The race for the most confusing climate sceptic article of 2014 is a crowded field, but as the nights draw in a new front-runner has emerged with former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe's latest effort in the Daily Express. It really does have everything: allusions to Nazis, dismissal of scientific inquiry, misinterpretation of policies.
Challenging the myths perpetuated by climate sceptics is an onerous task and given the extent to which these arguments are marginalised in boardrooms and government departments around the world it is rarely worth the effort. However, in recent weeks it has been clear a concerted campaign is under way to try and make the repeal of the Climate Change Act an issue at the next election, putting billions of pounds of much-needed investment and the UK's international credibility at risk, not to mention hopes of building a greener, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous economy.
Widdecombe's article is, to date, the nadir of this campaign in so much as it crams virtually every climate sceptic canard going into 330 words and ties them all together with a storm of contentious opinion presented as fact, or "holy writ" as the former Conservative MP might put it.
There are quasi-legitimate arguments against the Climate Change Act. You could credibly argue targets are not the best way of driving decarbonisation, you could even just about argue that we would be better off crossing our fingers and hoping for the best when it comes to climate risk, although you need a pretty reckless assessment of said risks to do so.
Widdecombe does none of these things. So, in the grand tradition of journalistic rows, what follows is a Fisking of the myths, omissions, and spin that defines the ex-Strictly contestant's attack on the Climate Change Act.
"Six years ago Parliament passed the Climate Change Act with a mere five MPs, all Conservatives, voting against it."
Widdecombe starts on firm ground. The Climate Change Act did indeed pass with an overwhelming majority. This means that either almost every Member of Parliament has been hoodwinked and voted against the UK's interests, as Widdecombe and her allies suggest, or our parliamentarians considered the evidence and thought this was a good bill.
"This week I returned to the House of Commons to join the other four for an anniversary dinner. Andrew Tyrie, Peter Lilley, Christopher Chope and Philip Davies are still there fighting the nonsense but I have simply joined the ranks of the long-suffering British public who view the increasing 'lights will go out' stories with grim foreboding."
And you thought it was the "Green Blob" that enjoyed cosy Westminster dinners to reflect on their successes. As to the reasons for the British public's "long suffering", I'd hazard that if you asked them they would list numerous iniquities before they settled on climate change policy. They may well be fearful the lights will go out, but this is most likely because newspapers like the Daily Express keep telling them we face blackouts, even when the people who actually operate the grid tell us we don't.
"Support for the then Labour Government's bill was all part of Cameron's campaign to 'modernise' the Tory Party. It was the same campaign which saw him driving huskies and putting a ridiculous wind turbine on his roof so he was pretty displeased with the five of us but we were right. Oh, so right."
In fairness, Cameron's rooftop wind turbine was "ridiculous" and no doubt he was furious with the Climate Change Rebels, just as he is now furious with those MPs who have given up on even the vaguest pretence of party loyalty in favour of ideologically obsessive campaigns to destabilise their own government. Widdecombe is perfectly entitled to suggest she was "right" about the Climate Change Act, but if she is going to do so it may be worth offering some tangible evidence.
"The wretched Bill committed us, at huge expense, to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by a staggering 80 per cent."
It is true that the Act commits to greenhouse gas emissions of 80 per cent, but Widdecombe is guilty of an important omission. The goal is to cut emissions 80 per cent against 1990 levels by 2050. We have nearly half a century to reach the target and we have already achieved around a quarter of the goal. It is daunting, but it is not as daunting as Widdecombe implies. It is also contestable that the commitment comes "at huge expense". Clean energy costs are falling fast, while the Stern Review and numerous other studies have shown it is more cost effective to tackle climate change risks now than cling to business-as-usual. Finally, the Act provides freedom for governments to respond to economic pressures and ensure decarbonisation is delivered in a way that does not load excessive expense on the economy.
"Yet that was supposed to be part of a global agreement and, as was easily foreseeable, there has been no such agreement but we have soldiered on despite accounting for about two per cent of all the world's emissions."
There have, in fact, been global agreements in which nations have pledged to keep post-industrial temperature increases to 2C and work is continuing on a legally-binding treaty to be signed by 2020. Moreover, over 60 nations now have some form of binding climate change legislation and several economies - Denmark, Mexico, California - have Climate Change Acts similar to the UK. And the EU has just agreed to binding emissions targets through to 2030 that are pretty much in line with the emissions reduction trajectory required by the Climate Change Act.
Yes, the UK does account for two per cent of global emissions, but two per cent is still a hefty chunk for such a small country (it is about the same as the emissions from the entire global aviation industry) and our carbon footprint is higher still when you consider our historical responsibilities and the structure of our import-dependent economy. It is also worth considering we once accounted for a fraction of global trade before the industrial revolution made us a superpower. Being a small part of a big problem is not an excuse for not trying to tackle it. In fact, small nations can trigger economic transformations that the entire world emulates.
"We have shunned the obvious answer of nuclear power in favour of vast, ugly, inefficient, bird-mashing wind farms which benefit none but those who take the subsidies from them."
There is so much wrong with this it is hard to know where to start. The idea the UK has "shunned" nuclear power is just bizarre when the government is planning to approve a heavily subsidised new nuclear power plant for the first time in a generation. In reality, the Climate Change Act and the need to decarbonise our power supplies is one of the main reason why all three main parties are backing plans for a new fleet of reactors. Nuclear development may have taken longer than its advocates hoped, but it has not been "shunned" in any sense of the word - just look at the number of meetings between Ministers and EDF. And wind has not been favoured over nuclear; the past two governments have made it painfully clear they want both.
Wind turbines certainly are "vast", as Widdecome alleges, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder; traffic and cats "mash" more birds than turbines ever will; turbines' efficiency ratings match up pretty well with other energy sources; and if wind energy generators benefit through subsidies, the people who have to breathe less fossil fuel-related air pollution benefit too, as does the country as a whole from enhanced energy security and increased inward investment.
"The phrase 'political correctness gone mad' could have been invented for this stupidity alone."
Personally, I have no idea what "political correctness" even means anymore. But if you take it as a desire to avoid language, policies, and behaviours that needlessly cause offence, especially to those seen to be at a disadvantage, then I cannot even begin to understand what it has to do with the Climate Change Act.
"Meanwhile the science of climate change is robustly disputed where once it was regarded as having all the authority of Holy Writ."
Science has never been regarded as "having all the authority of Holy Writ". Science and religion are very different things, not least because one admits its fallibility and adjusts to the evidence before it. "Robustly disputed" is a relative term, but to date these robust disputes have proven so effective that every single national science academy in the world has continued to warn that climate change presents a serious threat.
"So much was this the case that Nigel Lawson, whose book An Appeal To Reason is still the best refutation of the doom mongers, found it difficult to get published."
Yes, perhaps, but he did get it published in the end, and has spent much of the past five years taking to the pages of newspapers and the airwaves of the BBC to promote its arguments.
"In 1930s Germany they burned books that challenged state orthodoxy: here we just try to bury them."
I hereby invoke Godwin's Law.
"I am proud to have been one of those five MPs and I wonder how many others would join us if the vote were happening now."
Widdecombe finishes as she began, on firm ground, which comes as surprise given the intervening paragraphs. The question of how many Conservative MPs would join the five rebels if the Climate Change Act were voted on again is one of the current great unknowns of British politics. The hope is that when push comes to shove the vast majority of MPs would consider the scientific warnings and economic opportunities that underpin the legislation, recognise that decarbonisation is both essential and desirable, and acknowledge that an over-arching Climate Change Act helps deliver a greener and better economy (precisely as they did when the vast majority of MPs voted for the recent Energy Act and its over-riding focus on delivering clean power).
But, as Widdecombe implies, the Tea Party-fication of parts of the British Conservative Party means the campaign to vilify the Climate Change Act is not done yet. There are a number of Tory MPs who are now working hard to undermine the legislation and the UK's wider green economic programme at every turn. Although, in fairness, the many businesses that support decarbonisation can take comfort from the fact that if the best arguments they can muster boil down to comparing the "green blob" with Nazis the Climate Change Act is not in any danger just yet.
28 Oct 2014
The reaction to the EU's new energy and climate change package is one of those hugely complex scenarios where almost everyone is right.
Ed Davey was right when he hailed the deal as "historic" and ambitious. Climate scientists were right when they said the 40 per cent emissions reduction target did not go far enough. David Cameron was right when he argued it was logical to avoid binding national clean technology targets and give countries the freedom to meet emissions targets as they saw fit. Caroline Lucas was right when she countered that it would make it a lot easier to mobilise investment in cost effective clean technologies with binding targets. Brussels sources were right when they said the agreement represented a boost to the prospects of an international climate change treaty. Green NGOs were right when they warned we are still a long way from delivering a sufficiently ambitious international agreement. Business groups were right when they counselled that special transitional measures were needed to stop heavy industry quitting the EU. Carbon market experts were right when they warned handing out too many freebies to carbon intensive firms would undermine the credibility of the entire package. Poland and Eastern European states were right to argue they need significant financial help if they are to decarbonise. And Green politicians across the bloc were right when they said the targets would be useless without even more concerted action to transform coal-reliant economies.
In fact, the only analysis of the EU energy and climate change package that it is difficult to construct a compelling argument in support of is the climate sceptic canard that Europe's leaders have embarked on a quasi-treasonous attempt to destroy one of the world's few modern economies.
However, in wading through the huge amount of often conflicting analysis prompted by last week's EU energy and climate change deal - in attempting to work out who, among all the people who are right, is most right - it is vital that business leaders retain some perspective.
The first bit of perspective that is essential to any and all discussions of energy and climate change issues is that climate risks, as explained by the world's most respected scientific authorities, are escalating. The emissions cuts the EU and many other leading economies are working towards give us a small and shrinking chance of keeping average temperature rises to 2C. Businesses and governments everywhere need to stop hiding from this frightening reality and ensure that all long term planning and investment factors in the risks associated with climate change. Climate resilience has to become part of business-as-usual.
It is this reality that feeds into all the entirely justified criticism of the level of ambition contained in the EU package. Set against the scale of the climate risks governments and businesses face, the failure to adopt more ambitious emissions targets and sort out the manifest flaws in the emissions trading scheme is an ongoing travesty.
However, the second piece of perspective it is critical to retain is that the EU energy and climate change package does provide a major boost to decarbonisation efforts across the bloc and as such leaves the door ajar for the 2C goal.
An emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent by 2030 confirms that even against a backdrop of economic insecurity, geopolitical tensions, national populism, and media misinformation, Europe's leaders are committed to continuing the great clean industrial revolution that they embarked on almost a decade ago. Policies to encourage low carbon investment and gradually shift the economic balance of power away from unabated fossil fuels will continue. The complex arguments that demonstrate how clean technologies improve health, enhance energy security, drive economic growth, and tackle climate risks have won out.
It remains true that this new target would have been easier to meet if the EU's leaders had made more progress in reforming the bloc's emissions trading scheme (although ambitious reforms could yet be finalised). Equally, the blunt instruments that are binding national renewables and energy efficiency targets may well have better served to maximise clean tech investment compared to the current arrangements. However, with renewables' costs falling and the business case for energy efficiency investment more compelling than ever these sectors have to be confident they can still play a massive role in achieving the binding 40 per cent target. The absence of binding targets leaves these industries vulnerable to anti-clean tech politicking in some parts of the bloc, but across the EU as a whole the green energy sector will continue to prosper.
Anyone doubting this fact needs to apply the cui bono test that should be the primary metric for assessing any international treaty. The reality is that in agreeing to the next decade of decarbonisation efforts European leaders have delivered a significant long term boost to the green economy and clean technology firms. Coal investors and unreformed heavy industries may have been celebrating the handful of concessions they wrung from Brussels, but who will be happier, the renewable energy firm with a clear role to play in the march towards decarbonisation or the coal plant that will eventually have to either install commercialised carbon capture and storage technology or shut up shop? The investor planning to build interconnectors to deliver a better functioning European energy market, curbing emissions and costs in the process, or Vladimir Putin watching one of his main gas export markets tap into alternative sources of energy?
It is also worth remembering that the EU is on track to comfortably beat its emissions target for the current decade, in part because of the great recession, but also because of massive gains in clean energy and efficiency. The new binding 40 per cent emissions target is a floor and not a ceiling. It could conceivably be increased to 50 per cent in the event of an agreement in Paris and is highly likely to be exceeded either way if the current pace of improvement in clean technologies continues.
It is the clear signal to businesses, investors and policymakers, the EU has provided in favour of continued decarbonisation that explains the remarkably intemperate media backlash from climate sceptic groups and fossil fuel backed vested interests. Beyond the confines of the wilder extremes of our political class they are losing the argument and are left with few cards left to play, beyond attacking a "green blob" that includes the majority of the public and countless businesses and scaremongering about a European economic catastrophe that they will eventually have to recognise is simply not going to happen (or at least is not going to happen because of environmental policies).
Serious business leaders and investors need to look at the policy signals emanating not just from Brussels but also from European national governments, China with its new carbon markets, the US with its booming clean tech industries, emerging markets with their various renewables strategies, and recognise the risks associated with high carbon infrastructure and business models keep ratcheting upwards at exactly the same time as the risks associated with clean tech are plummeting. The reaction to the EU's energy and climate change package may have seemed contradictory and confusing, but the overarching investment signals are anything but.
Love them or loathe them (and a convincing case can be made for either position), you have to admire Greenpeace's effectiveness. If the "house always wins" is the golden rule of gambling, "Greenpeace always wins" is the golden rule of corporate communications for consumer good companies. Russian dictators and fossil fuel giants may be able to resist the skyscraper traversing eco-scamps, but when it comes to the asymmetrical warfare that is corporate public relations departments versus trespassers with satirical billboards there is almost always only one victor.
"You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming," as Pablo Neruda once observed. Equally, you can issue as many statements as you like bemoaning the injustice of being targeted by NGOs, and highlighting how deforestation/drilling in the Arctic/exploiting tar sands is a complicated issue, but you cannot stop Greenpeace making you look like a bit of a bastard.
The latest company to finally acknowledge this reality is Lego Group, which with an all-consuming sense of inevitability normally reserved for death and taxes declared earlier this month that it would be ending its commercial partnership with Shell. "As we have stated before, we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell," said Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, chief executive of the LEGO Group, before confirming that in order to avoid any more pesky misunderstandings and "ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences" the company would not be renewing its co-promotion contract with Shell after all.
However, this is not a blog post about whether or not Greenpeace was justified in targeting Shell and dragging Lego into its row over whether or not one of the world's last great wildernesses should be exploited. (For what it is worth I'd argue simply protesting against fossil fuel companies in and of themselves is not justified - after all the global economy is still powered by the energy they help provide. However, if it is unrealistic to demand an end to fossil fuels overnight it is not unrealistic to call for a better form of fossil fuels. Consequently, protesting against the specific activities of certain fossil fuel companies, be it their high risk pursuit of oil in the Arctic, their high risk exploitation of ultra-high carbon tar sands, their willingness to ignore both these risks by dismissing carbon bubble arguments, their relatively paltry investments in carbon capture and storage, or their funding of climate change related misinformation, is entirely justified. And what is more those partner organisations that benefit financially from association with oil companies engaged in these activities have to accept they will be targets for protestors, in so much as they help provide the oil majors with their license to operate.)
No, this is not a blog post about the ethics of green protests; this is a blog post about what happens next.
As the old saying goes, one man's misfortune is another man's gain. Once Lego is done with feeling aggrieved about being kicked by Greenpeace the company will realise that the ditching of Shell has created a vacancy for an alternative co-promotion campaign with a different global brand. The Shell deal saw Lego make and sell Shell branded Lego petrol stations and related toys. If Tesla's Elon Musk or Nissan's Carlos Ghosn has not yet got on the phone to Denmark with a proposal for a Lego electric car charging station then they are missing a trick.
Shell used Lego for years to normalise and promote cars and petrol stations in the eyes of impressionable children. As electric cars and other clean technologies become a regular feature of our city-scapes the companies leading the clean tech revolution should look to learn from the fossil fuel marketing masters they are seeking to replace.
The Lego partnership is just one of many examples where fossil fuel brands work with loved and respected consumer-facing brands and organisations, almost all of which present a huge marketing opportunity for clean tech firms. For example, would the Tate continue to resist the Liberate Tate protestors who object to BP's sponsorship of the gallery if a clean tech competitor promised to match the oil giant's philanthropic generosity? I'd wager they would embrace their shiny new controversy-busting wind or solar powered sugar daddy faster than you can say 'the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has nothing to do with us'.
You can debate whether the high profile artistic, charitable and commercial partnerships indulged in by countless brands are a welcome example of how big businesses benefit the communities in which they operate or a cynical example of backdoor lobbying and reputation laundering (again a convincing case can be made for either position). But the reality is that from sponsored sports teams to toy manufacturers and galleries to Hollywood movie studios, corporate partners would almost certainly prefer to work with cutting edge clean tech firms over the pollutocrats of the 20th century. It is a natural advantage that everyone working in the marketing and communications departments of clean tech providers should be aware of. After all, who wouldn't want to play with a Lego electric vehicle charging station powered by a Lego wind turbine and solar farm?
I was planning to blog this morning on Owen Paterson's Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture, but having read the transcript the whole thing is so wearingly predictable that there is not much to be said that hasn't already been said.
Paterson's key points have already been calmly debunked by the Committee on Climate Change and given a mid-level Fisking by Carbon Brief. Meanwhile, I remain convinced the sacked Environment Secretary is the Kevin Pietersen of climate politics, utterly convinced that he is right and blind to any and all evidence to the contrary.
Anyone wishing to marvel at the speech's cherry-picked economic projections, contradictory promotion of four emissions-reduction technologies and lamentation of policies that "pick winners", unfounded predictions that the lights are about to go out, and bizarre suggestion the Climate Change Act is somehow blocking investment in new nuclear technology, fracking, smart grids, and, weirdest of all, energy efficiency, can simply read the transcript in full for themselves. If you come up with an explanation for Paterson's contention that suspending the Climate Change Act would mean that energy efficiency suddenly "becomes a realistic and viable option", please let me know. Is it not "realistic and viable" regardless of climate policy? In fact, if you were to accept Paterson's largely unfounded argument that scrapping the Climate Change Act would lead to lower energy prices wouldn't energy efficiency investments actually then become less viable?
Overall though there is nothing new to report here. It is a tired collection of climate sceptic tropes, complaints about the "green blob", and circuitous arguments that essentially boil down to "we don't accept the value in climate projections and energy costs predictions, but if we did our projections and predictions are better than those presented by the world's leading governments and scientific academies".
That said there is one important point raised by Paterson's speech that bears repeating again and again, particularly as he this morning reiterates his call for the suspension of the Climate Change Act on Radio 4 and trends on Twitter (with his name misspelt). Namely, that Paterson speaks only for a small cabal of climate sceptics on the right of British politics and a handful of increasingly marginalized fossil fuel executives who want to wish away climate risks and regulations.
Part of Paterson's strategy is to present himself as the voice of the common sense, silent majority; the 12 million rural voters he reportedly told the Prime Minister would be outraged by his sacking; the businesses who are apparently suffering so much from climate legislation that they may, one day, leave the UK; even the developing economies whose own governments are so misguided they wish to deploy clean energy instead of coal.
The reality is very different.
As countless polls have shown around 60 per cent of the public support wind energy and over 80 per cent favour solar power - significantly, rural communities also tend to show majority support for renewables. Some people hate renewable energy, many more are broadly supportive of it. Meanwhile, the plummeting cost of clean technologies and the emergence of energy storage systems (which are far more advanced than Paterson's neighbourhood nuclear reactors) mean the economic and technical arguments against clean energy look ever more outdated.
In Westminster, only nine MPs voted against the Energy Bill that aims to deliver the decarbonisation required under the Climate Change Act Paterson has decided, post-sacking, to oppose. Yes, some Conservative MPs wish to use attacks on climate action up as a rallying call for "Tea Party Tories" and UKIP voters, but the vast majority of British politicos, including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Foreign Secretary, and yes, the Chancellor, are on record as supporting climate action and the Climate Change Act's central goals.
The UKIP insurgency does mean the repeal of the Climate Change Act is being seriously discussed for the first time since it was passed, but the political and public barriers to it actually being scrapped are immense, no matter how many headlines in right wing newspapers Paterson can engineer.
Alongside the strong public and political support for clean energy and climate action, perhaps the biggest barrier faced by Paterson's ideological campaign is the fact that it commands so little support amongst the business and economics community.
The CBI supported the Climate Change Act and still does. Meanwhile, many of the UK's leading blue chips would be furious at the policy instability and risk that would result if Paterson's course of action were followed. There are now around a million people employed in green industries, many of which would see their jobs put at risk by the reckless and high risk strategy espoused by Paterson. When push comes to shove, how many Conservative MPs would like to see those job losses hit their constituencies?
Paterson's argument is that businesses would benefit from the lower energy bills he says would result from repealing the Climate Change Act and focusing on fracking and uninvented nuclear reactors. No doubt, some heavy industries may gain in the short term, but it is still a rare business indeed that publicly campaigns for a watering down of climate action.
The plates are shifting and they are shifting in favour of the hundreds of multinationals and institutional investors who last month gathered in New York to call on world leaders to deliver bolder climate policies. As the Rockefellers (of all people) prepare to divest their fossil fuel holdings, the auto industry throws billions at the development of green cars, and the insurance industry demands climate adaptation investment, a large and growing chunk of the business community is calling for more, not less, climate action. They have been convinced by the growing band of economists who argue that viable clean technologies mean the benefits associated with tackling climate risks, not to mention air pollution, ocean acidification and biodiversity loss (all ignored by Paterson), now far outweigh the costs.
The reality is that outside of a handful of fossil fuel incumbents and ideologically motivated hedge funds, the reaction of most modern British boardrooms to Paterson's speech will be one of bemusement (if it is considered at all). At Unilever, BT, Google, Nestle, Virgin, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Kingfisher, Apple, and many others that bemusement is likely to be mixed with a fair bit of anger and frustration. The last thing they want to see is a government that seeks to damage their long term low carbon investments and undermine the UK's position as a clean tech hub.
As Paterson delivered his speech last night and green commentators (myself included) hit out at its flaws and inconsistencies, Alastair Harper of the Green Alliance think tank noted that there was an "odd twitter focus on a sacked minister at a fringe event while Ed Davey and Caroline Flint argue their decarb options in heart of the city".
He is right, this is where the world's response to climate change is really being debated. In the corridors of power, in boardrooms, in scientific conferences and engineering labs, and, increasingly, among a public that favours clean technology and sustainable environmental stewardship over 20th century pollutocrats, and cross your fingers and hope for the best inaction.
Paterson's plans for a climate sceptic inspired energy strategy based on unproven, uncosted technologies and policy confusion represent a wish list from the margins of the British right. There is nothing in his speech to suggest that is likely to change.
Prepare yourself for a week of stories about one brave hero standing up to the bullies, about the appalling injustice that is the inability of privileged white men with friends in the media to get a fair hearing, and about how much better the world would be if we stopped listening to so-called experts and simply accepted the wisdom of those geniuses who bring their natural leadership skills to bear in otherwise dull and bloodless fields.
No, it is not the second week of articles about Kevin Pietersen's autobiography, it is the first week of articles about Owen Paterson's emergence as the latest standard bearer of UK climate scepticism.
The likeness may not be immediately obvious in anything but their names. But as the former England cricket captain continues to hawk his book and the former environment secretary prepares to deliver his lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation this Wednesday, the parallels between the two men become ever more apparent.
Both are renowned for drawing on seemingly inexhaustible wells of self-confidence. Both are perfectly comfortable standing up to authority – Pietersen battling with successive England coaches; Paterson reportedly indulging in a "blunt exchange" with the prime minister. Both have their supporters – Paterson allegedly believes he commands the support of 12 million rural voters who were "smashed in the teeth" by his sacking; Pietersen has Piers Morgan.
More importantly, both believe they were bullied – Pietersen by a clique of bowlers, Paterson by the "green blob" (inconveniently for their critics, both appear to have some justification for their grievances: some of the threats Paterson reportedly received from animal rights activists over his badger cull were utterly unacceptable; and there is some evidence the England dressing room was a pretty fractious place). Similarly, both Paterson and Pietersen appear to firmly believe the world would be a much better place if their advice were followed instead of that offered by the vast majority of climate scientists, engineers, economists, and Ashes-winning cricket coaches. And both were perfectly content to put up with the many iniquities they faced while they were offered a platform for their talents, only going public with fundamental disagreements with their former team mates once they were unceremoniously dismissed.
Of course, while these similarities may offer a diverting start to a blog post, they can be extended only so far. For one thing, Kevin Pietersen is a genuine A-grade, world-beating exponent of his chose profession; Paterson was a low-profile cabinet minister who is condemned to the public indifference faced by all politicians operating at his level – the reality is, only a fraction of the 12 million people who he reckons were so upset by his sacking could pick him out of the proverbial line-up. However, the most crucial difference is that Pietersen's complaints centre on the best way to coach a cricket team, while Paterson's complaints centre on the best way to tackle an existential threat to humanity.
We cannot yet know what Paterson will say in his lecture later this week, but the Sunday Telegraph's comprehensive front-page preview raises several points that green business executives would be wise to challenge.
Paterson's attack on green orthodoxy looks likely to centre on fears that the lights will soon go out – his lecture is reportedly entitled "Keeping the lights on". "Blind adhesion to the 2050 targets will not reduce emissions and will fail to keep the lights on," he will say of the Climate Change Act's over-arching emissions target. "The current energy policy is a slave to flawed climate action... In the short and medium term, costs to consumers will rise dramatically, but there can only be one ultimate consequence of this policy: the lights will go out at some time in the future."
It cannot be said often enough that National Grid – the company that actually operates the grid and is tasked with ensuring the lights will stay on – does not believe this is the case. The government and the grid operator are united in confidently predicting the lights will stay on. Yes, capacity margins are expected to tighten over the next few years, but the grid operators have numerous levers they can pull to ensure supply matches demand and a huge pipeline of new projects is moving forward to address long-term energy security concerns. Meanwhile, continuing improvements in energy efficiency mean UK domestic energy consumption has been quietly ticking downwards, further easing pressure on supplies.
The debate over the cost of keeping the lights on while decarbonising has more mileage in it, but again Paterson's assertion that bills will "rise dramatically" appears remarkably evidence-lite when set against the government and the Committee on Climate Change's assertions that falling clean energy costs and efficiency improvements will keep rising bills in check.
Paterson's planned assertion that the UK should suspend the Climate Change Act until other nations adopt similar targets is on equally shaky ground. The UK may be rare in having a Climate Change Act that requires emissions be cut 80 per cent by 2050, but the idea that it is alone in attempting to decarbonise at this rate is just plain wrong. Virtually all nations have signed up to a goal of limiting temperature rises to 2°C, which according to scientific advisers equates to an 80 per cent reduction in emissions from industrialised nations and a 50 per cent cut in emissions globally by mid-century. Countries and regions as diverse as Mexico and California have comprehensive Climate Change Acts and more than 60 nations, including all the world's major economies, have ambitious climate legislation in place.
There are no grounds for suspending the Climate Change Act on competitiveness grounds, a fact further underlined by the continued absence of any compelling evidence that businesses are leaving the UK to avoid its climate legislation. Moreover, while the Climate Change Act cannot actually be suspended, the five-year carbon budgets it sets can be changed if scientific or economic analysis shows such a change is in the UK's economic and security interest. Some ministers who are known to be lukewarm towards climate action have looked everywhere for such evidence – and they have not been able to find it.
Paterson's mooted alternative proposal for decarbonising through "four possible common-sense policies: shale gas, combined heat and power, small modular nuclear reactors and demand management" is worthy of more consideration. In fact, were it not for his apparent suggestion that investment in these relatively low-carbon technologies should be exclusive of other clean technologies, many green businesses would endorse these methods. The problem is that Paterson appears to be arguing that investment in renewable technologies that are seeing costs plummet should be ended in favour of more investment in fossil fuel infrastructure and largely unproven nuclear reactors.
According to the Telegraph, he will also argue that the only thing stopping this course of action is the UK's 2050 emissions target. But this is categorically not the case. You could argue the EU's renewable energy targets have made investment in nuclear and fracking less attractive, but the targets set by the Climate Change Act are deliberately non-technology specific. If as-yet-uninvented modular nuclear reactors and as-yet-untapped UK shale gas can meet the UK's carbon targets in an affordable manner, as Paterson predicts, there is nothing in the Climate Change Act to stop them. It will be interesting to see if this misleading line makes its way into Paterson's speech.
However, for all the technical arguments about decarbonisation costs, risk profiles, and international competitiveness, the greatest concern for the UK's green business community is Paterson's wider argument that the country's economy would benefit from the scrapping of the legislation underpinning so much of the government's green economic policy. The worrying reality is that this argument, coupled with his suggestion that green firms are the "subsidy-hungry allies" of "the bullies in the environmental movement", is gaining traction on the right of British politics.
Scrapping the Climate Change Act would have a negligible impact on energy bills, lead to more deadly air pollution, put billions of pounds of clean energy investment and tens of thousands of jobs at risk, leave the UK more exposed to volatile fossil fuel imports, undermine one of the biggest export opportunities for British firms, and result in the country playing catch-up in the global clean tech revolution. In addition, there is little evidence to suggest it would make the UK's carbon-intensive industries more competitive, and ironically it may even make it harder to deliver Paterson's own vision of decarbonisation through shale gas, new nuclear reactors, combined heat and power, and smart grid technologies, as some of the policies supporting these nascent industries would be jeopardised by the removal of the Climate Change Act. Ed Davey is right to call Paterson's proposal "stupid".
But with UKIP on the march, none of this counter-argument appears to be cutting through with Paterson's audience of frustrated right-wing politicos and opinion formers. Paterson's lecture will make for fascinating viewing, but judging by the Sunday Telegraph preview his attacks on the green community and the Climate Change Act appear to remain rooted in his belief that climate impacts will not be that bad and if they do worsen, we can deal with them at a later date. As every credible science academy in the world and huge numbers of business leaders have made plain, this approach is the height of recklessness and can only be justified by ignoring the huge opportunities that competitive clean technologies offer. But again, Paterson's invite-only audience seems utterly deaf to these scientific and economic warnings.
Paterson's attempt to use the Climate Change Act and the green community as a scapegoat for economic woes has secured itself a hearing on the right wing of British politics and unless centre-ground Tories and progressive business leaders challenge it head on, it will become ever more entrenched. Because the one last thing Owen Paterson has in common with Kevin Pietersen is that we can expect to hear a lot more from both of them.
ABOUT JAMES' BLOG
Previously known as the BusinessGreen Blog, James' Blog features musings, observations and occasional rants from BusinessGreen editor James Murray