Recession? This is a major opportunity
Climate Change is a topic that has increasingly been shunted from the front pages and from the national consciousness in the face of more important short-term concerns. The human brain is wired to worry about what is happening in the near future and that’s why we need to force ourselves to focus. The recession has been a major competitor for interest aided by the ‘climategate’ scandal and the appointment of a Lib Dem as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I would of course hate to insinuate that a Lib Dem was placed there to make things easier for the axe of George Osborne, but the notable omission of Nick Clegg from The Union’s term card and the recent decisions on tuition fees make it hard to feel optimistic. At best this appointment reflected a Tory lack of commitment to the environment and at worst it was a cynical ploy to sideline a major issue in a time of economic austerity.
All this becomes worse when we consider the huge benefits to be derived from engaging with climate change in a meaningful way in the near future. There are those who point to Milankovitch cycles and sunspots and refer ambiguously to a ‘global warming swindle’ somehow created by Marxists. A brief look at some evidence will show that we, hubristic as it sounds, are more than capable of influencing our atmosphere and are continuing to do so. Simultaneously and much less controversially we are running out of oil, gas and coal. Oil and gas production has already passed its peak and our potential to utilise our significant coal reserves is low. In short, our traditional forms of energy are destroying the planet and are running out. We need to replace these forms of fuel and we need to start doing it now.
It does not take an economic genius or even a George Osborne to see that money is tight at the moment. What money there is, though, can go a very long way. Well, unless you’re driving a car of course. Investment in the production of wind turbines or solar panels would produce greater returns now that such firms are desperate for business and the new systems can be phased in now with national power consumption low. Clean electricity is a keystone for a sustainable energy future and needs to be sorted before anything else can take place. Wonderful as hydrogen powered or electric cars are, without the ability to produce clean electricity we might as well keep using oil, keep clogging our cities with smog, keep stifling our lungs with soot and keep warming our planet. All sorts of secondary technology continues to catch the eye because it is exciting and new and it keeps our minds off the fact that this not close to being solved and we are getting further from the solution. They should be waiting in the wings not taking centre stage.
With unemployment still high there are plenty of people who would be willing to retrain in a sustainable manufacturing job in which Britain could lead the world. Britain has a real advantage in the strength of an education system that provides useful skills for even the lowest-skilled workers and this can be utilised in the production of low carbon technology. Large-scale investment in clean energy now could lead Britain to a new industrial age built on the back of expertise in both design and manufacture aided by the sheer size of an industry developed whilst the rest of the world sank into the safety blanket of not worrying about our planet whilst they worry instead about a few percentage points of GDP and whether or not bankers should get bonuses. Economic growth is a major concern for Governments but sustainable economic growth and providing the infrastructure to reduce climate change are in no way mutually exclusive and in the long-term one cannot be achieved without the other.
It is in our collective human nature to go through processes of denial and to throw blame around at anyone but ourselves. Climate change has been no different with the deniers often forceful and overly reported in the media and the international effort thus far is reminiscent of children squabbling. The current recession is based on unsustainable lending and borrowing. At the moment we’re borrowing our earth’s resources and we have no way of paying it back. It is time to stand up, take responsibility and start to benefit from the economic resurgence that will eventually come to any nation forward thinking enough to dominate the energy revolution from the start. Otherwise this recession is far from the last one we will have to worry about.