Robin Ruins the World

by | 19 May 2022

I've done loads and loads of policy work on climate change - so why am I so bad at this game?

First published by Common Weal

This will be easy, thinks me. A link gets sent round our team chat. It’s a game where you have to make a series of choices and trade-offs to make the policy decisions which will save the world from climate change. Surely that’s right up my street?

I mean, I led the project which created the Common Home Plan, still the only comprehensive, costed Green New Deal for a country we can identify anyway. I know all this stuff like the back of my hand so I’m clearly going to ace this.

(Spoilers for the game ahead – play first if you want to play it…)

Early on I get the chance to do some half-arsed housing retrofit. No, says me, let’s do this properly. I wait until I get an option to do it right which comes far too late. Then comes my biggest blunder, methane. It offers me the chance to take substantial action on methane, something that doesn’t crop up in Common Home Plan much because we already cap our landfills in Scotland.

Bad mistake. What methane emissions in Scotland look like is very different from global methane emissions and what they look like. This does more than any other single decision to muck up my score.

There are other things, like me rejecting Carbon Pricing because I didn’t want a finance-market solution and was holding out of a full-on externalities tax. Along with another few ‘well that’s not how I’d do it’ moments and some instances of ‘where is my option to…’, I actually end the game with unspent ‘effort points’.

When the final results come in I have quite literally ruined the whole world. I have managed my global policy-making in a manner which is not just mediocre or bad, it’s actually terrible. I score seriously low on this (it was almost all carbon pricing and methane, but still…).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we’ve been preparing for the launch of our ten-week Common Home Plan campaign. At the start of each of the next ten weeks we’ll be releasing a short, animated video explaining how we can solve Scotland’s climate change problems and get our nation way beyond net zero to clearly net-negative.

So why was I so bad at this game? How could knowing a reasonable amount about climate change mitigation actually make me worse at a fun game than if I didn’t know it?

‘It’s global’ is really just a way to shrug and say ‘so not my problem mate’

At the risk of justifying my crap score, I think it is because I know how to get Scotland way down into the ‘net carbon negative’ territory but I couldn’t do the same for Morocco, India or Peru. All the talk about how climate change is a global phenomenon which requires global solutions is precisely half true.

It is a global phenomenon sure, but it needs local solution. The globalisation of climate change mitigation is a trick being played by exactly the same people who globalised the economy in such a way that it sharply increased the problem of climate change. ‘It’s global’ is really just a way to shrug and say ‘so not my problem mate’.

This is why the Common Home Plan is more important than ever. We need to localise our response to climate change and we need to do it with urgency. Global financial instruments won’t achieve what the world needs. We need to start filling those draught gaps, changing those land management practices, installing those car charging stations.

That is why the free market is so bad at climate change – none of those things are profitable. There isn’t the scale of market for mass electric charging yet, insulating your house improves your life but doesn’t earn you much money, it is cheaper to manage land badly than well.

Scotland has all the potential in the world to lead on climate change much in the way we say we’d like to lead. But we are simply not doing that and it’s in large part because the Scottish Government is wrapped up deeply in the ideology of globalised climate mitigation. It is relying almost totally on private sector solutions for all of these problems.

It believes that housing retrofit (cost – north of £50 billion), electrification of transport (cost – at least £10bn for infrastructure and a multiple of that for replacing vehicles) or achieving a circular economy (such a wide-ranging issue it is difficult to put a price on it) can be done ‘by the private sector’ if only the private sector can be incentivised through profit.

Perhaps it could – but it is time to be honest about the price we will pay. Those prices above assume that everything is done the most efficient way possible such as by doing mass retrofit of an entire street at the same time. If each house is done individually at random according to the actions of the householder, each one done by a different small contractor, you can add a significant inefficiency premium to the price.

And then if we follow the current Scottish Government strategy all the private interests involved have to be rewarded with an additional profit element, and that will add yet another substantial premium. Plus all of this assumes that all these private sector contractors will do a good job and not just ‘harvest the grants’. If there is to be an additional inspection regime that will add another premium.

We will pay a price in courage and effort or we will pay a price in massive household debt

This is what people in Scotland are not being told. The public sector is offloading its climate change responsibility to the private sector and to enable that to happen it is selling them you – it is you, the householder, the driver, the consumer, who is going to pay the price, plus the inefficiency premium, plus the profit premium.

So what is it going to cost you? Let’s call it £20k plus profit to get your house properly insulated, another £15k to replace your heating system (and that will be a poor-quality one) about £30k plus to replace your car, your share of the £10bn needed for charging infrastructure added to your electricity bill (that’s going private sector too) and perhaps ten per cent on your shopping bill.

Finger crossed for some grants then, eh? Because you’re going to be made to spend the equivalent of buying a second house so that the Scottish Government can claim to be leading the world while actually doing the bare minimum.

It’s not (quite) too late. There is a way out of this dreadful future in which our population is all massively in debt to corporations as the painful price of free market ideology.

It’s easy. Drop the inefficiency premium, drop the profit premium, pay for it not as householder, consumer or car owner but as tax-payer, build in an industrial strategy so that Scotland gains the economic benefit from all of this and so can pay for it via tax – and suddenly that massive, secret bill hanging over you disappears.

It is that simple, it really is. There are two ways to do this, and the Common Home Plan is the only available alternative to the household-finance-armageddon being proposed by the Scottish Government.

Over the next ten weeks we will remind you how all of this works, what a transformation it could make to Scotland, to your life, to our future.

I may have ruined the world, but Common Weal has offered Scotland a choice. We will pay a price in courage and effort or we will pay a price in massive household debt. One will save Scotland, one might save Scotland but probably won’t.

You don’t get to sit this one out. Choose.

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