Global environmental challenges
Climate change and economy — politicians need courage
Slowing economies and tightening domestic budgets are combining to pose a stern test of moral backbone for politicians, many of who have a view of the future that extends to the next election and little further.
Already some voices are being raised to call for a slowdown in actions to curb carbon emissions because of the cost involved, facing politicians with the apparent choice of bowing to the calls from their constituents in the hope of keeping their seats at the next election or standing firm because it is the right thing to do for the long term.
British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks acknowledged the dilemma at a seminar in the House of Commons on Wednesday, noting that affordability was a tricky issue and urging his fellow politicians to guard against the pressures to take their feet off the climate accelerator.
The issue was thrown into stark relief by a report from the Centre for Policy Studies think tank that said meeting the European Union’s renewable energy target of 20 percent by 2020 could cost more than 4,000 pounds per household.
This is in part because the space in Britain for onshore wind farms is running out, offshore costs more than twice as much and tidal is in its infancy.
But in part at least it is a false choice. Numerous studies show categorically that many actions like improved home insulation, turning down air-conditioning or central heating thermostats, using less water, recycling and changing lightbulbs save more than they cost very quickly and involve little effort.
At the same time there are vast, and as yet largely untapped, savings to be had from improved energy efficiency. The trick is to inform and persuade the public.
As another speaker at the meeting said by way of illustration — it is like two economists walking down the street when one spots a $100 bill on the pavement. “Look,” he says to his companion. “A $100 bill on the pavement”. To which his colleague replies; “There can’t be otherwise someone would have picked it up already.”
The failure to act effectively on energy efficiency is a bit like having pavements strewn with $100 bills, the speaker noted.