Flooding, fossil fuels and unpaid bills

25 January 2016 | Posted in Tony Whitbread , Wetland
Flooding, fossil fuels and unpaid bills

By Tony Whitbread

Chief Executive

There is a myth in circulation today - “expensive green energy”. You know the story – green energy is fine but it is expensive. Hard-pressed businesses have to pay “green taxes” to satisfy an ideology of green energy. “Hard-working families” (that phrase beloved of politicians) have to pay this unreasonable cost through higher fuel bills – because of the lobbying of overly influential green pressure groups.

There is no truth in any of this but it is part of a manipulation to resist change and stick to an old fashioned economy fuelled by coal, oil and gas.

Whilst green taxes are mentioned in almost every other news bulletin, the cost of fossil fuels barely gets a mention. Staggering ironies are generally completely missed in news reports; climate change, flooding and extreme events are detailed alongside news reports promoting new airports, roads and tax relief on energy intensive industries. We despair at climate change and bemoan the effects of burning fossil fuels whilst at the same time promote activities that inevitably result in the burning of more fossil fuels.

But fossil fuels - coal, oil and gas – are cheap in comparison to wind, solar and tidal power, aren’t they? Well they are only cheap for one reason – they don’t pay their bills. I would be rich if I didn’t pay any of my bills! Fossil fuels have an unpaid bill that all of us have to cover. We may not pay it at the petrol pump, but we do through our tax system and, increasingly, in many other ways as well. And even if we manage to avoid paying these bills, then future generations will have to pay instead. However, the past is catching up with us; we are turning into the past’s future generations, paying the bills from the poor decisions of the past.

A classic case is flooding. We are now as certain as we can be that climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events, and making those events worse than they would otherwise have been. The billions of £ of flood damage, increased insurance bills and lost productivity is a cost caused by climate change, itself caused by burning coal, oil and gas. It is an unpaid bill. But someone has to pay – those people affected by flooding.

Wildlife issues are also central to the climate change debate – though often forgotten or misused. Even the Prime Minister seems to imagine that these floods are down to the eco-fanatics desire to conserve a couple of water voles! The truth, however, is that restoration of natural systems, with their rich wildlife, produces a landscape that is resilient and more able to adapt to the changes forced upon it. In the process living landscape can reduce flood risk, reduce erosion, improve water quality and more. Fossil fuels are the problem and promoting natural systems are part of the solution – not the other way around.

Nevertheless, improving nature can only go so far in ameliorating the effects of climate change. We should not over-claim and society should not over-expect – extreme weather events are going to have an impact, they will get more frequent and they will get worse.

If we remove the tax advantages from fossil fuels, pay true costs of exploitation, pay the true and increasing costs of flooding, coastal defence, wind damage, increasing heat, drought, sickness and so on, then fossil fuels start to look rather like an expensive and old fashioned luxury. Some say that a weakness is a strength over-played. Maybe this is the case with fossil fuels. They have been an enormous strength, creating the society we all live in today. They are now way past their sell-by date and hugely over-played. We need to move on.


  • 25 Jan 2016 15:46:22

    I agree. Time for people to reach out and put their hands the wheel and steer towards a naturally integrated and balanced Planet, Country, County and Home.

    How much of a reality check do these people need to snap out of their Dallas Soap Opera delusions? Something tells me we are going to find out, unfortunately.

  • Goldambs:

    28 Jan 2016 18:28:31

    Start-up costs for “new” green energy such as solar, wind and tidal are high because it is new technology hence the “green tax”. Cost of fossil fuels is low because it is old technology, the infrastructure is already in place. Tony is right that the cost (of either) does not account for the ecological damage.
    Solar and wind are not solutions in themselves because there is an obligation to provide power to the nation 24/7. An integrated power system is required (tidal is ideal and, possibly even, dare I say it, nuclear, because it is always there).
    An integrated power system is what we need. We have the technology now. It is committment from governments to provide policy and direction to the providers.
    And remember, this countries environment is probably a lot better than it at the height of the Victorian industrial revolution. Maybe that is not saying much but global warming is a global issue not local.

  • Colin Bridger:

    28 Jan 2016 19:47:18

    Why was it these same scientists in the mid 80s were saying we were going in to another ice age. 130,000 years ago, I hear, the earth was 5 deg. C warmer than now, was that through industrial pollution ?
    If the government was serious about global warming they should ban floodlit buildings, street lights, night time sports events, motor racing, the school run, fast track nuclear power stations, and cut air travel etc. etc. I can not take the issue seriously when all these sort of energy guzzling activities are allowed to continue. Every world summit to discuss global warming involves hundreds of people flying thousands of miles from all over the world. Prince Charles travels by helicopter or gas guzzling Range Rover, he is not saving the planet. There are a lot of hypocrites about, and a lot of people are getting very rich out of it.
    When I see people taking measures to cut carbon use by things that directly affect them and make their way of life suffer then maybe I will take them more seriously.
    I am not saying it is not happening, it is a natural phenomenon, but we can not affect it, because if we could we are not prepared to take the drastic steps necessary.

  • 29 Jan 2016 09:09:09

    So succinctly written, Tony. People are so ingrained in their comfortable ways of life trying to get them to listen and to change their ways is like hitting your head against a brickwall. The issue of palm oil being used in so many products is one and the constant burning of the forests in Malaysia year in year out.

  • Jenny Huggett:

    30 Jan 2016 06:05:34

    couldn’t agree with Tony more. As a geoscientist I would also like to add a little clarification about past climate change. Yes, it has happened throughout time, and periods of rapid climate change, of which the present is an example, end in mass extinctions, the last was about 55million years ago and shows worrying parallels with the present. Form more science on this read Bryan Lovell’s book “challenged by carbon” – it also happens to be quite easy to read!

  • david shaw:

    31 Jan 2016 14:51:41

    I am getting a little fed up hearing the usual guff about Climate Change when many of the problems are not simply due to higher rainfall but the way we use the land. We concrete over the floodplains, removing hedgerows and ploughing up to banksides amd to this we can add burning moorland and mantaining uplands as grouse factories or barren sheep-walks. We reduce the permeability of the soil and greatly increase run-off which means watercourses cannot contain the huge volumes of water generated. We can do something about this and immensely improve out habitats and the wildness of our countryside at the same time . So let’s get on with it Wildlife Trusts and bang this drum for all you are worth.

  • Anne Glegg:

    06 Feb 2016 09:00:25

    Never knew this re tax etc …. Hate seeing our green fields covered with concrete Etc etc … I live in one of the oldest villages in England WESTHAM !!!! Meaning “ village west of the castle ) Pevevsey castle . Our church is be,Ioved to be the first one built after William the conquere landed ….. And wot are they doing ? Building 350 more houses here. They don’t even allow a field between our villages !!! I could go on and on and on !!!!!! Yours sadly Anne xx

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