James Woudhuysen: Net Zero will take over our lives

The new energy White Paper will force us to obsess over the minutiae of everyday energy consumption.

Surely everyone remembers Boris Johnson’s ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, hyped in mid-November with his 10 Point Plan? Or maybe not. So familiar was his shopping list of eco-initiatives that it wouldn’t be a surprise if many eyes glazed over. But now more meat has been added, with the publication of a new, 170-page government White Paper: Powering our Net Zero Future .

Alok Sharma, minister for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, provides a foreword and sets the tone. Failure on the part of UK consumers to cut back on fossil fuels in their homes and cars, he says in a roundabout way, ‘will result in natural catastrophes and changing weather patterns, as well as significant economic damage, supply chain disruption and displacement of populations’. So far, so Greenpeace.

According to the White Paper, the government wants to encourage the insulation of homes, the ‘rolling out’ of smart meters, plus smart washing machines, smart dishwashers and smart tariffs. There will be an end to conventional cars and vans, and, instead, a ‘transition to clean, zero tailpipe emission vehicles’.

It all sounds expensive but there are a few nods to the affordability of it all for vulnerable households. And, the government assures us, it will create new ‘green’ jobs. But within four pages, a projection of ‘up to’ 250,000 green jobs by 2030 becomes ‘up to 220,000 jobs per year’ by 2030’. To put this speculation in perspective, Britain’s offshore wind sector currently supports just 7,200 direct jobs. But apparently, we are just on the cusp of a global Green Industrial Revolution, the White Paper insists.

Powering our Net Zero Future is repetitive. It predictably uses terrible English, replete with go-to clichés. There are nearly 150 uses of that loaded adjective, ‘clean’. There’s also the usual limp jingoism, as in, ‘We will continue to demonstrate international leadership’, and in a boast about the UK’s ‘co-leadership of the Powering Past Coal Alliance’, whatever that might mean.

The problem with the White Paper, though, is not simply its surfeit of soundbites and its chaotic inconsistencies. Tellingly, the relentless focus is on how we as members of the public need to be brought into line. For instance, there are 300 mentions of homes and houses, but just four for factories, and three for lorries and trucks. The main novelty of the White Paper is that it wants to use smart IT to help ‘engage’ consumers so that they can ‘make a personal contribution to delivering a clean energy system’. In other words, it demands more day-to-day involvement from us in managing our energy use. What a bright, participative, democratic future for us all!

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  • Date: 19/12/20
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