If we need to “wean ourselves off oil”, government should lead the way

Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary reckons: “getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East.” My response is simple: if it’s so important to stop our dependency on oil, YOU go first. Please show us how it’s done. And you can start by getting rid of the current tax on fuel.

Tax on fuel in the UK is the highest it has ever been. For every litre of petrol (unleaded average at present is 131.38p), 58.95p is tax. And 20% of the final price includes VAT (also a record high of 20%). There are those who vilify the oil companies when they see the exorbitant profits they are enjoying. Let’s think about this for a moment: the oil companies are the ones who scan the earth for oil (drilling locations are heavily restricted due to “green” regulations), construct oil platforms, drill for the oil, refine it, ship it around the world, and deliver it to your local petrol station overnight, and require all the overheads of any business, versus: a government of powerful vote-whoring politicians who are practically answerable to no-one, with a track record of breaking promises, lying to your face, taxing you at every single possible opportunity, more than doubling the price of petrol itself, and invading your privacy. If we are going to point fingers, let’s be honest over who the real villains are.

Another obvious (and pretty silly) myth being perpetuated here is that oil is an addiction we can just get over. No, we can’t. And we shouldn’t. The quality of life we enjoy in the West is dependent on our demand for power. This isn’t something to be guilty about, but proud. It’s what separates us from savages in other parts of this world. There is no viable efficient practical alternative to oil as a power source at this moment in time. If and when the circumstances necessitate a shift, you can be sure that private companies (the ones who meet our demands now) will find the answer. That is how it always works. That is the only way it can work. (Even if somehow it doesn’t work out, the government does not hold the keys to a golden room where all our necessities are stored for emergencies. The power to tax is not the power to create.)

Incidentally, having a job title with the words “energy and climate change” seems like a contradiction to me. It’s like being a pro-Semitic Nazi or an anti-abortion individualist. The cult of climate change is fundamentally opposed to human well-being and industry. All this meddling in the economy simply wastes taxpayers’ money by pushing impractical “green” alternatives that can’t meet our demands. Why don’t these politicians realise that you can’t force a shift in the market, and if you do, the laws of economics will only come back to bite you? You can say we need to get away from oil all you want. For that matter, you can say we need to get away from our reliance on oxygen – but wishes aren’t horses. (Interestingly, other governments in the past like Soviet Russia and North Korean have had a desire to “wean” their citizens off another commodity they were heavily reliant on: food. It sort of worked; they ended up running out of food anyway, but had several million less mouths to feed.)

The current fuel costs are crippling businesses and draining investment capital – the very thing that would be used to fund any change in the energy industry in the future. This is the unconscionable irony for governments and ecologists alike: if you care about the future, leave private companies free to exploit the present.

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