Comments on the Energy Security Bill and the Next Prime Minister

Yesterday the Government introduced the Energy Security Bill into Parliament. It is good to see that the Government continues to function after the recent political upheavals, but would it not be good to get back to some normality as opposed to the recent dramas?

The new Bill aims to:

–         Boost Britain’s energy independence and security.

–         Attract private investment, reindustrialise our economy and create jobs through new clean technologies, as well as protect consumers.

–         Introduce new powers to help prevent disruption to fuel supply because of industrial action, malicious protests and on grounds of national security (comment: surely to be welcomed).

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plans-to-bolster-uk-energy-security-set-to-become-law  for details.

It includes new powers which will enable the extension of the energy price cap beyond 2023, shielding millions of customers across the country from being charged “unfair” prices as they call it. Or to put it another way – to protect consumers from the real world of market prices and hence making it uneconomic for some companies to operate in this sector. This is surely not a very “conservative” approach!  There are better ways to subsidise household fuel bills.

The clear objective is to reduce reliance on imported oil and gas and encourage offshore wind farms, nuclear power generation and other infrastructure that we need to achieve carbon reductions although the growth of nuclear is still at a snail’s pace. It is certainly worth reading the document on the Bill’s contents and the associated British Energy Security Strategy mentioned in it.

But will any new Government back-track on the net zero commitment which has made for some very expensive (the public do not know how expensive) policies as regards motor transport.

Let us hope that any new Prime Minister does not get the job by promising more tax cuts. It’s clear that Government expenditure is rising by commitments in the Energy Security Bill for example and in many other areas when what is really needed is reducing the amount of our wealth that is spent by the Government. In the last couple of years we have had a quasi-socialist economy with more willingness to interfere in the economy by the Government. But civil servants consistently back the wrong horses.

What the country really needs is a period of stability under a competent leader who everyone can support.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Census Results – A Problem the Government is Ignoring

Yesterday (28/6/2022) the Office of National Statistics released the first results from the 2021 Census in the UK. The population of England and Wales rose to 59.6 million which is an increase of 6.3% since the last census 10 years ago.

This substantial change which directly affects our quality of life was barely covered in the national media. More people mean more stress on housing provision, more vehicles on our roads and a bigger demand for health services (particularly as the population has aged – there are more older people and they are living longer). Some of the age increase can be blamed on baby boomers growing old.

The population increase has been concentrated in London and the South-East but older people have tended to move out of London being replaced by young immigrants (not just from overseas but from within the UK). The census data might also have been distorted as people tended to move out of central London boroughs to the country during the pandemic.

England now has the highest population density of all major European countries.

One major impact of more population is degradation of the environment – more air pollution and more waste. Here’s a good quote from Sir David Attenborough that is very relevant: “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people”.

What is the Government doing to try and tackle this problem?  In essence very little apart from rather feebly trying to restrict immigration. The birth rate is forecast to fall, but there is as yet no sign of any reduction in the population growth. A growing population might mean a healthy economy but the shortage of housing, particularly in the South-East, has been a major factor in political unrest while the elderly are facing problems in getting medical treatment as the NHS is over-stretched to cope.

The Government is being distracted by many other issues at present in a reactive fashion. Such problems as food and energy security would not be a problem if the UK population was reduced.

Likewise the growth of population, particularly in London and the South-East, has put great stress on the road network. Population growth has zoomed ahead of road capacity which has barely changed in the last few years. This is a recipe for more traffic congestion.

The Government surely needs to be less reactive to short-term problems and look at the longer-term issue of excessive population growth.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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SUVs and Campaign Against       

You have probably seen in the news a campaign against SUVs with tyres being let down. This is undoubtedly a criminal act which should be condemned.

But it’s worth saying that SUVs are an irrational choice of vehicle except for the very few who have a very large family or need to transport a lot of goods. An SUV typically is shaped like a brick and has a large frontal area. Therefore it will have higher wind resistance and fuel consumption than a smaller vehicle. If you want a luxury vehicle with plenty of space inside you don’t need to buy an SUV. Even electric SUVs will have a reduced range over comparable smaller vehicles.

So my view is that SUVs should be avoided and they have certainly contributed to higher overall air pollution in the last few years. But attacking the vehicle or their owners is wrong.

Roger Lawson

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Manchester Campaign Against CAZ and Bromley Air Quality

While Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, plans to expand his ULEZ scheme, in Manchester there has been a very effective campaign against their proposed CAZ scheme. Mayor Andy Burnham is now back-tracking on the proposals.

Daily charges for the most polluting vehicles that don’t meet emission standards – HGVs, buses, non-Greater Manchester licensed taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs) – had been due to begin on 30 May 2022 but will now not go ahead. The withdrawn legal direction would have led to charges for non-compliant vans, Greater Manchester-licensed taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) from June 2023. Private cars, motorcycles and mopeds were exempt. Concerns about financial hardship for local people and the availability of compliant vehicles led the Mayor of Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester local authority leaders to ask government to lift its legal direction. Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities have until 1 July 2022 to work with government to develop a new plan that will clean up the air while protecting livelihoods.

The campaign against the Manchester CAZ has 90,000 supporters under the banner Rethink GM. Go here for more information: www.rethinkgm.co.uk and to register support. On the home page click “Forums” then “Register” with just your name and email. The web site also provides a link to an active Facebook page.

Meanwhile the London Borough of Bromley have shown that it is not necessary to impose expensive ULEZ or CAZ schemes to clean up the air (most of that borough is outside the London ULEZ scheme). A press release from Bromley reports that updated data from the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory shows that between 2016 and 2019 there was a 23% decline in NO2 across the borough, a 19% decline in PM2.5 and a 28% decline in PM10 particulates.

Bromley claims to now be the “cleanest and greenest borough in London”.

For more details see Bromley press release here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/news/article/2825/big_improvements_in_air_quality

Comment: Bromley has of course ignored demands for LTNs and road closures and is keen to keep traffic moving. But they have pursued positive initiatives such as electric bus trials. Unlike many Labour controlled boroughs in London they have taken a more empirical and less dogmatic approach to the air quality issue.

Readers are reminded that the London ULEZ did little to contribute to improvements in air quality so why is the Mayor wanting to expand it? See https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/11/17/ulez-had-minimal-impact-on-air-pollution/ . It will cost a great deal to install hundreds of new cameras to expand the zone and high operating costs, apart from the impact on residents who will need to buy new vehicles or pay £12.50 per day. Although the Mayor says he has abandoned the idea of a boundary charge for people driving into London from outside, the extra cameras will make it very easy to introduce such a scheme!

Roger Lawson

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A Great Article from Matt Ridley on Global Warming

Matt Ridley has issued a great blog article on “How Global Warming Can Be Good For Us”. The author of many books on science which are all worth reading, he argues in his latest article that global warming is real, but so far it is mostly beneficial. The biggest benefit from emissions is global greening as forests expand and more rainfall means more land can be cultivated. But there are several other advantages which are ignored by the prophets of doom and popular media who prefer to report only bad news.

For a more balanced view of the problem, read the article here: https://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/how-global-warming-can-be-good/

The current Government aim of achieving “Net Zero” at enormous financial cost with accompanying attacks on petrol/diesel vehicles and gas boilers is driving up inflation and making many people poorer. A more nuanced approach would be much wiser.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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How the World Really Works – Book Review

It is important for everyone to understand what factors are driving the world’s economies. This is particularly so when there are concerns about global warming and the alleged degradation of the environment as the world’s population continues to increase.

A good primer on this subject is a recently published book by Prof. Vaclav Smil entitled “How the World Really Works”. The author covers wide ranging topics from energy supply to food supply in a very analytic way based on established facts rather than polemics which he criticises as being far too common in the modern world.

His chapter on food production is particularly interesting and he shows how we now manage to feed 8 billion people reasonably well which would have been inconceivable 100 years ago. How do we do it? By using energy supplied mostly from fossil fuels to create fertilizers and by manufacturing farm machinery and road/rail/shipping transport to distribute the products efficiently. The author points out that if we reverted to solely “organic” farming methods we would be lucky to feed half the world’s population.

He covers the supply of key products such as steel, plastics and cement which are essential for our modern standard of living and how they are not only energy intensive in production but that there are few alternatives. He clearly supports the view that the climate is being affected by man’s activities but points out that the changing of energy production, food  production and the production of key products cannot be easily achieved. Certainly it will be difficult to achieve that in the timescales demanded by European politicians when the major carbon emitters of China, India, USA, and Russia are moving so slowly.

Meanwhile any forecasts of the use of oil declining or reserves running out should be treated with scepticism as the price of oil reaches a 7 year high of $95 per barrel. No doubt there will be the usual gripes by motorists who drive petrol/diesel vehicles over the price of fuel and the claimed excess profits being made by oil companies, which in my view are a persistent myth. If you look at the profits of companies such as BP, which it has been suggested should be subject to a “windfall tax”, they are not particularly great if averaged over the last 20 years. In fact returns on capital invested are worse than for many other public companies.

The author looks at the risks in the future for the world, many of which are uncertain. He mentions the risk of a big “Carrington event” – a geomagnetic storm occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage due to extended outages of the electrical grid. If that is not enough to scare you he suggests that another pandemic similar to Covid-19 is very likely as such epidemics have happened about every 20 years in the past and might be more virulent in future. But planning for such events, which were historically well known, was minimal and continues to be so.

He does not propose solutions to global warming other than that we do have many tools to enable us to adapt and cope with the issue. For example, farming could be made more efficient and wasted food reduced. Electrification of vehicles might help in a minor way and he is particularly critical of the increase in the use of SUVs in the last 20 years which has been particularly damaging (I cannot but agree with him on that point – if folks are concerned about the high price of fuel they should purchase more economic vehicles and particularly avoid SUVs). But this is not a book containing simple remedies to the world’s problems. It is more one that gives you an understanding of how we got to where we are now and where we might be going.

For example, the use of coal in energy generation can be much reduced, and oil/gas also to some extent. Nuclear fission is a good source of clean energy and fission is a possibility even if he was not aware of the latest announcements on the latter. But it is inconceivable that there will be short-term revolutions in energy supply.

Altogether the book is worth reading just to get an understanding of how the world currently works – as the book’s title suggests.

Incidentally some of the events covered in How the World Really Works are also discussed in my own recently published book entitled “A Journal of the Coronavirus Year” which covers not just the recent pandemic but the changes that have happened in the last 75 years of my lifetime including some of the vehicles I have owned. It’s now available from Amazon – see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Journal-Coronavirus-Year-2020-2021-Biographical/dp/0954539648/ for more information.

Roger Lawson

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