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Green ‘journalism’ and the failure to question


THE passengers on the global warming bandwagon are worried. With the big climate conference in Glasgow at the end of the year getting ever closer, it now looks very much as if the big emitting nations are not going to sign up to a Net Zero agreement, and that the Prime Minister will be left with a humiliating failure on his hands.

It’s not just the conference that is in jeopardy. The government’s whole Net Zero agenda looks increasingly threatened, as Conservative MPs look nervously at the cost and wonder what it might do to their chances of re-election.

If it goes all pear-shaped, the journalists and commentators who have been promoting the decarbonisation agenda for years have only themselves to blame. It has been clear to anyone who took the time to question the narrative that the aims were impractical, the figures presented were implausible, and that it was only a matter of time before there was a public backlash.

However, questioning things seems to nowadays be only a peripheral part of a journalist’s job description, particularly for those on the climate and energy beat. Friday’s Times leader and James Kirkup’s recent article in the Spectator, both on the subject of Net Zero, are cases in point.

Both authors have clearly been briefed that the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) has estimated the cost of decarbonising the economy at £1.4trillion. Unfortunately, that is wrong. The OBR has not prepared any estimate of the cost – it simply relays the figure prepared by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). Similarly, the Treasury, currently engaged on its review of the Net Zero project, is not assessing the bill to be paid either; it too accepts the CCC’s figures on trust.

This is a problem, because the CCC – beset as it is with extraordinary conflicts of interest – is the last organisation you’d entrust with coming up with reliable figures. And if you had any doubt, you need only consider the tens of thousands of pounds it has spent on lawyers in order to keep the calculations underlying its estimate secret to realise that there really is a problem.

Even simple arithmetic shows the CCC estimate is entirely implausible. Twenty million homes needing heat pumps at £12,000 a time adds up to a cost of hundreds of billions of pounds. Most of them will need major insulation works too, at a cost running to tens of thousands of pounds each. That’s half of your £1.4trillion gone already.

More arithmetic reveals further problems. The Times claims that electric cars will be cheaper than petrol and diesel by 2025. Really? To deliver that, you’d need to deliver price reductions of £2,500 per year. But in recent years, the EV cost premium has hardly come down at all, and indeed looks as if it may even start to grow because of upward pressure on battery prices.

Still, the Times does rather better than James Kirkup, who makes some wild and entirely unsubstantiated claims about the cost of renewables. Onshore wind down 40 per cent? Reviews of the financial accounts of onshore windfarms reveals no such decline, nor indeed any decline at all. Offshore wind down a third? Even if that were true (it isn’t), that would still leave it several times more expensive than traditional power sources, leaving consumers facing sustained electricity price rises, and ultimately priced off the roads and unable to afford to heat their homes.

To be fair, there is a wrinkle with offshore windfarms, in that several have signed agreements to supply the grid at very low prices. But as the International Renewable Energy Agency notes, these kinds of deals may merely be part of a long-term pricing strategy, and should not be taken as representative of the underlying costs; in other words, that we will just end up paying more later. That suggestion is borne out by the financial accounts of the UK’s offshore windfarms, which show that costs remain very high, and are at best falling only slightly.

These issues are of vital importance to the UK economy, because if costs are not coming down, the CCC’s estimate of the cost of delivering net zero is understated, possibly by several trillion pounds. It’s a pity then, that journalists opining on Net Zero have mostly ignored them.

Before I finish, it’s worth raising one final example of a failure to question, this time from the Spectator article. In closing his piece, James Kirkup relays some official estimates of the financial disaster that potentially besets us: the OBR, he notes, has said that national debt could rise to 289 per cent (presumably of GDP) if we do nothing about climate change. But here we see again that the pronouncements of officialdom can get you into trouble, at least if you fail to question them. That’s because the choice is not between doing nothing and trying to change the weather by installing windfarms. There is a third choice: adapt.

Consider this: the biggest cost of global warming is supposed to come about through sea level rise, and here the cost of doing nothing will undoubtedly be very high – one study said we could face a bill of 11 per cent of GDP every year.

But as the seas, rising 2–3 mm per year, started to overtop the sea walls, would we really do nothing, and let our homes be swamped and our children drown? Or would we improve our sea defences? The cost in that case has also been estimated, and is a thousand times smaller than doing nothing. Moreover, such a bill will be readily affordable in the future because of the world’s growing wealth.

The environmentalists and the renewables industry have done well to obscure the painful truth about the decarbonisation agenda from the public. The media have turned a collective blind eye. But times have changed, and the costs can no longer be hidden. If, as seems likely, Net Zero crashes and burns, and all that money is wasted,  they will have nobody to blame but themselves.

This article first appeared on the Global Warming Policy Forum on August 13, 2021, and is republished by kind permission.

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Andrew Montford
Andrew Montford
Andrew Montford is the Director of Net Zero Watch. He can be found on Twitter at @adissentient.

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