Death Star Economics
“That’s no moon” Ben Kenobi famously observed, “It’s a space station”. Its ‘Star Wars — Episode IV, A New Hope’ and the Millennium Falcon has just jumped out of hyperspace en route to the planet Alderaan. Only instead of Alderaan they find themselves in a dense field of rocks and debris, the planet having been literally blown away by that very same ‘small moon’ — the Death Star.
I was reminded of this scene today by a couple of news items that seemed to come from a parallel reality. The announcement in Cumbria of a new deep level coal mine followed by Oil and Gas UK’s call for £200B of investment in further North Sea fossil fuel extraction.
You might think, as I did after twenty years of climate campaigning, that ‘perhaps’ the climate change message might be getting through? Particularly after the increasingly shrill IPCC reports of last year emphasising we have just ’12 years to change the world’, David Wallace-Well’s book ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’, 400+ Councils covering 35M citizens around the world declaring a ‘climate emergency’, the hottest winter day on record last month, and UK moorlands and Winnie the Pooh’s woodland catching fire. In February. And the catastrophic ongoing devastation and human misery of the worst disaster ever in the Southern Hemisphere, caused by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Malawi. Never mind the message, can you feel what is going on here? What does your gut tell you?
As the impacts I’ve spent my adult life trying to prevent, rush towards us at unexpected and un-nerving speed, arriving decades earlier than anticipated it’s no wonder some are talking about near-term or imminent societal collapse and deep adaptation.
But hey, ‘optimism’. What is so striking about the chutzpah and wilful blindness of both the Cumbria and North Sea announcements is the mendacious justification for extracting more of the very stuff that is killing us out of the ground or from below the seabed. Jobs and the economy.
Oil and Gas UK chief executive Deirdre Michie says “This is a UK industry which is critical for security of energy supply, at the heart of the move to a lower carbon economy, supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributes billions to the economy. This is the new reality and we should embrace it” Which fecking reality is that?! Not one in which the world is currently on course for between three and four degrees of climate change that’s for sure.
Mark Kirkbride, the chief executive of West Cumbria Mining, adds: “Woodhouse colliery will bring significant local benefits to Whitehaven, Copeland and Cumbria in terms of jobs and investment. I am proud to be part of something which will have such a positive impact on the local community and economy as well as the long-term financial benefits the mine will bring to the UK.” But it’s OK. They’re going to build a solar farm alongside so stop your foul green eco-whining.
This is Imperial economics. With Darth Vader describing the construction of the Death Star and subsequent acceleration of planetary destruction as a worthwhile job creation scheme. With local community benefits. Or the oncologist suggesting another wheeze on a Craven A cigarette to the patient with a tumour-clogged windpipe because they ‘won’t hurt your throat’.
Can you imagine what a £200B investment in UK renewables would do? What green energy to, by and for the people might look like? We could energy efficiency retrofit 250k houses a year, every year, for the next fifteen years for £100B. We could ramp up renewable energy investment and smart grids for £100B. Or create zero carbon heating for the whole country by 2050 for between £120–300B. We can start tomorrow.
Cold homes and fuel poverty kill more people in the UK every year than alcohol, drugs and road accidents combined (9000 in England and Wales alone in 2018). Creating cosy, comfortable homes is not ideological, practically tough or tribal in any way, and a far better way to serve the nation and all it’s people, and slash carbon emissions than where the vast majority of public infrastructure investment is currently going — new roads and the almost unfathomable HS2.
How absolutely mad, bad and utterly insane our decision-making in the teeth of this storm will look to our children? Their future, like Princess Leia’s home Alderaan, is being smashed to smithereens before their very eyes. No wonder 1.4M went on strike last Friday. As George Monbiot commented: “If something is morally wrong, creating employment does not make it morally right”.
Luckily thanks to George Lucas we now know what people do when empires build Death Stars. They rebel. It’s time.
Ed Gillespie is the author ‘Only Planet’