25 February, 2005
|The Prime Minister
The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
Dear Prime Minister
Your leadership in the UK has now earned you a place in the record books but that is not a great achievement. When we say 'great' we think of Churchill, Gandhi, and Mandela; they were geniuses who were there when a crucial need arose and responded with heroism. You aren't in that league yet but we do think that it is reasonable for you to want to go on to be remembered, in history, as a great person. Under your leadership the problems with the health and education services, the economy, poverty, even environmental concerns etc have all been addressed with some limited success and, almost certainly, the New Labour government will be re-elected in May and you can continue to build on these successes. Unfortunately they will not qualify for international greatness. The way in which you made the UK a party to the invasion of Iraq, the efforts to obfuscate the justification for the attack and the incompetent occupation which followed, will, in the eyes of many people, completely dwarf these other issues. We hold that view; ironically, however, you are uniquely the right man in the right place at the right time to achieve something of extreme global importance. You could lead the way in tackling climate change, and, retrospectively, that is likely to be seen as the biggest, international, current issue. During the year 2005 you are going to be in a position to sway the thinking of nations who can positively address the problems of man-made climate change. We refer to the G8 presidency throughout 2005 and the EU presidency for the second half of 2005.
We would dearly like you to seize this opportunity but are not convinced that you are well informed, so let's talk about climate change and its cause. Its a simplification to say that CO2 emissions are responsible for global warming; nevertheless its a good approximation, so we accept that as our premise. Detractors may argue that only a small percentage of carbon gases are man-made, by far the greater proportion being due to natural causes. What they overlook is the fact that natural emissions are balanced by complementary natural sinking. On the other hand, man-made emissions, as we behave now, are not balanced out hence the apparently small difference we are creating amounts to a very significant change. At the root of these emissions is our gross consumption of energy (mainly to warm ourselves or travel around) and it is widely recognised that more economic use and conservation is necessary. What we want to focus on here is where we get the energy from.
Traditionally the main sources of energy are coal, oil and natural gas (fossil fuels). They are attractive because they are there, free for the taking like hidden treasure. But when they are burned its a one way process, the atmosphere increases its CO2 concentration and that is going to be the killer, literally. Furthermore fossil fuels are not renewable and they will run out. We are selling the family jewels and no one is going to replace them. There are, however, other available sources of energy which are renewable and do not, in any significant way, contribute to global warming. For example, we can capture the sun's rays today and generate electricity via Photo Voltaic cells, or we can capture heat, via water-filled heat exchangers. There are no bad emissions and the sun's rays will still be there tomorrow so this infinite source of energy is, in effect, renewable. A completely different renewable example can be illustrated if we consider wood burning. Then there are potentially harmful emissions but if we plant trees as sinks to compensate we are emulating nature by creating the critical balance. You may note that we have avoided the terminology 'alternative energy', preferring the word 'renewable'. Renewable fuels are alternative but in common usage the reverse is not necessarily true. In case you think this discourse is too simple then why do the UK government currently subsidise the use of 'alternative' fossil fuels in motor vehicles (see below)? There is a point to be made then: the lawyers, accountants and classics scholars who dominate the running of the country have to be informed, and to some extent replaced, by proper scientists and engineers. The use of the word 'proper' is to indicate that we do not mean embedded 'yes' men.
The question of scale is an important hurdle to overcome. Whatever the attractions of renewables, it is difficult to imagine generating enough energy to replace fossil fuels as the dominant source. This is a genuine problem but one to be solved. The usual argument is to say if, in the UK, wind farms were to replace existing electricity generating stations then the whole of the landscape would be covered by turbines, or if fields were planted with energy crops there would be no space left for food. We have to agree in principle with those simplistic judgements but counter argue that development and diversity are the solutions. Taking the UK as a for instance, there are massive potentials in the sea and river estuaries for wet power. There are already wave generators and offshore wind turbines but the potential for tidal, lagoon and under water devices could dramatically expand the quantities of realisable renewable energy. In their favour it is unlikely that they would attract so much local opposition as wind turbines but on the other hand would require a strengthening of the national grid around coastal areas. Substantial investment of time and money is needed but the savings from allied projects and the long term benefits could result in a considerable net gain. Further, if we could establish the technology here it could be an excellent export prospect and offer new solutions for other countries. Did you know that shallow geothermal energy can be generated in the UK? We also read that a British firm, D1 Oil, are planning to produce biodiesel internationally including, of all places, in Saudi Arabia. Clearly the individual countries of the world (and it is a worldwide problem) will have different geographical strengths to exploit. Africa is a country close to your heart and surely it has a vast potential which could be developed for the benefit of the local population. We repeat, development and diversification are the ways forward.
There are different kinds of pollution and some are worse than others. The emissions which cause global warming are, in essence, carbon compounds and then there are those which cause local pollution, and immediate health concerns, typically emissions such as sulphur compounds and particulates (soot). The focus of this letter is on the former but that does not dismiss the importance of reducing the latter; it does seem, as a bonus, that climate friendly fuels are also community friendly. In case you feel insulted by such low level arguments we think they need highlighting. For example your government gives substantial subsidies to encourage drivers to use Liquefied Petroleum Gas and Liquefied Natural Gas. LPG and LNG reduce local pollution and although LNG is preferable to LPG both are fossil derived and cause global warming. The technological differences between the engines and the distribution networks for these fuels and the traditional ones are significant. In contrast, biodiesel is an almost exact replacement for diesel in terms of engines and its distribution, and bio ethanol is a fairly close match for petrol. The subsidies for biodiesel do not create sufficient margin to be very effective and the subsidies for bio ethanol are slow to be introduced, and when they do come in they will be marginal, not proactively persuasive. It does appear that the bureaucrats who make these decisions (with your authority, of course) should be better informed and directed.
How about financing the developments we recommend? There is an obviously relevant source; the oil industry. How about windfall taxes on the record profits of this industry who have blatantly taken advantage of recent disturbances in the middle east? Then there are other businesses which could afford taxes when they have made atypically large profits, such as the banks. Another logical measure would be to increase the taxes on petroleum products, while favouring the non-fossil fuels. A further obvious contender is the flight industry, its about time that aircraft fuel taxes were brought in to line with those that the road users have to pay. You should wind down the subsidies on LPG and LNG over a responsible period of time. Reduce the costs associated with scandal-ridden BNFL and try to get them to bow out as they should have done.
Your main problems will be to persuade politicians and tycoons to accept the solutions. That assumes that you yourself are persuaded of the case and you will need to get genned up. You didn't get where you are by rocking too many boats, but to be fair you have upset a few sacred cows so maybe you are up to the job. You must accept that, by now, it is too late to prevent man-made climate change; there will be irrevocable, international, tragic consequences from the reactions we have already set in motion. That should not mute your efforts, however, because continued abuse of energy resources will only lead to enormous deterioration and minimising that trend is vital. You really are the right man in the right place in 2005 and you have already declared climate change as a main European agenda item. We don't presume to advise on politics, but suggest that you become well informed by June (OK so you're going to be the busiest man on the planet up to then but greatness has its cost) and don't underestimate the willingness of countries to recognise the problems; some of them are more environmentally aware than we are now: Germany, Scandinavia and Spain for example. The USA may seem obdurate when all you see is George W but it is a country with the highest regard for, and technical know-how on environmental issues. It seems the states which comprise the federation have more humanity than the federation itself. We could say similar things about Australia, but then that's a different story. The Kyoto Protocol has just been adopted but will not bring about a sea-change; what is important is that it stands as a symbol for the international recognition of global warming. We believe that the carbon trading agreements, often much maligned, are a lubricant which can make the development of the Kyoto ideals much easier. If, during this year, you could impress the gathered nations of Europe and Russia, Japan and Canada that would be a remarkable achievement. As for other nations, well we have to admit that the exclusion of large 'undeveloped' nations from the Kyoto quotas seems a flawed policy, but maybe events will convince them to make their contribution, sooner or later. There will be enormous export trade potential for nations who have done the research and development to generate renewable energies by various means. Please put us in the forefront of these new technologies.
In summary it is hoped that you can use your powers to produce some reversal in the climate change trend by:
(Gordon and Brenda Shaw, Envocare Ltd)
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Originated: 25 February, 2005, Last amended: 7 May, 2013