At some point, the people will revolt against policies that will abolish choice and impoverish millions
By Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph, March 30, 2023
I love my electric car, dear reader, I really do. The driving experience is revolutionary, the acceleration mind-blowing and there are no nasty exhaust fumes or engine noise. After almost three years, I’m not going back: it is far superior, for my purposes, to a petrol-powered vehicle.
But I’m lucky. I can easily charge it and I never drive long distances with it. The Government’s plan to impose a UK-wide ban on the sale of new, pure petrol cars in just six years and nine months’ time is insanely detached from reality. The country and the technology are nowhere near ready for a full roll-out. Sticking with this preposterous timetable will impoverish and inconvenience millions and trigger a seismic, anti-green popular revolt.
The EU has already backtracked: after lobbying from Germany, Brussels will allow some internal combustion engines powered by e-fuels. We must go further and scrap the deadlines altogether. The future of driving is zero emissions, but we should trust capitalism to deliver it when the time is right.
Longer range yet affordable models need to be available for people who need to drive hundreds of miles a day for work or leisure. Only 65 per cent of UK homes have off-street parking and, in some cases, only for one car, according to the RAC. In London, this falls to 44 per cent. Millions of on-street and at-work charging points will therefore be required; the roll-out to date has been pathetic. Electricity consumption will surge and yet the country is already on the brink of blackouts.
The cheapest new petrol-fuelled cars begin at around £12,500 for a Dacia Sandero; increasingly steep, but just about affordable on credit for Middle England. Will electric cars with a range of 300 to 400 miles be available at that price by 2030? I doubt it, which means calamity for millions. Eventually, cheap, long-ranged electric models will flood the market and an affordable secondhand market will develop, but not yet. If we really need a binding deadline, the Government should legislate that new electric cars will only be compulsory when there is sufficient on-street charging and generation capacity.
Voters won’t put up with endless misery
Until now, the costs of decarbonizing society have been disparate or borne by industry – one reason why voters remain supportive. Fuel duty has been frozen. Home energy bills have gone up, but other factors have had a far greater impact on the cost of living. Taxes on long-haul flights have been hiked, hurting British-asian and African communities, but the general public hasn’t really noticed. Voters have accepted the shift to reusable bags and paper straws and are happy to recycle. But those were easy – in some cases, costless – tweaks that haven’t required massive behavioural change and they fooled our elites into believing that voters will put up with endless misery to go green. They won’t.
Given enough time, a seamless transition to zero-emissions cars that don’t impact a person’s quality of life or their pocket is eminently possible. The same cannot be said of the proposed shift to heat pumps, or decarbonized air travel, or low-carbon construction, or reduced meat diets. These are likely to end up being explosively expensive and unpopular. We will eventually crack a new way of powering planes, but not a commercially viable one by 2050. The public will go wild if every home is forced to stump up a five-figure sum to retrofit a heating system that doesn’t even work properly when it gets really cold, or if foreign holidays are effectively banned.
The growing civil disobedience and furious rejection of low-traffic neighbourhoods and other anti-car diktats is a harbinger of things to come, as is the anti-ulez movement which is galvanising many outer London and Home Counties demographics. These are notable given how few protests advocating explicitly centre-right policies there have been over the past 40 years: the Countryside Alliance march, which failed, the fuel protests, which succeeded spectacularly, and the pro-brexit demos, which eventually triumphed.
The speed at which the pro-car movement has grown is remarkable, as is the diversity of its grassroots leadership. The political elites and the net zero movement need to pay close attention: their policies have barely started to be implemented and yet they already risk triggering the British equivalent of the Dutch farmers’ party, which won the most seats in the provincial elections in fury at a savage green crackdown on agriculture.
The two kinds of environmentalism—one good, one made up of control freaks
There are two kinds of environmentalism. The first is the one exemplified by conservationists, nature lovers, green technologists, freemarket environmentalists, Elon Musk, Boris Johnson before No 10, or my colleague Ambrose Evans-pritchard. They love human civilisation as well as follow Allister Heath on Twitter @Allisterheath; read more at telegraph.co.uk/ opinion the natural world.
They believe that new technologies – hydrogen, nuclear fusion, geoengineering, carbon capture, electric cars or cultured meat – are the solutions to environmental degradation. They dream of near-free, abundant clean energy and highyielding agriculture; they seek new ways of enhancing our quality of life, feeding the world and growing our economy while not disrupting the environment. They support democracy, reason, choice, international travel, rising living standards and the universalisation of consumer goods.
The second kind of environmentalists are control freaks who have hijacked and warped a great cause. They don’t want to save the planet so much as to control its inhabitants. They love net zero – an extreme vision incapable of nuance, trade-offs or cost-benefit analysis – because it is a form of central planning. They are eternally disappointed by real-life human beings and their individualism.
Many have adopted a woke, quasi-religious worldview: we have sinned by damaging Gaia, we must repent, we must self-flagellate. They believe in “degrowth” and a weird form of autarkic feudalism. They dislike freedom and don’t want us to choose where to live, shop, eat or send our children to school. They want to reduce mobility. The Welsh government has banned roadbuilding. One French minister called for the end of the detached house: we should all be forced into flats to minimise our carbon footprint, a cause now advocated by some UK commentators.
The public backs the first approach, not the latter. The net zero fanatics have already overreached. Our politicians must break with these extremists, or they will unleash a popular revolt that will make Brexit look like a gathering of Davos technocrats.