Have you noticed that the weather is getting pretty strange? Since 2000, the UK has seen the five wettest and seven warmest years on record. Major flooding and extreme weather events are causing immense suffering in communities throughout the UK, year on year. This is a direct result of climate change.
To find out about climate change and fuel poverty in more detail, read our booklet on the issue.
Climate change, which is caused by the polluting impact of burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – is already happening. Its impacts are being felt in the UK and even more severely in some of the poorest countries in the world. Last year, the arctic melted more than ever before in recorded history. Things are getting incredibly serious and if we don’t take action, matters will get catastrophically worse.
But we can fight climate change and fuel poverty at the same time. Both have common root causes and both share the same solutions.
The crucial link to fuel poverty is that as well as polluting our environment, fossil fuels are also increasing in cost. Do not believe the lie spread by the media and the energy companies that the costs of renewable energy are the reason why bills are rising. The main reason why energy bills are rising is the increased cost of fossil fuels.
The dash for gas
In the UK, we generate a lot of our energy from gas, which is becoming more and more expensive. The rising cost of gas accounted for around 60 per cent of the £360 increase in the average energy bill over the past decade. The government’s own research suggests that gas prices will continue to rise.
At the same time, gas spells disaster for the climate. The Chair of the government’s own Committee on Climate Change recently wrote to George Osborne to say that increasing our dependence on gas would be illegal because of existing climate change legislation.
Despite the impact of gas on our energy bills and environment, the government, under the sway of hard lobbying by the Big Six energy companies, are planning a new ‘dash for gas’ which will see a new round of up to forty gas power stations built.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of the UK’s land is being made available for ‘fracking’, a controversial new way of extracting gas from underground, which involves pumping toxic chemicals into holes drilled deep in the ground. Fracking is being imposed on communities across the UK, despite mounting evidence that it contaminates water supplies, pollutes our air and threatens local public health. Despite the initial lies of the industry, now everyone from George Osborne, to the Energy Secretary to the chief of fracking company Cuadrilla, admits that fracking will not bring down our energy bills.
The dash for gas is senseless. Renewables are cheaper and cleaner. While the cost of gas is going up, the cost of renewable energy generated from sun, wind and tide is going down. The most recent government research showed that investing in renewables over gas would save the average household hundreds of pounds on their average fuel bills: while the dash for gas could add up to £600 to the average annual bill by 2050, an alternative scenario based on renewable energy would see bills rise by just £100 by 2020 and then start to fall in 2030.
Renewable energy – not gas – is what the public want: while almost eight in ten people in the UK support clean energy, just four per cent oppose it. Why, then, is the dash for gas going ahead? The answer: the Big Six energy companies are lobbying hard in its favour because more dirty and expensive fossil fuel energy makes sense for their profits. That’s why the Big Six have to go – they will always prioritise their profits over our rights.
If we want warm homes, lower bills and clean, affordable energy, we need to take energy out of private hands. Across the world, from Hamburg, Germany to Boulder, Colorado, towns and cities are buying back their energy grids from private companies and establishing local public companies, which pledge to lower prices and shift to renewable energy. Throughout the UK, communities are leaving behind the Big Six to set up local wind and solar co-operatives. These forms of community and public ownership can bring down the bills, tackle climate change and deliver real power to the people.
To find out about the dash for gas in more detail, check out our booklet on the issue.
Another important link to make between fuel poverty and climate change is that both are exacerbated by the UK’s poorly insulated and energy-inefficient housing. The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe. A home built in 1960 loses three times more heat than one built today. That explains why Sweden, which has invested in energy efficiency and home insulation, experience fuel poverty less severely, despite being far colder. Our draughty homes are wasting our money and our energy.
It is a disgrace that the government has cut all existing grants available to help fund insulation and energy efficiency. These grants – which, although not enough, did provide vital help for some – have been replaced by a market-based scheme called the Green Deal which sees loans offered at rip-off interest rates, ensuring that those who need help the most will be unable to afford it.
We need generous public investment in energy efficiency and insulation to keep our homes warm and our environment safe. Given that energy company profits are five times higher now than four years ago, don’t tell us that there isn’t the money for this.