The UK currently pays more for gas and electricity than many other European countries. The higher gas prices are in part a consequence of the Tories’ decision in 2017 to close our largest gas storage site. For electricity, Brexit has contributed to higher prices as a result of leaving the EU’s Internal Energy Market regime, which regulates the exchange of excess electricity.
High energy prices have been exacerbated by lack of confidence in Liz Truss economic policies, which has pushed the pound to a new 37-year low against the dollar, thus fuelling inflation.
The cartoon introduction to climate change
High energy prices, though, give us an opportunity to do what is right for both climate change and our pockets. On this topic, I would recommend the book I have just finished reading: The cartoon introduction to climate change (Island Press, 2022).
The authors are Grady Klein, a cartoonist, and Yoram Bauman, who presents himself as a “stand-up economist”. Yoram Bauman has an academic background as an environmental economist, but is now focusing on writing and stand-up, with the aim of explaining climate change without boring his audience.
A serious book
The cartoons help to explain the concepts, but make no mistake, this is a serious book. To understand climate change, the authors take us through the evolution of our planet, as well as the history of humankind.
Climate has fluctuated in the past as a result of natural causes, but the current climate change is caused by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases as a result of human activities, such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels.
Climate change is a politically charged issue, with deniers and sceptics as well as climate change activists: explaining the science that underpins the need for action may help to find some common ground.
Science initially can only provide working hypotheses. However, as the findings and evidence accumulate, certainty increases to the point that it would be folly not to act. In one of the cartoons, a member of the public asks the scientists: “Why should I trust you?”. The answer is: “Don’t trust us. Trust the scientific method”.
Predicting the future is more difficult than explaining the past. How much will the global average temperature increase? What will be the precise impact in different parts of the world?
Climate change policies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but economic growth in less developed countries and population growth might counteract this. Ultimately, technological progress will be critical to ease the way.
Although there is some degree of uncertainty, the sooner we reach net zero the better and we may even need to go beyond and into negative global emissions.
Uncertainty in part arises from the fact that there are concurrent processes that could either amplify or decrease the impact of climate change. Uncertainty, though, is not about whether climate change is bad, but about how bad it will be. It could be catastrophic.
Mitigating the risks
The cartoon characters in this book come to the conclusion that we need to mitigate the risks, and this can only be done by reducing greenhouse gases emissions and increasing their removal. However, this is not easy.
We are humans and we naturally tend to worry more about the present than the future: sometimes we delay decisions until when it is too late.
Some countries may decide to continue extracting or using fossil fuels, even when pursuing this perceived individual benefit goes against the common interest. This harmful behaviour is described by economists as the “tragedy of the commons”.
Renewable energy is cheaper than energy from fossil fuels, but the need for an initial investment could be a hurdle. However, even the current high price of fossil fuels is not the full cost, because it does not take into account the economic damage caused by climate change.
Ultimately, we will all have to reduce our personal carbon footprint.
Sadly, Liz Truss is lurching towards increased use of fracking and North Sea fossil fuels and has appointed a number of climate change sceptics to her cabinet. According to a former scientific adviser, Liz Truss has effectively abandoned net zero targets.