Paterson’s Great Guff

Cabinet Meeting at Downing St, London, Britain - 24 June 2014Owen Paterson’s speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation last night was depressingly poor.   If it hadn’t been trailed so heavily in the press, I would have thought he had made it up on the spot.  In fact, Twitter revealed it was written by his brother-in-law Matt Ridley, the climate sceptic journalist (who also happens to be Lord Lawson (Chairman of GWPF)’s nephew).  So I guess it was always going to be guff.

The idea that this sort of waffle passes as a useful intervention in the energy and climate debate is extremely depressing.  That it comes from someone who used to be Environment Secretary is frankly terrifying.

Paterson’s ‘big ideas’ were to remove the Climate Change Act and adopt four ‘pillars of energy policy’.  Those are: shale gas, combined heat and power, small modular nuclear reactors and demand management.

Why is this complete crap?  Firstly, the Climate Change Act does not dictate how the UK reduces emissions, it simply sets the legally binding target.  Therefore all of Paterson’s ideas could theoretically be explored with the Climate Change Act in place.  The championing of its removal is a completely pointless addition to the speech, except as another morsel of red meat to the Tory right chewing merrily on their policy to abolish the Human Rights Act.

More fundamentally, with even the most basic understanding of the energy system Paterson would have grasped that the UK would be completely screwed if we tried to stand on Paterson’s four pillars.   The UK system is built on a mixture of established technologies that will continue to provide the bulk of our energy, with an increasing shift towards greater reliance on low-carbon generation.

Paterson makes no reference to this mix.  Instead he rubbishes renewables and suggests we put all our efforts into four ideas. But there are problems:

Domestic shale gas is not an established source of fuel in the UK yet.  The government has committed to further exploration, but we simply don’t know how much is there and how much we can get out.  It may take a decade to make shale an important part of our energy mix.

Similarly, small scale nuclear is not a viable option.  There is some money going in to research, but the technology is not proven so should not be considered part of the solution to our energy needs at this stage.  It may be fifty years or more before it could become a ‘pillar’ of energy policy.

Thirdly CHP, is an attractive option but is extremely expensive and disruptive to build close to the facilities that can benefit from the heat before it evaporates.  Certainly something to explore and promote in specific places where it can work (and the example of hospitals is a reasonable one), but a ‘pillar’ of the whole system? I think not.

Finally, demand management is already a central part of the government’s agenda and a no-brainer from anyone’s perspective.  To present it as a big idea is laughable.  Even more curious is this libertarian’s suggestion that the grid can step in and turn your fridge off for twenty minutes.  I can see the Daily Mail headlines already – ‘Nanny State Cuts Power in Attack on Great British Groceries’.

Before, beneath and between these ‘ideas’ Paterson’s speech was a rant about wind farms, the EU and the coalition.  There is no specific mention of immigration, but if I had another read, I suspect I could find covert references to shutting the borders to the invading hordes.   In short this is a long way from a serious contribution to the energy policy debate.  Instead it is dog-whistle messaging to seduce the Tory right-wingers who would otherwise be heading back down the mines with Nigel Farage and UKIP.

We have consistently seen the Global Warming Policy Foundation produce dodgy science from questionable sources to try and dogmatically promote their climate sceptic cause.  They are well funded by the fossil fuel lobby and their agenda chimes with those looking nostagically for simple answers to our country’s energy challenges.  They are almost always in contradiction to mainstream scientific thought and are regularly forced to correct or apologise for their consistent stream of misinformation.

So if there is a positive to take away from having wasted thirty minutes of your life listening to Owen Paterson parroting a few tired lines about wind turbines it is this: when the GWPF have to resort to hosting half-baked speeches written by members of Lord Lawson’s family there must be some hope that they might just be running out of material.

Here’s hoping.

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