17 June 2013


"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.... to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies", George Orwell, 1984.

Last Thursday the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper came to London and was accorded the honour of addressing both Houses of Parliament. One of the key aspects of the recent relationship between Britain and Canada has been the support our government has been giving to Canada's lobbying against the EU Fuel Quality Directive. This would see Canadian tar sands oil recognised as being more polluting than conventional oil and would make it much harder, if not impossible, for it to be imported into the EU; a move which the UK has steadfastly opposed.

Harper was met with three protests, two outside Parliament and another on top of it as we added British voices to those of Canadian environmentalists and indigenous people whose land would be destroyed by tar sands development. In all, an area the size of England could be laid waste to extract the oil if it is fully developed.

However with the difficulties Canada is having in establishing pipelines both to its own West coast and into America (KXL) to export tar sands oil, the EU directive could deal another body-blow to the development of this most dirty and polluting fuel. This is important for all of us because there is so much oil locked up in these sands, that exploiting it all would make it virtually impossible for us to avoid pushing temperatures well beyond the 2C which has been defined as the threshold for dangerous climate change.

I'm highlighting this, not just because it is one of the most critical climate issues we face, but also because of the way it exposes the hypocrisy of our politicians. World leaders have for years signed up to statements of their commitment to preventing dangerous climate change, yet at the same time they apparently have no qualms about supporting developments which would make that threat a reality. George Orwell would recognise this as a classic case of doublethink. Similarly oil companies devote pages of their annual reports to  sustainability, while simultaneously following a business plan based on the unsustainable exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

We have a government which still professes itself committed to the legally enshrined 80% reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, yet which votes down an amendment to its Energy Bill which set a necessary decarbonisation target for 2030. A chancellor pushing a new dash for gas through fracking partly because of the jobs it will create and in so doing  driving investment in renewable energy - which delivers far more jobs than gas fracking ever will - to a seven year low.

All of this doublethink goes unchallenged by the majority of our mainstream media which has neither the wit, nor the will to highlight the glaring contradictions. Somehow we have to hold our politicians to account, but how? I wish I knew.