You could power a wind turbine with all Boris Johnson and Allegra Stratton’s hot air on the climate crisis

Stratton has trivialised an important issue – yes, she is proving to be the perfect spokesperson for the prime minister

Extreme weather: Our climate crisis laid bare

This week, Boris Johnson’s Cop26 spokesperson Allegra Stratton decided she wanted to communicate with the widest audience she could possibly manage. She fulfilled her aim admirably when she published an article outlining four micro-steps people could take to reduce their carbon footprint. Stratton suggested not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher and putting bread in the freezer to help it last longer. Needless to say, it went viral with almost universal condemnation.

Given that she is Johnson’s spokesperson, it did come as a surprise to hear her defending her article by saying that people concerned about climate change could join the Green Party. It is perhaps this deftness of touch that saw her moved from her previous job fronting national daily broadcasts for the government without actually fronting a single broadcast. This seems a shame as it might well have proved excellent television: watching the Conservative government’s official TV spokesperson suggest micro-steps that the public could take to join the opposition.

However, to defend Allegra Stratton, talking about climate change and then trivialising it by suggesting freezing bread is the equivalent of talking about crime and then trivialising it by suggesting hi-vis chain gangs – so it may well be that Stratton is the ideal person to be Johnson’s spokesperson.

Cop26, the UN climate change conference, will be held in the first two weeks of November in Glasgow and Boris Johnson is very much hoping that hosting a high-profile conference in Scotland will boost support for the Union. Given that it will be the largest international summit the UK has ever hosted, with over 200 world leaders, 20,000 delegates, and thousands of NGOs, activists and lobbyists descending on Glasgow, how the Scottish public perceive the conference may well depend on Covid rates at the time. The spike in Covid cases in west Cornwall after the G7 conference in St Ives in June suggests it is possible that Cop26 will leave the Union in even more disarray, with the Scottish public thinking it is Johnson’s revenge for Nicola Sturgeon always undermining him when it comes to mask policy.

What people were hoping for from Johnson’s Cop26 spokesperson were details on the macro-steps that the PM was going to take to back up his 2050 net zero talk. As so often with Johnson’s government, there have been many mixed messages. In January of this year, Robert Jenrick, the government’s communities secretary, decided that he wouldn’t intervene with the Cumbria County Council’s decision to go ahead with Britain’s first coking coal mine in 30 years, advising that the decision should remain local. It was a shame he didn’t give himself the same “remain local” advice, as it would have saved him a lot of trouble during lockdown when he was spotted travelling between his home in London and his manor house in Herefordshire.

However, Jenrick changed his position on the coking coal mine in March, stating that he now perceived there were wider implications and there would be a public inquiry. The mining company involved had stated that the proposed coal mine would indeed save greenhouse gas emissions and would create green jobs because the UK steel industry would no longer have to import coking coal from abroad. What the mining company had failed to highlight was that emissions from shipping coal are negligible in comparison to burning coal – and that 85 per cent of the coal mined was to be transported overseas anyway.

It would certainly be embarrassing for Johnson if Britain was in the middle of building a new coal mine during Cop26, especially given that Britain initiated the “Powering Past Coal Alliance” in 2017, which 122 countries have now signed up to. The “Powering Past Coal With a Small Detour for Cumbria Because it’s a Red Wall Seat Alliance” would probably have struggled to gain much international traction.

The ecological contradictions are everywhere. Johnson did say that he would lie down in front of a bulldozer if they tried to build a third runway at Heathrow – but at the same time was a big fan of a new, six-runway airport in the Thames Estuary. Johnson has said that no sponsors of Cop26 will be allowed who aren’t fully committed to net zero, but the Conservative Party itself received in the past year almost half a billion pounds in donations from those associated with the oil and gas industry. Johnson has said he wants Britain to be a behemoth of wind, but he himself is the ultimate behemoth of wind. Anybody witnessing his recent 22-minute “levelling up” speech which, after two years of thought – including asking people to send in suggestions, would have concluded that he’d have served the country better if he’d directed his words into a wind turbine connected to the National Grid.

The International Energy Agency, a former firm friend of fossil fuel, announced in their May report that there was no need for any more oil, gas or coal. The report stated that slashing CO2 emissions and switching to renewables would not be a cost but would lift world GDP annually and decrease household bills. It also stated that renewables would not cost jobs but create eight times as many. Britain is a windy country surrounded by the sea and energy self-sufficiency is no longer a pipe dream. Denmark is the world leader in wind power and sells the majority of its wind energy to Germany and Scandinavia via interconnectors under the sea. Britain gets 40 per cent of Europe’s wind so we could be doing so much more. Regardless of what anybody thinks of Brexit, every single person in Britain would be up for flogging fresh air to Europe.

And while we are looking at macro-steps the government could take, there is also no longer any commercial case for nuclear power given that it is now far more expensive than wind power, even when you factor in natural gas to back-up intermittency. The fact that private investors will only get involved with nuclear power if there are massive government guarantees and subsidies should be a red flag in itself.

At a time when we have stopped China from building our next generation of mobile phones, it seems mystifying that we are permitting their involvement in constructing a 3000 megawatt nuclear power station on our shores. Given the possible risk of nuclear catastrophe, it is strange that the only thing we can be absolutely confident of is that the Chinese will know nothing of any survivors’ WhatsApp group we set up afterwards. However, if there is a nuclear catastrophe and we are short of food, it is comforting to know that if we look in a freezer, we may find some bread.

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