David Davis: Why this ferocious desire to impose hair-shirt policies?

Share
Related Topics

As the dignitaries gather for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, dark clouds are gathering over environmental policies. Copenhagen itself has been presaged by troubling signals that it will be harder than usual to get agreement. These will probably be resolved, but it is debatable whether that will make any real difference. In Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the international community promised cuts by 2000. In Kyoto in 1997, they promised even greater cuts by 2010. Neither happened.

The row about whether global warming exists gets even more virulent. The case is not helped by the fact that the planet appears to have been cooling, not warming, in the last decade. Last week, the row was fuelled after a hacker revealed emails between the world's leading climate scientists that seemed to show them conspiring to rig the figures to support their theories. So it is unsurprising that more than half the public no longer believe in global warming.

Today, the economic climate makes people question whether we can afford the expense of these policies. The UK's environmental policy has a long-term price tag of about £55bn, before taking into account the impact on economic growth.

The fixation of the green movement with setting ever tougher targets is a policy destined to collapse. The ferocious determination to impose hair-shirt policies on the public – taxes on holiday flights, or covering our beautiful countryside with wind turbines that look like props from War of the Worlds – would cause a reaction in any democratic country.

This adverse reaction will be reinforced if, as predicted, we suffer power shortages in the next decade. Lights going out around Britain could be an electoral off-switch for environmental policy. This will happen at the same time as fuel bills rise by 30 per cent.

Paradoxically, the Government's strategy is going to have a number of deleterious consequences for the environment. Biomass fuels will increase atmospheric pollution in the countryside, with harmful effects on health. The Government's own estimate of this policy-led pollution says it could cost as many as 1,750,000 man-years in lost or shortened lives.

Similarly, the wind strategy is encouraging the building of large clusters of enormous wind turbines in the countryside that will scar the landscape, and whose noise levels could ruin people's lives. The planning blight alone will afflict hundreds of thousands of families and damage the value of many homes – and all with enormous taxpayer subsidies.

We often worry, properly, about the potential effects of global warming on the poorer parts of the world. We should also worry that cutting the world's growth will condemn millions of people to continuing poverty in the decades to come.

So what do we do about it? Much environmental policy is beneficial to the public. It is intelligent to conserve resources, to insulate homes, to encourage lean-burn engines and efficient power generation. Along with the sensible use of renewables, this is worthwhile in its own right. It will have the important side-effect of reducing our dependence on energy sources in unstable parts of the globe.

There is also a pressing need to protect elements of the natural world under immediate threat.

So is there a middle way in environmental policy? Can we devise a mixed policy that has realistic prospects of success in cutting carbon dioxide production at less-than-crippling cost, and also acts to accommodate the effects that we cannot prevent? Is there a smart green alternative?

Just to pick one example, micro-generation is a technology which is often overlooked. Micro-combined heat and power systems just about to enter the market would provide the same heat as a regular boiler, produce most of the electricity needs of the property, and cut carbon emissions by anything up to 50 per cent.

This sort of local power generation has a number of benefits. It avoids the waste associated with transmitting from central power stations; it would keep running through any blackouts; and it could make a major contribution to domestic reductions in carbon emissions in the long term.

Like it or not, a major increase in nuclear power must also be central to any sustainable future energy policy. It will be costly in the short term, but it will be a reliable ongoing source of power, and is a true zero-carbon option with enormous benefits for climate change.

But the single biggest change in mindset that is necessary is to give more prominence to a policy of adaptation. This should range from basic lo-tech ideas such as reversing the policy of abandoning sea defences, to very hi-tech developments, such as maximising cloud reflectivity – the technology for which is still some way off, but should not be dismissed.

Many of the people signed up to the green movement instinctively believe in statist, regulatory, dirigiste regimes. They forget these approaches have failed many times before – or perhaps believe the sheer importance of the cause will carry them through policy weaknesses. But the importance of the issue should make us doubly careful to get the policies right.

To date, too many discussions on this matter have degenerated into infantile mud-slinging and virulent name-calling. It is simply unacceptable for one side to describe the other as deniers, with its deliberate holocaust connotations, and the other side to essentially call their opponents liars. This issue is too important for the argument to be reduced to the level of an adolescent political spat, and it is time we engaged in this debate on a properly adult level.

The writer is a Conservative MP

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
 

Election 2015: The big five of British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power