January 24, 2022

Climate Change News

Saving The Planet

It is the Conservative rebels, not Boris Johnson, who will set the pace on Britain’s road to zero | Rafael Behr

BThe recruitment of oris Johnson for the global crusade against carbon emissions is, by his own admission, recent. On a visit to New York last month, the prime minister confessed to a later catalog of newspaper columns that “were not entirely in favor of the current struggle.” He was making excuses for Anne-Marie Trevelyan, his trade secretary, the record of climate skepticism leans into outright denial. (In 2012 he ridiculed “global warming fans” for believing that ice caps are melting.)

At the same time, Johnson was consulting the scientific consensus, focusing on clear theories about sunspots and despising wind farms. In defense, the prime minister has since stated that “facts change and people change their minds.” At most, half of this statement is true. It was a fact that human activity warmed the planet when Johnson pondered and still is.

A newly acquired belief is not necessarily insincere. Or rather, sincerity is the wrong proof that applies to a man who believes things as he says them, but who adapts what he says to suit the audience. When Johnson was a rearguard MP, plotting to be a Conservative leader, it was convenient to have a set of convictions. As the host of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow next week, you need a set of different opinions.

As for Britain’s contribution to carbon reduction, the recentness of the Prime Minister’s conversion matters less than the forces that could hold him back from the cause or move away from it. He did not choose a party in the Brexit referendum until February 2016, although the superficial roots of this conviction were no impediment to radicalism. When Johnson’s behavior is predicted, the salient factor, probably the only one, is the calculation of his political interest.

The omens are not great. In the short term, there is pressure to be green. In Cop26, the world will be watching. Downing Street pride is at stake. The government’s zero net strategy, launched today, reflects this control with ambitious commitments to boost green investment and infrastructure.

And after the summit? The relative the flow of Westminster politics resumes, with the Prime Minister’s gaze on events much closer to the horizon of 2050, where Britain should be carbon neutral; closer to 2035, when fossil fuels are supposed to have been phased out of UK electricity generation; closer to 2032, when all new cars sold should be electric. The furthest point at which Johnson can contemplate the distance is the next election, scheduled for May 2024, but feasibly before. Meanwhile, she is vulnerable to distraction by the demands of a 24/7 news cycle.

This problem is not unique to Britain. Future generations enjoy the benefits of good climate policies; the costs are paid by the people who vote now. This is not an attractive bet for most politicians, unless all the short-sighted are obsessed with the headlines and polls.

There are good arguments for present sacrifices in exchange for future rewards. Johnson himself used them recently when taking out national insurance to fund health and social care. But the calculation of self-interest there was simpler. He does not want to fight an election in which Labor can accuse Conservatives of underfunding the NHS through a pandemic. Run the same equation with subsidies to replace gas boilers with heat pumps or the road price to offset the fall in vehicle excise taxes, and it doesn’t balance that well.

Even tax-allergic conservatives are subject to the political logic of rescuing the health service. They have limited patience for what they see as a pattern of left-wing attacks by a leader who neglects their party’s core values. There’s already a group of MPs – the “zero-zero control group” – ready to cause trouble as the bills for a green transition begin to land. Broadcast by Brexit rebel Steve Baker, the NZSG does not explicitly reject climate science (although it is fair to say that its members still have ground to cover on the journey away from skepticism). The argument is raised in terms of value for money and equity: carbon neutrality is a luxury service and the government should not extract the subscription from ordinary households, which will likely be squeezed in the coming months as inflation.

This view gets a sympathetic audience from the chancellor, although the pennant penumbra was removed at 11 a.m. from a Treasury review published alongside the zero net strategy. Number 10 clearly didn’t want any rain on the route from Johnson’s parade to Glasgow.

Still, the prime minister cannot resist complying caricature of ecology as a fetish of metropolitan life for vegans and rest. This was the implication of an article he wrote in the Sun this week, assuring readers that “the green shirts of the boiler police won’t hit your door with your feet dressed in sandals and take over your old man of combi confidence ”.

There are pro-Conservative ways of rejecting skeptical zeros, and ministers do so from time to time. They point to the potential for employment growth and a UK competitive advantage in new industries. They might also point out that Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer of political leadership on environmental issues, advocating a ban on CFC gases to plug the hole in the ozone layer. There is an appeal to the principle of preserving a precious heritage, the natural world, as a legacy of our grandchildren. The track is the name of the party.

For the most part, British conservatives are mercifully disinfected by the most disorderly strain of climate denial that has captured U.S. Republicans. But climate policy is still trapped in a polarizing vortex where a cause can only be sacred on one side. The right decides that reducing carbon emissions is a socialist deception to suffocate the markets and adopts a belligerent anti-regulation attitude, more thatcherite than thatcherite. The left denounces this position as proof that the real obstacle to progress is capitalism, which seems to vindicate the resistance of the right.

There is an area of ​​commitment on the ground of the fashion center, where the problem of moving from a gross to a clean economy is solved through a combination of state intervention and private sector innovation. Indeed, this is the approach taken by Johnson’s zero net strategy. What the government says about it is not bad, but what the prime minister says has not always been a reliable guide to what it will do. Today he is a climate evangelist. Not long ago I was skeptical. Today he is on the right side of the argument, because the political facts changed so that it is worth being there. But the Conservative Party’s mood changes more often and with more violence than the scientific consensus. Boris Johnson knows who his true master is.

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