What’s wrong with a Green New Deal? (Part 1)

17 04 2009

The Conservatives have unveiled their plans for a Green New Deal for the UK (although they do not call it that).  It is fast becoming an item of common sense, from Obama downwards, that the twin problems of recession and global warming can be tackled by investing in green technology, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

This may on the surface seem an eminently sensible suggestion. There is a problem in that the climate change agenda is so politicised it is almost impossible to work out from the outside what the real facts are. But let us assume for the moment that climate change needs to be addressed.

The first problem with the Green New Deal (GND) is that it is a very amorphous concept. However, as the Tory proposals demonstrate, the GND almost always begin with a requirement to cut energy consumption. If one intention of the GND is to stimulate the economy out of recession, then cutting energy consumption is an odd way of doing this. As the authors of Energise have pointed out, a more rational approach to the issue of carbon emissions is to accelerate the development of better and cleaner energy sources rather than cutting consumption which can only have the effect of lowering living standards.

Indeed, China, the fastest growing economy in the world, has 16% of its electricity produced by renewables, compared with 4.5% in the UK. This is because China’s rapid growth has stimulated research, development into and implemetation of new sources of energy. In the West by contrast the whole issue of renewable enegy has become linked to an anti-growth agenda. The subtext of the current discussion on the GND in the West is that it is part of the new austerity.

Whether you accept all or some of the climate change agenda, the solution lies in innovation and growth, not consumption cutting and austerity.



4 responses

17 04 2009

“cutting consumption which can only have the effect of lowering living standards.”

What bollocks. In what way are living standards reduced by incentivising a shop in the High Street to put a front door on, or put a door on its fridges? Ludicrous amounts of energy are needlessly wasted in our society in a way that would make no difference to quality of life if it was saved, in a way that will seem barbaric looking back on it from the future.

This is gamma minus contrarianism and I won’t be hurrying back for Part 2.

17 04 2009
James Heartfield

I agree that the problem with the green new deal is that it will tend to prioritise austerity and de-prioritise innovation. And that is reason enough to argue with it, to make the case for those things.

But between us, one ought not to be surprised if the green new deal lead, for all its overarching faults, leads to real innovations in some areas. Waging war was a pretty destructive direction of Europe’s resources between 1939 and 1945 – and yet it was a spur to many astonishing innovations, such as radar, nylon, the motor industry, airlines and telecommunications.

Also, it would be worth looking at Obama’s ‘Green New Deal’, of which Trewin Restorick tells me just 12 per cent of proposed spending has anything to do with being green, the rest being a conventional reflation package.

19 04 2009
julian dobson

I strongly recommend you look at the Sustainable Development Commission’s paper on ‘Prosperity without Growth’ – http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/redefining-prosperity.html – which deals with these issues in some depth.

I think the link between lower energy consumption and austerity is misconceived. Most versions of the green new deal are looking primarily at energy efficiency – getting better value from the energy we use, through, for example, large-scale home insulation programmes.

22 04 2009
Ben Pile

“Prosperity without growth” is the slogan of an intellectually bankrupt part of the establishment that is all too conscious of the fact that it can deliver neither. Except, perhaps, for itself.

The idea that an equitable redistribution of wealth can take place within an economy limited in size by environmental imperatives has yet to win over the hearts and minds of its putative intended beneficiaries. Neither ‘redistribution’ nor ‘environment’ are concepts that are rousing people to march in the streets for ‘EFFICIENCY NOW!’ So why are they at the top of the agenda?

Which interests are being served by the sustainability/efficiency agenda? Already it has increased electricity and fuel bills. The jobs it will allegedly create will be more manual. We may be ‘getting better value from the energy we use’, but not better value for money, nor for labour. Efficiency exists in many forms. Why is carbon the only way today’s ‘radical’ political campaigners can measure anything? Why is it that arguments for ‘redistribution’ can only be expressed is through environmental language?

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