Low Carbon Building Programme

If you think I have exaggerated the Government’s lack of commitment to saving carbon emissions or if you think I have been unfair to them, try to log on to the low carbon building programme’s website for householders. This gives information about grants available for those who want to invest in household renewable energy and to save you searching its address is www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/. You will find that the site is virtually permanently down – just like the government’s climate change policy.

The Climate Change Bill

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, has announced that the Government will amend its draft Climate Change Bill.The Bill originally set out legally binding targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the UK by at least 60 per cent by 2050 and 26 to 32 per cent by 2020 based on a new system of “carbon budgets” set at least fifteen years ahead. It also proposed the creation of a new independent, expert Committee on Climate Change to advise on the best way to achieve these targets.  The latest draft requires this Committee to look at the “implications” of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK’s targets as part of this review. The bill envisages that the Government must seek the Committee’s advice but not, of course, be bound by it. The Government will, however, have to explain its reasons to parliament for not following the Committee’s advice to parliament and report every five years.

O dear! Legally binding targets! A five year reporting cycle. Another quangos. More money on administration and nothing on measures. If we don’t meet these targets in thirteen years’ time and thirty three years’ time so what? There are no sanctions if the Government fail to meet legally binding targets. They won’t round up the Environment Secretary and throw him in jail. I suppose that someone will apologise, blaming past governments for the mess that we will be in, as the weather becomes more extreme, energy more expensive and economies decline, pretty much as predicted by Sir Nicholas Stern. We already have a legally binding target to abolish fuel poverty in vulnerable households by 2010 and in all households by 2016. We have no chance of meeting these targets, so how can we meet our carbon dioxide emission targets?Mr Benn thinks that targets will give the UK “greater clout at the international negotiating table”. He misleads himself. While we in the United Kingdom play around with statutory targets, trade and cap schemes, carbon casinos where you lay down bets in emissions and could win big prizes, much of the rest of the world realises that it is measures, not words, that reduces carbon emissions.  There are plans and statutory schemes in many countries that provide real measures, particularly for the generation of green energy through thermal solar and other renewable technologies. In these cases, conditions are created to incentivise these technologies. Here in the United Kingdom less is spent on thermal solar incentives than 650 members of parliament run up on their expenses in eleven days, yes eleven days! When Mr Benn sits at the international negotiating table he won’t, on the basis of this draft bill, have clout. He will have something, but it won’t be clout or respect for the UK’s climate change policy.

Rubbish Charging

Local authorities are going to be allowed to charge people according to the amounts of rubbish that they throw away, in an effort to reduce land fill fines that the UK would otherwise have to pay to the European Union. Some people have dubbed this as a “pay as you throw” tax, others have said it will encourage people to throw away their rubbish in places where they won’t be taxed, such as your local park or in leafy country lanes.

Making pollutors pay is one of the four important  guiding principles that I offer in “the Energy Age”. Consuming what we need, such as food, energy and clothing has a bad enough effect on the environment but at least it keeps us fed, warm and clothed. Consuming what we do not need is madness. It harms our environment, consumes resources that are not limitless and in the case of rubbish often produces harmful methane and carbon dioxide as it decomposes.

Landfill is a horrible way of disposing of rubbish – just ask anyone who lives near a landfill site. I recently met some people from the Small Dole Action Group in West Sussex. They live near an old claypit that has received millions of cubic metres of rubbish since 1946; ask any inhabitant of Small Dole and they will tell you just how difficult living near a land fill site is.

So, we’ve got to produce less rubbish. We have to get the polluter to pay for his or her rubbish.

I think that charging people for rubbish that they throw away is the wrong way to solve the problem of landfill. It must be easier to reduce rubbish at the point of production, rather than aim to restrict it at the point of disposal. Many people have little choice about the rubbish they generate. They want or need to buy certain things and have no option of saying “I’ll take it without the packaging”. I suppose that you could leave the packaging at the till, as some good souls have done, but that is not a long term solution.

We need tighter regulations about packaging, which in itself  comprises a great deal of rubbish. At the moment we permit supermarkets to over package food; do they really need to sell four apples resting on a polystyrene tray, covered in a plastic dome and all wrapped up in cellophane? Why do we permit soft drinks to be sold in anything except deposit charged returnable bottles? the list of over packaged items is almost as endless as the rubbish itself.

I am sure that charging the council tax payer is a quick and easy thing to do. The money raised will cover the fines payable to the Europe Union, and probably more. It will not by itelf lead to more recycling or less packaging. The council tax payer is not as powerful as the vested interests of industry who will pressure the government not to prohibit the type of rubbish that their packaging generates. 

You have to ask why so many items are over packaged and you will probably come to the conclusion that it’s all about money – the product looks more enticing, so it sells more, or they can charge more for a well packaged product.

It certainly is not about preventing waste; we are all very bad at doing that.

Cutting out the rubbish at source is the way forward and that means environmentally friendly regulations for retailers, manufacturers and suppliers about packaging. Once we have done that, then the overall volumes of rubbish will decrease, and so will the land fill and the fines to the European Union.

Climate Change and what we do – Truth and Lies

I wrote this for H&V News, and lots of people wrote to me saying that they agreed with my sentiments. It will be an interesting start to my weblog.

Some truths are virtually self evident; one is that climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today which we can only really mitigate by emitting less carbon dioxide.

Lies are not self evident. The late and unlamented Josef Goebbels said that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it people will eventually come to believe it.  When you couple a big lie with a self evident truth, you cause the greatest harm.

The truth about climate change is being coupled with the big lie that the government is doing something about it and leading the world in the fight against climate change. DEFRA on its climate change web page claims “The UK is acting now to adapt to climate change and to reduce the risk by reducing our contribution to the causes”. I do not believe that. It is a lie. 

The truth is that the United Kingdom government does less about climate change than any virtually of its EU partners, and less than most countries in the world. For example, due entirely to lack of government encouragement the solar thermal industry in the UK is around 5% of that of Germany and we see a very modest growth rate in its take up here.

Countries, like France, Portugal, Italy and Spain which traditionally had only slight more solar thermal than the UK are now experiencing double digit growth as a result of the policies of their own government. Our government it seems need to be convinced that this is a viable technology, or do they? 

We see articles in the Guardian in August that government officials from DBERR have secretly briefed that the UK has no hope of meeting its climate change targets and have suggested ways of fiddling the figures or wriggling out of its commitments.

The Guardian also reported that the Department of Communities and Local Government will now abolish the Merton Rule, requiring all new buildings to generate 10% of their energy needs on site, less than a year after the housing minister urged all Councils to adopt it. 

Whenever I have met officials involved in climate change work, I have been usually surprised at their lack of ability to understand the benefits of renewable technologies; I always put this down to lack of intellectual quality. I thought that they were genuinely attempting to achieve a greater uptake of renewables but were simply incompetent in understanding how to do this. 

Now, with the latest revelations and coupled with the government intention to regulate the solar thermal industry in a way that even a massive market, like Germany would baulk at, I need to change my mind. I think that the government is simply repeating the big lie in the hope that people will believe it while actually by their policies making no real effort to mitigate climate change.

The truth is that the Government is indifferent to climate change.  They are talking a lot but doing very little.

If they had spent the £2 million that the Stern report cost on microgeneration measures I believe it would have boosted the renewable industry tremendously and in the long run saved far more carbon than a report which no one now reads and whose recommendations are parked on a shelf gathering dust. 

I cannot understand the need to regulate closely the heating and plumbing industry in relation to solar thermal. Genersys is the largest supplier in the UK of solar thermal panels and last year we have had no complaints about installers and none so far this year.

Every time I get my electricity bill, and see that they have again taken out too much money or find that they have failed to earth the supply properly, I know who really needs regulation. 

In November last year the Government introduced Phase 2 of the Low Carbon Building Programme, after a virtually secret bidding process which led to the vast majority of solar thermal manufacturers (many of whom have far better products than those chosen by the process) and virtually all of the selling and installation companies being excluded from this significant market for no possible reason; fossil fuel energy companies, are for the government, the best way to deliver renewable micro-generated energy, notwithstanding the lack of experience, expertise and the conflict of interests inherent in the big suppliers of gas and electricity. 

Of course, a big lie can only be maintained if the government can shield its people from the consequences of that lie. You might be able to repress dissent in some cases but the big lie that the government tells about its climate change policy will ultimately be exposed because you cannot shield people from the laws of physics and from nature. I take no pleasure in that thought, because by the time the lie is commonly understood to be a lie, it will be too late.