Coal and nuclear are dying, and the future of energy lies in solar. This isn’t a Guardian reader’s fantasy, this is the established trend in energy markets. This isn’t a declaration of victory over carbon dioxide either – the trend isn’t fast enough to stop catastrophic climate change, at least not yet – but it’s useful information for policy makers. Unless you’re George Osborne, in which case it’s time to plough the nation’s remaining finances into life support for nuclear and coal whilst standing athwart history yelling ‘STOP!’
The question here is not why the Conservatives are ignoring climate change, but why the ‘party of business’ are ignoring the markets.
The simple answer is that the ‘party of business’ branding is how the Conservative Party would like to be seen, but it’s somewhat misleading. Back in the day, the Liberals or Whigs were the party of business, and the Tories were the party of the landed aristocracy, or more commonly, the party of property. This appeared to change in the twentieth century, but this was largely due to businessmen and industrialists coming to own more than the aristocracy. The Tories remained the party of property.
And this explains why they are sabotaging our cheapest form of clean energy, wind, and now the energy source energy analysts expect to power the 21st century – solar. A party looking out for the long-term benefit of the economy would be trying to decide whether to primarily go for the choice which is cheaper and more suited to our current climate, wind, or whether to spend a little extra to try to get a head start in the global solar race to come. Countries like the US, China and Germany are doing both. Countries like the UK and Australia are trying to crush their own competitive advantages in wind and solar and prop up coal and nuclear.
The UK government, like the current Australian government, isn’t interested in the long-term benefit of the economy unless the biggest property owners are too, and unfortunately for the economy, fossil fuel interests still own a lot more than renewable interests. And so our leaders sacrifice the industries of tomorrow for the sake of the industries of yesterday.
Fortunately, countries like the US, China and Germany will be able to transform the world’s energy supply without us, and our government’s backwards industrial strategy of choosing the biggest losers and backing them to the hilt will only slow the process down a little bit. But these policies will be a disaster for the UK in the medium-to-long-term, and, given that the transition to renewables needs to speed up, and that even one more blocking nation could sabotage international agreement to speed it up, the UK’s economic prospects might not be the only thing they’re sacrificing.