Government Ministers in Britain are fond of reminding people here – and abroad – that this country has made much more progress in limiting CO2 emissions than comparable economies. There is some truth in this, and because of this record, British Ministers are also able to take the high ground over targets for achieving cuts in CO2 elsewhere. What they don’t tell you of course is that Britain’s record on CO2 emissions is based largely on the fact that we have closed our coal industry down over the past decade.
In 1984, at the outset of the year long strike by British coal miners, the longest and most bitter of industrial struggles, there were over 200 mines employing over 200,000 miners. Today, there are just six deep coal mines employing three or four thousand miners. Britain’s coal fired plants are ageing and being phased out, and ‘clean coal technology’, some of it pioneered at the famous Grimethorpe plant in South Yorkshire, has largely been left to others, namely the Germans, to figure out.
I spent much of 1984-85 on miner’s picket lines in the Midlands and the North, and there will be other opportunities to tell some of the amazing stories from that time. Suffice to say, those of us who supported the miners did so not only because they were magnificent people, but because we all thought that Britain would be dependent on others for its energy needs in years to come. And so it came to pass, that today the lights are kept on largely by Russian and Algerian gas and oil from the Middle East.
I don’t think that the market can be relied upon to provide diversity and security of supply, which is why most sensible countries such as France have maintained diversity, and ownership of key energy sectors, as does Russia. Hilariously a French energy giant, EDF, now supplies large parts of Southern England with electricity, and while French law prevents EDF from passing on certain costs to customers, it can do whatever it likes to British customers. I suppose you could call in Napoleonic revenge.
I would like to see investment in carbon capture and clean coal technology, so that once again we can begin to access the coal reserves that should be able to last hundreds of years, and I would like to see a limited expansion of the nuclear industry with some serious investment in wind and solar power. The most effective place to station hundreds of wind turbines are in the Atlantic and the North Sea, and here is the rub. In the Gadarene rush to denounce everything that is deemed environmentally unfriendly, we are being rushed into some highly questionable decisions being taken – it seems – on the grounds of political correctness. For even if Britain were covered in turbines from Lands End to John O’Groats it’s unlikely that they would be able to supply even a small percentage of this country’s energy needs.
And then there is another question – just how environmentally friendly are these wind turbines? I have just received a letter from my friend Norman Denny in Northamptonshire. He like me is an aficionado of that unsurpassable English naturalist, author and artist, Denys Watkins Pitchford, or ‘BB’. Norman writes to tell me that permission is being sought to erect some wind turbines on the edge of Rockingham Forest, home to the magnificent Purple Emperor butterfly. Known also as ‘His Majesty’, the Purple Emperor is the most magnificent creature which has an unfortunate habit of soaring high – high enough to collide with the turbines. And so we have a nascent battle between local conservationists and the ‘environmentally friendly’ wind turbines brewing.
I’m looking forward to this one, even now dusting off my action notes from the battle to stop turbines being plastered all over the Catskills National Park.