By Paul Homewood
The Telegraph is finally waking up, but where have they been in the last few years? Asleep at the wheel, it seems.
They should have been shouting from the rooftops about this, long before Theresa May decided to go for Net Zero as her epitaph. The whole climate bandwagon might have been stopped in its tracks before it was too late.
Like Saturn, revolutions have a habit of devouring their children. Boris Johnson should beware: the biggest danger to his historic project to rebuild Britain in his image comes not from the useless Left, but from another potential populist insurrection from the culturally conservative Right.
So far, of course, he is safe: the Government is supernaturally popular, Nigel Farage has retired, the public believes that immigration is under control and anti-lockdown activists have made little impact. The PM has plenty of opposition from the Left – from Labour, cultural institutions, the blob – but little from the Right.
Yet some early hints of the sort of Brexit-style revolt he could eventually face can be spotted in the most unlikely of places: in London and other cities, large numbers of residents are up in arms against so-called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Invented by No 10 and backed by Sadiq Khan and other hopeless technocrats, these idiotic schemes have shut certain streets to cars without consultation in the name of reducing emissions, with the predictable consequence of ruining residents’ lives and horribly increasing traffic (and pollution) on other roads.
The fury is off the scale: one suburban Labour council, Harrow, has become the first to ditch these plans in their entirety, as well as its shockingly under-used cycle lanes, after it discovered that they were opposed by up to 91 per cent of residents. More councils will follow suit: passions are running even higher than Brexit.
For some reason, No 10 is tone deaf on this issue. It shouldn’t be. If Johnson mismanages his broader plans to decarbonise Britain, and sacrifices aspiration, consumerism, choice and mobility on the altar of greenery, the suburban, car-driving, jet-setting, home-owning, meat-eating coalition he spent so many years painstakingly assembling will quickly and pitilessly turn against him………………
There is one glaring exception to all of this, and that is Johnson’s greenery: he wants to slash carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. They had fallen 44 per cent by 2019, driven by a two-thirds reduction in the power sector and the decline of manufacturing, in a shift all but invisible to the public. In the next phase, however, consumers’ lives will have to change drastically. There is no political upside here for the Tories and a massive potential downside.
The Conservative base wants a cleaner environment – who doesn’t? – and is moderately worried about climate change but those issues are low down their list of priorities. They certainly don’t want their lifestyles to suffer for it. It is equally true that a green agenda, however extreme, will not convert metropolitan Remainers or woke agitators to the Tory cause. But a botched anti-consumer green agenda will infuriate the very voters that propelled Johnson to No 10, and, paradoxically, create space for a late 2020s Ukip or Brexit-style Party focusing on a new set of issues.
The hair-shirt, hard-Left, anti-materialistic, anti-progress version of environmentalism would be toxic to the Johnson coalition. The real Tory version should be to electrify cars, not ban them; to greenify fuel, not restrict flights; to decarbonise central heating, not to force the public to freeze. But it is a gamble as to whether these technologies will be ready in time, and at what cost.
Simply wanting a technological solution isn’t enough: the push towards electrifying cars has begun, but so far consumers and industry are ahead of the Government. The Tories need to urgently expand electricity generation, and install millions of road-side chargers. As to air travel, the challenge is acute. Electric planes would require 50 kilograms of battery for every kilogram of kerosene they replace, McKinsey estimates. Planes would need to carry four times the volume of liquified hydrogen than kerosene. A better answer may lie in sustainable fuel such as vegetable oils, biofuels, waste oils or gasified rubbish, or synfuels made out of hydrogen and captured carbon.
One of these solutions may succeed, its cost may plummet and investors may stump up the cash to renew fleets and airports, all with a limited impact on consumers. Miracles sometimes happen. Shell is testing the use of hydrogen fuel cells for shipping. But what if it doesn’t work? Middle England understood the need to put their holidays on hold because of Covid; they won’t take lightly to the idea of never again being able to fly to Majorca or Dubai.
And what about carbon-emitting food? The consumption of meat could conceivably fall spontaneously by 20-30 per cent over the next few years, as consumers seek “healthier” proteins and the price of lab-grown substitutes declines. But what if people remain attached to their burgers and steaks? What if the only “answer” is a carbon tax that pushes up the price of meat, making it unaffordable to millions?
And who will pay for insulating 30 million homes? Who will stump up for converting gas boilers to electric heating or to heat pumps? Consumers won’t tolerate a green poll tax of £20,000 per home. If the Red Wall is Johnson’s River Styx, and Brexit his ambrosia, green utopianism is our Prime Minister’s Achilles’ Heel.
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April 22, 2021 at 11:21AM