It has become something of a cliche, but it also happens to be true. If you want to do your bit for the planet, forget Tesla and other super expensive electric vehicles; just carry on driving the same old gas-guzzling banger you’ve always had. As much if not more carbon tends to be expended producing a new car as actually driving it. You are going to have to do an awful lot of miles in the old one before you match the carbon costs of buying a newer version. It was a slightly different, but similar point that Carlos Tavares, chief executive of the world’s fifth-biggest car maker, Stellantis, was making this week when he said that “green inflation” could soon make owning a vehicle the preserve of the rich. The prevailing narrative – both in the motor industry and among political leaders sold on the idea that the transition to an emission-free world can be accomplished without significant damage to lifestyles – is that as demand grows, the price of EVs will steadily come down until they are eventually accessible to all. Not so, argues Tavares; the coming energy transition is going to be hugely resource intensive, driving up costs across the board. He didn’t quite spell it out, though he hinted at it, so let me do so instead; it is entirely plausible that the monumental carbon costs of establishing the new infrastructure needed for a net zero world, nevermind its physical cost, could itself trigger the very same environmental catastrophe it is supposed to forestall. Green lobbyists vehemently dispute such claims, pointing out that though the transition will burn a lot of carbon initially, this will progressively decrease, eventually disappearing entirely. Yet whatever the modelling used, it is pretty much unarguable that going green will, to begin with, create a huge surge in global emissions. The transition will also result in myriad other forms of environmental and biodiversity destruction. Reducing our emissions here in Britain isn’t going to be of much use if all we are in fact doing is exporting them. A large part of that reduction stems from the decline in old, energy intensive smokestack industries, priced out of the market in part by rising energy costs. The solar panels that litter the landscape allow our own coal powered stations to be switched off, but are likely to have been manufactured in China using the very same as the main energy source. By reducing our own emissions, we are paradoxically only increasing them at a global level.
Telegraph 14th May 2021 read more »
The climate change committee, the government advisory body of which I am a member, reckons that the overall economic cost of making progress from here will be modest. The price of renewable electricity has fallen faster than even the most optimistic projections. The cost of building green infrastructure will be largely offset by later savings in fuel costs and by the boost to the economy from all that extra green investment. We have so far reduced emissions largely by finding greener ways to generate our electricity. That hasn’t required you or me to do anything, other than pay a bit more for it. Even that has been offset by more efficient household appliances. That’s why our lifestyles have barely been affected. To get to zero emissions, however, we’re all going to have to get used to driving electric cars. Our gas boilers will need replacing, but nobody is yet sure with what. We will probably have to eat less meat and fly less. One way or another, we’ll certainly notice the next phase. The overall economic cost may turn out to be small but only if the government gets a lot of big policy decisions right and implements them properly. Let’s just say history isn’t on the side of the optimists, as two simple examples of policy failure show. We subsidise burning gas by charging a VAT rate of only 5 per cent. Yet we charge 20 per cent VAT on home improvements that could improve energy efficiency and reduce gas consumption. Environmental and social obligations account for more than a fifth of our electricity bills. They account for barely 2 per cent of the typical gas bill. Electricity is much less polluting than gas but costs something like five times as much per kilowatt hour. Even if we get policy right, and the economic cost as measured by the impact on national income is small, it won’t feel small. Public and private sectors between them will need to invest well north of £50 billion a year for 30 years. Lots of jobs will disappear and new ones will be created. There will be winners and losers. The costs might be small on average but averages don’t count for very much. For some people, in Britain and abroad, they could feel very big indeed.
Times 14th May 2021 read more »