Thursday 21 September 2023

For the second day running I was speaking at an event, this time the Association of Decentralised Energy’s (ADE) annual conference. I had not spoken at the event for a few years and it is always a pleasure to work with the ADE. The topic of my presentation was metered efficiency and the Retrometer project which ep is involved with. Metered efficiency is a new paradigm which enables a number of things including; reducing the performance gap between what expected savings are and what actually occurs; pay for performance contracts which resemble Power Purchase Agreements and can be financed; time of day energy and carbon performance reporting; and allowing DNOs to see the effect of different efficiency measures and programmes on load curves. Information on Retrometer, which we hope will soon move forward into the Alpha phase with Strategic Innovation Fund support, can be found here and here.

Of course, there was much talk about the Prime Minister’s speech on net zero which rolled back previous commitments, and magically ‘cancelled’ policies which were not even under serious consideration. Some of the comments in the first panel which discussed the PM’s announcements got me thinking.

These included:

the beginning of undermining confidence in the independent Climate Change Committee

policy weaponisation

playing to people’s fears

a political trap

more US style politics than UK style politics

Although my readers know me as an energy person, with a strong interest in space exploration and a love of David Bowie’s music, most people don’t know that one of my other great interests is American politics. I got into it through being interested in the space programme, (think JFK’s commitment to land men on the moon), got up in the early hours to watch Nixon’s resignation speech in 1974, worried through the Reagan years, and have studied it closely ever since. I have also seen the reality of US politics, at a local and state level, close-up and personal through a great friend in the Mid-West who became a politician. I am still not at liberty to tell some of the stories from that period. Of course the election of Trump was a terrible shock and I woke up nearly every day of his Presidency reading the news because I was so concerned about what he had said or done overnight.

So what is the connection between US politics and the PM’s announcement on net zero? Well, it is pretty clear that UK politics has been the subject to the same forces that resulted in Trump being elected, some internal but also clearly supported and amplified by very dangerous domestic and foreign actors. In some ways, these forces were more ‘successful’ in the UK than in the US (think BREXIT). People in the UK still under-estimate the danger represented by Trump, his supporters and MAGA ‘Republicans’. Make no mistake, they are authoritarian, anti-democratic and would undo decades of progress on issues such as civil rights, women’s rights and the environment, as well as potentially start a war. If you don’t see it this way you are not following closely enough. The 2024 US election is a critical decision point and whatever you may have read or believe about President Biden the choice is clear – it is between democracy and authoritarianism.

The common cry of the MAGAs is against ‘woke’ behaviour which in their view includes things like ESG investing and net zero. Their tactics include inciting fear about imagined slights like claiming that the Biden administration wants to ban gas stoves (ovens). This led Jim Jordan, a Trumpist Republican member of the House of Representatives to tweet: ‘God. Guns. Gas Stoves’. You can see the parallel with Rishi Sunak’s tweet saying: ‘We’re stopping heavy-handed measures: Taxes on eating meat. New taxes to discourage flying. Sorting your rubbish into seven separate bins. Compulsory car sharing. Expensive insulation upgrades.’ He also said: ‘We will never force anyone to rip out their old boiler for an expensive heat pump.’ None of these things were real policies.

So, I am not so worried about the impact on achieving net zero that the PM’s announcements yesterday will make. The momentum of investors, corporates and local governments is powerful enough to overcome these changes in policy on their own. What I am more worried about is the longer term and that this is another step towards more intense MAGA-style politics in the UK in which facts are ignored, (and even denigrated), conspiracy theories are promoted, and divisions are intensified by politicians driven by authoritarian and anti-democratic urges. If as the polls suggest Labour win the next election the Conservative party will most likely lurch further to the right and mount a long campaign based on ‘anti-woke’, anti-science positions and fighting ‘the blob’, equivalent to the MAGA’s opposition to the ‘Washington elites’. Hopefully these won’t resonate with the majority but there is a risk they could, particularly if there is an extended period of relative economic problems.

We do need to worry about how to get to net zero, but we really need to worry about the direction politics is taking, and how much worse it could get.


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Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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