Hothouse Earth

Dave Toke is not so rosy on Gove’s warming to sparkling wine prospects

As the UK sweltered along with much of the rest of the world Michael Gove was talking about how climate change would build the wine market. ‘“One of the opportunities of a changing climate is the chalky soil of parts of England, combined with the weather that we are having, means that English sparkling wine will have a bumper harvest’, he said in the Daily Telegraph on August 2nd. I suppose you could also think of other advantages for a British nationalist position. There’s no need to go on holiday in Spain to get the sun. People can just stay in the UK and enjoy the heat without having to meet many Spaniards. Although, having said that many Brits go to the Costa del Sol and just meet with fellow Brits anyway!

But of course, the truth is a lot darker. Heatwaves mean more fatalities, even in the UK. Meanwhile, as scientists have warned, by the year 2100 parts of the Persian Gulf and Northern China could become toxic for people forced to be outside air conditioned buildings for long periods. That is if the world continues to miss greenhouse gas reduction targets. Of course rises in sea levels will accelerate, although Gove’s constituency of Surrey Heath won’t be the first to disappear.

Some even talk about ‘tipping points’ whereby we are almost at the stage where a bit more warming will result in feedback effects that will increase the temperatures still further plunging us into what is called a hothouse Earth. But of course, the median projections produced by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change do not assume this. In reality things will get bad enough without assuming the ‘tipping point’ scenario.

Of course we don’t want to encourage people just to give up hope – like the old advert for a brand of Aussie lager that said the world is frying so you might as well have a drink! But neither should we engage with the Gove-like complacency that says that things will get as rosy as the glass of sparkling wine served up at a Tory summer fete!

Dangerous chewing gum

Meanwhile Friends of the Earth are campaigning for people to forsake mainstream chewing gum that is apparently just a form of plastic.  It seems our discarded bits of chew are thus just part of the mountains of plastic that are polluting the oceans. Originally chewing gum came from resin extruded from tree bark, but for a long time now it has come from oil based polymers. ‘Just One Ocean’ which is campaigning against plastic use put it this way: ‘The Wrigley Company uses butadiene-based synthetic rubbers, polymers synthesised from petroleum by products, similar to those used in car tyres,’ Now that does not sound so appealing! But, Iceland, the often ecologically sensitive retail chain, is now selling a biodegradable chewing gum that is not made from plastic. Iceland’s boss Malcolm Walker, said: “I absolutely detest the mess that discarded plastic chewing gum creates on our streets, and the fortune that is wasted by councils trying to clear it up.”

Blaming the EU

True to the stereotypical position of Brexiteers in blaming things they don’t like on the EU, Ian Duncan-Smith is blaming the EU for a policy on carbon taxes that was actually introduced by the Government in which he sat. He wrote in the Daily Telegraph on August 16th that ‘Outside the EU….the UK could….. decide how to reform emissions trading and wider climate change policy. Abolition of the damaging climate price floor mechanism would be a good place to start’. In fact the policy (really called the ‘carbon price floor’) was a purely British inspired effort to ensure that the carbon levy on fossil fuel energy used by the electricity sector was taxed at a more consistent rate by setting a minimum level of tax. Indeed the policy has impressed others in the EU so that other states, including France, are thinking of introducing it themselves. Perhaps Duncan-Smith’s ire is influenced by the fact that this (carbon price floor) policy was an initiative introduced by Chancellor George Osborne in 2011. These days, perhaps, Duncan Smith cannot tell the difference between something George Osborne did and what the EU has done.

I have warmed to the idea of a carbon price floor since it was introduced. It seemed at the time to be a measure that just kept old nuclear power stations running a bit longer whilst doing nothing to help new renewable energy schemes get started. That’s because companies need legally enforceable contracts to guarantee the future price for which they are going to be able sell energy. With politicians like Duncan Smith hovering around aiming to cut things associated with the word ‘climate’ in it, banks won’t lend funds to projects on the basis of such policies. But now some windfarms are getting older and could do with a bit of help to keep going, I’m warming to the idea, as is the climate in general.

David Toke is Reader in Energy Politics at the University of Aberdeen