“Net zero is a Trojan horse for the total destruction of Western civilisation,” blares Allister Heath’s latest column in the Telegraph; the first news stories on the Telegraph website were all doom around the government’s environmental announcements today (30 March). Not satisfied to fiddle while Rome burns, culture warriors are throwing fossil fuels into the fire.
This delirium is a response to the government’s “green day”, during which it has announced updates to the UK’s energy and net-zero policies. In reality the news is underwhelming: there will be support for carbon capture projects and offshore wind farms, for example, largely based on existing government commitments. Meanwhile, the government is piling billions into dubious technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen – favourites of the fossil fuel industry – rather than viable renewable energy generation from solar and wind.
Indeed, the government appears to be a reluctant participant in this green crusade. Its new policies have been prompted by a High Court ruling last year that the government’s weak net-zero policies failed to live up to the UK’s binding climate commitments. Further legal action has been mooted following today’s announcements – not least because of the government’s assertion that it is “absolutely committed” to oil and gas extraction in the North Sea.
Even so, the culture warriors are busy at their keyboards, with Heath predicting that net-zero policies will “abolish choice and impoverish millions”. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. As we have seen over the last year, continued reliance on fossil fuels risks leaving us tied to an energy system that is increasingly unstable, expensive and ruled by authoritarian petrostates.
Meanwhile, the unit costs of solar, wind and batteries have fallen markedly. Solar is now cheaper than both coal and gas, the price having fallen by 85 per cent from 2010 to 2019, while the cost of onshore wind power fell by 45 per cent.
Our fossil fuel craving is not liberating. The status quo is regressive and repressive, leaving us exposed to the whims of tyrants and the profound geopolitical shifts that will take place as the planet overheats. Some on the right recognise this fact. In a week when the government’s Climate Change Committee said that the UK was “strikingly unprepared” for the impacts of global warming, the influential centre-right think tank Onward has advocated the introduction of visas for climate migrants, of which the UN expects there to be at least one billion worldwide by 2050.
In a world without net zero, the only freedom is for the fossil fuel companies that continue to make record profits while people are impoverished and their neighbourhoods polluted. The government’s net-zero policies are worthy of criticism. As the Telegraph itself points out, the uptake of heat pumps – a climate-friendly home heating source – in the UK is woeful, thanks largely to a lack of government support. There is one heat pump for every four people in Norway, due to generous state subsidies for their adoption, compared to one for every 243 in the UK.
This doesn’t mean net zero is a forlorn ambition or a new, dangerous example of draconian government overreach. Since the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 the UK government has provided £13.6bn in subsidies to the oil and gas industry. In other words, our current energy system relies heavily on government intervention, of the sort derided by the “freedom” brigade.
The UK has been stuck under the thumb of the fossil fuel industry for long enough. Our freedom will rely on kicking this addiction, not defending an energy system that is self-evidently broken.
[See also: Concern about climate change stays strong through cost-of-living crisis]