I read Ross Clark's satirical novel The Denial a while back. Set in a Net Zero Britain where those who are appointed "Climate Influencers" can jet about, while the rest of the population can't travel or keep warm or obtain meat unless they somehow manage to accumulate enough credits to be allowed a morsel, it seemed pure fantasy once but increasingly I find myself wondering if it is prophecy.
The book by Clark I am now reading is factual, but addressing the same subject - climate change and the policies of the UK government to tackle it.
Clark explains that China produces 33 per cent of global emissions and its leader did not even turn up to Boris Johnson's Glasgow COP26 gathering, that the US, another huge contributor to pollution, did not sign the conference's final pledge and that, while 77 countries did sign, they only did so because the commitment to lowering emissions by a certain date was hedged by the clause "or as soon as possible thereafter". Despite this, the Tory government is hellbent on bringing into beinv rapid and extreme Net Zero measures.
"There are two wings to the Net Zero movement", Clark goes on to explain. "The first argues that the only route to salvation is for us all to reduce our living standards, to abandon consumerism, or even to do away with capitalism for good. This is the wing represented, at the extreme end, by Extinction Rebellion.
The second argues that technology will save us, without us having to make great sacrifices; indeed, it often asserts that, far from costing us, the Net Zero target will end up enriching us, by unleashing a rush of wealth-creating innovation that otherwise would not have taken place. The market, somehow, will provide. This is, broadly, the position of Britain's Conservative government.
Both these wings have lost touch with reality - the first because it overstates climate science and because it fails to grasp that people, the poor especially, are not going to accept being made poorer, going vegan or giving up the car commute for a morning cycle ride. These might be pleasant enough options for the well-off, but the poor are not going to be prepared to shiver or go hungry in the name of carbon emissions.
And they really would shiver and go hungry. If you want to reach Net Zero over the next few years through the curtailment of lifestyles, you're not going to achieve it without returning society to a pre-industrial level of subsistence.
But the second school of thought is equally naive in expecting technology magically to allow us to achieve Net Zero emissions without any reduction in our living standards. The industrial revolution of the eighteenth century and all subsequent advances that have transformed human societies have been based on one thing above all others: a source of cheap, concentrated energy, whether that be coal, oil or nuclear. To expect the same level of wealth in an economy based on far less dense forms of energy, such as wind and solar, which appears to be the current expectation of the UK and other European governments, is not realistic.
To expect to be able to achieve Net Zero without a serious cost to the economy is no more than Panglossian optimism. It would require multiple forms of new technology that either have not yet been invented or have yet to be proven on a commercial scale - and it would require all this to be achieved in less than thirty years time.
Whenever you make these points however they tend to be batted away with the generalised assertion, without any evidence to support it, that the costs of acting are much less than the costs of not acting, if indeed you are not dismissed as a 'climate denier'."
Clark also mentions that it was Boris Johnson who presided over the Glasgow conference and who was exceptionally determined to impose Net Zero policies rapidly on the United Kingdom. Given that the Boris Johnson voters believed they were electing was the one who, only a few years earlier, claimed the fear of man-made climate change was without foundation, it is unsurprising Jonhson's party (now headed by Rishi Sunak, but still pursuing the same goals) was rejected at the latest local elections in Britain.
The volte-face the Conservative Party has executed on climate and a number of other issues is a betrayal and also means that its successful candidates at the last election were essentially guilty of false advertising. There was an old joke about the US Democrats and Republicans being indistinguishable. That is no longer the case in America but instead is true of Britain two main political parties. There is nothing at all that I can see that distinguishes the UK Labour Party from the Conservatives and, as someone called Pete North on Twitter observed this morning:
"The lesson the Tory campaign machine will learn from their losses this week, and all subsequent losses, is that they need to soften their rhetoric on immigration and step up Net Zero. It is a walking corpse of a party. It cannot be fixed."