In the summer of 2019 there seems to have been a definite push to persuade the Great British Public that we need to make huge sacrifices in the cause of saving the planet.
On 29th August 2019, an articlei written by everyone’s favourite BBC environment analyst, Roger Harrabin, appeared on the BBC website under the heading Climate change: Big lifestyle changes ‘needed to cut emissions’. The peg on which this article was hung was the imminent departure of Professor Sir Ian Boyd from his role at Defra, which gave him the opportunity to share his thoughts with Roger. Given everything that the Chinese had by 2019 done, and not done, and their behaviour over the two years since then, one might question the wisdom of accepting Professor Sir Ian’s judgement, given his views on China:
Asked why the UK should take the lead when China’s emissions are so high, he answered that the Chinese government was very worried about the climate and was taking it very seriously.
Anyway, the article was basically given over to explaining how we need to change our entire way of life. It started like this:
People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the government’s chief environment scientist has warned.
Prof Sir Ian Boyd said the public had little idea of the scale of the challenge from the so-called Net Zero emissions target.
Well, he might be a little shaky on China, but he got that last point right!
A little over six weeks later on 11th October 2019, the BBC website offered us another articleii, this time by Justin Rowlatt, headed Climate change: Big lifestyle changes are the only answer. Hmm. Sounds familiar. Except that in a little over six weeks big lifestyle changes had gone from being necessary to being the only answer.
As if Roger’s chat with Professor Sir Ian Boyd wasn’t enough, things were now ratcheting up:
The UK government must tell the public small, easy changes will not be enough to tackle climate change, warn experts.
Researchers from Imperial College London say we must eat less meat and dairy, swap cars for bikes, take fewer flights, and ditch gas boilers at home.
The report, seen by BBC Panorama, has been prepared for the Committee on Climate Change, which advises ministers how to cut the UK’s carbon footprint.
It says an upheaval in our lifestyles is the only way to meet targets.
Is this the only known case of the BBC’s use of a headline related to climate change being less dramatic than the story? The headline talked about big lifestyle changes. The story insists on an upheaval in our lifestyles.
Strange, then, that fast forwarding a little under two years, we find Boris Johnson’s COP 26 spokesperson, Allegra Stratton, writing in the Daily Telegraphiii (sadly behind a paywall), and offering us this wise advice:
“People should consider not rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher to limit the impact on the environment….[She] also suggests freezing leftover bread to reuse rather than throwing it away, and ordering shampoo in cardboard packaging….
…”Could you go one step greener? Did you know, according to COP 26 principal partner Reckitt, who make Finish, you don’t really need to rinse your dishes before they go into the dishwasher?…”
It’s carnage out there, I tell you. Lifestyle upheaval and some, at least if you’re an upper middle class climate worrier.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where was I? Oh yes, that’s right. 2019. Although the next articleiv appeared on 14th May 2020, in writing it (on the Science News website), Christie Aschwanden largely hung it on a November 2019 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Oh yes, they were getting very serious about it in 2019. Again, we had to take big steps across all areas:
Action is required on multiple levels — government, industry and individuals — and across multiple systems, including energy, transportation, housing and food. We need to do all of the things, says Foley, whose organization has identified more than 80 climate “solutions” available now. These range from renewable energy technologies to plant-based diets to mass transit.
Beating all of these to the punch, however, on 4th July 2019 an articlev appeared on the website of book publishers, Penguin, entitled Things you can do in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint. I think this was the first article I saw that suggested ditching the pet (carbon thieves that they are), but the paragraph that most surprised me was this:
E-reader or hardcover books? Depending on the study, the average book has a carbon footprint of around 2 kgCO2e per kilogram of weight. The physical copy you have in your hands, for instance, weighs much less than a kilogram – so if these pages inspire you to forego eating a single hamburger you will have likely come out ahead. An e-reader has a much larger carbon footprint (20–40kgCO2e per e-reader), so to offset the e-reader you would need to not purchase about 40 physical books. The best option is to borrow from the library.
Encouraging people to borrow books from the library rather than buying them doesn’t look like the best business strategy in town. Still, I’m not a book publisher, so what do I know? What does wrecking your business matter when the planet is at stake?
Having cantered through the 2019 propaganda, it’s time to have a look at the specific penalties we will have to suffer in order to save the planet.
This is a big one. Hardly a day goes by without a story appearing about the need to ditch gas central heating boilers and replace them with something more expensive, more ugly, more unsuited to many houses, and less effective. Our old friend Roger was busy in 2019, and on 15th October 2019, this offering from him appeared on the BBC website: Central heating boilers ‘put climate change goals at risk’.vi It included this:
A report from the advisory Committee on Climate Change said it would cost £4,800 to install low-carbon heating in a new home, and £26,300 in an existing house.
That’s the first penalty.
Much has been written about the need to shift to electric vehicles (including here by Jit – I dream of EV). There is much propaganda trying to persuade the gullible that electric cars are cheap, but What Car doesn’t agree.vii
EV buyers could end up paying extra to go green. Many of those cars are more expensive to buy than their petrol and diesel-engined counterparts, and some cost more to insure and maintain. On top of that, if you can’t recharge your car cheaply at home you could end up paying more to run it than you would a petrol car.
Even after you’ve deducted the Government’s £3000 grant for EVs that cost less than £50,000, many are pricier than petrol or diesel alternatives. Volkswagen’s ID.3, for example, costs around 16% more than a comparable Golf, while Kia’s E-Niro will set you back just over 20% more than a Niro Hybrid.
At the top end of the market, some EVs can be a lot more expensive to insure than their petrol and diesel rivals. The priciest of our examples to insure is the Model 3, which costs a whopping 45% more than a comparable 3-series.
Then there’s the cost of putting in place the necessary charging structure. According to the RAC, the typical cost of a home charging point is around £800. On 1st September 2017 the Independent published an articleviii with this heading: UK electric car plan could cause huge infrastructure costs in efforts to steer clear of power shortages. The article quite rightly discusses the problems that will be caused to the National Grid if we all need electricity rather than petrol or diesel to power our cars.
…numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) could balloon to 20 million by 2040 from around 90,000 today, experts estimate. Charging them all will require additional electricity.
Britain already faces a power supply crunch in the early 2020s as old nuclear reactors come to the end of their lives and remaining coal-fired plants are phased out by 2025.
Four years ago, well before the conventional car ban was raised, the government said more than £100bn ($130bn) in investment would be needed to ensure clean, secure electricity supplies and to reduce demand.
Then there’s the cost of putting the charging infrastructure in place:
Even if the grid can bear the burden, increasing charging points from the current 13,000 won’t be cheap.
“The UK by 2040 needs 1-2.5 million new charging points. An average public charging point costs 25-30,000 euros so it would need to invest 33-87bn euros from now until 2040,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Wetzel.
That’s the second penalty.
Obviously they will have to be rationed, if they’re allowed at all. The BBC againix:
Around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation. Together with other gases and the water vapour trails produced by aircraft, the industry is responsible for around 5% of global warming.
At first glance, that might not seem like very big contribution. Except, only a very small percentage of the world flies frequently. Even in richer countries like the UK and the US, around half of people fly in any given year, and just 12-15% are frequent fliers.
Depending on where you live, dear reader, there’s a good chance that’s you. Giving up or reducing your foreign holidays, indeed any trip that involves flying – that’s the third penalty.
This is increasingly touted as a solution to the “climate crisis”. The idea is to add a “carbon” tax to any activity that involves the emission of greenhouse gases. It is certainly superficially attractive – if it made foreign imports more expensive, because it builds in a tax in respect of the emissions associated with their transport, localism could be given a huge boost. The problem is that idealists seem to think that the money raised would be redistributed so as to protect the poor from being impoverished still further by their bills going up in consequence. I’m not so optimistic. I see this as costing us all a lot of money. According to an article in the Guardianx [t]he Zero Carbon Campaign has estimated that a carbon tax could raise £27bn a year by 2030. No doubt it would. The problem is that I don’t see that money finding its way into our pockets any time soon – someone has to pay for the renewables energy subsidies, the cost of upgrading the National Grid, the cost of installing electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and the loss of petrol and diesel fuel duty etc. By my calculation, therefore, a carbon tax will be the fourth penalty.
Tony Thomas has already dealt with this (Cool the Planet or we Kill the Dog), so I will touch on it only briefly. I’ll quote the Independentxi this time (though goodness knows, there are plenty of stories in the media about the effect those evil pets are having on the planet):
When pets can emit twice the carbon emissions of our homes’ electricity and kill up to 200 million wild prey in the UK every year, we cannot stay silent. Unfortunately, in many cases pet ownership is simply another form of destructive consumerism.
…But it’s not just wildlife. 20.8 million dogs and cats consuming just one tin or unrecyclable plastic package of cat food per day results in 7.6 billion containers being manufactured each year, just in the UK. Add to this, another 3.6 billion plastic bags for picking up the estimated 1.2 million tons of dog-poop and then there is the issue of disposing of 200 thousand tonnes of cat waste.
Most clumping cat-litter is made from bentonite clay, which is an unrecyclable mineral mined using open-cast strip mining, which removes trees and soils to get at the clay.
Then of course there is the actual high-carbon, high-cruelty fish, chicken and meat that goes into the tins and packets that eventually produces the poop. The meat content of dog and cat diets, at about 33 per cent, is significantly higher than that of the average American human diet, at about 19 per cent.
This all comes with significant carbon impacts. A 2019 study reported that the average Dutch dog’s carbon emissions just for food were up to 1.4 tonnes and cats were up to 0.25 tonnes. This is nearly double the annual electricity carbon emissions for the average UK household just for dog food and about a third of household electricity emissions for the average cat’s food.
My tough message is that the UK cannot achieve its carbon goals or protect our remaining scraps of biodiversity if we maintain this unsustainable huge number of pets.
So don’t expect to keep your pet. That’s the fifth penalty.
If you have to give up your diesel or petrol car, there’s no reason at all why you should expect to be able to choose to eat meat. Have you any idea of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with meat (and dairy, come to that)? Our old friend the Guardian will tell youxii, and in no uncertain terms:
Beef’s environmental impact dwarfs that of other meat including chicken and pork, new research reveals, with one expert saying that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to cut carbon emissions than giving up their cars….
…The study of British people’s diets was conducted by University of Oxford scientists and found that meat-rich diets – defined as more than 100g per day – resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, both vegetarian and fish-eating diets caused about 3.8kg of CO2 per day, while vegan diets produced only 2.9kg.
So that’s that. Don’t even think of eating meat. The sixth penalty.
End of choice
It follows that if travelling unnecessarily results in the emission of greenhouse gases, emissions that could have been avoided if the journey hadn’t been made, then unnecessary journeys must be avoided, unless made on foot or by bicycle.
I’m not (and never have been) a Conservative, but as I understand it, Conservatives have traditionally hailed choice on the part of the public, whether that be with regard to choosing the school their children attend or the hospital they use for elective surgery and the like. Well, forget that. You’ll have to attend your local hospital and your children will have to attend their local school, regardless of where they stand in the league tables. Depending on your politics, that may or may not be regarded as a good thing, but as for even having the choice – forget it. The seventh penalty.
Destruction of the environment
This is the eighth penalty, but I’ve spoken enough about it in Saving the Planet by Trashing It and elsewhere (e.g. For Peat’s Sake), so I will move rapidly on.
One of the problems in relying increasingly on unreliable renewable electricity generation, and closing coal-fired power stations, at the same time as massively increasing the UK’s reliance on electricity (e.g. by requiring us all to drive electric cars and phasing out gas-fired central heating and cooking) is that increasing pressure will be imposed on the National Grid. Already, we are reading stories like this one in the Guardianxiii from October 2020 – National Grid warns of short supply of electricity over next few days.
National Grid has warned that Britain’s electricity will be in short supply over the next few days after a string of unplanned power plant outages and unusually low wind speeds this week….
…A spokeswoman for National Grid said the latest electricity supply squeeze was not expected to be as severe as recorded last month, and added that the company did not expect to issue an official warning in the next 24 hours.
Accurate information regarding how much electricity the National Grid imports is not easy to find, but when I look on an intermittent basis, I regularly see more than 10% coming from abroad via the interconnectors. However, as Europe goes down the same route as the UK, energy from abroad might be less readily forthcoming. Expect power cuts. The ninth penalty.
Whether this one is a penalty or not depends on your point of view. Perhaps the air would be cleaner without them, but for many people log burners in winter are a source of joy, warmth and comfort, and in many rural locations they are essential, or close to it. So far only the use of coal and wet wood on log burners has been banned, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the zealots trying to insist that their use be ended once and for all. If it happens, it will be the tenth penalty.
Even the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 8119 of 7th October 2019 estimates that smart meters will cost £13.5 billion to install in the UK. The claim is that a net benefit of £6 billion will be achieved, because customers will save £19.5 billion by realising what their energy is costing, and using less of it. So, either it costs us a heck of a lot of money, or we turn down the heating and sit in cold houses, in order to save the money that the programme has cost us. Sounds like a lose-lose situation to me. Even the National Audit Office has its reservations, saying (in its third report on the subject, in 2018):
The facts are that the programme is late, the costs are escalating, and in 2017 the cost of installing smart meters was 50% higher than the Department assumed. 7.1 million extra SMETS1 meters have been rolled out because the Department wanted to speed up the programme. The Department knows that a large proportion of SMETS1 meters currently lose smart functionality after a switch in electricity supplier and there is real doubt about whether SMETS1 will ever provide the same functionality as SMETS2. The full functionality of the system is also dependent on the development of technology that is not yet developed.
This is the eleventh penalty
Wash clothes in cold water
For the final penalty, let’s go back to the BBC, since they’re always good for a quote when it comes to climate change. In The hidden impact of your daily water usexiv, they tell us:
Being sparing with the water and using less hot water can all make a difference. Using a bowl for washing up, rather than a running tap, could save about 66kg of CO2 a year, according to one analysis – roughly the same as a return-trip flight between London and Oslo.…
…One analysis by the Sustainability Consortium estimated that if one load of laundry a week was washed on a cold cycle rather than warm or hot, each household could reduce its carbon footprint by 23kg a year.
Now I’m not an expert on clothes washing, I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit, but I checked with my household expert, and she confirmed my suspicion that this isn’t a good idea. Washing oneself less in cooler water, washing-up the dishes in cooler water, and washing clothes in cooler water isn’t great for hygiene. Penalty number twelve.
All of these sacrifices sound pretty grim to me. It’s certainly not a future that I look forward to with any enthusiasm. The penalties involved in “saving the planet” might just be worth it if they would achieve that laudable aim, but patently they won’t. Even if the UK busts a gut, ruins its citizens’ lifestyles, destroys its economy, and makes life as grim as the above account suggests, it won’t make any difference to anything. It certainly won’t “save the planet”, end the “climate crisis” or achieve anything much at all. China, India, Russia, the Middle Eastern oil states, and the developing world will see to that.