BEFORE it even began, 2020 was already marked to be a year of climate hysteria. It was the UK’s turn to host the annual UN climate meeting, which was scheduled to take place in Glasgow earlier this month. Hence, the first eighteen months of Boris Johnson’s premiership saw the erstwhile ‘libertarian’ attempting to establish himself as a global pioneer of green policymaking: banning all that moves ahead of the conference, like some kind of overweight peroxide Ed Miliband eco-virtue-signalling on ‘our’ behalf. The arrival of Covid-19 caused the meeting to be postponed, but this has not dented the government’s green ambitions to make the UK’s economic suicide the first in what they hope will be a global pact. Rather than dwarfing the climate change political agenda, the pandemic has somehow boosted it. 2020 was a mad, mad year of climate craziness.
Johnson had the keys to Number 10 for only a month before he began banning things. First the domestic gas boiler in 2019, followed by diesel and petrol-powered cars this year. Many don’t believe that such policies will happen, stating that their boilers and cars will be taken ‘from my cold dead hands’ – the defiant warning of US Second Amendment activists. But on this side of the Atlantic, it is an impotent cry. A boiler is not a gun. Moreover, a boiler is not even a boiler without fuel. Switching off the natural gas supply makes a boiler a useless lump of metal, the same as most cars will be if the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars escalates to a ban on fuels.
‘Impossible’, comes the reply from the same quarters, rightly claiming that it will cause chaos and a backlash. But what are you going to do about it? There’s no national party prepared to stand against it with any chance of getting anywhere near SW1 between now and the dates by which much of the Net Zero agenda will be realised. And by then, even if the cross-party consensus on climate change policy fractures, the UK will be subordinate to supranational climate treaties and institutions – precisely what Johnson has been intent on creating.
For a while, it did seem as though the climate change agenda might have peaked. The 2016 Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump cast doubt over the march of, and signalled growing scepticism towards, globalism. This led to deep frustration within the climate camp. Since the UK Climate Change Act in 2008, climate policy ‘ambition’ had consisted of little more than setting abstract targets. Progress towards them had been stalled by politicians’ nervousness about the public’s appetite for draconian legislation, the abstract nature of the targets concealing the detail from the public.
Greta, her ‘schools strike’ movement and Extinction Rebellion were the expression of this frustration. They mobilised a level of panic and fearmongering not previously seen in the climate wars, urged on by the media and almost the entire political class. As I pointed out at the time, despite the radical appearance, there was nothing more mainstream than an XR protest. That is how their goals were achieved in such short order. Within months of their first protest, XR had been invited to ministerial meetings and to give evidence to select committees. In 2019, they demanded, and got Net Zero. In 2020, the Climate Assembly they had demanded was delivered.
The Climate Assembly seemingly solved the problem of the public’s lack of interest in the climate agenda. It was, in fact, nothing more than a 108-member focus group, drawn from the public, which met over six weekends to consider a range of policy options. But by staging a performance, in which power was seemingly handed to members of the public, the technocrats and green activists who ran the Assembly have persuaded MPs that the public now share their view. And this is how abstract targets will be turned into an agenda for very real changes in society. 2020 marked the beginning of a new phase of environmental politics.
The UK’s main carbon bureaucracy, the Committee on Climate Change, claimed to have based policy recommendations on the findings of the Assembly. But this claim turns out to be false.
It was the PM himself, standing in front of a ‘Build Back Better’ slogan, who told the Conservative Party conference that Britain could become ‘the Saudi Arabia of wind’ – a claim, which like every point on his ten-point plan, is based on unicorns, which, even if they ever do turn up, still fail basic tests in reality. Even before the pandemic, the agenda had not been tested by democratic process. And surely, even by the time the ten-point plan was announced — during the second lockdown, before the abolition of Christmas – most people could see that emphasis on ‘building back better’ risks building back at all. It lets the unaccountable green blob decide what is or is not ‘better’ than what has been destroyed, whereas most people wanted a return to normality.
After all, a lot has been destroyed by the very people who claim to be the architects of ‘better’. But the consequence of the argument that the ‘recovery’ from 2020 must be ‘green’ is that it will be the people who have destroyed countless jobs and businesses who will ‘rebuild’ millions of jobs in ‘better’ industries served by ‘better’ businesses. How much ‘better’ are such destroyers really capable of delivering? We will begin to find out in 2021.
Criticism of the government’s responses to both Covid and climate change is typically answered with claims about ‘science’. But 2020 revealed the lie. Policies are no more scientific than they are democratic. Scientists who have spoken out this year against lockdowns, questioned the efficacy of facemasks or challenged the wildly inaccurate epidemiological projections, have faced smears from the press, censorship from tech giants, and intransigence from government. As with Covid, so it is with climate change. 2020 ran in time-lapse the last 30 years of the climate debate: if you disagree with political orthodoxy, you’re simply ejected from decision-making and other influential institutions. That’s is how consensus is established in 21st century politics.