Thursday 11 August 2022

Don't expect the Government to pay for your heating


There was no summer of 1976 when I was a child in Scotland. There was no drought. The grass was green. There were no water shortages. But it is hotter now than I ever remember it getting back then. As the temperature in Aberdeenshire approaches the mid-twenties, I find it too hot. My bed is no longer cool, my car needs its fan, I no longer where a coat in August in Aberdeen, which before was rare indeed. Things have changed.

I used to live in a very large house that was built in the 18th century. We had a wood burning stove in the sitting room, but the house was too large and too draughty to make central heating worthwhile. So, the radiators stayed off.

I lived in the attic. I had a single electric heater, but I was encouraged to only use it when necessary and then only briefly. It was much colder then. Snow was normal in the winter. I can remember being driven on roads with a path cut through the snow on either side. I haven’t seen such snow since then.

It is a simple matter of experience to say that the climate has changed. It’s hotter here in the summer and much milder in the winter. Most winters now involve perhaps a few days of snow with only a few days below zero. I am hoping for an ultra-mild winter this year, because I am going to try to go back to barely using heating just like I did as a child.

I have better things to do with £4000 than create hot air. Of course, for some people heat is a matter of survival. But for most of us who are reasonably fit and healthy it is a matter of habit. I will try to heat myself rather than heat the air around me.

Why are we in this mess? We have become too reliant on buying energy from elsewhere and far too reliant on energy that is intermittent. The price of energy like everything else depends on supply and demand. There is not enough supply while demand has not fallen. Therefore, the price has increased.

While I accept that the climate has changed, the response to global warming will in part be responsible for many of us being cold this winter.

Environmentalists are responsible for the political consensus that has led us to the attempt to abandon fossil fuels too quickly and before we have a viable alternative ready.

We have invested vast amounts into renewable energy, but it cannot on its own heat our country. I have nothing against solar panels or wind farms. They make a useful contribution. But on a dull, windless cold day we need a supply of energy that is not intermittent.

Our power stations can either be powered by gas, coal or splitting atoms. We don’t have fusion power yet and we don’t have anything else that can do the job.

Britain could right now be self-sufficient in gas if we had continued to exploit to the full the reserves under the North Sea and if we had fracked where possible under the ground. We could likewise be self-sufficient in energy if we had built enough nuclear power stations. The Greens opposed all of these things, so when you are cold blame them.

It is too late to rectify these mistakes. We cannot instantly build new nuclear power stations. So, what can be done.

I will insulate myself and my house as best I can and use as little energy as I can manage. I don’t expect the Government to pay my heating bill.

The Government already owes too much (debt) and borrows too much (deficit). Many of us spent the pandemic not working with the Government paying our wages. There comes a point when this has to stop.

I read a comment by a Scottish nationalist in the Herald the other day saying that the UK Government should have a second furlough scheme to pay our energy bills. But Scottish nationalists also want Scotland to vote to leave the UK in October next year. The SNP’s last plan was that an independent Scotland would not pay a share of the national debt, but only yearly payments covering the interest. So, a second furlough for Scotland would be like going to the bank to get free money while telling it that you didn’t intend to pay it back.

This is untenable. Scotland cannot expect the UK Treasury to bail it out, while continuing to threaten to walk away. Present debt is contingent on future citizens paying taxes, or it is unsustainable. If you are planning not to be a future citizen, you cannot morally add to a debt you don’t intend to pay back.

I think it is reasonable for the Government to subsidise the energy costs of those who desperately need them. The elderly and the sick can reasonably expect help in a caring society. But the rest of us need to be a touch more self-reliant.

We live in a reasonably well-off country comparable to most others in Western Europe, but our standard of living is not automatic. We have expectations about healthcare and benefits and an average standard of living that depend on Britain producing things and selling things.

Its all very well some left-wing Scottish nationalists talking about our having a right to these things. But not every one in the world can afford our lifestyle, nor do they have our opportunities.

There are no intrinsic rights. There is only a society that can afford to grant rights that are contingent on that society working hard enough to make the profits that pay for them.

Britain had a one-off response to the pandemic, by giving furlough. If it were repeated this year, it would hardly be a one off, but rather a habit to be repeated every time there was a crisis.

Government spending must be reduced if we are to make the wealth that will provide a still better standard of living for future generations.

Let us find the quickest cheapest route to energy developing all useful technologies including renewables, but let us also recognise that the solution to climate change is through free market innovation rather than state subsidy.

Let us drive petrol cars until electric cars become so cheap to buy and fuel that we choose them ourselves. Let us keep our houses warm with gas drilled or fracked in Britain. That is the way that Britain will have the sort of economy that can discover the technologies of the future that will make fossil fuels obsolete.

The Conservatives will rightly be blamed if energy becomes too expensive for   us to buy, but the solution is not going to be Labour or the SNP pretending that Government can pay for everything. That way lies public spending increasing to the point where we approach communism.

If the Government has to pay your heating, it may as well pay for your housing, your shopping and your holidays. I would rather shiver through the winter than lose my sense of self-reliance, because this alone is the guarantee of my freedom. Socialism will tell you what to buy and give you only shop in which to buy it. The price for your loss of freedom will be your poverty.