Wednesday 20 September 2023

Rishi Sunak's Cut the Green Crap Gamble

There are expectations that come with politics. The Conservative Party getting stuck into an air war with Ford Motors was not one of them. After the Prime Minister announced late on Tuesday evening that he would be holding a Very Important press conference at 4.30pm Wednesday. Following leaks of briefing documents, we knew why. The government were planning to scale back on the UK's steps to reaching net zero by 2050. Front and centre was bumping the phasing out of manufacturing petrol-fuelled cars from 2030 to 2035. Which provoked a furious backlash from Ford. In their statement, they castigated the government for moving the goal posts and not providing the certainty long-term investments need. Keir Starmer's office could have written the media release for them. As such, there's been back and forth across social media. The disgraced former London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, panned the back-pedalling, suggesting Tory MPs and ministers are not happy. Only one MP could be found to articulate the discontent, mind. In response, someone leaked remarks from one of the parliamentary Tory What's App groups attacking Ford as a subsidy soak. The traditional party of business, ladies and gentlemen.

Despite holding wages down, Rishi Sunak has a new found concern for living standards. It's not fair, he explained, to force people to buy electric cars and rip out old boilers for heat pumps. The state, he argued, should not be making consumer choices by putting taxes on meat and increasing levies on flights. And it is far too much to expect hard-pressed land lords to take responsibility for the energy efficiency of the homes they let out. Sunak is hoping that by posing as Mr Money Saver while warding off the nannying tendencies of an overweening state will score him some political points. He asserted that these were "hard choices", and taken in the round they don't mean the government are abandoning net zero by 2050. Rather, as a world leader in emissions reduction (forgetting, on purpose, that Britain exported its emissions to China and the Pacific Rim when it outsourced manufacturing there decades ago) we can afford to ease up a little.

It's all a load of rubbish, isn't it? There was never any plan to tax meat. The state was never going to limit the number of lone car journeys. Households ere not going to have seven bins. It's all a lie. While the announcement that extra grants will be available for boiler replacement, the rest of Sunak's speech is twaddle. So egregious, so bad it was that even Labour were forced to do an opposition and say it would keep the old targets. That's as good as saying to Ford et al not to bother changing their plans, because they know too that Starmer in Number 10 is a dead cert. Why then has Sunak decided to rip up years of planning and make Britain, once again, the laughing stock of economic policy wonks and a "how not to" case study for global business coverage?

It comes back to the politics, at the end of it. The Tories' links with and funding by fossil fuel capital is long-standing, and remains the case. In 2022-23, the party received donations of £3.5m from this quarter. And those are the publicly declared ones. How much cash went through the dining clubs? Delaying the steps toward net zero protects the domestic fuel market for them a little while longer, but this is not the primary consideration. As forecast, the Tories' narrow win at the Uxbridge by-election offered a glimmer of hope. Perhaps if they and their media allies can drive a wedge between the "green crap" and Britain's hard-pressed motorists, the punters might overlook the horrors of the last 13 years and vote to keep petrol costs down and their communities ultra-low emission zone-free. I suppose it's a strategy. With the polls offering no hope and Sunak's personal ratings approaching those enjoyed by his predecessor, where else to go? Though to repackage Liz Truss's "ideas" 48 hours after her ridiculous speech and underlining the point that the Tories are running on vapours so quickly was a bit of a surprise.

Any serious green modernisation project has to be state-led. It cannot be left to hoping that consumers will make the right choice, which is how Sunak is choosing to cover his inaction. But putting the politics first and gambling that this is going to win over new supporters is wishful thinking. When Sunak trailed his anti-Green pitch in July, it excited no one but the Tory editorials. There is no public desire to go slower on green measures, and the main take away for anyone looking at this askance is the government, yet again, is not taking climate change and environmental crisis seriously. It appears Sunak and most senior Tories cannot grasp that car owners are also people with other interests and concerns, and one of them happens to be not burning the planet to a crisp. Sunak has more or less opened the gate and invited the Greens in to take away as many former Tory voters they can carry. He's reinforced his impressive out-of-touch scores, and told the public - particularly younger people - that the main threat to their way of life counts for nothing. Have we reached the floor of Tory support? We're about to find out.

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Anonymous said...

Sunak knows that his voters won't vote Green in a GE. They won't vote for anyone but one of the two major parties in a GE; and only if that party is run by someone considered acceptable to the establishment. They don't and will not ever vote for outsiders in elections that count, no matter how much they want to protest, or what the polls say. This is a load-bearing pillar of how the Tories have remained in power for the last 13 years. It's where a lot of the "shy Tories" come from.

But now, they might decline to vote, or even vote Labour. It was once considered an impossibility that the ex-mining areas in the north would vote Tory.

Anonymous said...

Green votes have been migrating to labour to get rid of tories. Maybe he's hoping to enrage them back to green and reduced labour lead, seems high risk

Kamo said...

Being green is trendy, but those who make most noise tend to be the most dishonest about cost benefit trade offs, or at very least ignorant. Maybe they lack intelligence, maybe they're indoctrinated, or maybe simply wealthy enough not to be concerned? But don't mistake salience amongst a noisy minority with lived consequences for whole society.

For example electric cars are trendy, they're also prohibitively expensive and impractical for large numbers of people. The infrastructure isn't there to scale, it's magical thinking to believe we just need to shake the magic money tree hard enough. Required investment is so immense no comparable state is attempting it. Sustainability problems are quietly swept under the carpet, disposal of batteries is problematic, replacements are prohibitively expensive etc (not a problem for Zak Goldsmith). But the honesty missing from green advocates is that others are required to take a considerable drop in living standards at a considerable cost. They hope the Gov't will be the fall guy when the majority realise only wealthy eco-advocates will be able to drive cars, heat their homes and go on foreign holidays.

The positions of businesses will depend on how well they've read the economic and scientific fundamentals, those who've noticed and made contingency for the obvious and glaring problems with the green agenda will be fine. Ford has got it wrong, tough titty, that's how capitalism works, some of their competitors will benefit.

Addressing this is a risk for Sunak, but it's a calculated one, the realities go deeper than the eco-advocates like to pretend. Starmer may even benefit long-term, all he needs to do is tut-tut and then reap the benefit of Sunak actually grasping the problem rather than leaving it for him.

Anonymous said...

Nice little string of buzzwords and disinformation from Kamo there.

Elsewhere, you can find a very different story being told. For example, that the trend of electric vehicle take-up has seen them reach near 100% saturation in Norway, and that the market in the UK is trending the same way.

But which story is a lie, and which one is the truth...? You'll either have to dig up the actual, unspun figures yourself and check; or you'll have to go with whichever one feels most comfortable to you. The latter being what I expect that Kamo has been doing. Kamo could always try to be more convincing by linking sources and citations - but if they did that, are you going to check those properly, to make sure that Kamo isn't cherry-picking, misrepresenting, or citing other disinformation sources? How much time have you got? Kamo and I both know that you don't have that much.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Presumably unlike the apparently stupid, self-centred and unrealistic 'eco-advocates' Kamo talks about, he is uniquely well-informed. Those eco-advocates include the UN and the IPCC (made up of many of the foremost climate scientists on the planet) who presumably don't know what they are talking about, or have a secret agenda. Or you could read the Stern review by another eco-advocate of little brain - Lord Nicholas Stern - which explains the economics of not doing anything about climate change (spoiler, it works out a lot more costly). But, obviously your average punter on social media knows better, as do the shills funded by Big Oil and the numerous nonThink tanks they also splurge out on to lobby f*ckwits like Sunak. So, yeah, we eco-advaocates who want to save the world are really just doing it to punish people and to be trendy and smug.

Frankly, its unlikely I'll be alive by the time the climate becomes so bad that even those advising Sunak realise they are f*cked and that escaping to Mars really isn't an option. I'd like to be around so I can say told you so to Kamo and all those claiming its a conspiracy or that its just people who want to force others to drive EVs for no good reason while we all fry.

Dipper said...

Just humour me for a moment but if Global Warming is an existential threat then surely we have to find a way to stop China and India emitting carbon. Without that anything we do is an irrelevance.

This is massively obvious isn’t it?

Dipper said...

Loving the discussion in the comments.

I thought Kamo was pretty good here, which I realise won't be taken by many of you, possibly even Kamo themselves, as a positive recommendation.

Fascinating to see how people with no clue about science are commandeering it for their own political purposes. Science is a method, and great scientists are great because they use the method to challenge consensus and change our understanding.

Capture of science works through identifying a group of scientists who agree with the funding authorities and announcing they are the consensus, and then saying anyone who disagrees with the authorities is not in the consensus. Then put all your funding into researching 'climate change', which is announcing your conclusions before the work. Surprisingly, those scientists funded to research into climate change find there is lots of climate change, and in fact the scale of it is so extreme they urgently need more money to research it.

The mavericks not in the consensus include a recent nobel laureate in Physics. But you guys with your Ph Ds in Sociology or some other made-up discipline know better I'm sure.

Dipper said...

... and to follow on from my comments about Indian and Chinese carbon emissions, surely we all understand that this intense debate, with traffic-stopping protests, with public figures openly contemplating criminality, with major political ructions, is a debate about the square root of sod all in practical consequence.

I find it ironic, as a Brexiteer so often lampooned for having delusions about Empire, that when you go through the utter pointlessness of the UK's War on Carbon in global terms, the Pro case always ends up in the same place, about the UK leading the work, sending a message, taking a lead, as though India and China are looking on approvingly. I'd just like my government to quietly get on with the business of enabling UK citizens to have better lives.

As our economy collapses and our political system crumbles, time to remind all my fans of that old adage, that the message you think you are sending may not be the message your target audience is receiving.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

It's funny how right wingers like @Dipper love to lecture people about taking responsibility for their own actions, but when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions its a different story. Suddenly its all someone else's problem. Now we are just one small speck in a dust storm.

There are a number of ways of looking at this. The first, and simplest, is to say we have a responsibility for OUR emissions and we need to deal with those before lecturing others. A second is to acknowledge that China's emissions, and India's, are mostly in producing goods that we in the 'West' want. We outsourced our manufacturing to them, so, again, we have some responsibility to reduce our consumption that is creating the demand that fuels these emissions.

When we have taken real, effective and long-lasting actions on these, and met our commitments under various treaties we have signed, we might find that others are doing the same. After all, we were the first to start large scale industrial fossil fuel use, so perhaps it beholds us to lead they way to a greener and liveable future.

Otherwise, it just looks like your typical right winger libertarian individualist who claims they take responsibility for themselves in everything are just looking for excuses to leave it to others, or, to not do anything and keep creaming off the profits while they can, before the world boils. Surely that can't be the case @Dipper?

Kamo said...

It's interesting people think that I'm in denial about climate change because I say eco-advocates are dishonest about the trade offs and cost/benefits. There is no need for diametrical opposition. More than one thing can be true at the same time.

It's interesting Norway, a country with a population less than a tenth of UK has highest rate of new EV sales in the world. We can learn from that. We can look required subsidies (relative per capita GD), we can look at required charging infrastructure scaled to larger population/different demographics. We can watch how they resolve the battery problems nobody wants to talk about. I've no ideological objection to EVs, if they're cheap, reliable, good range, fast charging and longevity I'll happily switch.

I always find it interesting the IPCC actually (sensibly) models different scenarios on climate change, with different levels of impact and confidence levels. The future is hard to predict, models are prone to error and various mitigation activities in place and planned take time to be assessed. Yet, that's not how its work is often presented. It makes me wonder if the more catastrophic end of Green movement recognise that in many places (like UK) lots of change has already happened, or to take Dipper's point they don't think it matters because places like India and China mean it's futile? If it's latter then surely it's all pointless anyway!

Anonymous said...

China and India are increasing their renewable energy generation very quickly, which a quick Google would reveal (which I just did). China's solar capacity is bigger than the rest of the world combined, and India's renewable electricity is increasing more quickly than any other major economy.

You can complain about their use of coal but to do so ignores how much more they are doing in terms of renewables than the West.

And to say that anything we do is an 'irrelevance' seems just to be an excuse to carry on doing little.

I agree that there are issues with electric cars - I would much prefer to see resources put into better public transport (trains, trams, buses), run on electricity, especially in towns and cities, rather than the focus on individualised purchases like cars.

And for heat pumps to be effective we need to be looking at replacing radiators with underfloor heating and heat recovery units so that heat pumps become a viable option rather than gas boilers.

Dipper said...

Nuclear. It works, and it works all the time.

India and China are getting round to decarbonising in the same way my kids are getting round to tidying their bedrooms.

Dipper said...

@ Zoltan - when you say 'take responsibility for our emissions' are you including emissions generated by manufacturing all the goods we import in that responsibility? Some carbon-related import taxes would IMHO be welcome.

Anonymous said...

> Fascinating to see how people with no clue about science are commandeering it for their own political purposes.

... writes Dipper.

Sadly, it's anything but fascinating to see him parade his own weaponised lack of knowledge about how and why science works, in service of his own political purposes. It's quite dreary to see, because almost everyone with an opinion that smells the same as his seems to be doing that nowadays.

"The People have had enough of experts!", as Gove put it. "Of course scientists who are paid to study climate change are going to find climate change!", Dipper elaborates. Really? Sort of like police are paid to find criminals, or doctors are paid to find ailments? Imagine that.

The obvious question, now that experts and the consensus of experts is so passe, is this: where are Dipper and his fellow travellers going to go, when they need advice about any of the myriad things which they know less than jack squat about...? In earlier ages the answer would be priests or shamans, and I suppose today that these types will be turning to whichever rogue scientist, political shyster, or YouTube attention-seeker provides them with the warm, comforting glow of confirmation bias.

Not a great long-term survival strategy except under the cushiest, most favourable circumstances.

> I'd just like my government to quietly get on with the business of enabling UK citizens to have better lives.

But only if they consult your approved shamans when trying to work out how to do that, right Dipper?

Imagine if "UK citizens" included people other than yourself. Especially younger people. A virtuous government might feel obliged to try and work out how to enable them to have better lives too...

Dipper's stopped clock moment is when he brings up India and China, but even there he somehow manages to miss the beat. China has been taking a hammering from extreme weather this year, and if I noticed it then I'm sure that they did too. I'm also sure that those in the Indian corridors of power will have noticed one third - 33% - of Pakistan being washed away last year, and will have glanced since then at spreadsheets detailing what similarly extreme events are likely to do to their own enormous population. Regardless of what they're forced to say (or not to say) in public, I'd imagine that their thinking on this problem is rather ahead of what Dipper is capable of.

Dipper said...

@ Anonymous - thank you for making my case for me.

'doctors are paid to find ailments?' yes, well welcome to agency theory.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

If you read what I wrote you wouldn't ask the question. Ironic that a righty immediately suggests a tax as the answer.

If you start off a comment by attacking eco-advocates as being trendy, empty-headed poseurs, then don't be surprised if people think you are a tad anti-environmentalist.

If what you mean is that those calling for action to reduce emissions need to be honest that this will mean a reduction in consumption, and adjustments to existing lifestyles, then I agree. But given the economic problems all around us, that shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. In fact, we face a reduction in living standards regardless of what we do about the environment - only they'll be much worse, and unmanageable, if we don't sort out emissions.

Anonymous said...

> Dipper said...
> @ Anonymous - thank you for making my case for me.
> 'doctors are paid to find ailments?' yes, well welcome to agency theory.

Looks like we can excuse Dipper from being covered by the services of both police and doctors. After all, like climate scientists (in Dipper's world), they must only be being paid to find things that aren't there!

Much the same brand of logic as that which is gradually making anti-vaxxers a self-solving problem in the US. I wonder how long it will take before this means we no longer have to hear from him...