The British political system is currently reeling from a scandal so far-reaching and so widely-spread that it seems hard to know what shape it will take in the future.
Government Ministers and their opposite numbers in the other Parties are being thrown from their ranks, and even their “safe seats”, back home in their Constituencies.
The New Labour Experience, that “reformed” Party of one-time socialists is beginning to look like Swiss cheese in its united red wall of public service.
But even as people fear that the Labour Party has been killed off by dodgy accounting practices, there is another, more dangerous threat to Society, that should warrant closer attention.
All this Socialism in Europe over the last 150 years has only really been possible because of high-density Energy resources.
The rollout of Coal, Petroleum Oil and Natural Gas into the 27 Member States’ economies has supported social development unparalleled in history.
Whatever social programme you have in mind, the engineers have provided the power for it, with manufactured goods, industrialised machining and electricity on tap.
But all that is about to change. And it won’t just mean extensive Fuel Poverty, with aid programmes to match.
Action to combat Climate Change threatens to undermine Social Democracy in its entirety if the wrong decisions are made.
Ministers and Members of the UK Parliament of all political shades give the impression that they are highly protective of the poor in society when it comes to debating Energy pricing.
Whenever Carbon Trading or Carbon Taxation are raised as policy questions for debate, statistics are pulled out to prove that, unless there’s some financial redistribution to the poorest, that Fuel Poverty will disenfranchise millions more from social protection and the mainstream Economy.
At a meeting of the Parliamentary Renewable And Sustainable Energy Group on 13th May 2009, at the Institution of Civil Engineers, I heard a variety of speakers approach the issue of Energy impoverishment from a range of angles.
Mike O’Brien, Minister of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, explained that part of his brief was the objective to undertake – in an affordable way – measures to combat Climate Change.
He said this should be “not just a whole load of subsidies” which would come from tax revenue, a tax burden “put on the consumer”. He reminded us that the British Consumer was “not an infinite source of funding”, and that all measures undertaken should “be done in the face of the Credit Crunch”.
He encouraged “increasing decentralisation” of Energy solutions and Energy savings and that people should “take responsibility for their own Carbon footprints”.
It was clear to him that “the best Energy is the Energy you don’t use” and that “Energy efficiency is needed to make substantial progress” and that there is “a lot more work to do”. He made mention of the various insulation projects that have been announced, particularly in public sector buildings.
It seemed strange to me, and others in the room, that although he understands that the cheapest or cost-negative options should be taken first, he still pursues massive subsidies from the public purse for new Nuclear Power and the experimentation on Carbon Capture and Storage. But anyway. I suppose he’s been told that it’s his job to support these expensive high technology non-solutions.
Mike O’Brien made clear to us that he does understand the implication of the Stern Review : “we need to take action now or it will be more expensive in the long term”.
About the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty that is aimed for in Copenhagen in December 2009, he said “it may well be that we have to move faster”.
He emphasised that the Energy Savings Trust was helping millions of homes “reduce Carbon emissions”, that he supported getting “insulation and Renewable Energy into peoples’ homes as fast as possible”, that we can already see progress with “lower bills and warmer homes”.
He said his vision was that “people will look back at the pinstripe suits in this room [and say] “You enabled the [Energy] Revolution” with its big cultural, social and economic change.”
“As a Minister”, he admitted, “I’m frustrated that we can’t make changes fast enough.”
During questions he admitted that he believed “lots of Local Authorities will make sub-optimal decisions” regarding how to implement Energy efficiency and Renewables.
When asked if Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) should be applied to current coal-fired power stations he said that the electorate wouldn’t stand for it as it would be very expensive.
When asked about Tax-and-Dividend (the idea of taxing Carbon Emissions and then redistributing some of the proceeds to the Fuel Poor), he said that whichever way the revenue collection was described it would still be seen as “you’re taking money off me to give to someone else”. He didn’t believe this was politically possible.
He said he had listened to many ideas about taxation and that “some of the them in theory are possible to put in place, but you’d get such a kickback from the consumer and some parts of industry you’d lose public support to carry out this Energy Revolution. So what is politically possible is important. We’ve got a broad political consensus. The problem will come when the media questions “how much more tax on the consumer ?” When the pressure comes on – commitment will be tested.”
He admitted, “currently we are feeling our way” about “what is acceptable to the consumer. People want to cut Carbon but want to know how much it’s going to cost.”
Later in the day, Andrew Warren, Director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, put it in a nutshell : “end-use efficiency gains are key. At least half [of the Carbon Reductions we need to make] is going to be done by “do more with less””.
He presented one form of the McKinsey “Abatement costs beyond business as usual” chart. Andrew Warren said that “McKinsey is shown to political leaders around the world and they all nod wisely”.
The McKinsey chart shows clearly “where we are going to have to make the principal Carbon savings”, and those things are the lowest cost and most efficiency-focused things : such as insulation, Energy demand reduction, standards in engineering and manufacture.
Andrew Warren said that in the light of the McKinsey analysis he was “interested to listen to the Minister’s priorities”.
Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute made the point that in order to ensure fairness in society, that households needed to have “capital up-front” for their insulation and Energy efficiency measures at home “so that those who can least afford [the Carbon pricing] can benefit the most”.
Phillip Sellwood, the Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust explained “We should be more directive regarding landlords” and he criticised “the gap between the Minister’s optimism and our ability to deliver to fuel poverty”.
Andrew Warren took hold of the thread, “compliance is really critical. We can’t put up fuel prices because of the very large number of people who have trouble with heating and fuel.” He commented on the failure of the Government’s commitment to minimise Fuel Poverty. He indicated that a judge had judged that the commitment was actually an aim rather than a guarantee, a “target”. He asked us to “bear that in mind when you consider the Climate Change Act.”
He proposed that there should be a policy to prevent landlords being permitted to let out G-rated properties, on the Energy Performance Certificate scale. “If you were to introduce this tomorrow, there would be riots. But if you signalled that in three years’ time that is what will happen…the Landlords “Energy Saving Allowance” is there…it may not be Daily Mail- or Daily Express-proof immediately…”
During the rest of the discussions there were concerns raised about the concept of “affordable energy” given that some technologies are so much more expensive than others – for example – Carbon Capture and Storage.
There were discussions about devolving Energy decisions to Local Authorities with the comment that, “this transformation is going to cost an unbelievable amount of money” and that there should be new forms of financial instrument such as Local Authority Bonds or “Green Gilts” specifically to “green” property, to enable this return to the “age of municipality”.
Householders have shown a marked resistance to “voluntary behaviour change” and changing their housing fabric. They are going to dig their heels in as Carbon Trading delivers a price for emissions that comes straight out of their daily budget.
A lot of people will be left with a dilemma that nobody should be left with : heat your home or eat for the day. This should not happen.
The choice should be : pay once for insulation on an interest-free Local Authority loan installed by Local Authority work persons.
Or you can forget Socialism of any kind.