The business leaders, academics and environmentalists warning that we need a major U-turn in UK energy policy (Government ‘must change course’ after climate pact, 14 December) were clearly correct. They were focusing rightly on the need for renewables and energy conservation to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets. But it is also worth focusing on how we need many of the environmental measures that the government has cut back, delayed or abolished for economic and social reasons.
George Osborne has understandably stopped talking about rebalancing the economy – given his patent failure to achieve that in five years as chancellor – but effective policies to support wind and tidal power offer design and manufacturing opportunities for British business that are currently being squandered. The rest of the world is powering ahead on renewables, and we’re being left behind. Small- and medium-sized enterprises around the country who’ve invested in training staff – and could be taking on many more apprentices to improve Britain’s skill base – for solar installation and home energy efficiency could be given a secure future by a sensible response to the feed-in tariff consultation and a recognition that housing is part of our national infrastructure and desperately needs investment.
That investment could tackle Britain’s awful, indefensible excess winter deaths – the reality that many people, particularly older people, are in homes that are impossible, or too expensive, to heat, and are dying and suffering serious ill health as a consequence. Investment in local public transport – buses, local trains, walking and cycling – could tackle social exclusion (two-thirds of jobseekers don’t have access to a car), cut the toll of air pollution deaths, and reduce the pressure on the NHS from obesity and diabetes.
Support for community energy schemes would not only give us a decentralised, resilient energy supply but ensure people can invest in their local communities, and keep that money circulating locally, rather than swishing off into tax havens. In short, tackling climate change isn’t a cost to bear but an opportunity to rework our economy and society so that it creates jobs people can build a life on, ensures households are warm and comfortable and communities prosperous, and our air is breathable.
Green party leader
• The idea that this government is likely to be shamed by charges of hypocrisy “unless it does a U-turn on energy policy” is one of the more bizarre assertions to appear on your front page. Cameron, Osborne, Hunt, Duncan Smith and most of the cabinet feed us a constant diet of hypocrisy. Just because it is marginally less bombastic than Donald Trump’s doesn’t make it any less toxic.
• Amber Rudd (Warning of 18,000 job losses as solar subsidies cut, 18 December) takes the misuse of the egregious mantra “hard-working families” to a new low when she proclaims her “priority is to ensure energy bills for hard-working families are kept as low as possible”. Presumably non-working householders, including pensioners, don’t count in this lame excuse for abandoning the government’s climate change policies.
Labour, House of Lords
• The final report of the Task Force on Shale Gas on which you report (Government accused of climate change U-turns, 15 December) concludes, inter alia, that: shale gas “can be produced safely and usefully in the UK provided that the government insists on industry-leading standards”. In my evidence to the taskforce, I raised the concerns over radon risks from fracking, as extensively aired in the US but barely at all in the UK, and the health hazards posed by endocrine disrupter chemicals – so called “gender-bender” chemical additives – used in fracking fluids.
Two years ago this month, academic researchers at the University of Missouri, released the results of research they had conducted into the known chemicals used in fracking, which found higher levels of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking wells than in areas without drilling. On radon gas risks, the taskforce defers to the expertise of Public Health England, whose final report on the review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction process – published in October 2014 – states: “If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay … there is therefore the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale.”
In the taskforce’s second interim report, published in July this year, it looked at the impacts of shale gas associated with the local environment, including potential impacts on air and water and on public health impacts. No mention is made of the critical evidence I submitted. I have no faith whatever in the credibility of this taskforce, which was fully funded by the fracking industry.
Dr David Lowry
Senior research fellow, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts