by Peter Franklin
Monday, 18
October 2021
Debate
13:19

The libertarian Right is scapegoating Net Zero

They are turning attention away from the causes of the energy crisis
by Peter Franklin
Conservative MP Steve Baker. Credit: Getty

Boris Johnson should watch his right flank. Rebellious Tories are on the warpath and they’re coming for the Government’s green agenda. 

Leading the charge is the formidable Steve Baker. A hardline Eurosceptic, the MP for Wycombe was the unofficial chief whip of the ‘awkward squad’ during the parliamentary battle over Brexit. Few people did more to block Theresa May’s deal — and ultimately force her resignation.

Baker has now embarked upon his next crusade. Earlier this year he joined the board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) — an organisation that has campaigned against government climate change policies since 2009. 

So far, they’ve failed to change the Government’s direction of travel. ​​Under Boris Johnson, the Conservatives are greener than ever and their climate goals more ambitious. However, the GWPF is renewing its efforts. This week its Twitter account suddenly vanished. A new account called Net Zero Watch appeared in its place. The website of the Global Warming Policy Forum (the lobbying arm of the Foundation) has also rebranded.

They’ve certainly picked their moment. Right now, we’re in the middle of full-blown energy crisis. The energy prices are surging — especially natural gas (but also oil and coal). Earlier in the year, gas was trading at around 50 pence per therm, by the end of last week it had spiked to almost 300 pence. It’s dropped back a bit since — but still threatens British companies and consumers with ruinously high bills. 

But the inconvenient truth for libertarian Right-wingers is that the energy crisis is the product of two things they’re very keen on: global free trade in fossil fuels and deregulated markets. What they need, therefore, is a scapegoat. With Steven Baker complaining that in transitioning to a zero carbon economy we’re “winging it”, Net Zero will do nicely.

Take, for example, nuclear, where progress has been slow. So far there’s just one new site under construction — Hinkley Point C in Somerset — and it’s still a few years from completion. That’s a far cry from the eleven new sites that had been planned by the last Labour government.  

Juliet Samuel blames the Tories for insisting that “all new nuclear plants would have to finance themselves.” But that’s not quite true. What the Government won’t do is underwrite the construction risks and that’s understandable. The type of reactor being built at Hinkley has a track record of delays and overspend. It would be wrong to put the British taxpayer on the hook for the failings of a French industry. 

Therefore if other nuclear projects aren’t happening, it’s not because the British government is unsupportive, but because it wouldn’t sign blank cheques for white elephants. Green ideology has nothing to do with it.  

Steve Baker is not entirely wrong, however. Though we’ve already made huge changes to our energy mix — while keeping the lights on — we don’t yet know exactly how the world of 2050 is going to work.

But that’s the case with every great technological transformation. We make plans where we can, but otherwise figure it out as we go along. Supported by sensible government policy, it’s what capitalism does best.

The transformation is underway. We can either make the most of these dynamic technologies — or let our competitors take the lead.

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John Riordan
John Riordan
11 months ago

“But the inconvenient truth for libertarian Right-wingers is that the energy crisis is the product of two things they’re very keen on: global free trade in fossil fuels and deregulated markets.”

Nice bit of scapegoating there yourself, Mr Franklin. Are the subsidies given to renewables in this country, funded from levies upon household energy bills, the result of free trade and deregulation? Or the fact that we started fracking the vast reserves of natural gas in the Bowland Shale region but then stopped due to Green activism? How about the new sites in the North Sea which the government won’t give permission to drill? Is that the fault of free trade and deregulation?

Looking further afield, is it free trade and deregulation that has caused the collapse in new oil and gas field exploration by the major fossil fuel companies? And what was it that caused the general slowing of the development of nuclear power globally in recent years? Why wasn’t nuclear power researched more, adopting the newer designs having thousands of times the efficiency and huge increases in safety? Can we blame free markets and deregulation for that?

I’m glad Steve Baker is on this, because Net Zero is, if left to Boris Johnson and his wife, going to be the worst economic disaster this country has ever deliberately inflicted upon itself, and lazily categorising opposition to it as the peculiar obsession of a small band of libertarians does a disservice to the millions of people about to discover that cheap reliable energy is the foundation of prosperity and a dignified, safe existence.

Philip L
Philip L
11 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Heartily agree.
Couldn’t muster the effort to respond myself having being told somewhat dismissively that step-changes in technology involve “figuring things out as we go along” – as though cold winter nights spent hunting for matches to light candles and coal fires is an indication of progress rather than a sign things have gone catastrophically wrong.

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
11 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

They didn’t stop fracking the Bowland Shales because of ‘Green Activism’. They stopped because of actual earthquakes in Blackpool.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
11 months ago

Nonsense. That was just the excuse

Peter Rigg
Peter Rigg
11 months ago

What about the thousands of similar “earthquakes: (ie tremors) caused by coal mining over the past 200 years? Quite rightly,it didn’t stop mining.

Dr Stephen Nightingale
Dr Stephen Nightingale
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Rigg

It was just that 200 years of coal burning activity that taught us about anthropogenic warming. Maybe we could find something else to do besides burning fracked gas and shaking the earth?

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
11 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

It is disappointing that there is no real debate in the comments to this article. Are readers deterred from raising alternative viewpoints because so many people support a particular one? The energy crisis in the UK is not one of overall supply and demand it is one of immediate availability and there is an argument to be made that a reliance on “global free trade in fossil fuels and deregulated markets” has created a market place that is efficient when things run smoothly but is too efficient to provide the availability of stocks when there is disruption. Please like if you want more debate and dislike if you are happy without it!

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
11 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I actually think the author has a point. Foreign ownership of our utilities is nuts and so is too much deregulation focused solely on profit (cheap foreign labour, and cutting corners on quality the result). . Leaving everything to the whims of the market is too far. However, the left’s obsessively autocratic utopianism is no solution either.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
11 months ago

If Steve Baker has assumed the JR-M’s mantle of media right-wing demon then I think the UK and even the BBC can rest easy in their beds.
Sorry Peter, your caricature of him is ridiculous. And it’s really hard to focus on the rest of a “debate article” on this important issue, when you set up your case with imaginary right-wing demons in a way that would embarrass Owen Jones.
From where I sit, wavering centre-left or right as the facts lead my heart and mind, Baker ensured feet were held to the fire on the outcome of a referendum legitimately passed through Parliament. He challenged the Civil Service/EU negotiated version of Brexit, pushed the issue as far as he could until we reached whatever version of it Boris agreed. He then supported the outcome, realising the country was desperate to move forward from gridlock, even if Parliament and the Press weren’t – an act, by the way, for which he received and continues to receive pelters from the actual right wing of the party.
His communications via social media and interviews with the press were well-mannered and considered. He’s not some a right-wing demagogue with an army of devoted followers, but a Parliamentarian trying to do his job for the Country, in the absence of any coherent opposition – one that could have allowed May’s deal to pass by the way, simply by either making it’s mind up or deciding it couldn’t and abstaining.
If someone in HoC is challenging/questioning the roadmap to net zero than how can this be a bad thing? Because as one wise journalist put it “we’ve already made huge changes to our energy mix — while keeping the lights on — we don’t yet know exactly how the world of 2050 is going to work”.
Oh hang on, that was you Peter…

Last edited 11 months ago by Dustin Needle
Trevor Law
Trevor Law
11 months ago

The Government’s energy policy would appear to be akin to throwing yourself off a cliff in the firm belief that you will grow some wings before you hit the bottom. We all have a right to know exactly how they propose to achieve Net Zero, how much it will cost, who is going to pay for it and how it will affect our competitiveness in the world (and hence the prospects for jobs, incomes and our standard of living). That’s not too much to ask. Nor is a referendum.

Bill W
Bill W
11 months ago

There is no point having a pop at Steve Baker. Successive governments are responsible for the energy crisis twisting and turning and refusing to take responsibility for ensuring we have secure energy supplies. I remember as a schoolboy eco warriors opposing new nuclear energy plants in the 1970s, fifty odd years ago. Governments have buckled, God knows why, ever since then in ensuring safe secure energy supplies. They have been utterly useless.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

“But the inconvenient truth for libertarian Right-wingers is that the energy crisis is the product of two things they’re very keen on: global free trade in fossil fuels and deregulated markets.”

? So is the Left the opposite? Demanding global low prices be imposed by some regulatory body, how could that work? What sort of regulated markets would the Left institute to keep energy low? More subsidies on renewables and less drilling? Not sure how that is an answer either.

UK is out to punish its self by making energy much more expensive, although it will not make any sort of global difference at all. This is ‘Self Harming’, not moving forward.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

There has to be some solution that sits between free market profitmongering and autocratic socialist utopianism. But no-one is presenting one!!

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
11 months ago

Thank you Peter Franklin for putting up the links. I am now successfully following ‘Net Zero Watch’. I am glad that Steven Baker is standing up against the total green madness of this government. U.K. doesn’t need the socialist Green Party anymore, the current government morphed into it. Boris latest big plan is give away money (meaning hotting up the printing press) for households to install the dreaded heat pumps, which btw.also need electricity and are useless in small Victorian houses unless you seal yourself in, rip out your radiators and pipes. I am getting panic attacks, just thinking of being forced to install this into my small Victorian house.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
11 months ago

I’m not sure why shared heat pumps are not being talked about. What about geothermal too?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
11 months ago

‘…because it wouldn’t sign blank cheques for white elephants….’
Except for very large ones subsidising renewables!

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
11 months ago

If the left had not turned climate change into a political battering ram calling for the overthrow of the West, capitalism and generally anything approaching conservatism or meritocracy, it might not have become so contentious. In my eyes preservation of our green and pleasant land, culture and a sustainable population size is an entirely conservative notion. Boris would do well not to follow the globalist Davos vision and think more about the UK as an entity to be protected. If we focused on food and energy self sufficiency, skills, local food production, quality over quantity we could be more able to ignore French and Russian threats to starve and freeze us into compliance, we’d be able to weather pandemics better, our population would be healthier and have skills that give our lives purpose. Better, more local food production focused on the domestic market rather than the export market would be better for the animals, for our health and for our carbon footprint. Just in time supply chains have been shown to be unsustainable and not very resilient at all. NetZero is an arbitrary target that smacks of socialist utopianism. It means very little because we NEED CO2 to feed plants and trees. It sounds so much like an ever stretching target that will be used to justify all manner of state intervention and autocracy. How can this be a sustainable solution??
Immigration is sold to us as an unbridled good – in reality it is a Ponzi scheme artificially driving ‘growth’ but it is unsustainable and causing massive social upheaval. And for what? More restaurant choices? Is it worth the congestion, the crime, the cultural and demographic angst? What does it mean to be a citizen anymore when people can just collect passports? What does it mean to be British? I always thought I knew but now it appears I never had a culture at all it was always a fluid concept bettered only be the importation of other nationalisms that are more acceptable than ours and whose cultures deserve to be valued and celebrated, not ours. How can this be right?? The market has its place but putting it entirely in charge of our most important industries is madness. No foreign ownership of our utilities or our defence should be countenanced at all. This is where my vision of conservatism is at odds with what it has become. The libertarian right is simply a voice that is seen as no longer acceptable in our woke globalist culture so it is denigrated, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.