Is there anything new to be said about climate change? Yes, and in Let Them Eat Carbon (Biteback Publishing, £9.99) Matthew Sinclair has said it. It is a fascinating, perhaps even important, book. Who should read it? Oh, anyone who drives a car, flies by aeroplane, uses gas or electricity at home, has a job or a pension, or does not grow his own food. That might, just, exclude Orwell’s old maid off to Holy Communion — but she is probably cycling through the morning mist to hear a sermon in favour of an eco-charity. She ought to read this book first.
This is not a book about global warming. That is what makes it so valuable. Ignore all the usual controversies, says Sinclair. Instead, treat climate change policy like any other and ask a basic question somehow overlooked in all the shouting: does it actually work?
The answer is no. Cap-and-trade emission control generates windfall profits for energy companies while making their prices more volatile; renewable energy plans are a colossal waste of capital which make power sources less secure; green taxes on transport are a government shakedown scheme which arguably overcharge for the impact of climate change (nobody can really be sure); biofuels inflate food costs; and the only green jobs that will be created are for bureaucrats, lobbyists and workers in the developing world where factories will be relocated.
Above all, claims Sinclair, the policies we currently follow will not actually reduce emissions and avert climate change — unless they cause a profound and prolonged economic depression in the developed world. Cure may well turn out to be worse than disease. It is time for a rethink.
The title refers to the intriguing fact that, because of the way in which the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is structured, UK households suffer higher energy bills and the average extra burden is more than they spend each year on buns, cakes and biscuits.
It is also, of course, a backward nod to Marie Antoinette, and this provides Sinclair’s theme for the second half of the book. The toiling masses (that’s us) are being taxed to the hilt to support an out-of-touch court of favoured lobbyists, environmentalists and grandstanding politicos (Them). Unelected cartels run an irrational system that does not work even on its own terms but out of which they all do very nicely indeed.
Sinclair derives two laws of climate change politics: climate change legislation will not pass in a country where a mainstream party opposes it; and regulation will tend to proceed through the least democratic route. He has a good deal of fun pointing out some of the lunacies of the eco-lobby and identifying which pockets are being lined by whom.
This nouveau régime really is unsustainable. Sinclair ends with a stirring call for a modern-day guillotine (he does not specify whether the wood should come from sustainably-managed forests) and a revolt to tear down this “enormous political edifice”. He predicts immense dividends for the first party to shatter the green consensus.
Many books have challenged global warming science; several by prominent figures have queried the viability of green economic theories; attacks on the eco-lobby are not uncommon. This is probably the first work for a non-specialist audience which provides an actual audit. That is why it is so frustrating that the book lacks an index. Most readers will have to do as I did and litter the pages with bookmarks. I used old train tickets, as a form of recycling. I like to do my bit for the planet.