Why being green does not mean being poor

Climate Justice Collective’s Alex Granger dispels the myth that investment in renewables is behind rising energy costs

July 3, 2012
7 min read

Protesting at British Gas headquarters

Again and again, energy companies – and the politicians, think tanks and corporate media in their pockets – hammer home the message that being green is going to mean being poor. The energy industry’s claim is that renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels; inaction on the climate is justified under the auspices of bringing down the bills, while inaction on fuel poverty is justified under the auspices of cooling down the planet. These lies, told in order to maintain business as usual, have recently come under increasing pressure from some in the environmental movement who are keen to stress that fuel poverty and climate change arise from a common cause and must be tackled together.

However, much of the environmental discourse in the public domain falls trap to the industry’s spin. A recent post on the Guardian Environment blog by Duncan Clark offered a plea for caution within the environmental movement around calls for cheaper energy. As one of the groups criticised in this blog – the Climate Justice Collective – (‘a new climate change direct action group’) we felt the need to respond.

Our bills are not being driven up by the cost of renewables but, rather, by the rising cost of fossil fuels. According to a recent report by the government’s Committee on Climate change, the investment in low-carbon energy accounted for just 7 per cent of the rise in the cost of energy between 2004 and 2010 (pg 6). 64 per cent of this price hike was caused by the rise in the wholesale price of gas (pg 4).

In his blog post, though, Clark attempts to use this same report to support his insistence that renewable energy is more expensive than polluting alternatives. According to Clark, the report tells us that renewable subsidies and carbon taxes will add more to bills than rising gas prices in the coming decade. But this is simply false: the report says that low-carbon measures will add £110 to bills by 2020, in comparison to £175 from rising gas prices (pg 5).

The report in question does, as Clark points out, predict that low-carbon investment will account for 20 per cent of domestic electricity bills by 2020 (pg 17). But the report was written prior to the release of recent research from the LSE, which forecasts that the cost of wind power is set to dramatically fall in the next few years. Secondly, even if the report’s prediction is accurate, this does not support Clark’s conclusion that renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels. The rising price of fossil fuels has been the main driver of bill rises in the past decade and is set to continue escalating. Even if the cost of renewables was to make up a fifth of electricity bills by the end of the decade, this does not mean that bills would not have been higher should we have replaced this new low-carbon energy with more fossil fuels. Clark seems to ignore the introduction to the report, which explicitly states that the evidence ‘disproves’ the claim ‘that future huge investments in low-carbon capacity will drive very dramatic increases in energy bills by 2020’ (pg 6).

In all, Clark’s blog fails to give us any reason to think that avoiding climate change must inevitably lead to higher energy bills. But the problems don’t end there. The view pressed throughout seems to be that people are in a position that would allow them to choose to pay more for their energy, should they be persuaded of the benefits of renewables. Our mission, says Clark, has to be to ‘make people care sufficiently about climate change that they’re prepared to pay more for energy ‘. Is the suggestion here really that the millionsof people that have to choose between heating and eating in the winter should, in fact, be choosing between heating, eating and investing in clean energy? When rocketing energy costs threaten your life and livelihood how could anything – even the threat of global climate catastrophe – persuade you that you should be paying even more for your energy?

The problem is that the rule of the market makes energy access dependent upon ability to pay. This means that the people who are in a position to pay more for their energy – wealthy individuals and powerful corporations – have their excessive and intensely polluting consumption habits subsidised by the poor who are left to freeze. No-one is saying that the solution here is cheaper bills for all. The point is that we need to fundamentally change the way that our energy system – and the economy and society at large – are organised so that energy decisions are made not on the basis of profit but, rather, on the basis of securing people’s rights to heating, eating and other essentials.

What many environmentalists are starting to realise, particularly in light of the latest global failure at Rio+20, is that addressing climate change will require systemic overhaul in this same direction. It is now the energy companies, not politicians, that call the shots, as is evidenced by recent exposés of the Big Six exercising influence over the government through lending staff, informal consultations and buying access to secret lobbying meetings. The energy companies’ business-models are built on fossil fuel extraction as this is most profitable for them. So, as long as the energy companies retain their monopoly power and influence, politicians will keep on the fossil fuel bandwagon. And, as ‘conventional’ modes of extraction become more difficult, fossil fuels will keep on getting more polluting and more expensive.

The profit-driven fossil fuel economy is the root cause of both climate change and fuel poverty. As long as our energy is a commodity designed, first and foremost, to generate private profit, our needs for warm homes and a safe environment will be sidelined. But what if communities reclaimed control, begun to generate their own renewable energy and distributed it according to need, not ability to pay? In fact, this is already happening across the country in the form of energy co-ops springing up everywhere from Brixton to Brighton, Bristol to Manchester. By building our own alternatives like these in the context of a growing broader movement for the radical reorganisation of society along democratic, fair and sustainable lines, we can make a start on tackling both poverty and climate change together.

Building a movement with the numbers and relevance necessary to take on this task, however, means rejecting an environmentalism that refuses to call for cheaper energy for those being deprived of their basic needs by rising bills. As well as swallowing the lies of the fossil fuel industry, this type of environmentalism can only alienate the very people we need on board, ensuring that the twin crises of rising bills and rising sea levels will just keep getting ever-deeper. Instead, we need a climate justice approach which acknowledges the shared systemic causes of environmental destruction and poverty and sees the pursuit of ecological goals and social justice as inseparable.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


25