Thursday 10 November 2022

Neither Greta nor Sturgeon will solve anything


I am no doubt fortunate to live in a part of the world as yet barely discovered by Extinction Rebellion. I have yet to see orange paint on the grey granite walls of Aberdeen nor have I been hindered in my journey to work by people obstructing the road. Some rather scruffy people did occupy the building where I work, which involved them taking turns at speaking into a megaphone, but fortunately I was unable to make out more than the noise of their voices rather than their words. I understood that they were angry, but not a single one of these people looked capable of holding down a job let alone saving the world.

This is a problem with the green movement in general. Let’s assume that there is a problem with using fossil fuels. Let’s further assume that the world is getting warmer and that something needs to be done to prevent this. Who do we turn to for solutions?  Greta Thunberg is possibly the most famous green campaigner. She’s also just as angry as the Extinction Rebellion people, but with fewer qualifications. I don’t wish to be nasty about Thunberg, but she doesn’t have any expertise in physics or chemistry and is just repeating what she has been told or read in popular science books. Her conclusion is that we need to overthrow capitalism. OK let’s have world revolution, but the countries that went through such revolutions in the 20th century, for example, China and the Soviet Union polluted more than we did.

In Scotland we have lots of windmills, but the SNP and Green coalition continue to tilt at them in thinking that these are enough to keep the lights on. Scottish nationalists think that if only we were independent, we would right now have no energy problems whatsoever. Our bills unlike anyone else in Europe would not have risen and instead we would be charging the English vast amounts to use our excess power.

Renewable energy is wonderful stuff even if you exaggerate how much of it Scotland has. But the cost of solar panels still makes me wonder if it is worth putting them on my roof rather than keeping the money invested elsewhere and the problem windmills is not merely that they are a murder of crows, but that on a freezing cold still January day, they don’t keep you warm. You need an alternative source of energy either gas, or oil or coal or nuclear.

This is our problem. The SNP Greens think that all of these sources of power are bad (although we might just base our case for independence oil if the price rises enough). So, if Scotland has only windmills and wave power and solar panels where do we get our power on that cold January day? Obviously, we have to buy it from somewhere else, but that somewhere else has to be connected to us by cables or pipes. But unfortunately, these go all go to somewhere called England. So, who will depend on whom to keep the lights on?

Just as I wouldn’t ask a nineteen year old girl with no qualifications to solve our energy problems so too I would not ask Patrick Harvie or Lorna Slater. Both think that Thunberg not merely has all the answers about climate change, but also all the answers about economics. They agree with Extinction Rebellion that the solution to traffic congestion is for people to obstruct the roads and the best way to save the planet is for us to abolish cars (except ministerial ones) abolish planes (unless needed to go to Cop 27) and for Scotland to pay reparations to Panama for the Darien scheme.

Reparations remind me of an Old Testament theology that I thought we had dispensed with. Why should I be punished because my ancestor invented the spinning jenny and the steam engine? Why should I be punished because my ancestors owned slaves? Some of my ancestors were no doubt also slaves if you go back far enough.

It is true that the industrial revolution eventually caused us to burn fossil fuels, drive cars and develop power stations that have caused the world to warm, but any country demanding reparations must ask itself if it would prefer to go back to the preindustrial age without planes, advanced medicine, computers and telephones. If you condemn us for industrialisation, you cannot very well continue to use what came about only because of industrialisation.

Lorna Slater’s solution to the problem of climate change is to increase recycling. Soon every bottle or can that we buy containing more than 50 millilitres will cost 20 pence more in Scotland. We will then have to gather our bottles and cans and drive them somewhere to get our money back. But each of the manufacturers of these bottles and cans will have to relabel them just for us Scots. The cost will be passed on to the consumer. Alternatively, some firms will decide that it isn’t worth it and stop selling in Scotland.

A firm outside Scotland that makes bottles and fills them is not going to take back all of the bottles that Slater’s scheme gathers in Scotland. So, these bottles are not going to be reused. They will either be smashed and recycled like they are now or they will be put in landfill or they will be sent to the third world. But what’s the point of charging me 20 pence do something we do now anyway? Not least because it will involve vast numbers of unnecessary car journeys to reclaim the deposits.

Deposits only make sense if the bottle will be reused like milk bottles. But no one is going to reuse coke cans or bottles of wine from France. The cost of sending them back would be prohibitive even if the French wanted them.

I can see the point of trying to minimise the use of fossil fuels, not least because we don’t want to be dependent on places like Russia and Saudi Arabia, but we are not going to save the world by recycling, because it is simply not cost effective. It is cheaper to make bottles and cans from scratch rather than attempt to reuse them.

Extinction Rebellion, the Greens and the SNP are the same in that all they do is disrupt our lives and make day to day life less pleasant while doing nothing to address the solution to global warming. Scotland already produces almost no greenhouse gasses. Even if we went back to driving horses and carts it would make almost no contribution to climate change. The idea that paying 20 pence more for a can of Coke will reduce average world temperatures is preposterous.

The solution if there is one is technological and will be arrived at neither by the SNP nor the Greens. The only way to persuade China, India and developing countries that are desperate to industrialise still further is to provide them with a form of energy that meets all of their needs more cheaply than burning fossil fuels. Renewables have a part to play in this, but the long-term solution is going to be either safe fission power or else fusion power or something that none of us have dreamed of yet.

The people who discover these forms of power will not be in Extinction Rebellion, nor will they be uneducated screaming Swedes shouting “how dare you”, nor will they be Greens nor Scottish nationalists who despise business and dream of socialism. They will be capitalists trying to make money just like the capitalists who invented the steam engine and the spinning jenny.

You don’t solve any problems by making products more expensive, e.g., cans of coke. The solution is to make them cheaper.