Notes on Sweden, Saudi and behaviour change

When I read that someone had bombed Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and their production was down 50%, I assumed that Sweden had finally realised that climate diplomacy was doomed to failure and decided to take proper action.

Disabling Saudi’s oil industry is something I have dreamed about many times, not only when delirious with fever. As a complement to advocacy, policy, technological improvement and behavioural change, taking out important fossil fuel facilities makes sense if you want rapid decarbonisation of human society. This is easier because few people have deep, emotional sympathies for the regime of Saudi Arabia.

Then I read that it wasn’t the Swedes but the Iranians. That’s smart of the Swedes. Getting an equally odious regime to do the dirty work. With the added benefit that the obvious response of Saudi will be to knock out Kharg Island.

All this puts up the price of oil (and stretches military budgets which should be charged on to oil traders), with a bigger economic impact than timorous attempts by governments at imposing carbon taxes. No chance of a backlash: the French yellow jackets won’t go to Teheran to demonstrate.

Even until very recently bigwig academics, technologists and bureaucrats have been trying to make us believe that it’s really quite simple to deal with climate change. “All you need is a global carbon price,” they used to say – say five to ten years ago. Then a bit later they corrected that. It’s really quite simple to solve climate change. All you need is innovation. An energy revolution.” That would be a few years ago. And so on. It was a whopping misrepresentation born of narrow thinking and naivety: hopium.

Now they have started to join the dots a bit more, they have realised that technological innovation in energy does not help solve deforestation or the criminal malpractice known as industrial farming. They have remembered the age-old Jevons Paradox – when you save energy in one area, you just spend it in another. They note the rise of soft fascism which despises environmentalism.

I was pleased when finally someone with public responsibilities, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, the chief environmental scientist of the UK government, warned us last week that: “People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

He added that the public has little idea of the scale of the challenge to cut greenhouse gas emissions out of our lives.

“We need to do more about learning to live sustainable. We need to change our behaviours and change our lifestyles.”

Yet to that, people protest indignantly at threatened loss of freedom: “Who’s to tell me I can’t have a holiday in the Caribbean? It is my right to have cheap food and petrol! Isn’t this the job of government and big business?”

People have been asking these indignant questions for decades and it amazes me that they still have any political clout. It is blindingly obvious that everyone needs to pull their weight and tighten their belt. It’s ok to dick about like the Victorians did when there were a couple of billion humans on the planet most of whom lived simply; but with 8 billion people aspiring to middle class: you redesign a ketchup bottle and you kill a billion fish.

And then I see that even the best of those that run our nation states – ok, the only normal one left, Mrs Merkel, and she’s going – ultimately lack the courage to put their careers on the line for the sake of the Planet – and the hapless carnival that is the New York Climate Summit with Greta’s beautiful, heart wrenching and futile plea.

I find myself wishing for an authoritarian regime: it would be so much easier not to fly if I was not allowed to fly. And if no-one was allowed to fly, there wouldn’t be any FOMO.

Today we have a bleak menu:

  1. Stop eating meat, stop industrial agriculture and stop flying
  2. See the bright side of a war in the Middle East.
  3. Endure an authoritarian regime

The alternative is, obviously, no choice. We fry.



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