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

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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker