As each new lobbying scandal is revealed, it becomes clearer and clearer that much of our so-called ‘democratic’ process is distorted by their hidden and insidious influence. There should be general outrage at the manner in which vested ‘for profit’ interests are allowed to play such a large part in determining policies which have such potentially damaging, even life-threatening, consequences. The conflict of interest in the energy companies’ hold over government, juxtaposed to peak oil production and dangerous global climate change, takes the activity of lobbyists into a different league of global nihilism.
Three months before last year’s election, David Cameron described commercial lobbying as the “next big scandal waiting to happen”. He said it had “tainted our politics for too long” and “exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”.
But in spite of David Cameron’s assertion, there have been many extremely troubling disclosures about lobbying over the last 18 months…. private health providers being deeply involved with Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, employment protection insurer, Unum’s help in constructing the Welfare reform bill (1); Atlantic Bridge, Werrity, Liam Fox; and now the boasts of easy access to top Conservatives by PR company, Bell-Pottinger (The Independent 5.12.11).
Freedom of Information requests by Caroline Lucas MP, have also made public the disturbing links between the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the big energy providers (2):
At least 50 employees of companies including EDF Energy, npower and Centrica have been placed within government to work on energy issues in the past four years, the Guardian can reveal. The staff is provided free of charge and work within the departments for secondments of up to two years.
… Consultancies with major energy practices also supplied expertise, including KPMG and Ernst & Young.
In a bi-lateral manner, civil servants are similarly seconded into energy industries, such as Shell and Horizon Nuclear Power (whose aim is to build nuclear power stations in the UK)… but notably not into the Renewable industries.
“Companies such as the big six energy firms do not lend their staff to government for nothing – they expect a certain degree of influence, insider knowledge and preferential treatment in return,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP. “At such a pivotal time in the UK’s energy and climate change policy, as ministers must get to grips with the realities of climate change, rising costs and energy insecurity, the strong presence of vested interests is a real cause for concern.”
This is of particular currency, given Osborne’s catastrophic Autumn Budget Statement, which provoked a flurry of letters to the Observer (4.12.11) from a broad alliance of countryside campaigners, wildlife groups and green activists. They accuse George Osborne of a “stunning disregard” for the environment (3).
Osborne told the Commons last Tuesday: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.” … he wanted to ensure that “gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats” was not putting “ridiculous costs” on firms…..
With the government outlining cuts in solar energy subsidies, reforming planning regulations and introducing tax support for energy-intensive industries, the chancellor’s rhetoric has infuriated the green lobby. “Following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born,” states one letter, signed by the green campaigners George Monbiot, Tony Juniper, Jonathon Porritt, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, and others.
A second letter, from the heads of the RSPB, Greenpeace and others, says: “The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June, when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.”
That the Conservative Party has again revealed itself to be the ‘nasty party’ only interested in profitability, over-exploitation of natural resources and the ‘redistribution of wealth upward… and offshore’, is of little surprise.
However, that it has such total disregard for the findings of climate change scientists is nothing short of homicidal, particularly for those populations dwelling in the climate-vulnerable low lying countries.
New data revealed at the UN climate talks in Durban, show that carbon dioxide levels have increased by 49% since 1990, and this significantly reduces the world’s chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.
“We need to do something about the 80% of energy that still comes from burning fossil fuels.”
She said the problem was urgent, as the chances of holding global temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels (which scientists regard as the limit of safety) beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible, were dependent on emissions peaking by 2020 at the latest.
However, far from abandoning fossil fuels, it is clear that the Tory-LDs are intent on expanding our reliance on gas fired power stations, and ‘crowding out’ renewable energy sources.
‘The construction of new renewable energy generation capacity has fallen dramatically, as the big six energy suppliers pursue a “dash for gas” policy that could put the UK’s climate change targets out of reach and leave households with higher bills.
The number of new wind turbines built this year is down by half on last year….
The pipeline of new projects has also stagnated – this year, 2,058MW of windfarms were submitted for planning permission, compared with 2,080MW in 2010, and the number approved dropped markedly, from 1,366MW in 2010 to 920MW.
This contrasts with the 30GW of new gas-fired power stations that are at planning stage. These will require tens of billions of pounds of investment, coming mostly from the big six energy suppliers.
Although gas is cheaper than renewables at present, the cost of renewables is steadily coming down, and over-reliance on gas is one of the key factors behind high energy bills, according to the government. About 60% of rises in the past year have been the result of the higher cost of fuel imports.’ (5)
This seems to be under the direct influence of gas lobbyists, supported by research from Tony Blair’s favourite consultancy , McKinsey, who argue that ‘gas is green’ because it produces about 50% of CO2 that results from burning coal. Needless, to say that after installation, renewable energy production of carbon dioxide is virtually zero. Furthermore, renewable energy poses no security risks, and even with the huge government subsidies given to fossil fuels, it is estimated that they will quickly become cheaper even than coal.(6)
As Michael Meacher writes (7):
And now we learn that nuclear is crowding out renewables. Total investment in UK renewable energy fell last year by 70%, the £200bn needed to create a low-carbon UK energy sector by 2020 is nowhere to be seen, and fossil-fuel gas-fired power stations are being given the go-ahead everywhere. The addiction to fossil fuels, so far from being broken, is actually tightening, even though over-dependence on gas exposes Britain to big energy bill rises from high and unpredictable world market prices.
Julia Steinberger, lecturer in ecological economics at the Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, said (4):
“The economic crisis should have been an opportunity to invest in low-carbon infrastructure for the 21st century. Instead, we fostered a lose-lose situation: carbon emissions rocketing to unprecedented levels, alongside increases in joblessness, energy costs and income disparities. Surely the transition to a green economy has never seemed more appealing.”
And she could have added the one in four living in fuel poverty to her list.
Next week on 13 December the European Commission will release its 2050 Energy Roadmap that sets up the signposts and the routes that are meant to lead Europe to a decarbonised future. EER’s Brussels correspondent Sonja van Renssen concludes ‘Despite all the modelling, it is the decisions taken by policymakers that will determine what our energy future will look like.’ (8)
And how do politicians determine their policies? At least part of the answer is given by the journalist behind the Independent’s news story about Bell-Pottnger (9).
‘Although the PR industry claims that it is simply participating in the democratic process and contributing to the public debate it has to conceal most of its activities from public view if it wants to manipulate public opinion and government policy.’
‘The most important point is the behind-the-scenes influence. If PR companies are altering Wikipedia pages, manipulating search results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage, setting up fake blogs, writing addresses to the United Nations, that’s disturbing; if they have cosy, unpublicised access to politicians, that’s a scandal.’
For there to be a democratic process in government, there needs to be transparency, and to remove the lobbyists, the transnational consultancies, and the industry placements, completely or at least, much further away from government policy making.
The big six energy providers have government over a barrel, and they do not want to see their profits or power disappear with de-centralised micro-generation of renewable energy; Hence, Exxons funding of climate deniers discrediting climate scientists; Hence, misinformation about the capacity and security of renewable energy production; Hence, the inflated claims for CCS (carbon, capture and storage).
The Centre for Alternative Technology have developed fully researched blueprints for rapidly de-carbonising the UK by 2030 but they are largely ignored by the political process (10). ZCB 2030 demonstrates that nuclear, gas-fired power stations, oil and expansion of coal mining are simply not necessary, and, furthermore, are not financially justifiable.
The only purpose that continued use of fossil fuels, serves is in creating profits for, and maintaining the political power base of those, who pay the PR consultancies and lobbyists.
Green capitalism just ‘isn’t working’.. and it is certainly ‘hurting’ the global biosphere. We desperately need politicians who put the needs of people and the environment before the profits of vested interests.
Postscript: With all the sophisticated ‘smoke and mirrors’ that constitutes current political practice, it is little wonder that a psychiatrist in Ireland has suggested putting Lithium in the water supply to cheer us all up. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/shortcuts/2011/dec/05/should-we-put-lithium-in-water