It is among the worst kept secrets that a good number of the Conservative Party are climate change sceptics and even more are opposed to green technology and renewable energy. However, it still surprises me when they are so outspoken about the issue, mostly because it makes them look ignorant and out of touch. Then again, they look ignorant and out of touch on every other issue from education to welfare so why would they stop when it came to the environment?
Still, Owen Paterson’s musings on climate change reintroduced ‘debate’ into a field where there really shouldn’t be any debate. Due to the dark ages of the climate change debate, action was not taken for decades, both in this country and around the world, thus inextricably leaving us vulnerable to the effects of climate change today. Perhaps the UK was drawn into complacency with the reserves on North Sea oil providing the country with a false sense of security. Maybe we were also fooled into thinking that climate change wouldn’t affect us, at least in our lifetime. Whatever the thought processes were at the time it has really left us up the creek as we are simply unprepared for the realities of climate change and falling energy supplies. Oil and gas production in the North Sea could decline by as much as 22% this year and the past decade has seen some of the most horrific environmental disasters, events which are not separate but are a direct consequence of global warming. For Paterson to therefore imply that the positives of global warming outweigh the negatives is quite frankly absurd and goes againstnearly all scientific opinion and fact.
At best Paterson is ill-informed when it comes to the environment (this is nonetheless still immensely worrying seeing as he is Secretary for State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and at worst he is trying to return doubt to the climate change debate which has rightly been put to bed where there is little scientific basis for opposition; now that would be nothing short of criminal. If it is the former then he clearly is incapable of a handling an important ministerial role and if it is a latter then his personal prejudices are getting in the way of him doing a decent job on behalf of the country and should be shown the door by David Cameron. It is not only incredibly frustrating but also incredibly dangerous to raise scepticism in an area which needs desperate action and not further debate as to the merits of the climate change argument. It is not good enough to say that ‘the climate has been changing for centuries’; it is no more than a get out clause and an excuse for overseeing an appalling governance of environmental policy in this country. If Paterson does not have the backbone and the bravery to carry out the drastic changes needed to negate the truly terrifying effects of climate change in this country then he simply shouldn’t be there.
It could be fairly pointed out that the last Labour Government did not push the green agenda as hard as they perhaps could have; this country was too slow on the uptake on renewables whereas countries like Germany and Norway are decades ahead of us. However, though it may have been fairly late in coming, there was some environmental progress with the Feed-in Tariff incentive being introduced by the Energy Act of 2008 and Labour committing the UK government to reducing carbon emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Indeed, it was Ed Miliband himself who was the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in this period and encouraged a 34% 2020 carbon emission reduction target rather than the agreed 20% target. Incidentally, it is this lower 20% target which the UK is going to fall woefully short of at the current rate. There is seemingly no desire from this Government to support green policies and this is underlined by the fact that sceptics such as Paterson and John Hayes have been given key energy and environmental briefs by Cameron. The renewable industry is being slowly suffocated before it has left the ground due to indecision and instability and if it is to succeed it will be despite of rather than because of this Tory Government who will implement fracking, whatever the cost. Whilst Ed Miliband has promised a 1 million green jobs and Ed Balls pledged to make sustainable energy a ‘major national priority’ there has been a deafening silence from Cameron and co.
I will leave you with the excellent words of the Greenpeace Chief Scientist Doug Parr who, with some wit, sums up the feelings and frustrations of many including myself;
“While the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and most of the world’s leading scientific minds say climate change represents a threat to the basic stability of the world economy, Britain has an environment secretary whose response is to turn the graph upside down, squint at the figures then slip on the shades, slap on the factor 20 and declare all is well in the world.
“You wouldn’t go to a GP who rejected the collective learning of the world’s leading experts on the grounds of his own ideological prejudices, but in the environment secretary that’s what we have. Owen Paterson is a quack.”
- Environment secretary Owen Paterson says UK will benefit from global warming (blueandgreentomorrow.com)
- Letters: We need action not egos in climate-change debate (theguardian.com)
- Environment Secretary accused of ‘immoral’ stance on climate change (telegraph.co.uk)