Saturday 22nd October 2016                 Change text size:

And another thing: economic illiteracy characterises UK Government’s energy policy

Speakers Corner by CGP Grey

Innovation equals growth. Sustainable innovation equals sustainable growth. New industries create jobs. Old industries shed them. New industries solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems. Old industries created them. New industries mean economic growth. Old industries mean economic stagnation. This is the economic literacy that is missing in Whitehall.

The green economy represents a huge economic opportunity for an island gifted with brilliant academics, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and the power of Europe’s investment capital. We have a staggering amount of weather, shoreline and territorial waters to feed a home grown, renewable, low carbon transformation. Conservative, Labour and Coalition Governments have all understood this opportunity.

But the cracks started to show before the election as ideologically-driven bedfellows of the fossil fuel industry hijacked the Conservative Party, from the Chancellor down. Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister and a chemistry graduate), driving force behind the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, will be spinning in her grave. It was she, after all who said, “Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded.”

Why is the green economy such an important development?

Disruption is the very essence of functioning capitalism. Large incumbent old industries must be smashed or made more efficient through the creative destruction of insurgent new industries. It is through this vital economic process that we make progress. Biggest is the enemy of the best. Monopolies, oligopolies need to be broken by market forces or the government if the market fails in the task.

The UK has always been a pioneer of creative destruction through the agricultural, industrial and post-industrial information revolutions. Often at huge social and environmental cost. Just as this fourth revolution offers the opportunity to avoid the social and economic harm of the previous three we turn our back on it. Just at the moment the world really needs our visionary academics, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, we have backward-looking economically and ecologically illiterate government.

Just before COP21, we have the worst possible political leadership. One that shamelessly backs fossil fuels over the clean alternative, which kowtows to communist dictators, breaks solid pre-election pledges, is hypocritical internationally, misleads parliament, is singled out for criticism by the UN and criticised by older, wiser Conservative statesmen.

Epic facepalm time

News yesterday that the UK is one of the worst offenders in subsiding fossil fuels amongst the G20 is unsurprising, while cutting support for infant industries such as solar and onshore wind. Prime Minister David Cameron’s pre-election pledge on climate change doesn’t look like being fulfilled. Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond grand stands on our shared vision of the clean energy revolution in the Middle East. Energy and Climate Secretary Amber Rudd misleads parliament on whether we will hit our renewable targets. We are singled out by the UN because our global renewables leadership is being abandoned just when it matters the most. The Prime Minister’s own climate change adviser and a fellow conservative tells him he’s failing on energy policy. It would be funny if it wasn’t so damaging economically, environmentally, socially and diplomatically . The list of energy policy failures is long and shaming, not least the decision to withdraw tax relief from community energy projects.

In 1988, Margaret Thatcher, at the height of her powers, spelled out her concern for the environment to the Conservative Party with these words: “No generation has a freehold on this Earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with full repairing lease. This government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full.”

We carry no torch for any political party or leader, nor do we have an axe to grind with any political party or leader. But the buck stops today with the party that is in power today and its leadership. There are many Conservative MPs, Lords and supporters who get it. We just want the visionary, courageous and economically literate one that the people of this Sceptered Isle deserve.

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