Andrew Argyle: Energy panaceas collide wth Scandinavian wealth distribution

canary wharfsluline © david cliff, cc licence

The basic proposition that higher levels of atmospheric CO2 are likely to cause modest warming of the order of 1C is reasonably well-established and only a handful of people [which does not include the writer] challenge it.

The idea however that we are on the cusp of catastrophic global warming or anything like it is ultimately feasible but, for many, much harder to swallow.

Sceptical scientists ask to see evidence, to which the standard response is that ‘the science is settled’ and doubters should refer to climate computer model forecasts issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC].

Computer model predictions, sadly, are only as good as the assumptions and constructs upon which the models are built and the time-honoured computing admonition ‘GIGO’ [garbage in, garbage out], applies, ‘with knobs on’.

Suffice it to say, considerable controversy exists around the IPCC and their predictions of calamitous climatic consequences stemming from rising levels of atmospheric CO2 which, with time, are becoming steadily less dramatic.

Many, nonetheless, believe ‘the technology exists’ to build a green shangri-la in which nobody ever uses any energy again. This is delusional. These folks sound like the intro to the 1980s television show ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ ['We have the technology, we can rebuild him.'].

It’s true, of course, technology provides a marvellous fillip to our lives – how long is it since we put a man on the Moon, for God’s sake? So why don’t we just get on and do it?

It’s no good saying ‘the capitalists won’t permit it’ because capitalists are already ‘up to their ocksters’ in the so-called ‘green economy’.

The real problem with all these things is nobody can afford them except the rich. The ‘technology exists’ to holiday on the Moon yet we don’t make a habit of it. If installing insulation in a house is cost-effective, fine, if it isn’t, it’s actually a waste of resources; we would be better spending our money on something else, such as cheap electricity for those who need it, like the ‘fuel poor’, about thirty thousand of whom die, annually, of cold during UK winters.

Someone asked recently, ‘How many lives are you prepared to sacrifice by continuing to burn coal for electricity?”‘

My answer to that is ‘How many lives are YOU prepared to sacrifice by NOT burning coal, keeping shale gas in the ground and attempting to fill the energy gap with non-fossil fuel energy at twice and three times the price?’

Last winter saw 31,000 UK deaths caused by lack of warmth. That is the reality.

Where exactly are all these lives referred to being ‘sacrificed by continuing to burn coal for electricity’? If they’re in and around coal mining, then mining conditions need to improve – which will raise the cost of coal, which would help to improve the relative expense of non-fossil alternatives.

Or should we take into account the saving to the nation in NHS and care costs because the vast majority of those who died were over 75?

All this wishful thinking is often expressed in the context of a desire to progress toward Scandinavian-style income distribution which, akin to ‘saving the planet’, is another attempt to seize the moral high ground, saying ‘See, I’m better than you/them, I CARE.’ As if others do not.

It’s hard to argue there isn’t something wrong with our income/wealth distribution system and the Scandinavian way has much to commend it. The sad thing for those who make both arguments ['saving the planet' and 'fairer wealth distribution'] simultaneously, is that without drastic reform of energy policy [and hence, taxation], they are mutually-exclusive.

Our current pro-renewable/anti-fossil fuel energy policy is taking us, racing, in the wrong direction because the fabled ‘low carbon’ energy systems – twice and three times the price of conventional energy and charged directly to our energy bills – amounts to an extremely regressive form of stealth taxation, a multi-lane ‘Route 1′ for cashflow from the poor to the rich.

Andrew Argyle

Editor: The image above is of the Canary Wharf skyline in London, by David Iliff, reproduced here under the Creative Commons licence.

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35 Responses to Andrew Argyle: Energy panaceas collide wth Scandinavian wealth distribution

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this article. But I believe there is another issue that has never been explored and that is the difference in culture between Scotland and the Scandanavian countries. It has taken them centuries to develop policies of high tax and high provision of pulic services as highlighted in the TV programme “Our friends in the North”. I don’t think there would be many people in Scotland, even SNP supporters, who would vote for such a tax hike.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  2. The deaths from continuing to burn coal are due to the mercury and other pollutants released, and the increased frequency of extreme weather events as a result of climate change. That’s before we start on the impact on the environment of acid rain.

    Cold weather deaths are not wholly, or even mostly, attributable to high energy costs. Insufficient energy will be the cause of some deaths, certainly, but the problem you have is that making energy, say, 40% cheaper (which you might just about manage if you went to burning the cheapest, dirtiest coal you could find) would have little impact on the poorest in comparison with increasing pay and benefit levels by even 20%. The primary benefit would be to those on a mid to high income who could consume more for the same cost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

    • @ATMFeet,

      Do you have any statistics on these claimed deaths, how many, where and when they have occurred, etc.? If we have an appreciable number in the UK, then the issues would need tk be addressed and there is considerable scope in the price of coal to afford to do that.

      Miners often used to contract pneumoconiosis but we don’t hear much about that nowadays, presumably, because of the reduction in deep mining and improved conditions?

      Particulate emissions are unwelcome and modern plants deal pretty effectively with them.

      Any sensible measures to improve the safety and environmental performance of coal as a fuel will reduce the relative price gap between coal and renewables and that’s ok.

      On cold deaths, if 25,000 of the excess winter deaths are among people over 75 years old and you are suggesting the price of energy is not the cause then what do you think is the cause?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

      • The weather outside will have a lot to do with it. I’m not an expert in pathology and neither are you. You’re the one making the assertion, it’s up to you to evidence it. All you’ve got at the moment is a correlation and a hypothesis.

        Current premature deaths related to coal in the UK are hard to get precise figures for, but this gives some idea:

        Obviously that would increase massively if you were to build new coal in place of nuclear and gas as they are decommissioned. I don’t think the figures take into account the fact that we’d likely be buying in cheap coal from places with pretty dodgy working conditions so the excess deaths from mining are likely to be high (when it comes to electricity you can pretty much have one of cheap, reliable and clean). Then you’ve got to account for the fact that cutting energy prices leads to an increase in consumption, particularly in industry.

        A blanket price cut isn’t the solution. An increase in the winter fuel payment? Sure, so long as it is coupled by increases in tax on wealthy pensioners. Blanket electricity price cuts aren’t a good solution. I speak from my personal situation – I know full well that I’d have my heating on more if electricity were cheaper.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

        • ATMFeet,

          Whatever you might like to think, I don’t actually make this stuff up. Courtesy of the NHS:

          “What caused the excess winter deaths in 2012-13?

          As yet, no figures are available on the causes of excess deaths last winter, which was characterised by a milder than average December followed by a prolonged period of lower than average temperatures.

          However, it is widely acknowledged that the majority of excess winter deaths are caused by: diseases of the cardiovascular system, such as stroke and heart attack
          respiratory diseases, in particular the flu.

          The report points out that the cold has various physiological effects on the body that may lead to death in vulnerable people. For example, previous research associated a colder home temperature with increased blood pressure. Another study found that cold causes the blood to become thicker, which could lead to blood clots (thrombosis). The cold also lowers immune resistance to respiratory infections.

          The ONS report states that influenza levels increase in winter. For vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health problems, flu can lead to life-threatening complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

          The strains of influenza viruses were more severe in 2012-13 compared with 2011-12, leading to a greater number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions than the previous winter.

          There were also increases in winter deaths from dementia overall, and specifically Alzheimer’s, as well as deaths from accidental falls and injuries linked to wintry conditions. Falls are a common but often overlooked cause of injury in older people.

          Although excess winter deaths are related to low temperatures, hypothermia – a dangerous condition in which the body’s core temperature falls to dangerously low levels – is not the main cause of excess winter mortality.”

          Chapter and verse at

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

        • Assuming your study is valid the fatality figures, albeit, low by comparison with the excess winter deaths, are sufficiently high to cause concern and coal/coal power generation is cheap enough to afford considerable sums to be spent on reduction of polluting emissions – from which I exclude the invisible, odourless, virtually harmless (in atmospheric concentrations) trace gas, carbon dioxide, the misguided obsession with which has led to reduced focus on far more harmful emissions, like particulates which are responsible for much of the ill health effects you cite, not to mention, the melting of Arctic ice due to fall-out of soot from the developing world.

          Of course, if we have, potentially, as cheap or even cheaper shale gas under our very feet and choose to sit on it when it could be providing cheap energy with very few emissions other than CO2 and water vapour, we are responsible for the deaths and misery of those who are unable to afford to heat their homes, thanks to the foibles of the middle and upper classes.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

        • ATMF:

          I would like to know what the ” Extreme weather events” are…are they extreme because they are bigger, more damaging, more regular ? or are they “Extreme” because they now get reported more often by the mass media ? or we have some sort of base line records to refer these to, that show man is causing these events.
          The written word or something like it evolved around 30,000 years ago…

          The perception of Time is lost on humans…70 to 80 years of life in comparison with the last 100,000 years of weather or last 2.5 million years of upright two legged antics …make humbling reading…

          The last ice age cycle lasted around 60,000 years until 20,000 years ago…Ice age cycles have been occuring since around 2.6 million years ago…

          10,000 years ago we have the neolithic period, start of agriculture…death of mammoths due to glogbal warming.

          20,000 years ago there was a wee ripple that lasted 5,000 years…of abrupt cooling

          30,000 years ago Homosapiens thrived in a cold european climate

          40,000 years ago we have the cave art…and buffalo in Glasgow… wee warm bit of about 3,000 years

          50,000 years ago we have cave dwellers in northern Iraq…sheltering from the cold but still able to find nuts including acorns

          60,000 years ago man started burning forests in Australia ( a form of hunting) we also have a 10,000 year period of increasing tempratures of as much as +5 c recorded in sweden

          70,000 years ago> 80, 000 years ago we have man making fishing hooks on the south african coast

          73,000 years ago the eruption of Mt Toba impacted the global weather for around 5,000 years…with temp change of as much as +\-4c

          90,000 years ago to 100,000 years ago the last ice age started to affect northern europes eco system….

          And onto something we can relate to:

          Official weather records began in the UK in 1914.
          The England and Wales precipitation records go back to 1766.
          The longest running uk weather records began in 1665
          Stataticians in the UK base their findings on the 1914 records as these were governmental and not some guy with a jar and a ruler.

          So if records go back a 100 years can we really have much faith in so called ” events” been caused by our impact on a planet that is in a state of continual flux ?

          Saying something is unprecedented or extreme allows the people who look after our infrastructure & sell us our power a ready made excuse for not being able to deal with ” extreme”weather”…. drop the extreme…lets just call it weather ! I do not say there is no climate change….and I do not say that man is not having an impact….but lets not be so arrogant as to blame everything on mans ability to waste decent forms of energy….that were all incidentally created by a nuclear reactor… our home star.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  3. Actually it has not taken centuries to develop the ” Nordic System “. All four countries were relatively poor until a couple of generations ago, it was hardship which drove their populations to develop good welfare arrangements, and the industrial success to pay for them. And sadly there are a growing number of idiots over there who want to ditch the system for a low-tax Anglo-American one. The wheel turns,
    and lessons which were learned by bitter experience are soon forgotten.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  4. While in no way seeking to minimise the terrible loss of life due to lack of warmth , heavy drinking of alcohol causes the deaths of 33,000 people a year in the UK to say nothing of the misery caused to countless others .
    Politicians’ response has been to extend opening hours , cut excise rates in real terms and tolerate an underage drinking epidemic . Until the tide of excessive alcohol consumption is tackled seriously ,money that should be going on help with heating will have to be spent dealing with the consequences of a society where too many are addicted to booze .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

    • And wasn’t there an article published recently on the higher than average problems of alcohol abuse amongst young people living in Argyll?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

    • @Islay,

      Alcohol abuse is, as you say, a serious, growing problem and while I have some ideas about it, it’s a complex set of, often interacting, problems the causes of which too liitle is properly understood or if it’s understood, the understanding isn’t well known.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

    • Not that your point has much to do with the thread let alone article, but

      “Politicians’ response has been to extend opening hours , cut excise rates in real terms and tolerate an underage drinking epidemic”

      And what of minimum pricing IFE?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

      • Labour, tories and and lib dems oppose the raise on minimum pricing not because it doesn’t work but because the snp govt proposed it based on all medical opinion that shows it would work along with all the other measures.

        so more people will die as a result of the drinks pr men and bitter together.

        shame on them

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

        • I fully support a sharp increase on the duty paid on alcohol taken at UK level . Creating a situation where people cross the border to buy cheaper booze is not the best way forward .

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  5. The UK government has just announced plans to cut the so-called ‘green levy’ on fuel bills – to the sounds of cheering from the likes of Andrew Argyle.

    The bits they are cutting is the bit that pays for direct financial help for those affected by fuel poverty and the bit that pays for insulation grants and installations for the country’s least fuel-efficient homes.

    Exactly how is cutting this green levy helping with the problem of fuel poverty?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

    • Hi LS,

      It has possibly escaped you that I don’t support Coalition energy policy and while the average price of a household energy bill will fall by a welcome £50 per year as a result of this move, I feel under no obligation to defend it.

      As mentioned in the article above, if installing insulation isn’t cost-effective in terms of energy bill reduction then it is a waste of resources and it would be better to simply subsidise the energy bills of people who need it from general taxation, from which source it will be more closely scrutinised for value to the taxpayer.

      The problem is politicians are not trying to help the poor, they are mostly trying to win their “Green Blue Peter Badges” and have them presented live on the BBC by Al Gore. Such, alas, is the PR imperative of modern politics.

      What I would prefer to see would be a windfall tax on all the “snout-in-trough” shysters who are raking in the cash at the expense of the lives and misery of the less well-off and/or a retrospective reduction in wind energy and biomass subsidies, along with rebelling against the EU-initiated closure of coal power stations and an urgent acceleration of shale gas exploration and production, both on and offshore.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

      • Insulation is cost effective in almost every case. The problem is over what time period? Most people, particularly in a solid walled house, can’t afford the upfront cost even though it will be to their benefit in the long term. The Green Deal was supposed to sort this problem by allowing the cost to be pushed directly onto the energy bill. The problem is that the interest rates on the Green Deal are sky high for a loan that pretty much can’t be written off. Chop those rates down to CPI, as the government can easily afford to do given the current low rates of borrowing, and suddenly an awful lot more energy efficiency measures become available (which will, incidentally, provide a big boost to the economy in the short term).

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

        • ATMFeet,

          No issue with that in principle, the Green Deal as it stands will flop because nobody in their right mind will even enquire about how to apply.

          I understand, however (talk about ‘dead hands of government’!) that even if your reasonable suggestion were implemented, people would initiate the process and give up when they discover the paper trail of forms and hoops they (allegedly – I have no direct experience) have to jump through.

          I’m not against it if it’s reasonably cost-effective however I suspect many of the buildings inhabited by the fuel poor, especially, the aged, may not be amenable to retrofitting insulation. That could be determined on a case by case basis by a surveyor independent of the installation contractor and I don’t mind less-well-off people getting free insulation from my taxes, as long as it’s done sensibly.

          Not much of what has been going on has been remotely recognisable as being ‘sensible’, however.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

    • Ed Davey and the government have the best solution for fuel poverty, eliminate it (from close media scrutiny). It’s a political problem, after all, “We must improve its image, we must REDEFINE IT!

      So they are doing – painting over the cracks!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

      • Ah ,there you go again . This is not really about those suffering from fuel poverty at all , it’s just another excuse to have a go at the Coalition Government .
        I’ve just been watching a tv programme about Romania and the extreme poverty there caused by political mismanagement by the left ,you should take a look .

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

        • IFE,

          Ed Miliband and the last Labour government kicked off all this nonsense and the Liberals are forcing the Coalition to keep it going. The Tories were originally on board with it but, at least, some of them have seen the error of their ways.

          “Husky Dave” Cameron, for example, now allegedly says “We need to get all this green crap off people’s electricity bills.”

          I owe no allegiance to any of the lot of them, whether in the UK or purely Scottish context.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. Good articles, Malcolm and Karl.

    I particularly liked the quote from Judith Curry in yours, Malcolm:

    ““All other things being equal, adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will have a warming effect on the planet,” Judith Curry, a climatologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the Los Angeles Times. “However, all things are never equal, and what we are seeing is natural climate variability dominating over human impact.”

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  7. Indeed, and I wonder what the SNP will make of it. No doubt any decision will be deferred until after the referendum to ensure that no votes are lost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  8. The UK Energy Bill was signed by the Queen last week as the government opened up half of the UK to shale gas exploration and the United States and China reached a technology-sharing agreement to enable the Chinese to exploit their vast (bigger than the US) shale gas resources.

    2013 has been a very bad year for the greens – snow in Cairo and 3ft of snow in Israel! – chapter and verse in this excellent article

    I particularly like the photo. Enjoy!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. 2013 has been a very bad year for the greens – snow in Cairo and 3ft of snow in Israel!

    I would have hoped that someone who chooses to pontificate publicly on the issue of climate change at least understood the difference between climate and weather.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

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