I visit the Science & Environment section of the BBC website most days, partly because occasionally interesting and informative articles appear there, but mostly to see what climate change and net zero propaganda is being pushed at us on a daily basis. I think I am justified in being so jaundiced about the BBC coverage when I see articles there with headlines such as “Birmingham man who left dog in hot car banned from ownership”i. It’s difficult to see what that has to do with science or the environment, but a quick read explained why it’s there:
A man who left his dog in a car for more than two hours on a day when temperatures reached 30C (86F) has been banned from keeping animals for five years.
It’s a depressing story, but it’s local news only, and I surmise that it appeared there in an attempt to remind a wider audience that we had a day last year when the temperature reached 30C in the West Midlands. Climate chaos, and all that. But I digress. The article that caught my attention a few days ago was headed “University of York to be location for new solar farm”ii. The news that a “£1.5m solar farm project is to be based at the University of York to help meet its net-zero carbon targets” wasn’t much of a surprise, but I was intrigued by the statement that “[i]t is being funded by the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF).” Further, “[t]he solar farm is one of nine projects being funded by UKRPIF to improve environmental sustainability.”
Universities have an ambiguous status in some ways, but I think there can be little doubt that they are profit-making businesses, whatever else they are. As long ago as 2013, York University profits had risen to £8.3M p.a.iii Even after the dire covid-affected year of 2020 its Annual Report and Financial Statementsiv revealed total annual income of £376M and total research income of £68M. Net assets were £296M and the annual surplus was £23Mv. The University’s finances were affected, however, by issues arising from the Universities Superannuation Scheme. Despite pension and pandemic issues, its financial status looks pretty healthy, and I wondered why it couldn’t pay for its own solar farm. Who or what is UKRPIF, and why is it paying for this, together with eight other projects?
UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF)
It turns outvi that the UKRPIF “supports investment in higher education facilities across the UK” and that “Universities must attract a further £2 from non-public sources for every £1 invested by the fund.” It is a taxpayer-funded body, with a budget of £900 million awarded to 53 projects across six rounds since 2012.
It works with nine Councils to distribute funds and support various projects. Some of it sounds worthwhile, and against the backdrop of massive net zero and climate change funding by the UK government (i.e. the UK taxpayer) and UK energy users, it is arguably all rather modest. What interests me, however, is the way in which the themes of climate change and net zero have infested the public space and run through almost everything. Seek funding for something? Link it to climate change and/or net zero, and it’s not a problem. Let’s take a look at the nine Councils that underpin UKRPIF.
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
According to its websitevii:
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class researchers in a wide range of arts and humanities areas, from philosophy and the creative industries to art conservation and product design.
Our research addresses some of society’s biggest challenges such as tackling modern slavery and understanding the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. It also drives growth in the creative economy, and reveals new stories from the national collections held in the UK’s world-renowned museums and galleries.
Depending on your point of view, this may or may not be a good use of taxpayer funds. I express no opinion on that here, but I do observe that whatever the objectives of, and justification for, a publicly-funded organisation, climate change is never far away: “Why are the arts and humanities vital to tackling climate change?”viii Why indeed? Apparently:
We need to look at issues that resonate on a local level as well as the impacts of climate change thousands of miles from our homes…In this context, issues of justice and ethics are central to climate change discourse…Bringing diversity of voices to the fore as well as challenging generalisations in climate debate is what makes arts and humanities research so distinct and so necessary…
I’m not sure I’m convinced. No doubt it requires funding, whatever it all means.
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
BBSRC invests to push back the frontiers of biology and deliver a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future.ix
Well, that sounds very worthy, but what about net zero? Ah, here it is: ”Where livestock agriculture fits in a net-zero future”x. At least there is recognition of some inconvenient truths that many net-zero campaigners/climate worriers seem keen to ignore:
Ruminant livestock (animals such as cows and sheep), have digestive systems that naturally produce methane. The challenge is how emissions from livestock farming can be minimised whilst also maintaining global food and nutrition security.
Meat remains an important source of protein for many people around the world. In 2018 to 2019, the average UK adult consumed per day:
- 24 grams of red meat
- 36 grams of white meat
- 22 grams of fish.
The UK’s climate and a large proportion of its soils are more suited to grassland than arable cropland.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
You have probably worked out by now that I am not totally on-board with a lot of the touchy-feely stuff, so I can’t say I’m a completely committed fan of this sort of thing:
ESRC is the UK’s largest funder of economic, social, behavioural and human data sciencexi.
Whatever I think of it, there is – of course – a climate change angle to this stuff:
ESRC supports the creation of new insights from research and datasets into climate change and sustainability in areas such as land use, transport, sustainable resources and infrastructures, food, water and energy. Our funding is helping the UK to meet its climate and sustainability goalsxii.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
EPSRC creates knowledge in engineering and physical sciences for UK capability to benefit society and the economyxiii.
OK, that sounds good. I’m a bit more on board with that. But what about net zero? Oh, good – another acronym:
An introduction to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Engineering Net Zero (ENZ) week. ENZ is a collaborative series of events with researchers, key industry partners and policy makers. It will showcase the key role engineering and physical sciences research must play in achieving both the UK and global net zero targetsxiv.
Well, if you must, but what does it all cost?
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing more than £850 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineeringxv.
What a disappointment – no acronym.
Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency. We support business-led innovation in all sectors, technologies and UK regions. We help businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes, and services, supported by an outstanding innovation ecosystem that is agile, inclusive, and easy to navigatexvi.
We get the picture by now, but what about climate change? Fear not, it’s there in spades:
Innovate UK’s £5m competition funds climate change financial riskxvii.
There’s more money (and another QUANGO) herexviii:
Have an innovative product or service that helps to integrate climate and environmental factors into financial decision-making?From 17th January 2022 you can apply to Innovate UK for a scoping project up to £50,000 for up to 3 months. £1.5 million is available in this first phase. Up to 30 phase 1 prototype projects will be funded.The second phase will see up to 10 contracts awarded from successful phase 1 applicants. Up to £1m will be allocated for each contract for up to 9 months, in order to demonstrate the product or service with an end user or customer. The UK Centre for Greening Finance & Investment will be supporting Innovate UK and the winners. The competition is intended to help accelerate a new generation of commercial sustainable finance data and analytics providers in the UK.
Or how about some “green bonds”?
The Green Finance Institute and Abundance Investment, supported by UK100, Local Partnerships and Innovate UK, today launch a national campaign to help local authorities issue a type of municipal finance investment – Local Climate Bonds. The campaign will target all 404 local authorities in the UK, of which over 70% have declared a climate emergency, helping them bring to market this retail investment product – a cost-effective way for them to fund hundreds of green local projects in the run-up to and beyond the critically important COP26 summit in Novemberxix.
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Who could object to this? Not I:
MRC funds research at the forefront of science to prevent illness, develop therapies and improve human healthxx.
Despite the fact that cold kills more people both in the UK and globally than does heat or anything to do with climate change (as the paper cited below says – In temperate areas such as northern Europe, east Asia, and Australia, the less intense warming and large decrease in cold-related excess would induce a null or marginally negative net effect), fear not – there is always a climate change angle, and the MRC will fund it:
Projections of temperature-related excess mortality under climate change scenariosxxi.
Needless to say:
This work was primarily supported by the Medical Research Council-UK (grant MR/M022625/1).
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
NERC is the driving force of investment in environmental sciencexxii.
I’m guessing climate change and net zero are right up your street, then? Thought so:
Force of nature: solutions for net zero, economy and societyxxiii.
Will it cost us much? Well, there’s this:
NERC invests £40 million in a green future for the UKxxiv.
We are responsible for funding and engaging with English higher education providers, to create and sustain the conditions for a healthy and dynamic research and knowledge exchange system in the higher education sectorxxv.
Perhaps it’s just me, but it sounds as though there might be a bit of overlap here with what some of the others say they do. Still, you can’t have too many QUANGOS, I suppose, especially when there’s cash to splash.
Leading UK research facilities to move closer to net zeroxxvi.
And how is this to be achieved? Spending taxpayers’ money, of course:
Funding has been made available through a pilot initiative to explore how existing UKRPIF-funded research centres and facilities can be enhanced to address net zero carbon emissions targets.
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
And what do you do? Oh good, you have a mission:
STFC’s mission is to deliver world-leading national and international research and innovation capabilities and, through those, discover the secrets of the Universe. Our major research and innovation campuses at Harwell, Daresbury and research facilities across the UK support fundamental research in astronomy, physics and space sciencexxvii.
You haven’t mentioned climate change, but I suppose it’s in there somewhere. Yup:
Prototype for game-changing ammonia plantxxviii.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has awarded around £284,000 to the team, through its Net Zero Innovation Portfolio Low Carbon Hydrogen Supply 2 [NZIPLCHS2?] competition. The team aims to use this funding to create a complete and ready-made design for industry.
Responding to climate change
I thought this claimxxix was rather amusing, and more than a little far-fetched:
For more than 50 years, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), its councils and predecessors have worked to understand, tackle and mitigate the effects of climate change, and embed evidence in decision making and climate policy.
More than 50 years? Really? I seem to remember that the early 1970s was a time when we were told that we were heading towards another Ice Age.
Never mind carbon capture. I think the organs of the state have been captured by the green blob.