“Posh folk telling plain folk what to do” How Net Zero Watch and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group do it

” People want a cleaner, greener planet. But they will not tolerate a green strategy that involves posh folk telling plain folk what to do.” Andrew Neil, Daily Mail, October 2021.

Really nothing to worry about… Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Leaving aside the sheer patronage of the language, Neil might have a point if he objected to, or campaigned against, the privileges of those “posh folk”; whose right to “be telling plain folk what to do” isn’t something he challenges in any other context and that, as a prolific broadcaster, chairman of the Spectator and formerly Rupert Murdoch’s consiglieri at the Sunday Times, he spends most of his time defending.

Does he have an objection to the Royal Family, who could re-wild their vast landholdings, much of which is turned over to hunting? Not in general, no.

Does he point out that Jeff Bezos casually throwing $2 billion in loose change at conservation efforts – having flown in to the COP on his private jet soon after he blew $5.5 billion to be in space just for 5 minutes – shows that one man having $200 billion to dispose of on a whim is grotesque and unacceptable? Not a bit of it.

Does he use his many media platforms to campaign for insulation targeted at the 2.4 million households living in fuel poverty; or argue for solar panel installations to be brought in on the same principle. Not a dicky bird.

Does he – just as a suggestion – campaign for cheap, clean public transport, that would primarily benefit the hardest up people who don’t have access to a private car (17% of white people, 21% of Asian people, 33% of people with mixed heritage and 40% of black people); and give all of us cleaner air to breathe? The tumbleweed blows through the silence.

He doesn’t do any of this. He lives in a cleaner, greener part of the planet than most of the “plain folk” he patronises so effortlessly. As a dedicated Brexit supporter, he lives a lot of the time in a villa in the south of France, which is, no doubt, good for the soul.

He might also have more credibility if he didn’t back the expansion of oil and gas extraction, including fracking, or argue that the rise in energy prices occasioned by our heavy reliance on fossil fuels means we shouldn’t transition to cheaper renewable alternatives, or act as a little Sir Echo to Craig Mackinlay’s very own “project fear” about the costs of Net Zero, ignoring the savings involved in the transition, which largely pays for itself.

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility July ‘Fiscal risks report’  pointed out that the ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ would cost £1312 billion in investment costs, spread over 30 years between 2020 and 2050; but these would be offset by significant and growing savings, particularly from avoiding the purchase of fossil fuels, amounting to £991 billion in the same period.
  • That leaves a net cost of £321 billion over 30 years, an annual investment cost of £10.7 billion. This is just 1% of the projected £1053 billion that the government expects to spend in 2021-2. Not going to break the bank is it Andrew?
  • Even more damning, by 2050 the £16 billion needed at that point would be outweighed by yearly savings of £19 billion. So, it would be completely balanced out before then and, after that, we’d be quids in.

Neil is keen to present himself and other lukewarmers as the spokespeople for “plain folk” – who he seems to think can’t speak for themselves. He has a record of peddling “baseless claims made on climate contrarian blogs” and can always be relied upon to dig in on the latest line in the long rearguard action against meaningful action.

Rubbing shoulders with these people is not good for your health. As Neil himself put it after resigning from GB News – which energetically promotes the myths of the lukewarmers – had he carried on with them, the job would have killed him. Taking their bullshit as good coin would just as surely kill the rest of us.

So, lets have a look at the social class credentials of the some of the people Neil gets his attack lines from, who run Net Zero Watch and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, the former from an office in Tufton Street shared with a number of right wing think tanks; and who all seem to be “posh folk” telling the rest of us “plain folk” what NOT to do to save ourselves from climate breakdown.

Lord Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby (89). Born the son of a stockbroker and City of London tea trader. Westminster School. Christchurch College Oxford. Not exactly the wrong side of the tracks.

Neil Record (68) Chair of Net Zero Watch and Institute of Economic Affairs. Magdalene College School and Balliol College Oxford. Personal fortune of £1-5 million. Major donor to Conservative Party.

Edward Atkin CBE (77) Inherited his father’s rubber company and according to the Sunday Times rich list 2019 has a personal fortune of £267 million.

Steve Baker MP (Conservative). The chief architect of global financing and asset service platforms at Lehman brothers until their collapse in 2008. So, a bit of a banker. An evangelical Christian who manages to ignore all those inconvenient injunctions on the rich to give up their wealth to the poor, but no doubt thinks that we are living in the End of Times and its his job to help us hurry on to fulfill the Book of Revelations. A recipient of a £15,000 donation from former Vitol Oil Executive Matthew Ferrey (who has given the Conservatives £675,000 in total.

Craig McKinley MP (Conservative). Chartered Accountant and former UKIP member. Claimed £159,992.37  in Parliamentary expenses 1 Apr 2019 — 31 Mar 2020 and earned an additional £18,00 a year for 20 hours worked a month at his second job as an accountant. Evidently a man of the people.

Lawson, Atkin and Record are of a class and an age group sheltered from climate change impacts. They will be dead before the worst of it hits. Perhaps they just don’t look their grandchildren in the eye. Mackinlay and Baker, their Parliamentary NCOs are younger, but perhaps they think they have the Social Darwinist right stuff to be able to float to the surface in the turmoil of the new Dark Ages.

These are clearly not in the “plain folk” category. All of them qualify as part of the global 1% – the richest elite who are disproportionately responsible for the carbon emissions that are putting the rest of us at risk.

A recent study from OXFAM showed that

  • “The world’s richest 1% are set to have per capita consumption emissions in 2030 that are still 30 times higher than the global per capita level compatible with the 1.5⁰C goal of the Paris Agreement…
  • By 2030, the richest 1% are on course for an even greater share of total global emissions than when the Paris Agreement was signed.”
  • To be aligned with a 1.5C target, the carbon emissions of the richest 1% would have to be cut by 97% by 2030.

The richest 1 percent ―fewer people than the population of Germany― are expected to account for 16 percent of total global emissions by 2030, up from 13 percent in 1990 and 15 percent in 2015. The total emissions of the richest 10 percent alone are set to exceed the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030, regardless of what the other 90 percent do.

To be aligned with the 1.5C imperative, we will have to cut the carbon emissions of the richest 1% by 97% by 2030. That is why they are resisting.

The richest 1|% are people on incomes of over $172,000 (£128,000) a year, and the top 10% are people on incomes of over $52,000 (£41,000) a year; The UK median income for 2019 was £29,400, so most of us here are in the global upper middle 40% whose emissions have been declining. And we have a common interest with the global poor, whose emissions are so low that they are well on target if we want to survive.

The 1% are, however, seeking to defend their own ruinous luxury consumption, by manipulating mass economic insecurities. For them, the argument is within the 1%; who control every government of a developed economy. As reducing the wealth of the elite to a climate sustainable level is unthinkable (“hairshirtery” to Boris Johnson); there either has to be a green transition with the costs dumped on the majority, or there is no transition at all, and the consequences dumped on the majority as civilisation collapses in fire and flood and the 1% jet off to their doomsday bolt holes in New Zealand or Patagonia.

OFAMs conclusions that, “Tackling extreme inequality and targeting the excessive emissions linked to the consumption and investments of the world’s richest people is vital to keeping the 1.5⁰C Paris goal alive” and that “carbon emissions must be cut far faster than currently proposed. But critically, these efforts must go hand-in-hand with measures to cut pervasive inequality and ensure that the world’s richest citizens – wherever they live – lead the way” explains why political activists from the 1% are so keen to see that goal trashed, by any means necessary; and why the rest of us should not give them the time of day and be very clear that mercilessly targeting their wealth and power is essential to avert disaster.

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