Vir Cantium

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Category Archives: Environment

I’m Bored. Let’s Have a Go at a Green.

Green Patio Heater

What? It's green isn't it? (You can get them in silver too, I think.)

Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly. He’s a ‘London-wide’ member, which means he wasn’t popular enough to be voted in for an actual GLA constituency.

Anyway, not having to service a constituency means he has time to pen missives to every local paper in London and the surrounds, such as this:

Londoners are facing high unemployment, falling real incomes, soaring rents and fares, as well as environmental problems such as dangerous air pollution and cold homes.

I want the Mayor of London to set a budget which responds to these basic concerns.

Freezing the council tax will help slightly, but Londoners travelling to work are having to pay out far more in fare rises, than they are saving in council tax.

Did you notice what was missing? The one major cost pressure he didn’t list was fuel prices – over half of which are made up of taxes and duties. Oh but of course, cars are evil aren’t they?

Rewarding people for using environmentally friendly public transport should take priority over car driving in London.

In the short term we can lower fares by raising the central London congestion charge for the most polluting gas guzzlers and setting up a new ‘anti-pollution’ charging zone around Heathrow airport.

In the longer term, this may well solve the problems of people travelling in to London, since once the congestion charge has been raised so high that no-one can service the place, they’ll be out of a job, or working outside (Inner) London*. Yes, it will have to go up for every vehicle, since it has always been about revenue-raising and not reducing congestion (which it doesn’t).

This is just one of the ways in which the Mayor could improve our environment, whilst helping the poorest to cope with hard times.

You know, Darren, this isn’t the 1950’s; the era when estates for ‘poor people’ were laid out with no provision for cars because poor people just couldn’t afford, or didn’t need, to drive.

Outside Inner London, there are many people – ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ – for whom a freeze in council tax is worth more than the rise in the fares they pay for their occasional trip into town. Of course, what would really make a difference to their living costs – whether it’s transport (those evil cars) or “cold homes” – is reducing the cost of fuel. That’s the cost, for instance, of filling the car up so they can get to work, since not everyone toils in Zone 1 (and yes, that may include charging up the Pious Prius). The trouble is, Darren Johnson’s solution to that probably involves windmills, and the sort of financially myopic interventionism in the energy and oil industries that would just bring forward the day when the lights do actually go out.

But hey, by then at least we’ll have this global warming licked and we can avoid that traditional spike in demand for sun cream every February.

* Indeed (for the sake of completeness) once no-one can be bothered to use Heathrow anymore because the cab fare costs more than the flight….

Confused Chris Huhne Guilty of Distraction Theft

Chris Huhne, still currently Energy Secretary, is indulging in some distraction theft:

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has said he is determined to “get tough” with the six biggest energy companies, in his speech to the Lib Dem conference.

Chris Huhne, British politician, at the Health...

Chris Huhne, not at the wheel

He said he wanted to help people save money by making it easier to spot cheaper deals and switch providers.
And he denied telling a newspaper that consumers were too lazy to shop around for lower prices.

Ah, yes, because Mr Huhne has never told a lie … just ask the former Mrs. Huhne.

“It is just that consumers still think that they face the same bill whoever they go to.”

We know the feeling, Chris. We seem to face the same watermelon environmental policies whoever we elect.

As well as promising to take action against the “big six” energy companies – British Gas, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern, Npower, E.On and EDF – Mr Huhne said he wanted to encourage new, small firms to enter the energy market.

And he criticised those firms which kept prices high for millions of existing customers while offering cut-price deals online to attract new business and deter potential competitors from setting up.
“That looks to me like predatory pricing. It must and will stop,” he said.

No, it’s called attracting new business, which by definition must mean that those new customers are switching from other suppliers, which is what Huhne is supposed to be wanting, isn’t it?

So, either it’s terrible because all the companies are charging much the same, dissuading people from switching, or they’re adopting policies to encourage people to switch which apparently is, errm, terrible.

Of course, Mr Huhne and his friends in the Lib Dem-led Coalition are already doing their bit to keep energy prices high which, by his own admission it seems, stop smaller suppliers from entering the market and makes ‘predatory pricing’ all the more possible. The pointless ‘climate change’ levies and taxes could well fall into the category of a predatory charge, regressive in its nature as are most fuel taxes, and very difficult to avoid, since switching governments is evidently very difficult these days.

Of course, as many have pointed out (though, naturally, you won’t find it in any of the talking heads carefully selected by the BBC above) it is rather convenient for Huhne to be attacking the energy companies while governments of all colours have been guilty of their own brand of profiteering. It is a form of distraction theft: “see that bloke, he was trying to rob you … oh, you’ve had your pocket picked? No, not me, it was him, I told you….”

And yes, some of us are as livid about that as Mr Huhne is about the behaviour of the energy companies, or others might be about, oh I don’t know, speeding drivers?

(Pic. credit: www.acumenimages.com)

Why Shouldn't We Admit That The #Libya Intervention Has Something To Do With Oil?

So as the bombs fall on Gadaffi, we hear the familiar cry: “it’s all about oil”, often delivered with an Agatha Christie-esque everyone-in-the-drawing-room air of conclusive revelation.

Well, obviously oil has a fair amount to do with it, but what’s the big deal with that? Oil isn’t just about driving your car, it’s about the very infrastructure of every civilised nation, the supply lines and products, from basic foodstuffs to sophisticated medical equipment, and not forgetting the materials for which oil is the raw ingredient. When it is said that it’s about our way of life, it’s not just the fortnights in Tuscany but the very essentials – like it or not – of everyday existence. Not such a trivial reason for action after all really, is it?

More to the point, it’s certainly a justifiable reason for taking a potentially unhealthy interest in those regions of the planet where the wretched stuff comes out of the ground.

It’s not just about consumption either. The Left will generally tug at the heartstrings by ranting about “oil company profits”, profit being nothing but a dirty word of course, made filthier when married with the evil o-word. Back in the real world, profit means economic activity, tax revenues, job security and, in macroeconomic terms, international trade meaning the benefits accrue on both sides of the deal. (In any case, if oil company profits are the problem, presumably the anti-war lobby would be happy if the oil companies had been nationalised before the various middle east adventures began?)

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France

Nuclear power: Make fission not war

Given all this, is it unreasonable to consider it undesirable that such power should be in the hands of people who would use such power against us? Just ask Ukraine how it feels when you can’t do anything about the nutcase who controls the tap on your prime energy supplies. Oil has more than a little to do with it, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to admit it.

It surely is no more ignoble an aim than regime change; that other silent objective whose admission could have made, for Tony Blair, the Iraq War simpler to justify (if still not successfully) than the contortions necessitated by the distracting claims of WMD.

In the case of Libya, these considerable and justifiable interests coincide with factors of urgent humanitarian need practicality and timing.

All this doesn’t mean the whole business isn’t ugly and deadly and would be better avoided if possible. Given that a substantial part of our dependence on oil relates to our energy needs, and that however well advanced green technology gets over the next few decades, there is an inescapable solution that will bring about the disengagement from the oil-driven adventures in the middle east that we all – Greens included – desire: nuclear power.

And there’s a thought: against all the wildly inflated figures of how many people die from nuclear accidents, how many lives could be saved by the wars for oil that need not be fought?

Greenpeace Gets A Free Pass

So Greenpeace yesterday mounted another stunt to draw the worlds attention to themselves an environmental concern, this time jumping on the BP-bashing bandwagon.

Sadly for the eco-warriors BP’s poor financial results took a lot of the limelight away from their acts of trespass and economic vandalism. The BBC did cover it, though, but only gave a brief mention to the reasons for the protest with a vague reference to the company’s environmental practices. I suspect that at least a few of those engaged in the stunt would regard all oil companies as the shopfronts of the devil, and thus their appreciation of the details of climate science and petro-chemicals is about as refined as their understanding of how the retail arms of oil companies are run: as Iain Dale pointed out, many forecourts are small franchised businesses such that yesterday’s efforts would have had a proportionately greater impact on struggling small traders than on any faceless multinational.

A BP petrol station, minding its own business

A BP petrol station, minding its own business.

Talking of the BBC, it displayed its usual moral relativism in its coverage of the events, describing the Greenpeace mob as “activists” (as opposed to what … “inactivists”?)

I appreciate the Beeb tends to avoid pejorative or loaded language when reporting on many issues, especially sensitive political ones, but there has to be a limit. I believe that, in a civilised nation, you don’t try to change the law by breaking it – that way lies anarchy.

Trespassing on someone’s private property and closing their business, just because your political opinions – like voices in your head – drive you to do so, is crossing the line, and should not be given such implicit endorsement from a respectable institution like the BBC, and one which sets the tone for reporting by many other outlets. Report it, yes, but sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade; or, to put it another way, report the facts.

Perhaps those of us who oppose the compulsory TV licence fee should trespass in Television Centre, maybe dig some allotments, and see how long the BBC continues to forgive such “direct action” as mere fluffy “activism”.

Who knows, perhaps we could learn from Greenpeace and other campaign organisations and register as a charity to get some tax breaks!

Lessons in Localism

Something that councillors like me are going to have to get used to is the fact that ‘localism’ means devolving power to the lowest practical level. That sometimes will mean bypassing us altogether, as with today’s “Community Right to Build” proposals from Grant Shapps, where local land trusts can obtain permission via local referenda to build small developments.

I expect that some of my own colleagues will not be happy with this one but, so far, I am.

One group that has already come out against the move, though, is the Council for the Protection of Rural England:

“A more democratic approach to house building is welcome as local people should always be given a say in development…. However, bypassing the planning process is not the way to deliver it and any proposals should include proper planning scrutiny.

“The level and location of development should be informed by a proper assessment of local housing need and an understanding of whether the local environment can accommodate more development. This capacity should be assessed through democratic local plans and not a simple public ballot [my emphasis].”

Yes, you read that last bit right. I think that the term “democratic” in this instance, describing central planning under a system introduced in the 1940’s, is used in the same sense as it is in, say, the “Democratic Peoples Republic of (North) Korea”. (Certainly, at least in the past, it has given us a fair amount of architecture in a similar style too).

I could even comment that the use of the term “Council” in the CPRE’s name is somewhat incongruous, as it suggests a body made up of elected representatives. Perhaps that explains why the CPRE (chief executive: former Labour MEP Shaun Spiers) is so confused about what democracy really means.

When we councillors do draw up our local development plans, we are doing so as delegates of the local communities in our wards, divisions or parishes. At a borough or county level, it is the most practical method of getting democratic input into the process over large areas.

However, if you are talking about a neighbourhood or village, then a local referendum could clearly be a practical option. (Incidentally, Grant Shapps has tentatively suggested a high approval threshold of 80-90%). Yes, consideration must be given to the effect on the local environment, transport routes, schools and other infrastructure, but surely those best placed to judge this are those living in that same neighbourhood? What makes us, the local great and good councillors, think that we know any better? Is that not the philosophy of the paternalistic central state bureaucrat?

Taking of which, just how “democratic” does the CPRE think it is when, under the current system of central planning, a development wins approval after a successful appeal to a planning inspector reporting to his superiors in Bristol? “Not very” would be the answer, I suspect, but there’s no point in being half-hearted if you want to overturn decades of anachronistic state planning machinery.

Electric Cars Subsidies – Not A Gimmick

So, the government wants to give us up to £5,000 to buy electric cars.

Whoop. Ee. Doo.

Where to start?

The intentions are good, let us assume. That is, let us assume that this isn’t just a stitch-on to the environmental cloak that the state bailout of certain car manufacturers is covered in, to get round EU state-aid rules. Let’s assume that the reason the government doesn’t just zero-rate the VAT on electric cars isn’t because the EU won’t let them.

Just how environmentally friendly is the idea? I’m not talking about the fact that the cars will still be charged from the existing power generation network – much of which runs on fossil fuels (until we see sense and start building nuclear again), but that fact that the intention is clearly to have – at the end of the chain – old cars being scrapped. Motor vehicles have the maximum impact on the environment at two points in their life: when they’re made, and when they’re scrapped. The best thing you can do with many vehicles – especially the older ones, which were made from less recyclable material (apart from the obvious metal), is to keep them on the road.

Then there is the small detail that might make one think this is just an ill-thought-through headline-grabbing gimmick: why electric cars? What about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? If the government is going to subsidise installation of the electric charging infrastructure, what happens if hydrogen proves more sustainable – environmentally and/or financially? If the energy companies find (as is quite possible) that it makes more sense for them to use their existing infrastructure to ship and sell hydrogen, what happens to all those taxpayer-subsidised plug sockets? It seems rather early to be putting all the eggs in one basket.

The biggest problem with electric cars, though, is not the cost – they already qualify for beneficial rates of road tax, company car tax treatment and, of course, don’t incur fuel duties. No: the problem is that they’re rubbish. And if you go for a less nerdy model like the Toyota Pious Prius, then you’re buying something which is more environmentally damaging in its production (some parts have to be shipped halfway around the world … twice) and heavier than an equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle.

Alternatively powered cars are coming, but like all new technology, it takes time to mature. It may be that this is another example of where the best thing government can do is nothing … because it doesn’t have to do anything.

Turning Back the Clock

Today some people are observing “Earth Hour”, when lights are switched off for an hour so that some well-meaning souls can show how committed they are to parading their piety saving the planet.

So just what is the message that Earth Hour is sending out?

For the sake of argument, we’ll suppose that one completely buys in to the man-made global warming theory. Surely the only conclusion to be drawn from the “Earth Hour” exercise is that the only way to reverse climate change is to revert back to the dark ages (literally) and that employing science, engineering and plain common sense to more efficiently use our limited resources plays little part in tackling the “problem”.

Suffice to say, the energy-saving light bulbs in my own home will remain switched on this evening.

It’s Not Direct Action – It’s Assault

I agree with John Prescott.

OK, I’ll pause while you read that again….

And I think it was wrong to attack Lord Mandelson.

OK, another pause….

Well, I should point out … it was wrong to physically assault Peter Mandelson. Note, “assault” not “direct action”, that term much beloved of many in the media, whether with or without weasily quotation marks.

From the feted Swampy to the latest green custard incident, examples of criminal damage, assault and various other acts of law-breaking are excused as “direct action” – though strangely only when such acts are perpetrated in the name of some left-friendly environmental cause (yes, even one that crosses party boundaries, like the Heathrow third runway). The laws being broken are not draconian rules imposed by a totalitarian regime, but basic rules of decent behaviour necessary to hold a civilised society together.

Worse, we recently had a legal case of direct action being excused in a court of law on the grounds of – to strip away the frills – a very heartfelt cause. Much as the perpetrators might dress up their actions by paper thin accusations about a lack of democracy – and of course such complaints usually only come to the surface when a democratic process doesn’t come to a decision they like – it should bear little more weight than a burglar justifying his actions by citing his victim’s wealth or his own financial situation.

Yet one is left wondering, as so often these days, how much effect the media coverage has on such events. Naturally they only occur to gain media attention, but the soft-handed way in which such actions are written off with acceptable sounding terms like “direct action” has a cumulative effect on establishing a legitimacy for them, and a longer term corrosive effect on how democracy and free speech works in our country – and the excuse that is given to those who would use the power of the state to restrict all our freedoms.

(And yes, for the record, I also agree with my own party’s statement on the matter. Those who oppose the third runway should be making the loudest condemnations of this attack.)

A Planely Stupid Waste of CO2

I’m not sure if Plane Stupid is just the name of the organisation or also a summary of its membership qualifications, complete with bad spelling. It does seem, though, that apart from being little more than yobs with a thin excuse for their yobbery, they are also not very good at thinking.

Their website is crowing that 21 flights were cancelled this morning and many, presumably, had to be diverted, using up more fuel and producing more CO2 in the process. Diverted flights will cause longer journeys for those passengers to get home – yet more CO2. And of course, most o fhte passengers on those cancelled flights will simply be flying out at another time, so no CO2 saving there.

Presumably, now that aircraft will be in the wrong place, other ‘planes will have to be flown in from elsewhere to plug the gaps in the schedules: more CO2.

So, given that the protests won’t make a jot of difference to the aviation industry, other than seeing BAA tighten up the security and RyanAir’s legal department taking a few hours out of putting up the Christmas decorations, the net effect of the protest, even in the longer run, will be a brief upward blip in CO2 emissions.

Another blow for the planet! Well done, people.

Now buzz off and get yourselves a job/life/girlfriend.

Fair Game

So, it seems that causing thousands of pounds worth of criminal damage is OK, so long as you’re passionate enough about it.

Adherents to the religion of man-made climate change have been acquitted after they used the defence that

“they had a ‘lawful excuse’ – because they were acting to protect property around the world “in immediate need of protection” from the impacts of climate change, caused in part by burning coal.”

Incredible. Just as the story behind the statistics of the hockey stick is emerging, and global temperatures stubbornly refuse to do what the IPCC predicted, a bunch of vandals from Greenpeace get away with criminal damage based on a theory that would quite possibly not stand up in a court were it to be tested on its own.

What of the precedent that this could set, if not in legal terms then as encouragement to other yobs? Destroying “gas guzzlers” on the grounds of combating climate change? Sabotaging airliners? How about all those cows in that field over there – go on lads, strike a blow for the environment and militant veganism in one go.

Sadly, this has probably been coming for a while. For too long, breaking the law to support a heartfelt cause has been implicitly excused as “direct action” by parts of the media and elsewhere, especially when it comes to the environment. Trespass, criminal damage and even violence have been, in these perverse times of moral relativism, considered near-legitimate forms of protest whether its a by-pass or a power station.

It is, I hope, still a central tenet of conservatism that you do not try to change the law by breaking it (at least in a free democracy). I trust the Conservative candidate for Richmond Park Zac Goldsmith will therefore be distancing himself from the actions of the Greenpeace yobs.

Oh.