The government’s reaction to widespread public revulsion at the profiteering of the ‘big six’ and its impact on energy bills was to weaken green measures including energy efficiency. This makes a very clear-cut case that the long-term interests of the voters, even when united, count for less than the interests of the fossil fuel industry who mainly pocketed the rebate.
This is not an isolated incident. Russia seems to see criticism of their fossil fuel industry, and peaceful protests against their dash into the Arctic, as an act of war. The US bends regulations for frackers and pipelines, and stands shoulder to shoulder with the UK in spying on environmentalists. Canada provides the most startling and disturbing example of how a society’s apparently entrenched liberal, democratic values can be sacrificed for fossil fuel interests. The Harper government’s approach to public debate around the tar sands has been to silence not just protestors but scientists. All of these policies sound like exactly the sort of thing that used to make us glad we didn’t live in East Germany, where everyone was spied on, dissent was criminalised and scientific truth was sacrificed to political ideology.
On a more positive note, earlier in the year the French state owned utility EDF tried to sue two dozen peaceful protestors for £5m and then withdrew after public pressure. And just last week, I received a letter from Royal Dutch Shell’s lawyers telling me that due to an injunction, issued in the British High Court, it was only the company’s humanitarian instincts which were keeping me out of prison. Apparently I broke the injunction by allowing a public exhibition featuring the Arctic 30 to be erected outside their HQ in London.
Anyway that’s enough of the seasonal good tidings from ‘big oil’.
Smaller energy firms trying to break the big energy cartels are less favoured. Energy efficiency firms hoping to cash in on the desperately needed upgrading of our housing stock to bring it closer to European standards have had their support slashed including for the poorest households. According to the Treasury view, if it isn’t dirty, dangerous and decades out of date, then it’s just not a serious option worth supporting.
In fact, what’s good news for fossil fuel interests is bad news for literally everyone else. Unless you run a business on a remote, entirely self-sufficient private island with the right type of flood defences, the fossil fuel industries long term business plans (and the risk of a 6 degree global temperature rise they entail) will destroy your supply chain, your customer base, your lifestyle and livelihood.
And this is the lesson we urgently need to learn in 2014 – the fossil fuel agenda is an anti-business agenda. And the greenest government ever will probably have to wait until after the next general election. Osborne’s “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” should really be reversed. We’re not going to save our country by putting the planet out of business.
John Sauven is Executive Director of Greenpeace UK.
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