Tuesday, December 18, 2007


PROMOTING CARBON RATIONING AND A GREEN POLICE STATE. This is a more extensive coverage of a shocking interview with a highly-esteemed Greenie totalitarian that I mentioned yesterday. Hitler has a passionate belief that Germany's troubles were due to the Jews. Mayer Hillman has a passionate belief that a harmless gas we all breathe out is a huge threat. Given their assumptions, the policies of both men become reasonable. But the world is full of self-serving beliefs that have only dubious evidence to support them so we heed such fanatics at our peril

The amount of travel will fall dramatically when the Government introduces personal carbon rationing, says leading green thinker Mayer Hillman. He tells Andrew Forster that rationing is the only way to prevent runaway climate change....

Turning to the practicalities of Hillman's rationing plan, I can't help thinking that cutting emissions ten-fold in five to ten years is a bit ambitious. Hillman has a well-rehearsed line to respond to this point. "If you exceed the one tonne then the only outcome is you know that you're complicit in a process which is leading to the accelerating destruction of the planet for generations succeeding us, "he says.

Rationing is beginning to sound like a social justice programme as well as one to 'save the planet'. Indeed, that is exactly what it is. "It delivers social justice as well as protection of the global environment because the energy thrifty are the beneficiaries of others' profligacy but the profligacy isn't maintained because it gets progressively and hugely costly to maintain," Hillman explains.

But I still can't understand how governments could introduce rationing, particularly at the strict levels Hillman suggests. Think about the developing world, I say. The economies of China and India are booming; most of their people are probably looking optimistically towards the future instead of worrying about climate change; they probably aspire to the same high-energy lifestyles that we already have. How are you going to convince them to stick to living on a one tonne allowance of CO2?

Actually, he says, developing countries will like rationing because they will make money by selling surplus credits. And anyway, he says, in some countries it won't be necessary to convince the public that this is a good idea. "The Chinese live in a totalitarian state," he points out. "You don't have to persuade the Chinese, you've got to persuade the Chinese Government." What about the developed world? How's he going to convince the citizens of the UK that personal carbon rations are a good thing?

"Well, you may be surprised to know that contraction and convergence has been an element of Liberal Democrat policy for about three or four years," he says. "They don't trumpet it." The idea also has supporters within the Conservative and Labour parties, he adds, and the UK is supporting its discussion at this month's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali.

But Hillman concedes that rationing will be controversial. "Nobody wants to acknowledge that this is the only way because of its implications," he says. "As I say, this spells out the end of flying, this spells the end of longdistance travel because the per capita ration cannot stretch to this." Which is going to be a huge shock to most people, I suggest. "Well all I can say is 'hard luck'."

But if a government does come forward with rationing, people will legitimately ask 'What about my job?, 'What about my holiday?' How would he respond to such concerns? "We have a responsibility to pass the planet on to future generations in a reasonable state," he begins. "Imagine if I were to be around in 2057 and accountable to our little granddaughters and they said tome 'What were you doing in 2007 when all the evidence was there of the devastating process to which you and all the people who were alive at the time were adopting?' Imagine if I said, 'Well we worried about the employment implications, we were worried that we couldn't visit our friends and family if they lived a long distance away because that would entail flying.' It's almost monstrous I think to wheel out that line of reasoning. It is just unacceptable."

Some people might not accept that view. "Yeah, well they need bloody educating," he says. "And I draw comfort from the fact that when food rationing was introduced in 1939 there were no demonstrations in Trafalgar Square."

Hillman thinks many people in the UK would actually welcome carbon rationing because, in the early years, much of the population would be financially better off (though they would, of course, be restricted in what they could spend their new-found wealth on). "Others will support it because the Government at the time of its introduction will be in the process of educating the public that this is the way to go," he says. "People realise that's the way it is in a time of shortage, of scarcity."

I still think he's underestimating the uproar such a policy would bring. What if people aren't convinced even after the education programme? I just can't see how a democratically elected government could introduce this.

The word "democratic" triggers an interesting exchange. "Ah, that's right," he says. "Very good and you're absolutely right. And that's why in 1990 I wrote a paper saying that the most dangerous threat of climate change was to our democratic institutions because the implication of democracy is that if you can't persuade the majority to support a particular policy then you can't introduce it.

"Can you imagine saying in 50 years' time, 'I'm sorry, you've inherited a devastated planet but we couldn't persuade the majority to go down the route to prevent that happening because that entailed carbon rationing and the majority of people weren't prepared to accept that - they preferred to flout the implications or pretend to ignore the implications of what they were doing and so that's why you're now in this state.'

"When the chips are down I think democracy is a less important goal than is the protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it. This has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not."

By whom? "Government." What sort of government is that? "It's a government that recognises that priority."

It's not a democratically elected government? "Well, whether it is or not, I mean, you know, you're pressing me."

Is it a police state? "Erm, well, I, to a degree I shouldn't answer your question because I find it almost impossible to believe-" He seems to be saying he finds it impossible to believe people wouldn't accept rationing once they've been taught about the problem but he breaks off and changes tack.

"Ah yes, I've got another line of defence and it's an important one. You don't have to persuade the public to support the introduction of carbon rationing. All you have to do is persuade political leaders to do it. So that, for the next General Election, all the political parties will say the only way ahead is carbon rationing. So the electorate is then presented with no party saying we don't want carbon rationing, except perhaps the BNP but I think even they have expressed concern about climate change. "We've got a year-and-a-half to get that message across so there is a combined front from the political community to the general public. I mean if they're all agreed, you can't have individuals saying, 'Well I don't go along with it'. Because there's no alternative."

I put it to Hillman that rationing won't be politically deliverable and that, instead, we're going to have to rely on a long-term technological solution to cutting CO2. He's exasperated. "But we don't have time for a long-term solution to this! We are at this critical stage and you're saying technology will ride to the rescue in the longer term. It can't! It's too late!"


Nutty bureaucratic Britain again

Woman 'cured' by prayer can't get benefits stopped because government computer doesn't recognise miracles

When June Clarke walked again after six years in a wheelchair, the committed Christian put it down to the power of prayer. But when she shared the good news with benefits officials, they refused to stop her incapacity allowance - telling her their computer "didn't have a button for miracles". With the Government pledging to crack down on "sicknote Britain", it seems remarkable the 56-year-old received more than œ3,500 she did not even want.

Mrs Clarke, from Plymouth, slipped on a wet floor at her workplace in 2000. She badly damaged her hip, pelvis and spine and had to give up work and draw incapacity benefits as her symptoms worsened. Her husband Stuart, 58, a pastor at Hooe Baptist Church, said that he prayed every day after the accident that God would "bring my wife back". The prayer seemed to be answered when his wife attended a Christian conference in January last year. Within hours, Mrs Clarke was able to fold away her wheelchair and stop taking painkillers.

When she realised she was permanently cured four months later, she contacted the Government's Industrial Injury Department to put a stop to her benefits. But the department continued to give her œ600 a month - and she ended up being paid œ3,600 in incapacity benefits for a period when she was in perfect health.

"After I got healed in January 2006 I went to the doctor to check it out with him," she said yesterday. "He said wait six months. "But after four months I felt uncomfortable taking benefits when I didn't need them. I contacted the offices to ask to come off the benefits." But officials told her that the system was unable to recognise an apparently miraculous recovery. Mrs Clarke had been awarded an allowance for life and the computer wasn't programmed to allow the payments to end until her death. "They said: 'We haven't got a button to push that says miracle'."

She then saw a government doctor, who was baffled about her recovery but declared her fully fit. The allowance was stopped and Mrs Clarke has since been able to repay the money by working as a carer. Mr Clarke said that he found the couple's battle with the benefits system amusing, if frustrating. "We would have loved to have used the money for a good cause," he said. "But it wasn't ours to spend. It can't be often that a government department gets a complaint about unwanted cash."

A spokesman from the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Each case is treated individually. When a customer contacts us to say they no longer require or need to claim benefits we ask for a letter of confirmation for security reasons."


Britain fiddles with immigration restrictions

If they were serious, they would start arresting the huge numbers who have been denied residency but who just stay on anyway

Plans for a crackdown on foreign visitors to Britain are to be unveiled this week in a fresh attempt to tighten the country's borders. Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, will propose restrictions on millions of people, including those who take advantage of a system of "sponsored family visits". Families who "sponsor" visits, on temporary visas, from relatives abroad may have to put up a cash bond - possibly of 1,000 pounds - before their visitors are allowed in.

The move is also set to see the ordinary tourist visa having its limit halved from six months to three. The plans will potentially affect millions of people who come to Britain on temporary visas every year from outside the European Union.

Mr Byrne told The Sunday Telegraph last night: "Over the next 12 months we will see the biggest shake-up of the immigration system in its history. The final front, I believe, is foreign visitor routes where change is needed."

The crackdown comes as Gordon Brown's Government seeks to regain the political initiative, following a series of crises over the past few months which have seen Labour's support plunge in the opinion polls. One survey has put the party 11 points behind the Conservatives. The Prime Minister and senior ministers intend to use immigration and plans for stronger borders as part of a New Year initiative to outflank the Tories, who they claim are weak on the issue.

Labour strategists believe that if the Tories oppose the plan for new restrictions on foreign visitors, they will alienate their Right-of-centre core vote. Conservative leader David Cameron has so far fought shy of addressing immigration directly, although he has admitted that he believes overall numbers are currently "too high".

Earlier this year, Mr Byrne announced plans to streamline the system of allowing foreign visitors into Britain from outside the EU into just four categories of visas: tourist, business, student and sponsored family visit. Only the new student category has come into force. The shake-up was announced when Tony Blair was prime minister and John Reid was home secretary. This week's announcement - going significantly further than the original plan - is designed to show that Mr Brown and Jacqui Smith, Mr Reid's successor, are prepared to be even tougher than their predecessors. Mr Byrne is now tightening the sponsored family visit option, proposing it should be available only to British citizens who have full residency in the UK. The sponsor would in effect be fined the amount of the bond, should family visitors overstay their time in Britain or breach the terms of their visas.

Ministers originally proposed such a system in March but it was rejected after strong protests from immigration rights groups. The Government is now proposing bringing the bond measure back as part of the wide-ranging consultation exercise Mr Byrne will unveil this week. The right of appeal against any decision by immigration authorities not to allow a visa could also be scaled back or withdrawn altogether.

Home Office immigration figures show some 12.9 million people came into Britain temporarily last year, up more than 2.5 million over 10 years. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "This is yet another desperate grab for headlines by an immigration minister who does not recognise the need for a strict limit on the number of economic migrants coming into Britain."


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