TaxPayers’ Alliance has just released a new report on the scale that British taxpayers’ money is being used to fund lobbying and political campaigning. We found that £38 million – $60 million – was being spent on taxpayer funded lobbying and political campaigning in just a year, a portion of which aims to secure greater government intervention to try to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is about climate alarmism and related policy activism, not sober science and free-market reliance.
The Sustainable Development Commission, a public sector body with a budget of over £4 million, writes reports arguing that economic growth is a bad thing and that “natural justice tells us that individual emissions of CO2 must, in the long run, converge around the same per capita entitlement.”
The New Economics Foundation are responsible for the Happy Planet Index, which places Saudi Arabia and Burma above the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States in terms of “achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources.” The foundation gets more than £600,000 in funding from public sector organizations.
The Campaign for Better Transport attacks road building and calls for greater spending on public transport and gets more than £400,000 of government money (a lot of the rest of its funding comes from public transport companies).
Friends of the Earth got over £150,000 to run a poster campaign on campuses.
The UK Public Health Association gets over £80,000 and puts out dubious press releases that announce: “Swine flu and climate change are inextricably related.”
Even the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences gets £3,500.
In total, we found nearly £7 million – $11 million – in funding for environmentalist groups.
A Lot of Money
When you consider that all three of our main political parties, put together, spent just over £38 million on their central campaigns at the last election, that is a very significant amount of money. It might explain why politicians have yielded to so many of the demands from radical environmentalists; you can buy a lot of power in British politics for £7 million.
British climate change policy is currently far more radical than policy in the United States. We already have massive taxes on petrol, cap and trade, the Renewables Obligation which gives wind farms subsidies of over $80 per MWh (in the States, total support for wind is $23 per MWh), a recycling crusade and a range of other government interventions in the economy. We have a mandatory target to cut emissions by 80%, which could very plausibly mean cutting our GDP in 2050 by 78 to 86 per cent. While Waxman-Markey would see the US go a long way towards catching up, that dreadful bill is at least facing real opposition.
Is Green Fatigue Coming?
The simplest explanation, in a democracy, of why we would put in place more radical green policies would be that the public want more radical green policies. Polling evidence suggests that the British public have pretty similar views to Americans, though. When asked about measures to reduce global warming, majorities oppose increased taxes on petrol, rises in airline fares and increased taxes in order to subsidize wind farms and solar power.
The biggest difference is that Britain’s current set of political institutions are a lot less responsive to popular pressure. Those majorities against costly green policies just don’t matter as much in Britain. Politicians are insulated from the public by safe seats, selection by internal party committees rather than open primaries, a host of government agencies that make most of the important decisions and the European Union, which drives policy with negligible popular involvement. Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell have written about how we can make British politics more responsive to the public in their book The Plan.
With the government funding political campaigns as well, the voice of the public is diluted still further. Popular pressure is crowded out by well-funded professional campaigns, but those campaigns don’t even represent an actual economic interest. Instead, those campaigns represent the views of politicians and officials and allow them to push their ideological preoccupations to prominence in the public discourse. Green campaigns like the Sustainable Development Commission and the New Economics Foundation loom large in the public debate and make it easier for politicians to justify – to themselves, the media and the public – ever more draconian attempts to force cuts in emissions.
It is important that Americans understand how disconnected policy in Britain is from the preferences and priorities of the public. British politicians like to strut around on the world stage boasting about the radical action that the country is taking, for example, how we lead the world in setting carbon reduction targets. They hope that the U.S. won’t want to let the side down and can be pressured into embracing similar policies to ours. The European example might not quite have the same appeal if Americans understood that Britain is putting in place green policies not because of popular pressure but in order to satisfy a government-funded lobby. Ordinary people pay the price in the form of higher electricity bills, prices at the pump and fares for their airline tickets.
The only ones in Britain who will really be disappointed if the Senate fails to follow-up on the Waxman-Markey climate bill are a narrow, self-referential political class. here’s hoping that U.S. doesn’t follow the dismal example of European climate change policy–and the UK wakes up to the folly of its own policy.
Matthew Sinclair is research director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance in London (83 Victoria Street | London SW1H 0HW)
Tel. 0845 330 9554 | Media 07795 084 113 (24 hrs) www.taxpayersalliance.com