The BBC: ‘Are the politics of climate change going out of fashion?’

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer’s election campaign decision to cancel a pledge to spend £28 billion per year on green projects has rocked the British political landscape.

Kuenssberg: Are the politics of climate change going out of fashion?

By Laura Kuenssberg

Presenter, Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg

Politics has fashions too – what’s in and out. It’s not so long ago that world leaders were jostling to be pictured with celebs like Leonardo diCaprio, Stella McCartney or Emma Watson at the huge COP26 climate conference in Glasgow where Boris Johnson played host. 

Then, it was hip to be green – being at COP in 2021 was the political equivalent of the fashion week front row. But with Labour shrinking away from its big £28bn commitments this week, and the Conservatives shifting tack and rumoured to be dropping the so-called “boiler tax”, there’s no doubt trends have changed.

What’s different?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took the first steps back in September. He didn’t junk the government’s green commitments but slowed the pace of existing plans.

The leaderships of both main parties have moved, but there isn’t agreement among their ranks either. On the right of the Conservatives, there’s pressure on No 10 now to ditch the so called “boiler tax” – planned fines payable by boiler makers if they fail to hit targets for selling new heat pumps.

In 2020 that was followed by another target to cut emissions by nearly 70% by 2030. 

One of those involved in the decision told me this week: “We thought it was the right thing to do but we understood we didn’t have all the answers. It was a bit like when JFK said we are going to land a man on the moon at the end of the decade. He had no idea how he’d do it but it was a clear ambition.”

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Has Britain truly wasted hundreds of billions of dollars on useless green projects, because a bunch of British politicians wanted to feel like JFK?

Getting green energy to work, if this is even possible, is a different order of problem to the moon landing.

I’m not in any sense dissing the moon landing, it was a remarkable feat, decades ahead of its time, which to date only one great nation has achieved. But from the outset of the moon landing project, there was a plausible technological path to success. There were huge engineering challenges to be overcome along the way, like how to prevent the rocket engine from melting during a burn which lasted minutes rather than seconds, and how to build a structure which was lightweight enough to maximise rocket efficiency, yet sturdy enough to survive a rapid ascent through the atmosphere and acceleration G-forces. But in a very real sense, the Saturn V rocket which carried men to the moon was a massively scaled up version of genius American inventor Robert Goddard’s original Liquid Fuel Rocket.

During his life, Goddard’s breakthrough and claims attracted both excitement and criticism. In 1969, the New York Times published a posthumous “correction” to their 1920 critique of Goddard’s claim that rockets could work in space. The 1920 NYT article claimed Goddard’s assertion that rockets could work in a space was absurd, because in space there is nothing to push against.

Goddard knew better. Quite apart from Goddard’s knowledge of physics, an area of expertise which was clearly in short supply in the offices of the New York Times, Goddard had already tested his rockets in a vacuum chamber, well before the NYT article was published.

My point is, even in 1920, Goddard knew his remarkable technological breakthrough provided a clear path to spaceflight.

No similar technological path to success exists for creating a renewable energy powered economy.

How do we store energy for months, or years, to stabilise an expensive, intermittent source of energy which collapses in Winter, just when we need it most? Nobody knows how to affordably stabilise renewable supplies. There isn’t even an affordable answer to time shifting renewable energy into the evening demand peak, without burning lots of fossil fuel in the “backup” generators.

Hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayer funds have been wasted by politicians who wanted to feel like JFK.

Is this desire to feel like JFK David Attenborough’s fault? I say this, because Attenborough has spent the last decade trying to convince people to back his renewable energy Apollo programme.

I don’t know for sure that it was Attenborough who put this idea of being like JFK into the minds of British politicians, but Attenborough’s influence in Britain cannot be overstated. I’m not sure how influential Attenborough is in the USA, but in Australia and Britain, anywhere within the BBC’s sphere of influence, watching Attenborough nature films was a staple of our childhood.

It has to be said Attenborough once had competition for our hearts. BBC presenter David Bellamy‘s nature films were also a staple of our childhood. I don’t know for sure what soured the BBC’s relationship with Bellamy, but Bellamy dropped out of sight after he publicly criticised the climate crisis narrative.

How will future historians make sense of this blunder?

I wish future historians luck, I can barely make sense of it. Trillions of taxpayer dollars and pounds have been committed to the green energy dead end. The politicians who committed that taxpayer cash are only now starting to wake up to the scale of their blunder.

Will British politicians have the courage to admit they made a mistake?

I hope British and other politicians find it in their hearts to do the right thing. These days it is easy to be cynical, but I believe this disastrous course of action was embraced by politicians who thought they were doing the right thing for Britain and the world. Keir Starmer’s sensible downgrade of climate action in his election manifesto is a glimmer of hope Starmer won’t be the socialist disaster many fear. One of the supporting pillars of the green economy push, the claim green investment would create a domestic manufacturing renaissance, is also in tatters. Green energy powered Britain cannot economically compete with the coal powered slave labour factories of Xinjiang, especially with China also controlling the supply and sale of critical minerals required for manufacturing solar panels, wind turbines and high efficiency electric motors and generators.

Another factor contributing to this softening of political climate commitment might be the claim we have already breached 1.5C. I believe the claim we have already cross a threshold may turn out to be a massive propaganda mistake for the climate movement. Where are the promised climate disasters? Perhaps 1.5C will turn out to be an opportunity after all, an opportunity for everyone to come to their senses, and relegate climate change to its rightful place – a mildly beneficial long term change in the weather.

For anyone interested, The Smithsonian has a great writeup of Robert Goddard’s life and achievements.

Originally published on WattsUpWithThat

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