Friday, 2 November 2012

Is the wind turbine debate just hot air?

Wind turbines have been in the headlines this week after energy minister John Hayes said they should no longer "be imposed on communities". Was this intervention a personal crusade or a sign that green scepticism is growing in the government more generally?

Hayes: I can protect our pleasant land
Back in February, an article in The Sunday Telegraph reporting on 101 Tory MPs opposing subsidies for the onshore wind turbine industry contained a sentence hidden away in the 16th paragraph which informed us that "it is understood that there is also support [to oppose wind farms] from the Treasury".

Just two days ago, at a hearing of the Environmental Audit Committee (which I was probably alone in watching), the willingness of the Treasury to go green was again brought into question.

Jenny Holland, from the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said: "The likes of DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) and others find it quite difficulty to knock on the door of the Treasury, which when not closed is downright bolted."

In the same session, David Powell of Friends of the Earth said roundtable discussions between his organisation and the Treasury had completely dried up.

On the other side of the political divide, Ed Miliband recently made a 7,369-word speech to the Labour Party conference in which 'green', 'environment' and 'carbon' were not mentioned once.

Flint: Can she fill the breach?
And while shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint berates climate change deniers on the Tory backbenchers, Labour have not stepped into the breach.

Andrew Pendleton, also of Friends of the Earth, said last month: “The coalition and particularly the Treasury is leaving a planet-sized political space for Labour. It is a first-class opportunity politically... as well being the right thing to do.”

As politicians slow down, economic arguments to go green gather pace.

A Green Alliance report found that while the economy will only return to its 2007 levels by 2014 at the earliest, the green economy will grow by 40% in the same period.

Speaking at a Labour Party conference fringe event, Dimitri Zenghelis, a visiting fellow at LSE, said: “The long-run case for green and growth is often put as a juxtaposition – shall we go green or shall we go grow – and that is a false trade-off. It is inconceivable that the world will not move to become more resource-efficient and green."

While the hot air of political debate continues, the east coast of the United States recovers from a battering of epic proportions, while Haiti is a country once again devastated.

As yesterday's FT editorial points out: "Whether human activity is responsible for the extreme weather events that lie at the root of this, no one can dispute that they are occurring more frequently as a result of climate change."

Discussions on the efficiency of different low-carbon energy techniques are valid - but not if they get in the way of us doing anything at all.

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