government and council oppression is intermittent. In this provincial city which has done nothing to balance the weight of motorists against other users of the roads and pavements, even they are beginning to notice the bad effects of their being in so large and oppressive a majority. If we were to pay a little more attention to the quality of life in our cities, we might not need to argue so much over carbon. Just get rid of the pollution, the noise, and the danger from the untrammelled motor traffic. That is not to say ban cars, just put them in their place. Don’t make them any bigger, noisier, dirtier, or more numerous than they need to be (yesterday I was quietly and unaggressively overtaken on my bike by an electric TNT van and thought what an improvement on the diesel-powered PO vans); and don’t let them clog the sides of the roads with senseless parking. This is supposed to be illegal but as with so many laws nowadays is no longer enforced by the police – who are enthusiastic breakers of the law themselves. If we were to revert to no obstructive parking in the street, we would have no need of bureaucracy – no congestion charging, no parking services, no expensive legal dealing with their disputes – just private car parks for dedicatd motorists like you. The (much too big) majority would see sense and take to public transport, feet, or bikes, and we would all be the healthier for it, including those in wheelchairs who would then be able to get along the pavements instead of being trapped at home unable to get out because of the traffic and the cars parked on pavements.

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