How fossil fuels save lives

The Beast from the East would be far more deadly if it wasn't for ‘dirty’ energy.

Rob Lyons

Topics Science & Tech

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The weather system bringing unusually cold weather to Western Europe from Siberia – now routinely called the Beast from the East by the British media – has brought parts of the UK to a halt, like the bit of southern Scotland I’m writing from. It’s been a major pain for everyone else who wants to travel. (It has certainly brought the reporting of any other news to a near standstill.) But it should also be a salutary lesson to anyone who wants to condemn mankind’s ‘addiction’ to fossil fuels. In truth, those fossil fuels are saving lives, particularly in weather like this.

While the wind turbines on the hills here in Scotland are no doubt whirling away in these strong winds, the UK is still utterly reliant on burning fossil fuels. Take electricity production: at the time I’m writing this (Thursday, just after 12noon), gas-fired power stations are producing 28 per cent of our electricity and coal is producing 23 per cent. Wind is producing nearly 22 per cent and solar 1.59 per cent. Throw in hydro power (1.12 per cent) and burning biomass (2.9 per cent) and you can see that less than 30 per cent of UK power is coming from renewables – even though conditions are very favourable for generating wind power. There are plenty of winter nights when there’s little wind at all. The other big chunks of power are coming from nuclear, both from the UK (14 per cent) and France, via the interconnector (almost four per cent).

In summary: about 65 per cent of our electricity is coming right now from sources greens hate – fossil fuels and nuclear.

But that’s just electricity. In 2015, according to official statistics, UK energy use from renewable and waste resources had grown rapidly over the preceding years but still only amounted to nine per cent in total. Our homes, schools and hospitals are heated by gas. Our transport is powered by oil. Our factories and offices are powered by that mix of electricity described above – that is, largely fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Despite the constant ‘red alerts’ about the weather, the truth is that the Beast from the East is just a short-lived inconvenience. Without fossil fuels, it would be a disaster. Even now, thanks to green policies, the National Grid is warning that the UK is running out of gas and will pay energy-intensive companies to shut down or cutback production in order to keep things going – and paying them through the nose, at everyone else’s expense, to do so.

Of course, we should strive to develop new energy technologies that are economic, practical and cleaner that don’t rely on digging stuff up to burn. But the idea that we could just wish away fossil fuels any time soon is dangerous nonsense.

Rob Lyons is science and technology director at the Academy of Ideas and a spiked columnist.

PIcture by: Getty

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Topics Science & Tech


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