SNP's climate change extremism could destroy the chances of a sensible transition – John McLellan

My 88-year-old mother-in-law lives on her own in County Durham. She isn’t in the best of health but gets by with regular visits from carers and family and like many people her age she values her independence and has no desire to move into a home.

Like thousands of others across the North-East of England and in the North of Scotland, she has been without electricity for the best part of a week and maybe power will be restored tomorrow.

That’s a week in the darkest month with no lighting and no television, which all makes for a miserable existence for someone who is housebound. The contents of the freezer have had to be binned, but fortunately she has a gas fire so the house is not completely cold but no hot water or central heating. A temporary move was suggested but turned down because she’s happiest at home.

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Had it not been for the gas fire, staying put would not have been an option, but it is an option that the militant environmentalists who now control energy policy in Scotland do not want her or anyone who has gas heating to have.

The demand to accelerate the switch to renewable sources could mean that millions of homes without access to direct local energy generation through heat pumps and such like would be vulnerable to total shutdowns under the conditions being experienced now as a result of Storm Arwen.

The collective climate change hysteria now gripping the political classes is producing a race to see who can do the most to destroy the existing supply of reliable and affordable energy sources without any concern whatsoever for the consequences for the lives of millions of people, on the increasingly shrill basis that the planet will die if we don’t change our ways pronto.

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And if that appears to be an exaggeration, that’s precisely what Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey said last month. But even if you buy into the most alarmist of outlooks, the inconvenient truth, as ex-US vice-president Al Gore might put it, is that while the planet is changing it is not going to die for billions of years until a burnt-out sun does the job, and the priority should be managing change in a way which avoids needless economic and social upheaval.

Marines from 45 Commando conduct welfare checks in Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire, after Storm Arwen left many people without power (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)Marines from 45 Commando conduct welfare checks in Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire, after Storm Arwen left many people without power (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Marines from 45 Commando conduct welfare checks in Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire, after Storm Arwen left many people without power (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Yet increasingly those who argue that the pace of change needs to be properly managed are dismissed as hard right-wingers, because it is no longer enough to win the arguments about energy transition, with the demonising of anyone who argues that breakneck revolution, such as the immediate closure of North Sea oil and gas fields, would be both ruinous and harmful.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, the Greens co-leader and Scottish government minister for zero carbon buildings, Patrick Harvie, celebrated the withdrawal of Shell from the Cambo oil and gas project, which has now been snubbed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, because “the reality is that new oil and gas is not compatible with preserving our life support systems”.

The actual reality is that millions of people still rely on fossil fuels for heating and approximately 130,000 workers for their livelihoods. There is no serious argument against the need to limit rising global temperatures, but with the Greens on board it now seems the Scottish government’s concept of “just transition” is for us all to don the hair shirt of “sacrifice”.

This newspaper carried an instructive story this week, a survey for the Oil & Gas UK trade body which showed just over a fifth of Scottish people support the “urgent” end of North Sea fossil fuel production.

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Arguably, the more significant figures were that half do not agree with immediate closure and of those who agree 58 per cent would change their minds if it increased the importation of oil and gas.

With 73 per cent of UK energy reliant on fossil fuels that’s guaranteed, so it suggests that those with a hand in Scottish government energy policy are at odds with approximately 90 per cent of the population, a reflection of Green Party support in this week’s Ipsos/Mori opinion poll.

Edinburgh Council has positioned itself as an eco-scouting party with its unachievable net-zero-by-2030 policy, and the lack of solid financial detail in the implementation plan exposes another reality, that despite the aggressive rhetoric from the likes of Mr Harvie, there simply is no credible plan behind “just transition”.

There is no credible plan for bringing thousands of old homes up to the required standard – said to be 120,000 in Edinburgh alone ─ no credible plan for replacing domestic fossil fuel production without increasing the reliance on importation, and no credible plan for managing a situation when the single source of energy is suddenly severed.

If Storm Arwen teaches us anything, it is the vital importance of developing alternative energy sources to electricity, with hydrogen the most practical.

But like all aspects of the renewable transformation, it cannot happen overnight, and all the Rumpelstiltskin stamping changes nothing. It is no surprise that grounded Nationalists who recognise economic health is central to the independence cause, like former senior special adviser Geoff Aberdein and former energy minister Fergus Ewing, have attacked the SNP’s retreat from the North Sea.

But for them it’s a shock that the SNP is prepared to risk a North-East electoral wipe-out to pursue climate extremism.

As the chief executive of Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce Russell Borthwick pointed out yesterday, a managed transition can boost energy-related jobs to 200,000, with two thirds of them working in renewables like the new turbine manufacturing hub at Nigg, a similar facility in Leith, and also the Acorn carbon-capture project in Peterhead, which is still very much on the cards despite missing out on the UK government’s immediate priority list.

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As Mr Borthwick argues, just transition needs to be more than a glib phrase, but then Scotland really is the Saudi Arabia of glib phrases.

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