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Build back greener

We are going to need skilled workers, factories and a resilient and self-sufficient economy

This article is taken from the August-September 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Environmentalism has smoothly transitioned from a countercultural force, at odds with capitalism and mainstream politics, to a ubiquitous shibboleth, on the lips of every CEO, politician and academic. As with so many modern orthodoxies, it is not so much that ecologists won the debate, as avoided ever having it.

Vital and important questions went unasked and unaddressed. For all the whining about the BBC “both-siding” issues such as climate change, nothing has better served the cause of trendy environmentalism than the succession of useful idiots plonked onto our screens to be subjected to a ritual bear-baiting. 

In this, as so much else, conservatives have been easily outmanoeuvred and outdistanced by opponents who frame the terms of debate with skilled ease and ensure that the war is won before battle is joined. 

The most inspired move was focusing the entire discussion around the issue of “denialism” as if the only question was whether man-made climate change was occurring, and that once this was granted, the entire green agenda must be ceded, too. 

Forced to make the implausible case that human industrial activity and pollution was, despite its unprecedented scale, making no or minimal impact on the climate and atmosphere, credibility bled away, leaving the cause of eco-scepticism reputationally somewhere between Big Tobacco and the Church of Scientology. 

In so doing, a small band of establishment radicals were able to push an extreme economic and political agenda largely unquestioned and unscrutinised. 

In the process they unlocked massive state funding for green industries, charities, think tanks, and academic sinecures, creating a vast class of people directly dependent on Green patronage, a network of power and influence that puts anything the poor polluters could muster to shame. Environmentalists pivoted neatly from outside the tent to within it, leaving all their opponents stumbling around in the cold.

But what has been ceded? What have we actually all signed up for, with Britain committed to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, and massive 68 per cent emissions cuts by 2030? For a movement that trades in the jargon of “sustainability”, the shiny new policy makers act a lot like the bad old thoughtless policy makers of yesterday — and quite possibly more so. 

Combined, the US and China make up nearly half of global emissions. Even a modest reduction in these countries would have a substantial impact. By contrast, if Britain is able to achieve net zero, it can only reduce global emissions by the one per cent it contributes now. 

Is it worth the massive and incalculable economic costs such a policy must entail for a result which will have no impact whatsoever on global warming? 

And just how has Britain made “progress” towards this target?

And just how has Britain made “progress” towards this target? Since 1990 the UK has cut its emissions in half. In the same period manufacturing has gone from about 16 per cent of GDP to around 8 per cent. UK productivity growth has largely plateaued since the 2008 crash, and since 2015 our GDP per capita has stalled. 

Massive state investment has started to reverse the economic inequality between East and West Germany, with trillions spent on the effort. By comparison, the UK’s Levelling Up Fund is £4.8 billion, of which only 10 per cent has been spent. 

Yet at the same time as British manufacturing and productivity have declined, consumer spending has continued to soar on the back of private and public debt, with a private debt to GDP ratio rarely dipping below 200 per cent, and public debt rising from just over 20 per cent of GDP in 1990, to 100 per cent by 2020. 

In this same period, per capita consumer spending rose from about £18,000 in 1990, to £30,000 by 2019. 

How did Britain pull off this trick of cutting emissions even as consumption has risen? The answer is: by exporting some of our most productive industries to countries like China, with lower labour, consumer and environmental standards. 

In 1990, Britain produced 17.8 million tonnes of steel, in 2019 it produced 7 million tonnes, while in the same year China produced 993 million tonnes. From 1992 to 2022 average energy costs have increased from £601 to £1,315. 

As labour, land and energy have become more expensive, Britain has become dependent on overseas fuel, energy, labour and construction materials to power our ever more service, finance and consumption-based economy. 

In the absence of any serious or credible way to entirely avoid carbon emissions in an industrial economy, successive British governments have simply presided over our nation’s de-industrialisation and declared it a bold forward-looking environmental strategy. 

But the pandemic and proxy war with Russia — crises Britain met without adequate reserves or strategic foresight — have called time on our unsustainable anti-industrial model. Debt, low productivity, high energy costs, poor domestic supply chains and a lack of regional investment have all come calling at once, with devastating consequences for ordinary people.

Realists have a duty to challenge this collective madness while there is still time. Net zero and de-industrialisation are endangering our standard of living, our national security and our way of life. 

The fanaticism of the green blob has never been more visible, or more popularly loathed, with guilty US millionaires funding nihilistic UK eco-activist groups such as Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain through the America-based Climate Emergency Fund. 

Even as American green dollars hold up traffic and disrupt sporting events, UK government patronage pumps out £280 million a year to prop up renewables, just one of many funding sources that fuels our ever-expanding green lobby. 

But our real opportunity for global leadership is through pioneering technologies and industries

There is another way. Britain has deluded itself into thinking that by an elaborate act of ecological seppuku, it can convince the world to follow suit. But our real opportunity for global leadership is through pioneering technologies and industries that actually can — truly sustainably — mitigate climate change. 

None of that can happen if we cripple manufacturing and research with high costs, underinvestment and a market saturated with unreliable and heavily- subsidised “renewables”. A true green industrial revolution will need steel, concrete and plentiful cheap energy, just like every other one. 

Nuclear energy, for example, has been stymied, delayed, blocked and decommissioned worldwide by the same green movement that claims we are in an apocalyptic crisis. It has done so in part out of a sentimental zealotry which prefers waves and wind to the cutting edge of nuclear physics. 

However, another crucial part of the picture is that nuclear power has never been party to the green gold rush for state subsidies, and is instead regarded as a competitor. Nuclear is a renewable and sustainable technology in the real sense, requiring long-term planning and substantial investment, but offering, for those who can take it to scale, a massive non-polluting power source. 

In France, where 68 per cent of electricity is derived from nuclear power, energy prices are lower than both the UK and Germany, and it is far more resilient to fluctuations in the cost of natural gas. 

If environmentalists are right about climate change, then just about the stupidest thing Britain could do is weaken our economy and industrial capacity. If we are to see rising sea levels, crop failure and increased competition for resources, we are going to need skilled workers, factories, and as resilient and self-sufficient an economy as we can produce. 

Nor will abandoning the industrial revolution — Britain’s greatest achievement, which has extended human life spans by decades, produced safe, warm homes, and plentiful food for unimagined billions — do any good for the environment that we all share and live in, rather than the grand abstractions of “planet”, “globe” and “environment”. 

Britain is blessed with rivers, fields and forests that are not threatened by a degree or more of warming, but are a great deal menaced by our failure to plan, manage and conserve them. It will require all our national strength and intelligence to meet these and other challenges, and we must not cede an ounce of strength or a fraction of our resources if we want to be ready to answer them. 

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