Professor Ian Boyd’s remarks this week about how the UK and the rest of the world needs to change how they behave have been widely transmitted through the UK press this week, and despite his undoubted career achievements in ecology, the arctic and in marine biology, he seems to have missed out on one study, how people behave. Sir Ian Boyd has been giving press interviews as he is just ending a long distinguished career advising the British government on all things scientific.
The idea that society “en masse” will change its diet, change its fashion habits and change its travel arrangements because the environment “needs it to” shows a shocking naivety of how people tend to behave. To the young it reeks of “your generation had everything, but used it up, so we have to go without.”
Individuals do not sit about waiting to be informed on any subject by technologists. They either do not believe what they are told or they do not move in the right circles to become aware of it. If their social media preferences do not expose them to these ideas, they will never understand what is required, less chance of agreeing to it.
And more than anything people will believe what they want to – take climate change denial – particularly prevalent among those in the fossil fuel industry whose entire salary package relies on them not believing it – and while some will diligently change their habits for an ideal – many won’t.
And it is a cop-out to expect them to. The responsibility of everyone in the energy industry is to push for innovation, and that innovation must continue for the next 30 years at least, through 2050, to rebuild everything we have done in the past, in a non-fossil fuel manner. Instead of saying that everyone should take airplane flights less often, Sir Boyd should have said the flight industry needs to innovate so that taking a flight does not put more CO2 into the atmosphere – and then taking flights is not a problem.
Many socialists write that it is all the WTO’s fault, and that if we did not have world trade, everything could be manufactured locally and it would not cost CO2 to transport it, usually by ship, to the markets it needs to reach. This is the same idiocy. You are not going to save the planet by blocking international trade – but by enabling it, dumping bunker fuel for Ammonia, and facilitating the change to a carbon neutral form of trade transport.
Yes it behooves various governments at various times, to give these technologies a leg up, usually to get them started on the innovation trail – and show their proponents what it truly possible. Take Electric Vehicles – cars have been sold to people from time immemorial based on them becoming a brand extension of ourselves. If you want to look cool, buy this sports car. Some people buy based on how many miles per gallon a car will do and how much CO2 it will give off, but others don’t give a hoot, it’s the feel of the car on the road, and how it handles and how it makes them feel. Yes we are vain creatures. But it is not the job of chief scientists to say “This is all we can manage so all go out and buy boring cars.” It is the job of the car makers of the future to make EVs that are better than combustion engine cars – make them cheaper, easier to drive, and longer lasting, which handle well and look cool. Yes a government here and there may have to put some money or tax incentives the way of the innovators at first, but eventually new ideas must stand on their own feet.
This is why it is so exciting to be in the renewables industry right now. The men who floated the first Wind Farm out in the middle of the ocean, towering above the waves like giant statues, must have felt the engineers who built the Colossus at Rhodes. They are immense achievements of science, gigantic and totally new, and entirely harmless.
Instead of thinking about this as being a duty which lets us save the planet, this is an opportunity to take a 150 year old electrical industry and reinvent it and in the process make it far better. It is a time for ideas, not personal sacrifice, a time for investment, not another era of austerity.
There are around 50 different makes of EVs in China, and 500 applications from fresh companies which want to be allowed by the government to join in and make more. Certainly some investors will lose cash supporting the wrong ideas, but out of that will come world beaters, which will change cars for the better. You are not seeing that in the USA, the home of the motor car, nor in Europe, because we are too enmeshed in the past, which is why people fall in love with Tesla, because it so clearly breaks with the past.
That’s why the continual downward price pressure on solar and wind is to be welcomed, on the principle of “that which does not kill us makes us stronger,” or to be more precise “makes us more economically viable,” or better still “irresistible”.
Rethink Energy welcomes all the personal sacrifices that people have made to recycle, change their diet, use less materials, but to expect everyone in the world to simply go without is not going to make the difference.