Corbyn on Energy

The words “Corbyn” and “catastrophe” have been so often linked that it seems a bit of a mistake for Jeremy to open his article about Labour’s new Environment and Energy policy document with the sentence: “We are on course for a climate catastrophe.” And he continues in the same vein:

… heatwaves like that in 2003, which killed tens of thousands of people in Europe, will become the norm … rising sea levels and desertification … will sink cities, and kill and displace millions … The task for politicians is to propose real solutions to the single most important issue facing humanity. Too often, the environment is considered a matter for scientists, enthusiasts and activists… we need more than facts – we need a programme that resonates with people’s everyday experiences… . When energy is driven by the needs of people, it will be greener … a bold new set of policies … a new generation of community energy co-operatives… we will end the misery of cold rented accommodation… we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground. This can and must be done. Scotland is already on course to generate 100% of its electricity from renewables, and Britain has an ample supply of wind and water…

Sorry to bore you with that. I know you’ve heard it a million times before. It could have been the programme of Cameron or Lucas or almost any mainstream politician in the Western world. There is absolutely nothing new in the article. What is new is what it, and the policy document it summarises, leaves out: science, logic, reason, or any attempt to even pretend to propose a rational energy policy.

Jeremy’s article is illustrated with a picture of a bloke on a roof (“300,000 high-quality new jobs”? Tell that to the Romanians) and embroidered with seven links, all to articles in the Guardian. Unfortunately, it forgets to link to the policy document itself which is oddly entitled “Jeremy Corbyn Environment and Energy.”

(Did the USSR entitle its policy documents “Joseph Stalin: A Five Year Plan?” I don’t think so. They probably thought it would smack too much of a personality cult.)

The policy document is interesting, not so much for what it promises (a ban on fracking, thousands of not-for-profit local energy companies, 300,000 renewable energy jobs, a low-carbon house-building programme…) as for its utter lack of any scientific references to back it up. There’s no mention of nuclear energy at all. No mention of the Stern Report or the IPCC. The words “science”, scientific” and “scientist” do not appear. Scientific literature quoted in the bibliography is limited to Dieter Helm on cost scenarios and reports by the Committee on Climate Change and Greenpeace.

The one table in the report is an attempt at quantifying renewable energy capacity, prices and jobs created by 2030 in order to meet the target of 65% renewables. Two thirds (200,000) of the jobs created are in offshore wind. What happens to those 200,000 highly skilled deep sea concrete mixers and pylon erectors once they’ve mixed and erected is not discussed.

The document detailing how we are to power the world’s fourth largest economy does contain one scientific “fact”, however, which is repeated lovingly:

“80% of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to keep global temperatures safe”

“… research published in Nature shows that as much as 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned if the world is to keep global temperature rises to 2 degrees.”

“We need to keep 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to have a chance of keeping global temperatures to 2 degrees, let alone safe levels of 1.5 degrees as agreed at the UN Paris Climate talks last year.”

“Fracking is not compatible with climate change, as research shows that as much as 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned if the world is to keep global temperature rises to 2 degrees.”

The source for this is a letter to journal.

OK, it’s Nature, not Labour Weekly, but still, basing energy policy for the next hundred years or so on a letter by two guys seems a bit—unscientific.

It’s McGlade and Ekins on “The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C”. I’m sure there’s lots to be said about the piling the Pelion of estimates of reserves (which vary by a factor of—what?—5 to 1?) on the Ossa of estimates of climate sensitivity (which vary by a factor of 3:1 according to the IPCC) and multiplying and dividing the results by all the other variables of economic growth, pricing etc. you can think of. Feel free to do so.

Jeremy Corbyn ends his appeal to reason and the undecided voter with this odd thought:

“Too often environmental catastrophe is explained in the same terms as an asteroid hitting the earth.”

Really? I hadn’t heard that one. So environmental catastrophe is something that only happens dangerously once in a million years?

“But the problems and the solutions are political … By democratising our energy supply, and giving people power over their own destinies, we can rebuild and transform Britain so that no one and no community is left behind.”

So what’s it about then? Preventing catastrophe or ensuring that no-one is left behind? Or a bit of both?


  1. Painful. So from what I can make out, in terms of energy, sunshine and wind are democratic, but coal, oil and gas are not. Heavily insulated homes which boil the residents alive during summer are politically and socially liberating, whilst airy, comfortable, poorly insulated old houses are fascist hovels keeping the nation enslaved to greedy fossil fuel corporatists.


  2. There are kids stories of magical cakes or pies that no matter how many times you cut into them, you still have loads left. Electricity generation isn’t one of them.

    To be fair to Corbyn, his plan is actually less dumb than the Conservatives. He thinks that you can have low priced green electricity. The Conservatives think you can have low priced green electricity, that makes a profit for somebody who will snap up the opportunity and everyone will be happy. I wonder, in the event of a power shortage, how many of the back up diesel companies will quietly go bust. Never having any real intention or ability to prop up the grid.

    All contracts should be to supply a fixed amount of power at any cost. I other words, if they haven’t any green power, they must supply fossil fuel power and if they haven’t any of that they have to supply diesel. That way you’d know the real cost of green power over solely conventional.

    We are approaching an iceberg. Everyone can see it and all they’re talking about is that if it wasn’t for global warming, it wouldn’t be there.


  3. Two things struck me. First, all references to a energy policy have been removed from the Labour Party website, and from the YourBritain website. Corbyn’s policy is not advertised there, but on his own site.

    Second, Corbyn’s policy is very different from Labour policy. Recall that Ed Milliband, the last Labour energy secretary start the revival of nuclear energy. Even more strikingly, Corbyn’s energy co-ops and local gov’t ownership are new — or rather, this hasn’t been on the political agenda since Corbyn was young.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Frederick Colbourne: ”Sounds anti-labour to me..”

    In fact the paper announces with pride how labour intensive renewable energy is compared to fossil fuel extraction. That’s one of its main selling points: that it will provide cheap energy at the same time as lots of well paid jobs.

    Marx, who understood and appreciated the creative destructiveness implicit in capitalism, would turn in his grave.

    Richard Tol
    I thought he policy document I link to above was from Corbyn’s own site, but it’s not mentioned at under “environment”. When I first found it I was sure it had John McDonnell’s name on it as author, but the version I link to above doesn’t have any author mentioned.

    Neither Corbyn’s Guardian’s article nor the sister article by John Vidal link to it. I’m pretty sure I found it by googling “Jeremy Corbyn Environment and Energy” (which is not the title on the first page, as I indicated above, but the subtitle appearing on each subsequent page) but when I google it now I get just one result: – this article. What’s going on?


  5. “What’s going on?”

    Labour no longer knows its backside from its elbow? One could also ask ‘what is the Labour Party now’?


  6. Corbyn’s manifesto/policy document has certainly been updated/doctored within the past few hours. I wouldn’t swear to having read the name of John McDonnell as author (though I’d have trouble inventing it, as I’m not familiar with his name, not living in the UK, and have been googling “McConnell”) but I’m absolutely certain that there was a band of supporting trade unions mentioned along the bottom of the page which is not there now.

    There’s a critical discussion of the document at
    h/t Paul Matthews


  7. Do they ever ask themselves what 14 years feels like? I’ve been moved for 10 years now and still haven’t finished unpacking. In fact they haven’t even got 14 years since they can’t get back into power for another 4 years.

    I view this as good news because if Labour say it’s true it might kick Tories into thinking about it more logically.


  8. Tiny, 14 years, 2030, is I think a reasonable estimate of when the Labour party might next win an election. By which time Jeremy Corbyn will be ancient history.


  9. Richard Tol (08 Sep 16 at 2:36 pm)
    Thanks. That’s where I saw the name of John McDonnell and the list of Unions. This is Corbyn’s manifesto for reelection to the leadership of the party, and not a Labour Party (of which he is already leader) document. Isn’t (internal) democracy wonderful?

    TinyCO2 (08 Sep 16 at 2:15 pm)
    One could also ask ‘what is the Labour Party now’?
    The answer to that is best given by Mark Steel, the comic who was sacked by the Guardian for being too left wing:


  10. As Richard points out, the document is on Jeremy Corbyn’s website. There seems to be no mention of it on the Labour Party website, or on their twitter account.
    There seems to be little if any connection between the Labour Party and this Jeremy Corbyn person.


  11. Did the USSR entitle its policy documents “Joseph Stalin: A Five Year Plan?” I don’t think so. They probably thought it would smack too much of a personality cult.

    But any decent historian knows that’s the way it was on Uncle Joe’s private website.

    I did not save it, but it looks different than this morning.

    Jeremy Corbyn Environment and Energy 2.0. Fast-moving policy-making. Sounds spiffing. But then I am typing this in the Shoreditch area.


  12. Richard Drake
    To be fair, the personalisation of the document makes sense when you realise that its an electioneering pamphlet: Corbyn’s manifesto for re-election as Labour party leader, not a Labour manifesto for re-election to government.

    And it’s already been criticised by Owen Smith for not going far enough
    because “not going far enough” is the only criticism that can ever be made of any green policy. Green politics is like the “That’s nothing, when I were a kid..” Monty Python nostalgia sketch projected into the future. (65% renewables and a wind powered solar panel on every roof by 2030? That’s nothing! When my grandchildren grow up they’ll be lighting their mud hut with a treadmill…”

    What makes it interesting is the obvious tension between the public’s and Corbyn’s (because he’s as ignorant as any Guardian reader on this) notion of “what the science says” and the total disconnection with the social reality of our indifference to impending catastrophe in the face of the impossibility of affording insulation, electric cars and unworkable schemes for tidal or intermitent wind and solar power.

    Corbyn’s attempt to come to terms with the insanity of current policies might just lead to some enlightenment, because he’s obviously an honest man who cares about poverty and injustice, and therefore can’t easily swallow the Cameron/Deben/Guardian green kool-aid without choking.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mark Steel is genuinely funny but he’s left of Jeremy. The problem Labour has is that Jeremy represents its heart but most of the other MPs represent its head. Tony Blair was a Labour leader only in that he spent a lot on services. For everything else he was like a right wing City boy. He was only able to maintain the impression of Labour leanings by frittering the money saved by previous generations and selling off assets like it was a fire sale. He and Brown ‘bought’ hospitals and schools on the tick. Borrowed money we will be paying for years. And they didn’t just build stuff to a reasonable standard, they built pallatial because the bill didn’t show in the budget. I hope kids appreciated their award winning schools because they’ll still be paying for them when they’re 90. Asssuming there are hospitals by then because by then the NHS will have gone bankrupt paying top flight salaries and a cast iron pensions.

    Weirdly, Cameron was truly Blairs’ heir in that he didn’t behave like a traditional Tory either. After Blair and Brown, the Conservatives should have breezed into number 10. The public wanted to hear that debts would be paid and greedy public sector workers would be curbed, not more and more uncontrolled spending. But Cameron embarked on more spending on stuff we didn’t care about. His hug a hoodie and vote Blue go Green moment were insane. Giving set amounts of money to other countries was meant to kill the ‘nasty party’ label but the very reason they were voted in was because the public wanted politicians to be a bit stingy unless there was a crisis. It’s carried on Labour’s insane plant to have masses go to university, racking up ever larger debts, often with intention or ability to repay them. EU loans total a billion.

    Both parties have acted like the rich kids from Instagram. Money no object and who cares if the middle class losers pick up the tab. The whole drive for climate change mitigation is a rich kids obsession – see BLM stunt.

    Corbyn’s type of Labour might be what traditional voters want but the majority realise that we’re in financial doo doo right now and we need some old fashioned conservative politics. May has made more of the right noises in her first weeks than Cameron made in 6 years.


  14. Geoff, we probably differ on how benign Corbyn is. I had a bit of an ‘aha’ moment on Sunday morning in the New Cross area of London, as I went past an academy and an advert targeting black mothers wanting their children to be successful academically. Corbyn repudiating Blair’s education reforms which Gove and Cummings sought to expand is against the inner city poor. Pure and simple. There’s also his abject failure to speak out and help as the Islington child abuse scandal began to break. Apparently protecting his left-wing chums came ahead of the most vulnerable of his constituents and the whistleblowers trying to help them. Add in the other stuff which I won’t enumerate. Not a man of the people but a man who perhaps thinks he is.

    Other than that I agree with everything you say 🙂 It’s never enough. Yet nobody is willing to pay. I prefer Corbyn to Smith. Labour is almost finished.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Geoff, thanks, of course it makes a lot more sense as a “vote for me in the leadership election cos I’m pro-renewables and anti-fracking” document.

    I like the idea of the pythonesque greener-than-you sketch. Perhaps we should make a Cliscep video.

    There was a Corbyn-Smith debate on BBC Question Time last night. I didn’t see it, as there was a fascinating programme about paint drying on the other side, but according to some accounts the winner was Theresa May.



    Having lost so comprehensively in so many recent votes, the Guardian wants a new type of politics.

    Nick Clegg insists Britain’s Brexit vote will lead to ‘serious economic ructions and political gridlock’ which could require the creation of a government of national unity.

    The former Liberal Democrat leader said that a ‘rethink’ of Britain’s politics will be needed to restore a culture of reason and compromise.

    He actually makes some sense about all the parties pulling together but makes the same mistake as the Guardian in thinking that the direction the parties pull, is the opposite to how the public voted.

    If you listened to this lot, you’d think democracy was too important to leave to the people.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. There are a few things that Corbyn’s document omits to mention.
    First, Global Warming is (allegedly) caused by global greenhouse gas emissions. Britain, with less than 1% of the global population and less than 2% of global emissions will not make a lot of difference with unilateralist policies.
    Second, the Climate Change Act 2008 took a global lead on climate policies, promising to reduce UK emissions by 80% by 2050. Eight years later, what proportion of the world (in terms of current emissions) is covered by policies that follow this lead?
    Third, if global policies reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, then the price will fall – the price is very elastic to changes in demand as the last couple of years has shown. That means the relative cost of fossil fuels relative to renewables will fall, implying bigger subsidies for renewables. In developing countries that will means greater pressure to stay with fossil fuels.
    Fourth, the Labour Party used to strongly for greater equality, which meant it was against increasing regressive taxation. It was also against raising working hours and for increased leisure time. But it is very much for raising energy prices (then hypocritically blaming the rises on big business) along with forcing people on to public transport (increasing travelling time).

    On the final point, Ed Miliband promised to freeze energy bills three years ago, implying the rise was due to increase profits of the big six energy companies. I looked at the summary accounts of the big six for the years 2009 to 2012. The evidence is unequivocal. The rises in bills were primarily caused by increased fixed costs, not profits. The fixed costs were driven up by renewables subsidies and the increased costs of the National Grid – basically linking the wind turbines in the North of Scotland and offshore to the centres of population. Labour is blaming others for the damage it caused.

    Liked by 2 people

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