I saw this below on the Grauniad website today and tweeted that 2022 is gonna be hella interesting.
I have MUCH else to be getting on with (Sarah, if you’re reading this I have got about 3/4 of the crap out of the attic). But I want to throw an initial schema and a set of possibilities (not predictions) down on the “page”
Here’s a matrix (god I hate “left” and “right” – hundreds of years old, increasingly worse-than-useless for much, but still has some heuristic (if not explanatory) value.)
Initial observations and things to watch for
1 – Government/Parliament
Note that this is mostly right of centre (looking at you, Labour) and closer to neutral on “net zero” than they think. There’s fine words, but as outfits like the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee have recently reminded us, uncosted and vague pronouncements are not a roadmap, are not going to inspire investors to splash their cash.
The big beast to watch for here, as ever, is Treasury – and frankly the signs of enthusiasm for a hearty push for “net zero” are – to my distant and untutored eye – not really there.
2 – “Pro-net zero business”/conservative civil society
The CBI and Make UK, the Conservative Environment Network, various newish pressure groups (Bright Blue, Onward etc). The cluster-based organisations. But do they have the coherence and credibility to make Treasury sit up and take notice? And if there isn’t enough largesse (R and D funding, tax breaks etc) to go around for everyone, will these groups take to openly scrambling for what scraps they can get? What could “they” (as if there is a Green Conservative secretariat/unified peak body!) DO if an ungreen PM takes over from Johnson?
3 – Unimpressed business/civil society
It’s easy to get swept along in the enthusiasm and hype around the greening of business. And it’s easy to get caught up in narratives about which companies are and are not greenwashing and by how much (“all, quite a bit,” would say the cynics). But that focus can mislead – as if all business is thinking hard and often about net zero. I strongly suspect that most are not losing sleep about the Thwaites glacier, and are thinking about net zero as a regulatory cost to be minimised/avoided, or as more meddling, more green tape. How many are willing to stick their heads above the parapet now and say that is not clear, but over time, the rhetoric of “yes we support net zero, but right now, energy costs/wage costs/debt-servicing because of COVID/taxes are our primary problem” will start to become louder. I would still be surprised to see a lot of overt support for our friends in 4.
4 – Net Zero Scrutiny Group, UKIPPers etc
So, Nigel Farage, Steve Baker et al have been thwarted – for now- in their attempt to run the Brexit playbook of pointy-headed elites/take back the weather etc etc. For now. Does anyone seriously think this is more than a minor blip? As the staggering cost of living crisis bites, Farage et al will find more traction.
There’s a lot of “support” for net zero, but one wonders if it is a mile-wide and an inch-deep. It’s a sort of “Green Keynesian”, ecological modernisation discourse that is appealing to the service sector (not going to get screwed, might in fact do well) and perhaps to what light manufacturing there is left, but regarded with suspicion by folks employed in industries that will be hit (airports, cars etc). And again, as the job losses and P&O -style outrages pile up… In any case, the relations between rank and file union members and our next group are -generally – either non-existent or at best cordial.
6- The Green Glob
The green NGOs, think tanks, business groupings (remember though – most renewables are being done by large multinationals, often with a past (and present) in fossil fuels.) The Green Glob (yes, I filched that from Owen Paterson) talks a good game, but has a history of seeing its cherished policy interventions either ignored or strangled virtually at birth. I just don’t see them being able to craft a plausible narrative – that is powerful enough to overcome apathy, skepticism, desperation around the kind of massive investment (financial, policy attention) AND that resonates with the vast majority of people who are switched off, furious, cynical, suspicious (with very good cause, I should add).
7 – “Radical” civil society/SMOs
I hope I am wrong – we will know by April 10th, I think – but I just don’t see the NVDA-users as having much traction, resonance, endurance. There are not enough of them, they are a radical flank without a non-radical larger group – they’re Malcolm without Martin.
I have no idea what will happen (and anyone who tells you they are confident in their predictions is either drowning in hubris or trying to sell you something (shares, an ideology, whatever).
In the short-term, a lot of ink will be spilt over the “energy security statement” due to be released at the end of next week (but may be delayed until after the local elections). Presumably it is going to be another round of nuclear cheerleading that will end in tears (and rich consultants), and fine words about energy efficiency but with the last domestic retrofit debacle too fresh for a sequel. A lot of attention will be paid to (the lack of active support for) onshore wind too.
Longer-term? Doubtless people with more brains, time, energy, data than me – ones being paid to think about this stuff – will have more refined ideas, but for now, these three “narratives”/”scenarios” whatever you want to call them strike me as plausible. Real-life will be messier and more outlandish – we’ve surely learned that much by now. So, on 31st December 2022, in increasing order of likelihood
a) “Wait, we are actually GOING for this?”
The Green Glob and the Union Movement, expertly facilitated by Caroline Lucas and other folks, create a Gramscian Modern Prince able to fight a war of position, attrition etc and force Treasury to change the habits of several lifetimes. Technological breakthroughs and industry enthusiasm for New Markets mean that the media outlets which might otherwise have gone truly feral are a bit quieter, for fear of losing advertising revenue. The new PM says that the main problem with the Net Zero agenda was that it wasn’t ambitious enough.
And we all live happily ever after. Until we get thwacked by Thwaites…
b) “Save the furniture”
The energy and food spikes all but wipe out talk of net zero, to the glee of Farage et al. – they take credit for its disappearance, despite the fact that they have been signally unsuccessful in creating a new common sense and doubt – it’s not that people are opposed, they’re just not interested NOW. With the diminishing money, policymaker time etc, much of the business interest peels away. The net zero targets are clearly not going to be met, but everybody knows that somebody else can plausibly be blamed, so nobody is sweating too much. about the reputational risk. Companies and sectors that were hoping to be able to get a lead, globally, in zero carbon processes and products, have to grit their teeth and smile at the empty rhetoric from government, because you gotta maintain relationships…
c) Here comes the not zero revolution.
Farage et al. have played a blinder, again. The soaring cost of food and energy have rendered people angry, desperate and understandably impatient with all talk of net zero. Every time the Green Glob and the Business elites open their mouths, they make the situation worse – they’ve all be framed as out of touch at best. The momentum for a referendum is growing, and the bots are being trained… Some of the Green Glob and the Radical environmental wing are campaigning FOR a referendum too, on the argument that it is an opportunity to explain the depth of the shit we are in… Everyone else has got a Bad Feeling About This…
What is to be done? That old whoary chestnut of a question? Oh, I am a stuck record on this. Do movement-building, not repeated mobilisations. Eschew and escape the smugosphere, don’t ride the damned emotacycle. Blah blah blah. We won’t, I don’t think we can and I do think it is “Too Late.” Carpe the damned diems.