Chris Packham Vs Taylor Swift: Will People or Politics Save Our Planet? | Crooked Media
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June 24, 2024
Pod Save the UK
Chris Packham Vs Taylor Swift: Will People or Politics Save Our Planet?

In This Episode

The major parties have failed to pledge to make the radical changes needed to save our planet from climate catastrophe – but people power may well save us yet. 


Nish and Coco are joined by conservationist Chris Packham to find out what more our politicians need to do and how citizens can get involved. Chris also questions the wisdom of Taylor Swift’s private jet usage and brings a suggestion of how she could help create change. 


Later, Adrienne Buller drops by to explore GB Energy – Labour’s signature manifesto pledge that they’ve claimed to be the most radical climate policy ever. 


Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.


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Chris Packham – Conservationist

Adrienne Buller – Author 


Useful links:

The Break Down


Restore Nature Now






Coco Khan The election is heating up, but the major parties haven’t been paying much attention to that other thing getting hotter.


Nish Kumar We’re not talking about me and my ravishing good looks. We’re talking about the planet. I’m Nish Kumar.


Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan. And this is Pod Save the UK.


Nish Kumar And today it’s all about the environment. Stupid to get into the nitty gritty of the environmental policies on offer at the election, we’re joined by green economist Adrienne Buller  and wildlife expert, campaigner, activist and all round national treasure, Chris Packham.


Coco Khan But first, shadow Net Zero minister and former leader of the Labor Party, Ed Miliband, has been out and about selling one of Labor’s most intriguing policy pledges the introduction of great British energy. In an interview with The Eye newspaper, Miliband said we want to get going very, very quickly. If we win the election, we will be implementing the most ambitious climate and energy agenda in British history.


Nish Kumar And he’d be correct. But to be fair, it’s not saying all that much given the history of environmental policy. And also the manifesto pledges didn’t go that far when it came to the other side of environmental policy, wildlife and the natural world. Now, at the core of this, the most important element of the climate agenda has been getting the UK to net zero emissions by 2050 and has in recent history been a cross-party project. Now, just to clarify, all of the terms that we’re using. Net zero is the government’s route to achieving the targets set out in the Paris climate accords in Cop21 in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees on pre-industrial levels. And here in the UK, we were actually the first country in the world to create legislation to make the targets legally binding. So let’s work out how our ambition is holding up.


Coco Khan So labor introduced the Climate Change bill in 2008 to make it a legal obligation for future governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. And the conservatives, driven by Theresa may, put the goal of reaching net zero by 2050 into law. This was backed by Boris Johnson, who promised to go further still, increasing the target for 2030 reductions to 68%.


Nish Kumar All of which is great. And so we come to a point where actually climate policy and climate agenda is, not really a political football. It’s an issue of cross-party concern. Then enter Rishi Sunak and, let’s be fair, a sense of desperation about the conservatives electoral prospects. What are the most toxic and unpleasant elements of Sunak’s legacy? Is the politicization of climate policy and the introduction into British political discourse about the idea that there is a trade off needed between people’s bills and the expenses that the average household goes through every month, and the push towards the net zero agenda. Rishi Sunak has turned the climate into a political football in this country, and has sort of broken the cross-party consensus around net zero. He rolled back climate action plans in September last year. They announced the changes to the net zero strategy that led to the opening of the country’s largest untapped oil field, Rosebank. They also dropped the planned ban on petrol and diesel cars for 2030, and shifted the plan to off grid all gas boilers from 2026 to 2035, and they let landlords off the hook when it comes to meeting energy efficiency targets. And I think really his legacy is making climate change a political.


Coco Khan Issue, because I think it’s worth saying, even though we read out some pledges there, which of course, you know, it’s always great to have pledges, it’s always good to have action and commitment. But, you know, there is a part of me that is like, so what is 68% of shore death? What is 80% of burning inferno? Do you know what I mean? So I think like, you know, sometimes the numbers can do a disservice where it can minimize the threat that we’re talking about, you know, 80% by 2050, what’s going to happen in 2050? It will be total climate breakdown by 2050 anyway.


Nish Kumar Yeah. I think it’s important to say that we keep referring to climate change. The climate crisis is something that’s in the pipeline or something that’s going to come. It’s here. Okay. Occasionally Australia is on fire. Occasionally California is just on fire. Pakistan has had some of the most severe flooding we have ever seen this year. It is impacting people in their day to day lives around the world right now. And the political will has sometimes not been there. But what’s really interesting is that ordinary people understand the threat posed by the climate emergency. Polling frequently puts the climate as a top concern for voters in this country.


Coco Khan Anyway, we can obviously talk about this till the cows come home, but right now we’ve got one of the UK’s most radical advocates for changing our relationship with the environment. Joining us on the UK couch. Welcome to wildlife campaigner, naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham. Hello.


Chris Packham Hello.


Nish Kumar Hello, Chris. The last time I saw you, I, popped you in a big bin.


Chris Packham Yes, indeed. I’ll never forget it. Not holding it against you.


Coco Khan What sort of bin was that?


Nish Kumar It was for the television show called The Front Page, which I did with Josh when he could, where we went and worked as local newspaper reporters. And we were in Bradford working for the Telegraph and Argus. And, Chris came down, to give, a very rousing speech, to a group of people that were doing a massive litter cleanup. And we thought in order to sort of guarantee the front page of the newspaper, we thought we’d put Chris Packham in a bin holding two bin bags. It worked. Did he get on the front page? It did.


Chris Packham Mission accomplished. Oh, very pleased to have entered the bin on your behalf. I mean.


Coco Khan There is a part of me that’s like. I don’t think as a journalist you should be doing that, but that’s.


Nish Kumar No, no, I mean, this is part of the reason why.


Chris Packham The World Health Authority should have banned it from the outset. You should have seen the inside of the bin. Yeah.


Coco Khan I was going to ask you, what was it like? Can you tell us?


Chris Packham Fetid. I think it’s a single word that I would use to describe it, but, I mean, it was only a short period of time. We had a fun afternoon.


Nish Kumar We. I thought we had such a great afternoon. It was. I will also say this, Chris Packham, incredibly spry. You bounced into that bin. It was you bounced in and out of it. It was incredible.


Chris Packham 63 years of tramping around the woods. That’s what it was all about. But then you and I spent the most of the afternoon in the cafe. The truth be told. Yeah. Setting the world to. Right. Yeah. We were in a modest cafe drinking oatmeal, hot chocolate, moaning about, you know, who.


Coco Khan Hey. Whoa. I mean, you’re in the perfect place for that here, but let’s talk about Restore Nature now. It’s your fantastic march. So this podcast will go to air the day after.


Nish Kumar This is bringing together previously disparate movements that have shared aims Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, bro, society for Protection of Birds. But this is bringing them together for a day. How significant is that?


Chris Packham Well, back in 2018, I organized, a march, and it was quite well attended, but we had between 10 and 14,000 people. And you know, in my heart, what I really wanted to do on that day was just bring people from all of those different groups who often see themselves as very partitioned, and they can be quite, you know, obsessed with their own ideals and their own ventures. But there is an enormous commonality. Every one who has been at this march is there because they love life, all life. Everything that creeps close, it does things and slimes. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. And of course there are bigger picture issues climate which is impacting on life, biodiversity, life, agricultural, you know, impacts and so on and so forth. So what I wanted when I launched the idea for this March way back in November, was for those people to be standing shoulder to shoulder and looking at each other and not seeing differences, but finding commonalities because the world is under ever increasing pressure. We know all the issues that are now significantly making the news. Things like sewage in our rivers and seas, which is intrinsically an environmental issue with an enormous impact on life, ours included. And at last it’s getting front page news. So bringing all these people together and showing them, teaching them that, you know, by standing together, we are stronger, we are bigger, we are louder. I think is important because we’re going into another term of government. And we’ve gone through a period where manifestos have been launched and speeches have been made, and the environment is not prominent enough on that agenda. So we know that for the next five years, whoever is elected, we are going to be in the fight of our lives for life.


Nish Kumar In terms of the Conservative Party, in the Labor Party, who I mean, depending on how the election actually shakes down, we’re going to be talking about one of those being the party of government and one of those being the main part of opposition. How significant is the absence of climate in the conversation between those two parties?


Chris Packham Well, frankly, it’s insane. I mean, this is the largest issue of our age because it impacts on all of the other things and the day to day things that really concern us and and understandably so. Cost of living crisis, NHS crisis, these things must be addressed. But ultimately climate will impact upon those. There were heatwaves taking place across the world now which are killing people. They will hospitalized people here in Europe. The stress on our already crumbling system will be greater because of climate breakdown, cost of living well, food is a key part of that. Energy is a key part of that. We cannot continue to invest in expensive fossil fuels, which are very much a sunset industry. We need to invest in cheaper renewables. Had we done that starting in the 80s, we would have been in a far more secure place now and people’s energy bills wouldn’t be as high food. There will be crop failures, and because we’re not dependent, you know, on our own farmers entirely and European farmers are our food. Would you open your fridge? It comes from all over the world. Crop failures in other parts of the world, particularly the global South, where climate breakdown is impacting more rapidly, a more. Or harshly will land on the shelves of supermarkets in the UK and people will have to start paying the cost of that. So what we need here is some bold, brave leadership. We need these people to stand up and find the courage to tackle this issue, because it will come at a cost, a pound cost, as well as a cost in that we all have to change our minds and therefore our practices. But the reason that I’m optimistic still remarkably, is that we have a portfolio of solutions. We know we’ve got to keep the fossil fuels in the ground. The IPCC have said that the UN have said that our own climate change committee have said that all the scientists say that it’s pretty it’s pretty clear. We know we have to transition away from animal agriculture. Again, it’s pretty clear the science is all on the table. And we have methods to make that transition. And now is our time. We’ve got to step up to the plate.


Coco Khan So you said earlier that you know there’ll be a pound cost. Sometimes that pound cost is. Let’s be frank. It’s turned into a culture war issue hasn’t it, where it’s like those with the lofty ideals don’t care about the cost and how it will affect those with little. I mean, what do you say to that argument?


Chris Packham Well, every time you kick the cost down the road, the price goes up. Yeah. Had we been dealing with these issues in the past, have we been investing in those renewables? And a great percentage of that was supplying our grid now and then, our dependance on fossil fuels, had we not been held to ransom by Putin and his gas and so on and so forth, had we had our own independent renewables, far cheaper to both implement and and use and distribute, we wouldn’t be in this position. We kicked the, you know, the cost down the road and now we’re paying the price of it. If we continue to do that, it’s going to cost us, our children, our grandchildren, not only pounds, but maybe their lives. That’s what we’re dealing with here. The scientists have recently come out the climate scientists and in them we trust and said, we’ve got five years now to address climate wipe down essentially our our emissions. So the idea that we should scrap net zero to project jobs now is so unbelievably shortsighted. It’s beyond Specsavers. I mean, you know, this is a term of office. The next five years will be the most important in global governance, not just the UK.


Coco Khan I think it’s important that you say that because the targets are 2050 net zero by 2050, that’s what has been agreed. But you’re saying five years. So I mean I’ve got a list here of the local targets that have been set. You know, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Glasgow, they’ve say 2030. Greater Manchester said 2030. I mean all of that is too late.


Chris Packham It’s too late. Of course it is. And we could we constantly set these targets and then we don’t meet them and we set agendas to meet those targets and then we undermine the more scrapped them completely. You know, I’m currently in litigation with the UK government about winding back on various policies which would have given us guaranteed measurable progress when it comes to addressing net zero. And they constantly eke away at these because they don’t have the courage to find the investment and to change people’s minds. It’s not all problems. And the idea that we’re going to have to go back to living in caves, eating carrots, is utter nonsense. As I say, we have a portfolio of matters which we could implement, and we need to pressure our politicians to do that. And I see no difference before or after the election.


Speaker 5 [AD]


Nish Kumar So in the manifesto. This is the first time the labor leadership have explicitly agreed to uphold the diversity and nature targets pledged by the conservatives in their 2020 manifesto. This is something that they called the 30 by 30 target, which is pledging to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. So on this case, have the Labor Party gone far enough?


Chris Packham No, because that is a progressive thing. We can’t do that overnight. I mean, you know, you can’t fix nature overnight. Nature takes time to literally grow out of the ground and and and recover. And the problem with that, 30 by 30 is that there’s been a progressive series of failures to meet any of those targets. So we’re not on the bottom rung. We set the agenda long ago. We haven’t invested in it. In fact, we’ve taken money out of nature restoration and recovery constantly. And that means that now is going to be even harder to catch up. So just saying we’re going to continue as usual is not enough. We need significantly more investment. And one case in part might be our statutory agencies. And again, I’m frequently in litigation with particularly Natural England but also supporting litigation against the Environment Agency etc.. But I’ve got to, you know, be honest about the fact that I sympathize with these agencies because they’ve had their budgets repeatedly come up. Natural England, for instance, tasked with looking after our biodiversity, our richness of wildlife, if you like, in the UK in the last 25 years have had their budget cut by 40%. They don’t have the staff, they don’t have the resources to do it. And we need to put that money back there because it’s money that will be wisely spent. We are dependent on ecosystem services, Earth, for everything that we put in our mouth. It’s either come out of the ground or it’s been harvested from the sea. It’s come from some biological source. If we ditch biology, we ditch ourselves.


Coco Khan I just want to go through some of the I’m going to call them problems that are floated around in terms of, you know, getting to net zero quicker in terms of just making change faster. One of them is nuclear power, for example, that is touted as a solution. However, some environmentalists want to rule that out.


Nish Kumar The Green Party is actually proposing that we phase out nuclear power.


Coco Khan They are they are.


Nish Kumar On net zero.


Chris Packham Yeah, well I’m not you know, I can’t affiliate myself to any particular party, but I can talk about those policies from a personal perspective. Nuclear power is another one of those cases of kicking a problem down the road. It generates waste, which is extraordinarily toxic. If we continue to produce that waste at some point in the future, someone our grandchildren, great great grandchildren, great like that guy are going to have to deal with that issue. But there’s no issues with wind. There’s no issues with sun and there’s no issues with wave. So there’s a transition to be made. I’m not saying that we switch all the power stations off tomorrow. I’m not actually saying that we switch off all the oil derricks tomorrow. I’m talking about transition. And for transition to work, we need to be tolerant and we need to be patient. And we also need to be kind. We need to nurture people through that transition. So I don’t see a long term future for the nuclear industry. But at this point in time, you know, we should be using that because it’s it’s better at this point given we’ve got the infrastructure and we paid an enormous sum of money for it. Remember what’s happened with the decommissioning of those nuclear power stations and so forth. The public were left with the bill, unbelievably. So we’ve already been swindled on that account. So I think that’s make the most of that. But this is the time for investing in the UK, building those new industries.


Coco Khan I think, you know, one of the things that I’ve been really struck by is quite often solutions are touted. And then you realize that they complete rubbish, you know, carbon capture.


Chris Packham Well, there is some form of carbon capture, but it runs at a very low percentage success. And generally it’s focused around extracting that carbon, you know, from the fossil fuels at the point that they are extracted from the ground. Right. But we’re looking at less than 15%. And then, of course, they’re going to be refined and burned somewhere else. And we’ve got to deal with the problem. So at the moment, you’re right, that’s blue sky technology. And there are people who are using that excuse to to great ends. I mean, the UK we’ve got the issue of Drax power station, which is burning wood that’s been harvested in other parts of the world from Prime Force, you know, destroying biodiversity, dragging it all across the oceans and burning it here on the pretext that they they’re making significant investments in carbon capture. And that will be the way forward. But it’s not the way forward at the moment. And when you’ve got five years to deal with an issue, you don’t bank on a technology that’s not even there yet. You cut down on that burning. You keep those fossil fuels in the ground.


Nish Kumar I want to talk to you briefly about housing, because labor is pledging to build on the green belt, and this is a huge challenge, right? We need more housing. We also need to protect the environment. How do we square that circle?


Chris Packham We’ve got to square that circle. And I think again it comes down to intelligent, you know, horses for courses. And we have to look much more critically at where we put that housing. And we have to make sure that that housing is affordable and it deals with the housing crisis. I’ve come here to die, and I’ve passed loads of empty tower blocks which are never being lived in. I mean, it’s it’s monstrous. Oh, if you walk.


Nish Kumar Down by the Thames, it’s just it’s like. I am legend. Like if you truly see a light Will Smith and his dog because there is no one there. You hear one child laughing and that creeps you out. I was excited, yeah.


Chris Packham I saw all of those little buildings. Yeah. It is, if anyone wants to make an amateur zombie film. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s thing I recommend at 7:00 on a Sunday morning anywhere alongside the Thames, you know, but so that you go to your point. Yeah. So there were plenty of places where they’re not biodiversity which essentially the land is trashed. Yeah. We could recover it but that might be a very expensive investment. And those are the places that we need to put affordable housing. And we need to make sure that we get the right people into that housing. And we get that lobby building houses, which are the sort of houses we ought to be building. I mean, just the simple things going back to, you know, Insulate Britain. You remember a few years ago they were blocking the M25. What was it about? It was about two things Insulate Britain. We have the lowest standards of insulation in Europe. So we build cheap houses and then we put people in them, and then they spend all their money on expensive fuel. And it all just goes out to the walls and the roof. It’s bonkers.


Nish Kumar I mean, some let’s talk solutions now. We talked about kind of longer term vision, longer term goal. Say just as an intellectual exercise, say you were writing a manifesto for and obviously you’re a BBC presenter. You have to remain impartial for and a political party. We won’t into.


Chris Packham The Chris Party. The Chris Packham party. That’s me. Don’t vote for Chris Packham.


Nish Kumar Chris, just listening to you talk. I had a kind of out-of-body experience about you. Take a listen to listening to it, and I I’m telling you, there’ll be a lot of people listening to this guy. Like, what? What is he? Get run!


Chris Packham No. Yeah. No. Not for me. I think that probably I’m going to be more useful outside the room. On my role as an independent agitator. I’m trying to make people think, start conversations and and initiate those, you know, people finding those opportunities and moving them. I mean, I like the, you know, the roving door. I do get to speak to our politicians at all levels, and I do get to work with all NGOs. But there were there were constraints in all of those fields. And I don’t want to be constrained. I’ve got I’m 60, sorry. I’ve got a limited amount of time left and I’ve got to make as much difference as possible. And making friends is not sometimes compatible with making a difference.


Nish Kumar I love the job title independent agitator. You like gets to go back and redo the intro and introduce you. It’s because of it defended agitator. But so in terms of solutions, if you were given kind of the ability to write the manifesto pledges, what what would be your sort of three key policy proposals?


Chris Packham We’ve got to address inequality. That’s the first thing we’ve got to address. So I will be looking at taxing the wealthy and not just wealthy individuals but wealthy companies. So when it comes to energy, I’d be looking at fairly draconian windfall taxes. We’ve seen the profits that Centrica and Shell and all of those other people have been posting, whilst we’ve been paying more for our bills, whilst our relatives have been going cold so that they can eat. It’s preposterous, utterly preposterous. Let’s tax that people at that, that money. But let’s make sure it’s ringfenced to go back into that investment in renewables where we can generate jobs for people which are long term jobs, not keeping them invested in fossil fuels, which is a sunset industry is going to go, it’s going to go. We know that’s going to go. And that’s giving people hope. You know, let’s invest in education so that those people have a meaningful outcome of that education. If you ask someone to do something which is perceptibly difficult and they don’t understand why they’re resist it if you’ve educated them so they know why that’s actually a good idea or the only idea, they’ll go along with it. And what I would probably address as an undermining philosophy with the fact is that the human species is very good at cure, but is pretty crap prevention. We always have to wait for things to go very, very, very badly wrong before we do remarkable things to fix them. But when it comes to life and the climate, that’s not a five minute fix. So the underlying philosophy of the vention rather than cure, making sure that we’ve got significant investment in education, dealing with issues of inequality and integrating within that environmental policies which support people, don’t confront them with problems.


Nish Kumar Vote the policy.


Coco Khan It does not exist. But you can, participate in the Chris party in other ways.


Nish Kumar I just want to ask you one more question. I saw a very interesting video of you, on social media yesterday, issuing an invite to, a pop star who is going to be in the country this weekend. The weekend of the month? Yeah. Taylor Swift. Yeah. You were inviting Taylor Swift to the march? Yeah. To announce officially that she’s going to stop using private jets. Part of a commitment to reduce carbon emissions. We’re recording this, on Wednesday. The march happens on a Saturday. This will go out on a Sunday. What do you think the chances are that Taylor Swift has attended the march?


Chris Packham I’m an idealist and a dreamer. Otherwise I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. And I believe in meritocracy. I was brought up that way, and I believe that sometimes people wake up and they and they. Sort things out in their mind, and they do things which are, you know, fairly bold and courageous. The reason I’ve reached out to Taylor Swift is very simple. I looked at her social media and I looked at the if the following that she’d got, and I looked at who those followers are. And she is a very powerful young woman, more powerful than probably most of the politicians on the planet when it comes to her capacity to communicate. She’s also communicating with lots of young people. It’s their world tomorrow. Does she really care about their world? If she’s flying around in her private jet, that’s a luxury that was affordable to pop stars in a period of time when we weren’t doing as much damage and we didn’t know better. Now we know we’ve got to address it, and we do know better. And my message to her is really simple lead. You have the capacity to lead in a way which I can’t. Even our prime Minister can’t. Even if you wanted to. If you can exercise your voice for good, you must use it. Whatever the cost to you. I’m giving out private jets. I mean, let’s face it. The Beatles flew around on VC tens or whatever it was. Taylor Swift could jump on a whatever the current playing is. Can you imagine if she sent that message? How resounding. I mean, she’s one person. She’s got two jets or one jet now maybe, you know, but what would that say to the rest of that community? It would be really poignant, really powerful to have that much power and not use it. I think it’s a dereliction of duty.


Coco Khan Well, obviously, I completely agree with you, but I would just say rip your mentions because of all the aggressive fans, the Swifties will not take criticism of their queen. I hope you I’m not going online.


Chris Packham I look down my Instagram feed but I’m one of them just said climate scum.


Coco Khan What a great band name.


Chris Packham Hey, no T-shirt.


Yeah yeah. Climate scum.


Chris Packham I am climate scum. And you know what? I’m proud of it.


Nish Kumar Thank you so much for joining us. Independent agitator, climate scum, Chris Packham


Chris Packham Thank you.


Coco Khan Thank you.




Coco Khan So great British energy. Certainly a memorable name. I am genuinely worried that, like international listeners are mistakenly going to think it’s legally mandated to put Great British in front of everything. Now, after the Bake Off and everything.


Nish Kumar What? Oh, yeah, because it’s called the Great British Baking Show.


Coco Khan Yeah. So you’re the great British comedian Nish Kumar. Yeah, this is the great British podcast, let’s say the UK. Anyway, I digress. Great British Energy is number four of six in Labor’s first steps for change. And it’s, in their words, a publicly owned clean power company to cut bills for good and boost energy security. It’s all paid for by a windfall tax on oil and gas giants. Well, that sounds great, doesn’t it? But what does it actually mean? So joining us in the studio now is Adrienne Buller , author and editor in chief of The Breakdown, a media project dedicated to examining the role of capitalism in the climate and ecological crisis. Adrienne, welcome to Pod Save the UK.


Adrienne Buller Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.


Coco Khan So the focus of your work is green capitalism. So previous to the breakdown, you were director of research at progressive think tank Commonwealth, and you’ve written about how public power can deliver net zero in a faster, a fairer and a cheaper way. Green capitalism is obviously something that we’ve spoken about a bit on the show, but in your words, what actually is it? Is it making money from saving the planet?


Adrienne Buller So I think of it as like a bit more complex than that. So that’s definitely a part of it. And I think at the basic level, people will be familiar with a lot of the kind of policies or tools of green capitalism. So something like paying to offset your flight, you know, that, to me, is one of the kind of hallmarks of this transition that we’re seeing. But I think the best way to think about it is green capitalism is really this kind of effort to address climate and ecological crisis in a way that kind of does as little as possible to change the more fundamental underlying structures and institutions and systems of the way that we organize our economy and society. So doing as little as possible to kind of disrupt those things? Well, you know, ostensibly finding a way to kind of cut all the carbon out of our economy, which is something that I question whether that’s sort of possible to do.


Nish Kumar So yeah, I was going to say I only feel obliged to ask this question because we had George Monbiot in the studio a few weeks ago, and his his ghost haunts us a bit. And it was one of the things that someone like George would put forward is that fundamentally, capitalism is incompatible with a sensible and reasonable environmental policy. How how is someone like you meeting the challenge of capitalism, which requires consumption versus environmental policy, which requires conservation.


Coco Khan And growth as well? Growth is is quite often the the indicator of good of capitalism going well. And if we’re growing them, we’re we’re sort of wasting aren’t we. More.


Adrienne Buller Yeah. So I probably would be generally quite aligned with, with George’s comments. I think that there are kind of inescapable elements of how capitalism runs and operates as a system that make it, in my view, incompatible with a sustainable future and present, frankly. And, you know, growth is definitely part of that. But also, you know, capitalism is fundamentally organized around markets and the profit motive. And, you know, markets are good, I guess, at delivering some things, giving us different choices and like what we want to order for dinner. But what it’s not good at doing is in any way coordinating, like a fundamental transformation of our energy system or of any of the systems that kind of govern our economy, whether that’s food or the way we produce things. And if you are ultimately governed by the need to profit, then you’re unable to take into account in any meaningful way other concerns like sustainability.


Coco Khan Well, I suppose the only organization that can have a holistic view is going to be a government, which, leads us nicely to talk about GB energy. So we’ve heard much about it, but labor haven’t been necessarily clear on what it actually is. So what actually is this proposal of great British energy.


Adrienne Buller Well good question because I’m not 100% sure.


Nish Kumar And I think if you don’t know, we’re fucked.


Speaker 4 Yeah, exactly.


Adrienne Buller Honestly, no, not quite sure. I mean, I think there’s been some fairly deliberate, loosey goosey ness with the terms of what great energy is. So it’ll be great and it’ll be British and it’ll do some stuff in energy. No, but basically it is the kind of bones of what I think is a really promising idea in the abstract, which is a publicly owned energy generating company. And when I talk about generating, I mean, the kind of physical business of producing energy. So kind of owning and operating wind turbines and other kinds of power stations is kind of separate to the people who we pay our bills to, which is a whole different like segment of the very complicated market that we’ve set up in energy, but they’ve not really been clear about exactly what that means. There’s some kind. Vague language about partnering with, with the private sector. And then I think a little bit of vagueness on exactly what kinds of technologies they’ll invest in. So are we talking about taking ownership of or investing in new wind farms, or is it just kind of the more cutting edge technologies that they think there’s not enough capital in right now, like carbon capture and storage. So that is all a bit vague. And then the last thing I’d say is that they’ve pledged two things that I think are directly in conflict, one of which is this idea of having a completely clean power system by 2030. That’s an incredibly ambitious goal. You know, from when they come into Parliament, that’s five years. And that’s a massive investment from from where we are now. And then at the same time, they’ve pledged just 8.3 billion pounds over that parliament to Great British Energy. And I think when I last ran the numbers to produce a gigawatt of power, which is technical and boring, it costs about 1 billion pounds. So to put that in context. So the Committee on Climate Change said that by 2050, what we need is about 125GW of wind and about 85GW of solar to have, fully functioning net zero electricity system that, like, meets the escalated level of demand that we’ll see at that time from various factors. Right now, we have about 30GW of wind and about 15 of solar. So we’re really far from that final goal. Yeah. And the kind of money that they fled to meet their own target is about 1.5 billion pounds a year, which will get you about 1.5GW a year over five years, which basically means it barely touches the sides of the challenge that they’ve set themselves.


Nish Kumar Do you think they’re trying not to spook the private sector too much?


Adrienne Buller Definitely. I think that’s a big part of it. There’s been a huge amount of push back and lobbying around Great British Energy, and they’ve been really, really clear about how much they want to prioritize working with the private sector and not doing anything to kind of spook or displace the investment that they say is already happening on such a huge scale. But it’s worth saying that last September we had an auction round in the UK, which is basically around where developers say, I want to build this much, and not a single bid was placed to build new offshore wind energy, because the kind of rate that the government was offering, they said, wasn’t going to be profitable enough for them.


Coco Khan In theory, the government working with the private sector can stimulate economic growth and can be good for the UK. So what is the bit that stopping that beautiful alignment from happening? Is it just that the government don’t want to put their hand in the pocket?


Adrienne Buller I think it it starts to get a bit more complicated when you get into sectors that are kind of essentials for all of our lives. Right? So energy, water. You know, we talk a lot about private ownership of water and how well that’s going.


Nish Kumar Yeah. Yeah, I’m just drinking a delicious glass of diarrhea juice.


Adrienne Buller Mmmm..Sewage.


Nish Kumar Cheers.


Adrienne Buller Things like energy, water transport, all of these things where the kind of idea of competition doesn’t work particularly well. If you think about something like the electricity networks, you know, we have one grid to connect everyone in the country because there’s just no other practical way to do that. So having private ownership in that sector is justified on this kind of abstract idea of competition, making things more efficient and better. But there’s absolutely no competition. So in whole swathes of the energy system, it just kind of doesn’t make sense even on its own terms. But I think there’s something really unique about renewable energy as well, particularly if we remain committed to having energy function in a market. And start me, if this is really boring, I get really obsessed with kind of nerdy energy detail.


Coco Khan No, no.


Nish Kumar No, you are not as nerdy and you would not be fulfilling your brief. Yeah.


Adrienne Buller Yeah. Okay, good. So in the UK and in a lot of places around the world, because of the kind of success of neoliberalism and the kind of charging through of bringing markets into every sector possible, we have an energy market that basically makes it really, really difficult, if not impossible, for renewable energy producers to be profitable without really significant public subsidy. And we have different instruments to do that in the UK, that are relatively successful. But that’s, you know, it’s worth pointing out that we are spending billions of pounds already to backstop the profitability of private sector actors. Partly that’s because of the volatility and the way that we price electricity and the really high upfront costs that developers of renewable energy incur. You know, once they’re operating, it’s borderline free. But to build those offshore wind farms is tremendously expensive. Many of them will just look at the prospect of really volatile and unpredictable prices. Is in our energy market and say, you know what, I’m not sure I can make a return on that and sort of walk away from it unless the public sector offers a guarantee of price stability. And I think since 2016, we’ve paid out over 7 billion pounds through this main mechanism that we use, called a contract for difference to to offshore wind developers. When you’re doing that and you’re sort of subsidizing on that scale, it’s really worth asking the question, I think, why not just do it yourself? You know, it’s cheaper for the public sector to borrow. You can save a lot in terms of the cost of interest. You know, we can borrow much more cheaply than private actors can. We don’t have to pay out massive dividends to shareholders. There definitely will be some degree of public ownership within Great British Energy. And the goal is to kind of crowd in private sector investment. But in my view, that’s a mis a misplaced goal in the renewable energy sector, when really what we should be focusing on is kind of massively scaling up public ownership, not least because, you know, the way that they’re pitching this is that it will cut bills for households and renewable energy absolutely has the capacity to do that. Gas prices around the world dictate what we’re paying for energy, because of the very finicky way that we’ve designed our electricity market. And if you’re able to kind of separate those things and have renewable energy driving electricity prices, then you can hugely cut bills for consumers. But that stands in direct tension with the interests of private sector operators. You know, they are in it to turn a profit. And so you can’t do both and say we are going to stimulate major private sector investment in this through great British energy and kind of crowding that in, while also massively cutting energy bills for households, because those two things are directly contradictory. Whereas a great British energy that is actually a massive public sector generating company can absorb that. You know, it is not organized around maximizing profit in returns for shareholders. It can basically operate at cost and actually cut bills for all of us.


Coco Khan I do just want to ask you about this, this economic growth that is apparently going to be stimulated by this project. Do you think this actually can make Britain a bit wealthier? For example.


Adrienne Buller The idea of investing in the industries of the future in clean energy, and creating good paying jobs? That’s absolutely, I think, the right mindset. I think the difficulty that I see right now is that the rhetoric is there. Absolutely. But the actual pledges continue to be dropped or scaled down. I mean, the kind of 28 billion pound Green Prosperity Plan pledge totally scrapped, again, because, you know, people get spooked about fiscal rules. And, you know, we can have an entire episode on why I think that’s not the right priority. So, you know, I think the real test for labor and what I think is a real concern is that they’re very likely to form the next government. They’ve made all of these significant pledges broadly, all based around growth and growing our national wealth, and have the right kind of abstract ideas about how you do that in some ways, but they’re not actually doing any of the concrete work that will deliver it. And so I think the gap between what they’ve pledged to deliver and, and what they actually deliver in five years time when they’re up for reelection will be really significant. And, you know, they’ll only have themselves to blame. And I don’t think that that will go well for them. I think if you make those pledges, you’ve got to walk the talk. And that’s not what they’re doing at the minute.


Coco Khan So all talk, no trousers. Who is wearing the trousers. How are the Lib Dems looking. How the Green party. I’m sure you’ve been over all the manifestos. Is there anyone that stands out to you as really grasping the nettle here?


Adrienne Buller It’s interesting to be back in a phase of politics where it feels like the Liberal Democrats are to the left of labor again, on a lot of issues.


Coco Khan No, I was more surprised than us. Yeah.


Adrienne Buller So definitely, I think when it comes to the level of ambition around climate and environment, you know, it’s not shocking to say that I think the Greens have have the right idea. I think that they have, for the first time ever, a stronger commitment around public ownership of core services, whether it’s energy, water, rail, all of these things that are so important to sustainability, you know, they have that and labor doesn’t. There is the potential for quite a bit of kind of more ambitious pressure on labor when it comes to climate and environment, which I think will be really interesting.


Nish Kumar Adrienne Bullet, thank you so much for joining us on parts of the UK.


Adrienne Buller Thanks so much for having me.


Coco Khan So, Nish, after all that, how are you feeling?


Nish Kumar It feels weird to say this about the end of life on this planet, but there were definitely some real, concrete things to be hopeful about. Only insofar as there are solutions out there. And Adrienne and Chris were both very keen to stress that there are things that can be done, and there are things that can be done in the short term, medium term and long term. There are solutions that can be reached for it. Chris was also so keen, I think, to stress this idea that it doesn’t mean turning off all of our current energy system, and then just immediately switching everything and causing chaos. It’s about a transition and it’s about phasing. And also Adrienne talking about the idea of nationalized renewable energy and how that can be a job creator and be something that can drive energy bills down. I think it’s such an important message to be out there right now. And but the issue here is closing the gap between what is possible. It’s how do you make the possible inevitable. That’s the challenge with any kind of political progress. And so I think it’s going to be really, really important that all of us push the next government as hard as humanly possible. And I’m hoping that because we think it’s going to be a labor government, that there is scope to push that party as hard as humanly possible and apply as much political pressure about it. I think I think that this is just an important message for progressive people in general, and it’s something that we really have to learn that elections are a starting point, not an end point.


Coco Khan Yeah. Chris painted a really vivid image of all these groups standing shoulder to shoulder, and it really just reminded me there’s more of us than there are of them. And when I say us, I mean people who care about the planet. People who want the world to be better, kinder, fairer. There are more of us than there are in Tufton Street than there are, you know, the billionaires. I mean, I know that they have power, but we have power, too. Yeah. And I think that was that really, really inspired me. I was heartened by the opportunities that are already out there and just yeah, just being reminded that, like, people killed the planet, but people will save the planet. And that is just kind of a nice thing to remember. And that’s the show. Thank you for listening to Pod Save the UK.


Nish Kumar You climate scum. Independent agitators. Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.


Coco Khan Thanks to senior producer James Tinesdale, assistant producers May Robson and Artemus Irvin and digital producer Alex Bishop.


Nish Kumar Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.


Coco Khan Thanks to our engineer Hannah Stewart.


Nish Kumar The executive producers are Louise Cotton. Dan Jackson had Madeleine Herringer. With additional support from Ari Schwartz.


Coco Khan And remember to hit subscribe for new shows on Amazon, Spotify, Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.