Saturday 18 February 2023

If only there were a deposit on Lorna Slater, so we could return her


For a long time, I was sceptical about climate change. What I mean by that is I viewed the climate as something that had always changed. A simple knowledge of history and fossils tells us that Britain was once tropical. It then had an ice age. Greenland genuinely was green when Erik the Red first saw it. A Norse settlement thrived until the Little Ice Age in the Middle Ages led to its demise. In Shakespeare’s time people skated on the Thames, but even prior to the industrial revolution this was no longer possible.

I concluded that climate had always changed, and it obviously had nothing to do with Erik the Red nor Shakespeare, so why did it have something to do with me?

An additional reason for my scepticism was that I perceived climate science as politically biased. It was treated more like a religion where there were true believers and deniers. There was a huge amount of propaganda particularly on the BBC and zealots kept making end of the world is nigh statements that turned out to be false. I can remember being told over 30 years ago that in five years something dreadful would happen, but it didn’t. I remember being told that if we didn’t change our ways the world would get hotter, but it equally well might get colder because of the loss of the Gulf Stream. It sounded like heads I win tails you lose rather more than objective science.

I don’t know what changed me. Perhaps it was the propaganda. Perhaps it was the sense that winters in Scotland were much milder than when I was a child and summers much hotter. I became less sceptical.

In the end I decided that burning fossil fuels was a bad idea whatever I believed about climate change and who was responsible. So, I began to think about the issue again.

It was obvious to me that whatever the UK did, let alone Scotland, would make no difference at all if the Chinese and the Indians and every other developing country continued to burn fossil fuels at the rate they are doing. Even if every one of us drove an electric car and there were windmills on every hillside and we recycled everything it would not make any meaningful contribution to climate change. We were as powerless as Erik the Red and Shakespeare.

What would make a difference? The development of alternative power sources which were safe, clean and always available.  The ultimate safe clean energy is fusion power, the power that the sun uses. Recent developments by scientists in Oxfordshire suggest we might be as close as ten years away.

It is in this context that Scottish Greens/SNP bottle return scheme is pointless. Even if it worked perfectly, it would save minimal amounts of energy. But it will work disastrously.

Lorna Slater wants each of us to have to pay 20 p extra for a bottle or a can of drink. Each bottle or can would have a barcode and we would have to scan it to get the money back. But it is obvious that a French bottle of wine will not be sent back to France to be reused. It will either be recycled, broken up to make new green bottles, or it will go into landfill. None of the bottles or cans collected by Slater’s scheme will be reused. The manufacturers of wine and beer and cola are not interested in reusing the bottles. It is too expensive to clean them and drive them back to the plant. But then what’s the point?

At the moment most councils already recycle bottles and cans. How many more will be recycled due to Slater’s scheme? We don’t know. But even if many more bottles and cans are recycled, they still won’t be reused, they will just be melted down into their elements and new bottles and cans will be made. The energy saving is at best marginal.

But how many unnecessary car journeys will be made in order to get all those deposits back? Remember its’s not going to be just 20 p. If you buy one of those boxes of beer cans sold in the supermarket, each can will cost an extra 20 p. It will rapidly mount up. At that point you are going to have to queue while everyone else scans in their beer cans and bottles.

Worse still not every manufacturer of beer and wine and soft drinks will want to go to the bother and expense of changing the label of their product just for Scotland. I don’t know anywhere in Scotland that can grow grapes, so we are rather reliant on other warmer places to give us wine. Well, if the wine producers are not interested in doing what Slater tells them we could end up with only Blue Nun and Black Tower like it was the 1970s.

I don’t see the point of returning bottles unless they are reused like milk bottles, but if there is to be a scheme why not at least wait until a UK wide scheme is set up in 2025. But no. Scottish nationalists always have to be different, no matter the consequences.

Recycling in general is not going to solve the problem of climate change. Why then must we do it? I think it has nothing whatsoever to do with saving the planet. Its purpose is propaganda and to make people feel that they are making a difference even if they are not.

Almost every street in Britain lost its railings during the Second World War. The vast majority were never used, and rumour has it they were eventually dumped in the sea. But people felt they were doing their bit and making a sacrifice. It’s the same point with recycling. You have to sort your rubbish into different bins. Some zealots do it religiously, the rest of us do it because we must. But the activity forces us to feel that we are making a slight difference to the climate it constantly reminds us of the Green message.

This is why Lorna Slater wants you to go through the extra expense and hassle of paying 20 p more for each can and bottle. It will tell you each time about how important it is that you think of the environment every time you buy wine or beer. After that all these bottles and cans like the railings can metaphorically be chucked in the sea. Literally most of them will be sent to a dump in the third world or into landfill. It just isn’t economic to clean cans and bottles and reuse the materials to make new ones.

I remain sceptical about the Greens, but I look forward to a time not far off when there will be cheap abundant energy that does not pollute. It will mean we will no longer be reliant on places like Saudi Arabia and Russia. When that day arrives, it may well benefit the planet and help to keep our climate as we would like it to be. But not one bottle returned and not one Lorna Slater or similar will have contributed anything. Rather scientists funded by capitalism driving to work in petrol cars and drinking bottles and cans without deposits will have changed everything.