Monday’s announcement from the government of ‘bribes’ to be offered to local councils and communities that accept the presence of fracking for shale gas can be seen as a sign of two things.
The first is desperation – the resistance to the government’s enthusiasm to fracking has been strong and determined. From the camp at Balcombe in leafy Sussex, to the site at Barton Moss on the edge of Manchester airport, where 500 people gathered yesterday to show their opposition to the drilling there, across the country, surveys show that Britons understand that fracking is something they don’t want in their back yard, in their region, or in their country.
The second aspect of the government’s bribe is that they demonstrate fracking for shale gas is something you really wouldn’t want to have near you. Just like you offer a child a sweet if they’ll swallow their nasty-tasting medicine, the government’s very offer demonstrates the unattractiveness of fracking for shale gas for local communities.
Further telling news that emerged this week was the announcement that French multinational Total is to invest in fracking here. Banned for conducting the procedure in its own country, which has instituted a moratorium on fracking, as Germany plans to do and Bulgaria has long done, it’s planning to come here.
Not surprising really, when Prime Minister David Cameron is boasting that he’s offering the most generous tax regime in Europe – indeed overall more generous than that offered by the United States. So Mr Cameron is seeking to enrich big multinational fossil fuel exploiters, while giving scant attention to the alternatives.
The first and most important of these is energy conservation, above all providing warm, comfortable, affordable-to-heat homes. For at the heart of our fuel poverty crisis is the fact that we have the leakiest, hardest-to-heat homes in Europe. One pound in four that we spend on heating is immediately wasted, the heat wafting straight up through an uninsulated ceiling or out through a draughty door or window.
The arguments are presented by the Energy Bill Revolution campaign – that taking the government’s income from carbon tax and investing it in improving our homes could create up to 200,000 jobs, lift nine out of 10 households out of fuel poverty, and cut our carbon emissions.
And there’s no doubt about the cheapest, greenest energy that we can possibly have – it’s the energy that we don’t use.
The other alternative, of course is renewable energy – solar, on- and off-shore wind, and tidal. The last two of those in particular offers the opportunity to develop homegrown British technologies and industries – creating good jobs in science, in engineering and installation, transferring maritime expertise from the off-shore oil industry to the needs of our low-carbon future.
Furthermore, renewables offer price certainty – the ‘fuel’ for all, sun, wind, tide – is always going to cost nothing, unlike gas, the rising prices of which have accounted for 85% of the doubling of household bills over a decade. And they offer the possibility of generating the energy we need with minimum contribution to our carbon emissions – which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year incontrovertibly demonstrated that we need to reduce, fast, if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change.
So the government is desperate to promote what’s clearly a wrong policy direction – which does provoke a question… Why?
First, we have to note that this is a government of the friends of multinationals, for the multinationals – whether in banking, in retail, or in energy, it’s operating in the interests of its friends, not the common good. More, there’s a disturbing number of members of the government with close links to the oil and gas industry. And there’s an almost religious fervour opposed to renewable energy, particularly wind farms, in elements of our Parliament – what you might call the Ukip-tendency of the Tory Party, that Mr Cameron is determined to placate.
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