Green industrial revolution, or Great Leap Backward?
By Neil Lock
Prologue: The decay of politics
For several decades now, there has been a continual decline in the quality of the political atmosphere, in the UK and elsewhere. In the UK, I think this probably dates back to the 1970s and Old Labour; but the Tories and New Labour have both actively helped it along. Government has lost respect for the people it is supposed to serve. It treats us, at best, as if we were naughty children. It takes no account of what we actually are: thinking, feeling human beings, who need freedom and justice in order to live our lives to the full. In consequence, many people have begun to lose confidence in politics and government, no matter which party is in power. And among such people there is a, slowly but inexorably, mounting sense of exasperation with the political establishment and those in it. The Brexit referendum vote in 2016, and the meteoric rise of the Brexit Party in the first half of 2019, were signs of this.
Meanwhile, the political class and their cohorts (such as bureaucrats, academe, media, big-company bosses) have steadily become more and more authoritarian, arrogant, dishonest, deceitful, untrustworthy, grasping, irresponsible, evasive of accountability, hypocritical, hysterical, and lacking in concern for us “little people.” It is as if they have formed themselves into a giant, psychopathic, criminal gang; and we are their chosen victims.
You can see this in their erection of millions of cameras to spy on us. In their tracking of our Internet and phone usage. In their obvious desire to use any “crisis” they can drum up, such as the COVID epidemic, to take away or restrict our liberties. But nowhere is it more clearly reflected than by their conduct on environmental issues, such as the matter often called “climate change” or, alternatively, “global warming,” “climate crisis” or “climate emergency.” And, in particular, by the UK government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution [], published in November 2020.
The Ten Point Plan
The plan sets out policies the UK government intends to force on people over the next ten years and more, in the name of “building back better, supporting green jobs, and accelerating our path to net zero.” It shows just how far into the abyss prime minister Boris Johnson, the ruling Tory party, and the rest of the UK political establishment have descended.
Under more auspicious circumstances, some aspects of this would be quite amusing. The phrase “green industrial revolution” is lifted verbatim from the Labour party’s 2019 manifesto []. Yet this is a Tory government that is doing these things to us! Johnson writes in a foreword about his ambitious plans “to unite and level up our country.” That same Labour manifesto said “The climate and environmental emergency is a chance to unite the country…” and spoke of “levelling up across the country.” I’ve long been saying there’s no real difference between the mainstream political parties in the UK; and this proves it.
I’ll give some thoughts about the ten points themselves, before descending into the politics.
One: “advancing offshore wind.” “By 2030 we plan to quadruple our offshore wind capacity,” so they say, to 40 gigawatts. I feel a sense of déjà vu. Back in 2007, New Labour promised 33 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020. How many got built? Just over 10. Good enough for government work, I suppose. They say also that the cost of offshore wind power has fallen by two-thirds in the last five years, and is likely to fall still further. But at least one expert says the opposite: [].
Now, I do know that the UK government has over many years been very cavalier in the way it has treated costs and benefits of anything environmental. I know, also, that wind power is intermittent, so must always be backed up by a reliable source of base load power, whose costs must also be taken into account. Moreover, the ten-point plan uses the word could repeatedly, whenever it discusses touted benefits. Making me think, pigs could fly.
Two: “driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen.” Which could provide “a clean source of fuel and heat for our homes, transport and industry.” And the UK is a world leader in “investigating the use of hydrogen for heating.” But what would be needed to make hydrogen as a fuel work cost-effectively on a large scale isn’t off-the-shelf technology, or anything like it. And hydrogen has problems of its own: like cost, safety, difficulty of storage and of transport. Moreover, current commercial means of making it also emit lots of carbon dioxide. Overall, this comes over to me as pie in the sky.
Three: “delivering new and advanced nuclear power.” Hooray! A half-way sensible idea at last. Nuclear power is proven technology; the French have already been there. Unlike wind, it can generate the base load which any industrial civilization needs. There is plenty of fuel for decades at least, even without breeder reactors. And, despite Chernobyl and Fukushima, it has a good safety record. It is expensive, though. But much of the expense is down to long project timescales with their associated uncertainties, and costs deliberately imposed by government on behalf of activist groups, through “regulatory ratcheting” and “regulatory turbulence.” Indeed, there are still ructions and uncertainties over the proposed Sizewell C reactor development. And even Hinckley Point C, given in the plan as a case study, has faced immense political obstacles, including some put up by the EU and the United Nations.
Small modular reactors stand out as a potential for the future. But these are still at the development stage. And there is, as yet, no licensing régime to allow them to go live.
Four: “accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles.” With current technology, this means electric cars and vans. Now, electric vehicles have many disadvantages over conventional ones. Higher purchase price. No real second-hand market yet; and part exchange will become unviable, as petrol and diesel cars become all but worthless. Increased weight. Short range per fill-up. Slow charging, likely meaning long queues at filling stations. The possibility of a very dangerous fire in the event of an accident. Potential world shortages of materials to make the batteries. Battery disposal issues.
A major shift towards electric cars would also require a huge and potentially de-stabilizing makeover of the electricity grid. The roll-out of car charging points to tens of millions of homes and tens of thousands of filling station pumps would be an expensive nightmare. And how would those, who have to park our cars some distance from our front doors, be able to charge them overnight?
The plan talks of “thousands more ultra-low and zero-emission cars and vans on UK roads” and “thousands more charge points in homes.” But they understate the problem by many orders of magnitude. There are more than 35 million cars and vans on UK roads today!
Moreover, the Tories have behaved very dishonestly towards car drivers. First, they put into their 2019 manifesto a date (2040) for banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars; so, they could claim that those, who really only voted for them to get Brexit done, also voted for that. Second, in July 2020 they held a “consultation” on the issue of “de-carbonizing transport.” I spent almost a month writing a 58-page, reasoned response, with many good arguments why nothing needed to be done at all, and everyone should be left free to choose whatever form or forms of transport best suit them and their circumstances. But all the points I, and others of like mind, made were totally ignored. This showed that the whole “consultation” was, as I had cynically expected, just a rubber-stamping exercise for the deep green political agenda. A rubber stamp, which they then used to pull the date of the ban forward from 2040 to 2030.
And then, there’s this. “We will need to ensure that the tax system encourages the uptake of EVs and that revenue from motoring taxes keeps pace with this change.” I think I know what that means, for those who can’t afford to buy a new electric car. To retain mobility, they will have no option but to keep on running older petrol or diesel cars. But the taxes on these cars will be jacked up so high, that they won’t be able to afford to do that either. So, these people – and, I suspect, a very large number of people, including me – will lose mobility entirely. So much for Johnson’s “level up our country!”
Five: “green public transport, cycling and walking.” I’m old enough to have a free pass to use buses; but I don’t use them that much, because they aren’t convenient. (Only one route goes within half a mile of my home; and that isn’t very frequent, and doesn’t run at all in the evening or on Sunday). And many buses are uncomfortable, if not also slow. There are two railway stations down in the valley, but it’s a steep uphill hike back from either of them. As to the bicycle, it’s a fine means of transport in its place. I know this, because I once bicycled coast-to-coast across North America! But it isn’t a practical way for a 67-year-old, who lives at the top of a steep hill, to get around. Walking, too, can be pleasant and healthy; I do a lot of it. But it’s slow. And if you have a heavy load to carry (I play the tuba!), it’s a no-no.
What comes through very strongly here is the lack of concern for ordinary human beings. The plans seem directed at making life even more difficult for car drivers, with yet more bus and cycle lanes and schemes like low traffic neighbourhoods, rather than improving anything. These schemes have already caused difficulties for those who must travel by car, such as disabled people. And some of them have significantly increased journey times, and caused more pollution. Those who live in big cities or in town centres may, perhaps, think they would be better off with more public transport and less cars. But those who live in the countryside, in villages, on the outskirts of towns or in outer suburbs are likely to find themselves getting an extremely bad deal. This, again, is hardly “levelling up.” It is class war, being waged by an urban élite against the country and suburban people.
Six: “jet zero and green ships.” When I looked for details on zero-emission aircraft, I didn’t find much. My expectation is that they will, when (if?) they arrive, be smaller, slower, more expensive to run and with a shorter range than today’s jets. That would price many people out of the market for air travel, as well as raising the costs of long-distance trade, and so increasing the cost of living for everyone. The plan does mention “battery and hydrogen aircrafts.” But batteries have orders of magnitude less energy density than conventional jet fuels. And a vice-president of Airbus says that “the road to widespread hydrogen adoption in aviation is still long.” As to ships, electric container ships seem to be a non-starter, and large hydrogen powered ships look a long way off.
Seven: “greener buildings.” Heat pumps seem to be the proposed method of choice for future heating. But they are hugely expensive up-front, and installation is difficult. You may need new, larger radiators, too. But what if you don’t have the space for them? And, so I’m told, heat pumps are noisy, and more expensive to run than gas heating. And they stop working in the coldest weather; exactly when we need heat the most. In any case, how can you afford to install a heat pump if you don’t have the money? And what are older people to do, who have barely enough to live on anyway? How can they afford to “improve the energy efficiency of homes and replace fossil fuel heating?” They can’t. Nor will they be able to move, since the government plans to make selling or renting out older, unimproved homes “illegal!”
Tucked away at the bottom is a promise to “improve energy efficiency standards of household products so they use less energy and materials.” I think I know what that means; less and less effective appliances. Remember the EU directives that gave us expensive light bulbs that don’t deliver enough light to see by, and vacuum cleaners that don’t clean our carpets properly? This sounds like more of the same, in spades.
Eight: “investing in carbon capture, usage and storage.” If CO2 emissions actually were the problem that they’re made out to be, this might be a good idea. But it looks horribly expensive. The idea of storing the stuff under the North Sea sounds dubious. And there have been failed projects of this kind already in Germany, Norway and the USA, at least. Oh, and look at who the big players are in this pseudo “market.” I googled “carbon capture technology,” and the first three hits I got were ads from Shell, Aramco and Exxon Mobil!
Nine: “protecting our natural environment.” “We will safeguard our cherished landscapes, restore habitats for wildlife in order to combat biodiversity loss and adapt to climate change.” Despite that twee sentiment, this is actually one of the few half way sensible sets of ideas in this plan. Better flood defences and planting more trees, indeed, are two of the very few ideas here that could actually bring genuine benefits to real people.
But I still can’t rid myself of the thought that all the pap about humans damaging wildlife and biodiversity is really just a smokescreen. Whenever I ask a green supporter to name a species to whose extinction I have contributed, and to say what I did, and when, to contribute to that extinction, I never get a factual answer. And when I ask for hard evidence that humans are causing a biodiversity problem, all I get is links to alarmist reports from the World Wildlife Fund, or from the UN’s IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) – see []. IPBES is, almost exactly, the equivalent on this issue of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the global warming one. And its chairman is one Sir Robert Watson, who was also chairman of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002!
Ten: “green finance and innovation.” Aha, I knew the money men would get their cut! The big question, of course, is where will the money for all these schemes come from? “Green bonds” may sound like a great idea. But I wonder whether realistic investors may not choose to stay clear of projects so big and complex that, even if well run, they would be very likely to tank. With politicians involved, that becomes absolutely certain to tank. Moreover, it’s clear from phrases like “mandatory reporting of climate-related financial information” and “ensure an equitable balance of contributions across society” that huge tax rises are planned to finance all this. And these taxes won’t go to help the poor; no, sir. These taxes will re-distribute wealth from the politically poor – us ordinary people – to the politically rich. The beneficiaries will be those, including the politicians and the big-company bosses, that want to profit from forcing us into an unjust, unfree, nightmare “green” world.
Is that all? Hell, no. The final section, “the race to zero,” says: “In the coming year, we will set out further plans for reducing emissions across all the UK’s major economic sectors.” The pain and fall-out from all this for the ordinary people of the UK are only just beginning.
Comparison with the Industrial Revolution
The title “green industrial revolution” invites comparison with the Industrial Revolution, which began in the mid to late 18th century, and is arguably still in progress today. Now, the Industrial Revolution, in the UK at least, was an organic, bottom-up revolution. It was not initiated, or controlled, by government. Indeed, government didn’t even do that much to help it along. I can think of only three helpful things it did. It suppressed the destructive Luddites. It decided where new railway tracks could be built, over the opposition of the local landlords. And it introduced the idea of limited liability, under which honest investors in the new projects were protected against losing more than they had invested.
For consumers, the Industrial Revolution was also an era of choice; of take-it-or-leave-it. While companies were often forced by competitive pressure to adopt the new technologies, individuals, families, towns and cities didn’t have to make use of them if they didn’t want to. (Though they usually chose to do so, whenever there were clear benefits.) Moreover, if things went wrong, and the benefits did not come or could not be sustained, they always had the option to go back to the old ways. A case in point is my own town; the first place in Europe to have electric street lighting (in 1881). By 1884, the supplier decided they could no longer deliver the electricity at an affordable price. So, the town had to go back to gas lighting, and electric lighting did not return until 1904.
These green plans, on the other hand, are not a natural, organic revolution. They are mandated, from the top down, by a political class that seeks to mould the UK economy into a command-and-control system reminiscent of the Soviet one. They are eagerly supported, not only by green activists and their academic and media comrades, but also by the money men and the big-company élites, who stand to gain billions and more from all these projects. They are supported by church leaders, too – about as establishment as you can get. But they take no account of the many, for whom the policies will cause severe pain and expense, without any corresponding benefits. This is no less than a takeover of the economy by an élite, that seems to have no interest at all in the well-being of ordinary people.
And if things go wrong and goals set cannot be met, will there be any option to back out, and return to the old methods? If world-wide shortages of materials to make batteries, for example, were to slow down the roll-out of electric vehicles, would we be able to continue for as long as necessary with petrol and diesel cars? Even if the carmakers had not already dismantled their assembly lines, I very much doubt that the politicians would let that happen. The little people, they would opine, will just have to do without.
For these reasons, I find it very dishonest to try to liken this supposed green industrial revolution to the Industrial Revolution which began 250 or so years ago. I can think of two far better analogies. One was Stalin’s “Great Turn” of the early 1930s, which rapidly “modernized” Soviet Russia using a top-down, communist model; and in the process, committed genocide against the kulaks, and caused the Holodomor famine. The other was Mao’s “Great Leap Forward.” And we all know how that turned out. It is because of this analogy that I have dubbed the green industrial revolution plan the “Great Leap Backward.”
Indeed, I see this plan as part of a reactionary counter-revolution to the Industrial Revolution. You can’t get any idea much more conservative or reactionary (or, indeed, ridiculous) than “stopping climate change!” (Words of Alok Sharma, minister, on page 4 of the plan.) For the climate changes, irrespective of anything humans do. Always has done, always will. Yet these reactionaries want to freeze (no pun intended) the climate, so it never changes again!
The Industrial Revolution gave humans the power to take control of our physical environment. It has allowed us to mould our environment to suit ourselves, and to start making our planet into a home and garden fit for a civilized species. Yet those that promote this plan want to throw away everything we have so laboriously built over the last 250+ years. They want to scrap the foundations of all economic progress; the free market, and honest business and industry. For the sake of virtue signalling like “restoring habitats for wildlife,” they want to destroy our habitat – the natural habitat of honest human beings.
They don’t want the world economy to grow. They don’t want ordinary people to have freedom of choice in how we live our lives. They don’t want people to be prosperous – except themselves and their cronies, of course. And they are so dishonest, that they disguise their intentions, and make out that they want to lead us to a better world, not the dreary, depressing nightmare they actually have in mind for us.
Those, that promote or support policies such as these, are traitors to human civilization. They deserve to be expelled from our civilization, and denied all its benefits.
Economic recovery from the COVID virus
All this, so we are told, is to enable us to “build back better” once the COVID-19 virus is gone. Yet it seems, to me at least, to be an extremely risky way to go about building anything. There are the risks that arise in any command-and-control system. There are risks that technologies may not be ready when they are needed. There are risks in rolling out projects on such a large scale. There are risks of de-stabilizing the electricity grid. There are risks of high-profile accidents. There are financial and budgetary risks. And the likely loss of mobility, and exorbitant cost of adapting homes, for many ordinary people make the idea that the end result can possibly be “better” into nothing but a sick joke.
For how to bring back to life an economy that has all but died, look at what the Germans did in the 1950s. So effective was it, that it has acquired its own name, Wirtschaftswunder. It was based on low taxes, free market principles and fair competition; three indispensable components for building prosperity. For my taste, there was far too much government control over the process. But there is no doubt that it worked. The Wirtschaftswunder would be a far better model on which to base any country’s economic recovery from COVID, than this top-down dirigisme masquerading as a “green industrial revolution.”
And yet, responses to this reactionary, freedom-killing plan appeared, in the first few days at least, overwhelmingly positive. On the Internet, I had to wade through several pages of “it’s great” and “it doesn’t go far enough” responses, before finding any that were even slightly critical. But when you look at who has been making these comments, they turn out to be the expected suspects; exactly those that will most benefit from these policies. Government departments, politicians, academics, quangos, companies angling for green contracts, and the like. The only early negative responses I found were a couple of articles in the Daily Mail. Since then, there have been on the Internet many articles pointing out negative aspects and impracticalities of the plan. But no-one seems to be taking any notice. It’s plain that this is all a giant stitch-up. Of which we, the ordinary people of the UK, are victims.
Where do we go from here?
It’s hard to see us making any progress against bad green policies through the current political system. In the UK, all the mainstream political parties have “gone green.” The only potential exception is the former Brexit Party, recently re-badged as Reform UK. But I am not sanguine that Nigel Farage is radical enough to want to tackle this issue head on, despite the enormous vote potential. (More than 60% of the UK electorate are car drivers!) There are a few climate realist parties in Europe, but many of them carry unpleasant far-right baggage. In the USA, the Republicans seem to be wavering on the issue; and there’s nobody else.
Besides which, this is not a “left” versus “right” matter. Nor, from what I see, does it have anything to do with any of the prevalent social divides, like race, skin colour, birthplace, nationality, social class, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion, ideology or lifestyle. To me, it looks more like the divide which German Jewish sociologist Franz Oppenheimer identified in his 1908 master-work, The State. This separates users of what he calls the economic means – “the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others” – from users of the political means – “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.”
To a first approximation at least, supporters of the green agenda, like politicians, public sector employees, state funded academics, mainstream media, and politically oriented or subsidy craving company bosses, tend also to favour the political means. And we ordinary people, who by our nature utilize the economic means, are the victims of this agenda.
I sense that the mounting anger and vexation with politics, which I and others feel today, is a sign of a penny starting to drop in the minds of more and more people; a dawning sense of just how badly politics today is screwed up. So, I think that a change of party at the helm, or a new political party, or some other kind of movement within the current political context, is not going to achieve the necessary level of change. What we need, in my view, is to ditch politics as it exists today, and replace it by something better. What we need is no less than a new and better way of looking at how we humans should best organize ourselves for what Aristotle called “the common good of all.”
I am among those, who are working towards a better way for us human beings to co-exist with each other. And I expect that to reach this goal will require a fundamental re-think of who we are, how we ought to behave, and what we are here for. I hope to be able to publish some draft ideas in the next few weeks or months. But today, I’ll leave you with a quote from author and activist Bryant McGill. “Revolution starts in the mind. Question Everything!”