Azara Blog: June 2010 archive complete

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Date published: 2010/06/30

Committee on Climate Change produces second annual report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Major changes in policy are still needed to meet climate targets despite emission cuts brought about by the recession, say government advisors.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) calls for a "step change" in power generation, insulation and transport.
...
The is the committee's second annual report to parliament, and follows a year in which UK greenhouse gas emissions plummeted by 8.6%, mainly due to the recession but also because of increased fossil fuel prices.

"The recession has created the illusion that progress is being made to reduce emissions," said CCC chairman Lord Adair Turner.

"Our analysis shows that this is almost wholly due to a reduction in economic activity, and not from new measures being introduced to tackle climate change.

"So we are repeating our call for new policy approaches to drive the required step change, in order that the UK can ensure a low-carbon recovery."
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"We had less than 1 Gigawatt (GW) of renewable capacity added to the system in 2009," said CCC chief executive David Kennedy.

"We need in the order of 2-2.5GW added each year over the next 10 years in order to meet our carbon budget and European targets for renewables.
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UK emissions are currently 26% below the 1990 level - the baseline year most commonly used national, European and global policy.

Until 2008, most of this fall was down to the "dash for gas" in the early 1990s and a halving of methane emissions.

But the significance of the recession is shown in the government's recent admission that the 8.6% fall from 2008 to 2009 was the largest single-year decline in the entire record.

The fall, said Mr Kennedy, makes it feasible for the UK to increase its 2020 target from the current 34% emission cut to 42% - the UK's projected share should the EU move from its current 20% target to 30%, as the government is urging.

The CCC is one of the thousands of useless quangos that plague the nation. Unfortunately one of their missions is to produce an annual report, and this kind of report is obviously going to focus on the year prior to which it is written. But with climate change there is no point in looking at one single year in isolation. During the boom years none of the ruling elite pointed out that emissions were really above where they would have been if only Britain had been living within its means. So when a recession happens there is no point complaining that emissions have fallen. The only sensible thing to do is look over an economic cycle (or longer). And over the economic cycle the UK is going to meet the 2020 emissions target. If that disappoints the UK ruling elite it is only because it gives them less excuse to flagellate ordinary people with punitive taxation.

(Of course the way emissions are calculated is completely bogus, since they are counted at the point of production rather than the point of consumption, so Britain and the EU have exported a huge amount of emissions to China and elsewhere. This will end soon enough because the EU is sinking down the economic ladder, thanks to the determined effort of the ruling elite, and so the EU will soon not be able to afford so many imports.)

Date published: 2010/06/15

Gilbert Road will have cycle lanes but no speed bumps (permanent blog link)

The Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet had a meeting today to discuss, amongst other things, the proposal to ban parking in the cycle lanes on Gilbert Road, and also to put speed bumps (or, as the bureaucrats would have it, "traffic calming") all the way up the road. As with the meeting on 23 February, the room was packed out with interested parties.

The media (including the Cambridge News and the BBC) had portrayed this as a battle between the residents of Gilbert Road, who obviously did not want to lose their parking, and cyclists, by which they really meant the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC) (who represent some, but not most, cyclists in Cambridge).

Needless to say, this ignored everyone else who is a stakeholder in Gilbert Road. So not only were drivers ignored (but Cambridge always ignores drivers since allegedly they do not count) but also all the residents of north Cambridge who happen to live near but not on Gilbert Road. In particular, it was obvious to one and all (except the bureaucrats and the CCC) that the speed bumps would likely encourage rat running of motorists away from Gilbert Road, a relatively main road, to side streets.

Mike Todd-Jones (acting in a personal capacity rather than as a member of the Labour Party) organised a petition a week or two beforehand requesting that the rat running situation be analysed before the speed bumps were installed. This meant that he was given three minutes to put his case at the start of the meeting. And he made the argument in good order. In particular, there is an obvious rat running route from Histon Road down Roseford Road, Perse Way, Carlton Way, Metcalfe Road and Courtney Way, which avoids all current and planned speed bumps.

As an exercise in "fairness", the Cabinet also allowed the CCC spokesperson, James Woodburn, to speak for three minutes, although this seems to have been against the rules, since the CCC had no new petition, and petitions are not allowed to be repeated. He argued that the speed bumps would not encourage rat running (but why the CCC pretends to know anything about how drivers view speed bumps is a mystery). And he argued that a postponement of the decision would affect future funding (emotional blackmail). And he bizarrely claimed that the Todd-Jones petition was "too late", because the public survey carried out before the February meeting had allegedly settled it once and for all that the "public" allegedly supported the proposal. What he failed to mention is that the CCC had emailed all its members in February to ask that they fill in the survey en masse so as to bias it towards the result they wanted. And so the survey was completely bogus. (But pretty much all public surveys like this are bogus, exactly because special interest groups like the CCC can hijack the proceedings.)

Roy Pegram, the Cabinet person responsible for pushing for the Gilbert Road proposal, then spoke. He said that the correspondence he had received had been split 50/50 for and against the proposal. Again, this is meaningless. Anyway, it was pretty obvious that he had thrown in the towel over the speed bumps proposal because he was fairly lukewarm in his presentation.

One of the other Cabinet people (Mac McGuire?) pointed out that there were two parts to the proposal, so the parking ban (so that the current cycle lanes became real cycle lanes) and the speed bumps. Somehow this had not been mentioned by anyone in the Cabinet before, but it was the relevant point. One could have one without the other.

Kevin Wilkins, a Lib Dem county councillor for West Chesterton (but not in the Cabinet), then spoke. He said he himself was not a cyclist but was very keen on both aspects of the proposal, so both the cycle lanes and the speed bumps. Bizarrely he called this view a "compromise". Only in Lib Dem fantasy land. Mac McGuire pointed out that Wilkins had not even attended the two PDG (Policy Development Group) meetings since February to discuss Gilbert Road. Oops.

A few people from the Cabinet then spoke, including Fred Yeulett, Tony Orgee, Martin Curtis and David Harty. It was Martin Curtis who stuck the fatal blow against the speed bumps. He had apparently run as an MP in Nottingham in the recent election (not successfully, it seems) and said that in Nottingham they even had a dual carriageway where there were cycle lanes, so it was not obvious why Gilbert Road needed speed bumps. Nobody official pointed out that Histon Road, which is much more dangerous than Gilbert Road, has cycle lanes and no speed bumps, although there were murmurings from the audience about this.

Harty explicitly supported Curtis and then Pegram officially threw in the towel on the speed bumps and all the cabinet agreed that there should be dedicated cycle lanes, so no parking, and also no speed bumps. And after the cycle lanes are in, they will come back to look at the question of whether speed bumps are needed. Well, there probably won't be any money available at that point, so the speed bumps are unlikely to appear in the near future.

The cycle lanes will be "advisory" rather than "mandatory". This is because apparently the police have to enforce "mandatory" cycle lanes whereas the local authority can enforce "advisory" ones. And none of the politicians trusted the police to do their job (indeed, several were amazingly rude about the police), so "advisory" it is.

It seems that 300k of the 400k pounds that was unbelievably going to be spent on this scheme can probably be diverted elsewhere in the county, and no doubt that meant the politicians were happy that they were not throwing away "free" money.

Needless to say, the main losers are the residents of Gilbert Road, who will no longer be able to park on the road. This will have some impact on side streets as well, with parking spilling over.

The Lib Dems also came out pretty badly, although no doubt they will trumpet their masterful determination to get the cycle lanes. So the local Lib Dem representatives pretty much all put the interests of the CCC ruling elite above the interests of their constituents. (Tim Ward, a Lib Dem city councillor for Arbury, indicated privately that he opposed the proposal as it stood.)

It is unfortunate that no real compromise had been considered since the February meeting. So it seems that the bureaucrats had literally done nothing since then. Their main argument for the proposal (including the speed bumps) boiled down to two bits of emotional blackmail: the possible loss of future funding if the county didn't do as told, and the alleged safety of children (although the rat running could in theory make that worse). Because of the funding issue, they were evidently satisfied just to "run out the clock" rather than doing anything constructive like talk to the residents of north Cambridge, in the intervening four months.

There was a possible compromise. So it's quite feasible that there could be two dedicated cycle lanes, and also one side of parking at least in stretches along the road, if only the bureaucrats could have been bothered to try. The photo

shows the situation as it often occurs these days along the southern end of Gilbert Road. So cars can (currently) park in the cycle lane if they wanted, but they are nice enough not to (although who knows if what they are doing is technically illegal). And there is still space for pedestrians, as well. Anyway, parking is obviously not going to be considered as an option for Gilbert Road.

There is one occasion per year when the whole southern section of Gilbert Road is currently used for parking, and that is for Guy Fawkes night. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in future, e.g. whether the authorities will turn a blind eye to people parking in the cycle lanes that night.

Date published: 2010/06/07

Robert Peston cannot cope with criticism (permanent blog link)

Robert Peston write on his BBC blog about "the coalition's commitment to equalise the rate of capital gains tax with income tax capital gains":

What I am really interested in is the effect on the housing market.

Because it is the uncertainty about what's going to happen that's doing the real damage.
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If the uncertainty persists about when the new higher rate will be introduced, the negative effect on house prices could be much greater.

Because for those sitting on significant capital gains above the tax free rate of £10,100, it becomes rational to flog properties pronto - to take advantage of the 18% rate and avoid a tax rate that looks set for most property investors to rise to more than double that.

In a housing market that is still weak, a wave of panicky sales could push down prices in a significant way.

This is an incredibly naive, and one could say damaging, article for a BBC business editor to write, because it completely ignores indexation. Peston's blog allows comments, and the following comment was made:

Robert Peston has unbelievably completely ignored the issue of inflation indexation in the calculation of CGT. Although the 18% figures looks lower than the 40%/50% figure, the former ignores inflation and so makes the CG artificially bigger the longer you hold the asset. If the LibCon government re-introduces the CGT rate being the same as the income tax rate (fair enough, since CG can be thought of as deferred income) then I am assured by my LibDem MP that indexation will also be re-introduced. Of course the devil is in the detail, but it seems to me that Robert Peston is not doing his job, he should be asking his (far better) sources about indexation and reporting back to us, rather than these kind of half-baked stories.

Apparently, after being posted on the BBC website for over a week, either Peston or one of his flunkies took exception to someone pointing out how bad his article was, and the comment was removed, for allegedly being against the BBC's House Rules.

Our Easter Island Moment: is it already too late to save the environment? (permanent blog link)

Sarah Mukherjee gave a Centre for Science and Policy Distinguished Lecture late this afternoon. Mukherjee was an environment correspondent for the BBC before taking voluntary redundancy earlier this year. The CSP is an attempt to foster connections between policy makers and scientists and engineers. It's headed by David Cleevely, one of the city's movers and shakers, and its executive committee has the usual sorts of suspects, so it ought to be influential, although it remains to be seen if it will be.

The title of Mukherjee's talk was "Our Easter Island Moment: is it already too late to save the environment?", and the discussion was about climate change, rather than any other environmental problem. Her main thesis was that the Climate Change Act (2008), which commits the UK government to reducing emissions by 80% by 2050 and which was supported by all three main political parties, was already dead and it was only a matter of time until some government repealed it.

She takes as some evidence for this belief the fact that during the economic crisis all the politicians are fixated on the economy rather than the environment, and never mention the latter when talking about the former. Well, the economic crisis started in 2007, so before 2008, so that's one problem with this argument. And as Mukherjee pointed out, a year or two ago the politicians were falling over themselves to "out green" each other. In particular, Cameron had used the environmental message to try and "detoxify" the Tory brand.

Mukherjee claimed that some person high in the Lib Dems had told her that they were the most "green" party "only because we didn't think we'd get into office". Well that is not quite fair, since the Lib Dems are full of the usual academic middle class types who love to portray themselves as "green", and so most of them presumably believe the rhetoric.

Apparently Jonathon Porritt claimed that "Britain leads the world in climate change rhetoric". Well, Porritt is a perfect example of that. Britain has far too many people who campaign and write books rather than actually contributing something useful to the world (think science and engineering).

Mukherjee claimed that the only legal sanction for a future government failing to meet the goals of the Climate Change Act was judicial review, which she considered a bit of a joke, but which is fair enough, since why should a future prime minister go to prison just because previous prime ministers failed to do something or other. But it does show one of the flaws with the entire concept of the Act.

She put the alleged current lack of interest in climate change amongst politicians down to three things.

First, there is the declining number of British people who believe that "global warming" is a reality. Well, a lot of that decline could be attributed to the silliness of Climategate, or maybe the cold winter Britain just had, who knows. But as someone pointed out in the questions at the end, this kind of blip in opinion polls happens all the time, and it is probably not significant in the long term.

Anyway, she took the opportunity to state that one of the problems was that there was "no engagement between politicians and ordinary people" and that politicians only paid attention to the media, as if somehow the media represented ordinary people. And she had a dig in particular at newspapers for having far too much influence. So the Guardian has only 300 thousand readers, which size of audience she claimed would sink most radio programmes, but the Guardian (and the other newspapers) had instant access to all the top politicians.

The second reason she gave for the alleged waning interest in climate change by politicians is the Energy Gap. So Britain, by some accounts, is in serious trouble of having the lights going out by 2020, and this is one of the big failures of the previous Labour government, but most likely the government in charge at the time when blackouts start happening will be the one that gets the blame.

And the third reason she gave is the failure of the Copenhagen 2009 climate change conference. She put that down to the conference just being too big for any hope of cohesion, and in particular blamed the NGOs (so she said that they had "collapsed it from inside"). Well, the media were also part of the circus, and in particular Mukherjee, so they should also shoulder their part responsibility. She claimed that the EU delegation was completely ignored by the real players (the US, China, India, Brazil).

Bizarrely enough, she showed three of her own reports from Copenhagen, but they added nothing to the discussion, so perhaps it was just useful padding.

Her take on all this was that to overcome these issues, Britain must "invest in elite academic education", and in particular in science. She was keen to stress that "elite" is not the same as "posh". Well, although more and better education is a good thing, it's hard to see this as the main stumbling block in Britain over climate change. Far more serious is that no politician has come up with a narrative whereby they are going to address climate change and make peoples' lives better rather than worse. Part of the problem, as Mukherjee noted, is that there is a dominance of "puritanism" amongst NGOs, who want to move the world back a couple hundred years (so pre-industrial revolution). Mukherjee didn't point out that the reason this kind of puritanism gets such traction in Britain is that the BBC gives these people loads of free air time without any critical analysis or comment.

Apparently Mukherjee grew up on a council estate and went to a grammar school and then Oxford, so the kind of rise that allegedly is less and less common these days, thanks, some people would claim, to the anti-elitist destruction of grammar schools. And it sounded like she was pretty nearly alone in the BBC, which is stuffed full of the same "public" (i.e. private) school types that the cabinet is now stuffed full of. (She made the obvious remark that the current cabinet made the world look more like 1910 than 2010.)

During questions someone asked whether the BBC gave too much airtime to climate change "sceptics" and she said not. Someone else suggested that if only Britain had voting system "reform" (i.e. proportional representation) then all would be well on climate change leadership, but letting extremists (left and right) into Parliament is hardly a great idea. Mukherjee said it might be good to get more Greens into Parliament since they are single minded, i.e. presumably willing to screw ordinary people to achieve their goals. She pointed to the alleged success of the so-called London Congestion Charge as to what could be achieved, but that is a success only in the minds of people who don't mind millions and millions of pounds of money being wasted to run the scheme.

Someone mentioned the town hall meetings where the Climate Change Act was propagandised by the usual NGO suspects (Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, etc.). Mukherjee herself had pointed these out as an important reason the Act was passed, and praised them for this reason. But she and the questioner completely failed to point out that these meetings were not representative of the public but just of the usual vocal middle class suspects. And far too much power in Britain has been shifted away from the accountable politicians to the unaccountable vocal middle class.

Someone mentioned how it might take less energy to produce GM crops. And Cambridge is one of the few towns in Britain where GM crops get some kind of sympathy vote, although there is also plenty of opposition even in Cambridge from the usual non-scientific ("chattering") middle class. Mukherjee supported GM crops, but didn't point out that the very same NGOs she praised for pushing the Climate Change Act were the ones who had helped stop GM crops. Instead she blamed the media, and Monsanto for allegedly not responding to the strident anti-GM propaganda (but that's a bit hard to believe). Anyway, she believes that the European elite is going to lose its battle against GM since the rest of the world seems to grow it just fine.

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