Sunday, 28 February 2010

Profit and Loss

Recently, the House of Commons voted against the proposed amendment to the Energy Bill (NC6) which would have set Emissions Performance Standards (EPS) (described as legislative CO2 emissions caps) on power stations.

In a recent campaign, several environmental groups proposed the amendment, and asked constituents to email or write to their MPs to ask them to vote in favour of it. In response the Energy Minister, Joan Ruddock, wrote to all Labour MPs (the Lib-dems and Conservatives supported the amendment) asking them to vote against it (a link to a PDF of her letter is here http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2010/02/24/leaked-government-response-to-our-climate-campaign/).

I notice that the first objection in her letter is that the introduction of EPS now would pose a threat to investment (a concern originally voiced by the TUC and the CBI). Boldface emphasis states that this could mean "no investment in new coal at all" and asserts that, as EPS would apply to gas also, it would threaten investment there too.

The vote was 252 against to 244 in favour. Very close.

You should be able to find out how your MP voted here (http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/2010/02/25/energy-bill-how-did-your-mp-vote/)

Previously on this blog, I have voiced my concerns about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and the government's regulation of the coal in the UK, along with the actual ecological destruction caused by extraction of the coal and disposal of the waste. These concerns have been voiced more eloquently by many NGOs such as FoE and Greenpeace.

To my mind, the argument of threat to investment (i.e., companies won't put money into it if it isn't profitable) highlights one of the big weaknesses of capitalism and the reason why we will not be able to buy our way out of the current environmental crisis. Given the limited window of opportunity we have before global tipping points are reached (if they have not already been passed) waiting until something shows a profit may not be an option.

It also leads me to question the priorities of business and governments (the UK government's controlling share in RBS and it's failure to act in the face of RBS's involvement in oil extraction from the Alberta tar sands illustrates the point in question, see the link here http://peopleandplanet.org/ditchdirtydevelopment/tarsands).

Some of these priorities are also clearly illustrated in an as yet unpublished report for the UN (reported by the Guardian here http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/18/worlds-top-firms-environmental-damage) estimating that paying for the actual environmental cost of their activities would cost the worlds largest 3000 companies about a third of their profit every year. They do not pay for it, of course, or anything like a reasonable contribution towards it.

It seems bizarre that we teach children to tidy up after themselves, but do not hold these companies accountable for clearing up their environmental messes.

In short, the rich get richer and the planet and the poor pay the price.

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