The EU’s post-industrial revolution
José Manuel Barroso's new energy policy represents a retreat from development driven by fear.
For the increasingly discredited European Union (EU), climate change has been the main
game in town for some time. Few other issues seem to contain any potential for rallying
public opinion or providing officialdom with legitimacy – especially among youth. Now, however, the European Commission has taken a further step. Technological advance
itself is now cast as ‘the fight against climate change’. The Commission’s new Energy Policy for Europe is, it says, about ‘catalysing a new industrial revolution’. (1) And, tentatively catching up with the 1973 concept of Cold War American
sociologist Daniel Bell, EU president José Manuel Barroso, himself a Maoist in Bell’s heyday, is more
radical still (2). After the first meeting of the enlarged, 27-member EU, Barroso insisted that
Europe must ‘lead the world into a new, or maybe one should say post-industrial revolution’ (3).
But what is this revolution, which the Commission variously describes as ‘challenging’, a ‘step-
change’, ‘truly ambitious’, and to do with ‘solidarity’ between member states? It is
a. to perfect the work of market forces by separating energy production from distribution;
b. to follow Denmark’s windmills, Sweden’s 185,000 installed geothermal heat pumps and
German’s fondness for bio-diesel, so as to raise the level of renewable energy in the EU’s
overall mix from less than seven per cent today to 20 per cent by 2020. As a proportion of
vehicle fuels, biofuels to rise to 10 per cent by the same date;
c. not just to lower EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent, 1990-2020, but also to
lower the use of energy in the EU by 13 per cent. (4)
Yet if there is a revolution going on here, it is one of falling expectations. What appears to impress
itself on the EU’s chiefs is not the uptake and independent development of every kind of technology
in China and India, but fear: fear of climate catastrophe, fear of dependence on energy imports in
general and those from Russia in particular, and fear of the fact that, as Barroso puts it, ‘Oil prices
have raised six fold (sic) in the past seven years’ (5). When fear is the main force of propulsion, the scope of political and economic goals can only
diminish. Before assessing the historic significance of the Commission’s way of interpreting
innovation and competitiveness on the world economy, let’s look at how narrow, even on their own
terms, the three ‘central pillars’ of its energy package turn out to be.
For the EU, innovation now means regulation
Typically enough, the longest section of Energy Policy for Europe is on the EU’s internal market for energy. At first sight, there appear to be some positive proposals here. Mention is made of four
priority projects for the internationalisation of EU energy infrastructure: Power-Link between
Germany, Poland and Lithuania; connections to offshore wind power in Northern Europe; electricity
interconnections between France and Spain; and the Nabucco pipeline, bringing gas from the
Caspian to central Europe (6). There’s no doubt that this trend for cross-border energy supply is on the increase, as any Briton who has received a bill from Electricité de France will know.
In the round, though, the Commission wants to turn the clock back on one of better achievements
of capitalism in the twentieth century - the vertical integration of energy production and
distribution. Just as there are fears that Russia’s Gazprom could one day take over Britain’s
Centrica, so competition commissioner Neelie Kroes, a noted Dutch capitalist, would like to
liberalise energy markets and make producers stay out of the pipes and wires business. But it is
not necessary to agree with France, Germany and Italy’s policy of protecting national energy champions to see that this anti-trust approach to what is lightly termed ‘market failure’ has nothing
progressive about it. The Commission itself notes that, over the next 25 years, Europe will need to
invest ?900 billion on new electricity generation. Yet for it, ‘the overriding priority’ in terms of securing that scale of investment is not political resolve to find the money, but:
‘a properly functioning Internal Energy Market, providing the correct investment signals. In addition, close monitoring of the demand/supply balance is also needed, to identify any potential
shortfall. This will be a key role for the new Office of the Energy Observatory.’ (7)
So: what will make nearly a trillion Euros head for electricity plants is merely the right market
signals, plus, to bring this about, not just a new Office of the Energy Observatory, but also
‘ERGEG+’, or a tougher version of the existing European Regulators’ Group for Electricity and Gas.
In short, while Barroso says – rather oddly, as we shall see – that he wants to ‘provide abundant energy’ to Europe, the way he wants to deliver on this is to fragment energy firms and expand
regulation; perhaps going further than ERGEG+ and arranging for a new, single body to regulate
energy across 27 member states (8).
This is no new, industrial or post-industrial revolution. This is another layer of regulation. To get
massive, innovatory investment in European energy, one must fund more bureaucrats in Brussels,
charged with sending out the right semaphore to Europe’s stock markets. Brilliant!
Renewable but not very available, reliable or research-intensive energy
The Commission is proud that, in wind energy, EU companies have 60 per cent world market share.
And as we have seen in its treatment of cross-border connections, the Commission also favours
offshore wind power – which at least has the potential to be delivered at scale. But for our expert
policymakers what matters about renewables is that they improve the EU’s security of energy supply and emit few or no greenhouse gases. What goes unmentioned is the fact that ‘offshore’
wind farms can help landlocked Hungary only at a distance, or that windmills will always remain
only an intermittent source of energy.
While the irrational is talked up, the rational is talked down. So if the Commission looks forward to
a biofuels future, it insists that those used
‘are sustainable in nature, inside and outside the EU. The EU should engage third countries and
their producers to achieve this’. (9)
In other words, the EU will prevail upon biofuel-capable countries such as Brazil, as well as its own
farmers, to grow the right amount and kind of bio-crops in the right way. Cars and lorries must
travel sustainably; the fuel that helps in this must itself be grown and transported sustainably. EU
trade commissioner Peter Mandelson will tell the government in São Paulo how to develop its
agriculture in the proper manner.
No doubt he will want to point to the great achievements of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in this. Yet, the insouciance with which the EU both commits to renewables and demurs from
large-scale risk-taking in them is confirmed in two other regards. First, after all the hopes in
supranational measures, it wants to leave politically tricky decisions on zero-carbon, nearly-
renewable nuclear fission plants to individual nations: ‘It is for each Member State to decide
whether or not to rely on nuclear electricity.’ Here it takes a leaf from the UK government’s Energy
Review, which left decisions on nuclear power to the private sector (10). Similarly, the Commission
postpones the advent of ‘Generation IV’ fission plants, and nuclear fusion, to 2050 (11).
Second, a substantive laboratory programme to make renewable energy technologies serious
contenders on price is merely flirted with. On the one hand, ‘Under the 7th Framework Research Programme, annual spending on energy research over the next seven years at EU level will
increase by 50 per cent, but even this will not provide the progress needed’. But on the other hand ‘the Commission’s view is that the increased budgets for energy research and innovation of the 7th
Framework Programmes (50 per cent, from ?574m per year to ?886m per year), as well as of the
Intelligent Energy-Europe Programme (100 per cent, from ?50m per year to ?100m per year) for
the period 2007-2013, are a first step in the right direction that Member States and industry should
at least match’ (12).
Well, a second Flood and a Mediterranean drought may both be approaching, but 27 member
states should apparently be satisfied with an annual Brussels budget for energy R&D of less than
?1billion – that is, less than 0.01 per cent of the EU’s GDP of more than ?10 trillion, or less than
two per cent of the Brussels budget of roughly ?50 billion for the CAP. This really is thinking big! As
it makes clear in a wistful moment, the Commission would rather hope that, by 2020, the price of
oil rose to $78 per barrel and carbon to more than ?20 a tonne (current levels: $55 and ?3.85)
than subject energy technology to a revolution that made its renewable versions inherently cheap.
Ratcheting energy use back
The clearest evidence of the EU’s desire to turn the clock back on progress is its ideal of using
improvements in energy efficiency to reduce not just carbon emissions, but energy use.
As two American free-market energy specialists put it, ‘Cornucopians maintain that through
improved efficiency we can have it all – less energy but more light, refrigerated food, warm homes and safe miles on the highway’ (13). However the European Commission could never be accused of
such optimism: while it wants more efficient vehicles, homes and power plants, it says it wants not
just investment here, but also ‘significant efforts’ in ‘behavioural change’ – including the ‘coherent
use of taxation’ (14) and, according to an EU Green paper, motorists ‘driving in a more ecological
In fact Joe Kaplinsky has made the proper point on the relationship between energy efficiency and
energy demand. He writes:
‘The historical trend has been that as we have become more efficient, so we have used more
energy. As efficiency has increased we have not chosen to do what we did before with less energy.
Instead we have chosen to use our energy to do more. With improved efficiency the price of energy
falls and we use more of it.’ (16)
The Commission seems to live in cloud-cuckoo land. The EU gains new immigrants every day. After
a long period in the doldrums, economic growth has begun to pick up in the EU. By 2020, the EU
just might be enlarged again, and the countries that have recently joined it from Eastern Europe
might be a bit more prosperous. Yet in the face of all this, the Commission believes that demand
for energy in the EU can actually be made to drop by 13 per cent in 13 years.
This really is revolutionary. It can only amount to a call for the kind of behavioural change in
Europe that would mean a qualitative drop in everyday convenience, general living standards and
mass comfort. Now that really would be ‘post-industrial’. The historical significance of the EU’s ‘revolution’ When we look at the original industrial revolution in Britain, we see a lot of poverty and mortality,
but we also see inspiring technologies across a wide spectrum of economic sectors and processes.
In the account of David Landes, the classic post-war historian of technological change, the early
origins of the industrial revolution lay with the manufacture of wool, involving the invention of the
fly-shuttle (Kay, 1733) and the spinning frame (Wyatt and Paul, 1738). Applied more successfully
to the spinning of cotton, these were followed by the draw-then-twist jenny (Hargreaves, 1765)
and the simultaneous draw-and-twist water frame (Arkwright, 1769). Significantly, even early
jennies had a mechanical advantage over hand spinning of up to 24 to one, while that conferred by
water frames ran to several hundred to one. The mule (Crompton, 1779) improved yarn quality;
the power loom for weaving (Cartwright, 1787) brought productivity to garment manufacture. Pre-
spinning machines cleaned and more generally prepared fibre better than in the past, while
finished cloth found itself bleached with sulphuric acid and chlorine – the first in a series of
breakthroughs in industrial chemistry – and patterned with cylindrical printing. Downtimes in mills decreased as components and frames were made of iron, pulley-ropes gave way to leather belts,
and gearing and shafting were rationalised (17).
Improvements were, of course, not confined to textiles or even to the advent of the steam engine.
Blast furnaces grew in size and sophistication, turning out iron at high levels of purity. The steam
engine itself facilitated coal mining and, as Landes laconically notes, differed from wind and water
power in that it ‘could be relied on in all seasons’ (p99). After 1776, and the commercial application
of James Watt’s improvement on Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine, the science of
thermodynamics improved dramatically, as did the design, precision and smooth working of metal-
working tools and, with that, the standardisation of bolts and screws. (18)
In Britain, James Brindley (1716-72) pioneered canal-building or ‘navigation’; his inability to spell the word ‘navigator’, indeed, gave the English language the term ‘navvies’ (19). But in America,
Benjamin Franklin hit upon the wood-burning stove and lightning conductor: tellingly, his recent
biographer observes that ‘he declined to patent his famous inventions, and took pleasure in freely
sharing his findings’. (20) And in Lyons, France, Joseph Marie Jacquard devised, about 1800,
punched cards to control the weaving of silk. In its different ramifications, the industrial revolution
was international in scope, and contained, too, the embryo of what too many are today pleased to
discover as the information society, knowledge economy, digital decade and all that.
In 2007, it is embarrassing to have to point out these basics. But what grandeur is obvious here –
and how much does it contrast with the European Commission’s straitened concept of a post-
industrial revolution! There is no spirit of the Enlightenment driving leaps in economic
competitiveness over a wide swathe of technologies and sciences. Instead, the EU’s all-conquering
‘revolution’ amounts to autarchy in energy supply and poverty in energy demand. While the mill
and factory owners of yesteryear repressed the masses with the blackleg and the police truncheon,
the EU now wants to do the same with measures that are more subtle, but no less authoritarian:
energy ‘information and education’, it holds, are ‘two under-used tools’, for ‘while it is regarded as normal to launch public information campaigns to encourage people to drink less alcohol, less
attention has hitherto been given to publicity campaigns on energy efficiency’. (21)
The revolution that the EU envisages is of the mind more than of the economy. To the extent that
it is about the economy, it is a revolution that confines itself to the energy sector, and then wants
to confine the use of energy – by fiat from Brussels. It is an insult to national sovereignty in the
Third World today, and insult to the historical achievements of the original industrial revolution.
‘This is’, the Commission tells us,
‘a vision of Europe with a thriving and sustainable energy economy, that has grasped the
opportunities behind the threats of climate change and globalisation, gained world leadership in a
diverse portfolio of clean, efficient and low-emission energy technologies and become a motor for
prosperity and a key contributor to growth and jobs.’ (22) Energy Policy for Europe is also, therefore, an insult to the very idea of ‘vision’. If prosperity,
growth and jobs in the EU depend on motionless windmills and minuscule programmes of energy
R&D, it should dignify its revolution with the adjective pre-industrial, and have done with it.
James Woudhuysen is professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montfort University,
Leicester. His website is www.Woudhuysen.com. Read on:
(1) European Commission, Energy Policy for Europe, 10 January 2007, p5 (2) See Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, 1973 (3) Barroso, Energy for a changing world, Speaking Points, Press Conference, 10 January 2007
(4) Energy Policy for Europe, op cit, pp13, 11
(5) Barroso, ‘Energy for a changing world’, op cit. (6) Energy Policy for Europe, op cit, p9
(7) Ibid, p10
(8) Ibid, p8
(9) Ibid, p14
(10) See Joe Kaplinsky and James Woudhuysen, A self-defeating argument for nuclear power
(11) Energy Policy for Europe, op cit, p14
(12) Energy Policy for Europe, op cit, p15; Energy Technology for cheaper renewables, greater efficiency and global leadership of the European industry’, press release
(13) Peter W Huber and Mark P Mills, 2005. The Bottomless Well: The Twilight of Fuel, the Virtue of Waste, and Why We Will Never Run Out of Energy, Basic Books, p xvi. (14) Energy Policy for Europe, op cit, p11.
(15) European Commission, Doing more with less: Green Paper on energy efficiency, 22 June 2005,
(16) Joe Kaplinsky, The world needs more energy (17) David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in
Western Europe from 1750 to the Present, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp84-85, 87
(18) Ibid, pp 90-91, 95, 99, 101-2, 104-5.
(19) J Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (1973), BBC, 1976, p262.
(20) Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), Simon & Schuster, 2004, p130 (21) European Commission, Doing more with less, op cit, p13 (22) Energy Policy for Europe, op cit, p14.
reprinted from: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/2702/
Are they on the verge of extinction?
Panic: ‘Don’t wait to save the polar bear,’ declares Kassie Siegel in an article for the LA Times this
week. Siegel, a staff attorney at the conservation lobby group the Center for Biological Diversity,
argues that the US government’s proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the
Endangered Species Act - because of the loss of its sea ice habitat from global warming - is a
major step forward.
‘The bear is entirely dependent on sea ice, using it as a platform on which to travel, hunt and give
birth. Yet each year, as the Arctic warms, the sea ice shrinks. Polar bear populations are already
suffering from drowning, starvation and lower cub survival. Absent cuts in greenhouse gas
emissions, the summer sea ice, and the polar bear, may disappear entirely in less than 40 years.’
Don’t panic: The evidence on polar bears numbers seems contradictory, to say the least.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, most of the recent alarm has arisen from a single peer-reviewed study in the western Hudson Bay which showed bear numbers had fallen in
the area by 250, or 25 per cent, over the last decade. However, as Mitchell Taylor, a Canadian
polar bear biologist noted last May:
‘Climate change is having an effect on the west Hudson population of polar bears, but really, there
is no need to panic. Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada , 11 are stable or increasing in
number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present. It is noteworthy that
the neighbouring population of southern Hudson Bay does not appear to have declined, and
another southern population (Davis Strait) may actually be over-abundant.’
What is enlightening about Siegel’s article is the way her group has been banging away for some
time to try to bind the Bush administration to act on global warming using conservation legislation.
Having tried unsuccessfully to force public policy through the defence of such notable species as
the Kittlitz’s murrelet, and the staghorn and elkhorn corals, the Center finally managed to cobble
together enough of a case on an animal the world has actually heard of, the big white fluffy polar
bear, to win a case. Why try to win a political argument when you can use bureaucratic measures
The polar bear is increasingly used as a symbol, much like the whale in the past, of man’s
plundering and destruction of nature. But we should greet such scare stories with scepticism - and
the methods of many American lobby groups with disdain.
Don’t wait to save the polar bear, LA Times, 8 January 2007 Polar Bear Politics, Wall Street Journal, 3 January 2007 Last stand of our wild polar bears, Mitchell Taylor, 1 May 2006
How can we bring people back down to Earth?
Ask Ethan: Our eco-columnist disagrees with Tony Blair – it is practical to stop flying.
Tony Blair has caused a bad stink by declaring that he will continue taking long-haul flights to
holiday destinations. He says it is ‘impractical’ to stop people from flying. Is it, Ethan? You and I
know flying is a bad thing, but how can we actually bring people and planes back down to Earth?
Blair should be put on trial, not for his invasion of Iraq, but for defending long-haul holiday flights.
Not for being ‘Bliar’, but even worse, for being ‘Bl-air’ – a man who shamelessly defends the mass-
murdering aviation industry.
He is complicit in crimes against the planet, or what I call ‘grimes against humanity’. As other eco-
writers have pointed out, man-made flight is causing death and destruction on a scale that will
make the Holocaust look like a mere blip of barbarism, and ‘genocide and ethnic cleansing look like sideshows at the circus of human suffering’. By mouthing the airline industry’s poisonous
propaganda about ‘fun’ and ‘holidays’, Blair has made himself the Goebbels to the industry’s Hitler,
responsible for thousands upon thousands of deaths. And for what? So that he can play air guitar
at a Bee Gee’s house and his citizens can puke cheap beer on to a stripper’s tits in Prague (as I
have overheard them boasting about their antics).
He’s wrong, too: it is practical, not to mention Earth-shatteringly crucial (literally), to ground all
planes. We just need the gumption to do three things…. Flying has always made me sick. The last time I was on a plane – when I was eight and my parents took us to Spain – I vomited on my mother’s hair. Back then they called it ‘cabin sickness’; now I
know it was an instinctive reaction by my moral system against the Great Injustice of Flight. I
literally blew chunks of indignation. Even today, I’m one of few green activists who turn down invitations to debates overseas; I receive hardly any, of course, because they all know of my
George Monbiot – who would be my hero if I believed in such an elitist concept – says flying across
the Atlantic is as unacceptable as child abuse. I’d go a step further and argue that flying anywhere
is the equivalent of Satanic Ritual Abuse. If the impact of carbon emissions can be measured in the
currency of kiddie-fiddling, then a Briton who takes a return flight to America (1.42 tonnes of CO2)
is a predatory paedophile, and those who fly to destinations such as France (0.2 tonnes of CO2)
are like those schoolteachers who have misguided flings with 14-year-olds.
Airline pilots and flight attendants are the Ian Bradies and Myra Hindleys of the aviation industry.
Don’t tell me ‘They’re just doing their jobs’! That is what some people said about the SS guards
who pumped Jews with Zyklon B – an evil gas which, as we know, had a devastating impact on the
beautiful countryside around Auschwitz. (Yet still we don’t include the Nazis’ Holocaust of Trees in
the annual Holocaust Memorial Day, which shows yet again just how speciesist our society
It seems obvious to me, and this is my first step to stopping flying, that we need a Flight Offenders Register, where we record the details of every person who flies anywhere for any reason.
I have already kickstarted such a campaign. Recently I’ve been organising protests outside the
home of a local paediatrician who flies to his holiday home in Tuscany TWICE A YEAR! As my
placard, designed by Sheba and the kids, says: ‘Hey paediatrician! What is the point in saving
children’s lives for a living when you kill the equivalent of 7.2 children in the Third World during
your hols?’ (I’m pleased to say that these anti-flying protests have attracted the exuberant interest
of people from nearby poor council estates, who shout colourful slogans such as ‘We don’t want evil paediatricians here!’ and ‘Burn him out, burn him out!’ I understand their fury.) The worst are those budget holidays facilitated by no-frills airlines for low-morals people. My
carbon calculator tells me that every Stag Night in Prague – taking into account return flights for eight people, the cleaning products required to remove their vomit from the streets, and the
impact of their unthinkingly-discarded condoms on the local water supply – causes 1.4 per cent of a full hurricane in Bangladesh. So it takes only 71.4 Stag Nights to cause a full hurricane in
Bangladesh, which can kill scores of people. Is that a price worth paying for the privilege of
exploiting a worker in the sex industry in some dive off Wenceslas Square?
Cheap flyers kill more people every year than al-Qaeda, which makes me wonder: what’s the real
difference between a tourist and a terrorist? As my brave fellow journalist David Nicholson-Lord
said of the Bali bombing, ‘given that there’s good reason to regard tourists as the shock troops of development and post-colonialism, it’s not really surprising…that they find themselves targeted by
anti-Western militants’. Maybe more such attacks will wake holidaymakers from their stupor and
encourage them to opt for Bognor Regis instead of Bali or Bologna.
This takes me on to my second step to stopping flying – no, not more terrorist attacks, silly! We need eco-taxes, and big ones. Sheba tells me the average family in Social Classes D, E and F
sets aside around ?600 for their annual holidays. We must therefore tax flights to the tune of ?650.
This will price out the most destructive flyers, saving the skies from their carbon and the streets of
once-beautiful places like Faliraki from their piss and puke.
In the meantime, I’m delighted that the youthful protesters of Plane Stupid use direct action to
stop a certain class of people from holidaying the world into another Holocaust. Let us ground
Ryanair – or Aryan-air, more like! Let us smash EaSSyjet. Today, standing in front of a jet on a
runway is the equivalent of obstructing a tank in Tiananmen Square! But the Plane Stupiders must
go further, and heed my third step to stopping flying: build protest camps on runways. Like the inspiring women of Greenham Common we must erect tents and shelters to prevent flights from
taking off and landing. After all, today’s planes carry something just as toxic as nukes: selfish,
uncaring people who are leaving a skidmark on the planet.
Will, flying is for birds; flying in planes is for sinners and genocidAIRes.
Ethan Greenhart is here to answer your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century.
Email him at Ethan.Greenhart@spiked-online.com. Read his earlier columns here.