Not acting now is the more expensive option

The credit crunch has graphically shown us what happens if we see problems in the pipeline and don’t take appropriate action. The carbon crunch will be just the same only much more serious. On numerous fronts, the consequences of the past 150 years of rapid industrialisation are all simultaneously coming home to roost.


Humanity now faces a complex mix of climate, energy and economic challenges. Left unchecked they will synergise, resulting in economic collapse and dislocation unseen in modern times. We need to get off fossil fuels and fast; this is why CAT is now in the process of further developing our Zero Carbon Britain scenarios.

Britain must change, and change rapidly. If we delay serious action until the carbon crunch is really upon us before becoming serious about scaling-up the solutions, in the ensuing chaos and dislocation Britain may no longer be able to muster the resources required. Even senior experts, scientists, NGO’s and political leaders fail to appreciate that the most recent evidence on both climate security and energy security reveals a situation more urgent than had been expected, even by those who have been following it closely for decades. Even though they are well ahead of their global peers, the 3% climate bill targets must be recognised as politically-based targets. The science however calls for evidence-based targets of more like 9% per annum. It is therefore prudent that CAT undertake some further scenario work to explore what policies and technology roll-outs would be required to deliver a more rapid decarbonisation. These scenarios will also be able to inform which actions to deliver a 3% target also represent the most effective path to an eventual zero carbon target.

But, if the government invests public funds in the necessary transition, on the scale they have been doing with the bank bailouts, we can implement the technologies we require to power down the amount of energy we need to deliver our well being, whilst powering up the energy we do need from British renewable sources. Such visionary measures will not only stimulate the economy and get our labour force back to work, so tackling recession – they will create a very tangible dividend to pay back the taxpayer from the sale of the energy saved or generated.

Because they are renewable sources, the energy will be available forever and, as the technology matures and becomes economic in a wider range of locations, the annual available reserve actually increases. This plan also has the benefit of future-proofing the British economy to overseas politically motivated blockades or price hikes.

A Zero Carbon Britain may sound a little optimistic, but if you try to run a scenario where business as usual works the way it has been doing – with perpetual growth on a finite planet of dwindling reserves and a majority world perpetually trapped in poverty. If you try to see a way where that can continue over the decades that lay ahead, it ends up sounding an awful lot more fanciful than anything we are suggesting!

There is still a yearning in people for the time before rampant consumerism replaced the values of home, community and place. But things ARE changing, the old mantra of debt driven retail therapy is now a spent force. We no longer buy into consumerism, but it has left us all with a ‘poverty of meaning’.

We can perhaps kid ourselves for a while longer, but in out hearts we know we seek is a life rich in meaning, and if we truly face up to what’s ahead together – a rich sense of meaning is there for us if we want it.

We can learn the hard lessons of the recent past, and un-leash our collective creativity. Riches in human relations, friendship and community can replace riches in material goods. If we are to succeed we have to do it together – and there is a role for each of us.

Zero Carbon Britain 2 has set out to explore how we can confidently accelerate and up-scale the transition out of fossil fuels, ensuring Britain stays ahead of events – creating a new kind of economy; stable in the long term, locally resilient, but still active in an equitable global context, rich in quality jobs, a strong sense of purpose and backed by our indigenous, in-exhaustible energy.