Friday, March 11, 2011

No plan

Last week, the Guardian reported on UK climate and energy secretary Chris Huhne's plans to shift the UK away from oil. The immediate driver is fear of another price shock, which could devastate the UK economy. But in the long-term, there's the need to move to a greener, low-emissions economy to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. Oil prices are again at a level where that transition significantly pays off, even without considering the benefits of avoiding climate change - and the UK government seems to be seizing the opportunity while it has it.

Meanwhile, back here in New Zealand, Finance Minister Bill English was asked about how our government planned to deal with high oil prices. His response? Leave it all to the market, of course:

People are pretty sensible. When they see prices going up, they start thinking about whether they want to continue with their energy-intensive business or lifestyle.
In English, that means "people will stop driving cars". Which is pretty obvious, but also has some serious consequences around people getting to work, to the supermarket etc, as well as for food prices and the wider economy generally. You'd expect the government to be thinking about those consequences, and working out how to mitigate them and manage a transition that keeps things running - but you'd be wrong. They're not looking at greater funding for public transport as insulation against such an eventuality. They're not looking at supporting biofuels to ensure we have a fallback domestic energy supply to moderate costs. They're not looking at ways, in the long term, to shift us away from cars and towards better urban form. Their "plan" for oil price hikes is the same as their "plan" for unemployment: do nothing, and leave the market to sort itself out.

What we have is a "do nothing" government. And in the face of the worst recession in a lifetime and a likely upcoming fossil fuel demand crunch, that's just not good enough.

[Hat-tip: Frog Blog]