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Net Zero is a war on the working class

We are sleepwalking towards a social and economic catastrophe.

James Woudhuysen

Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

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It’s official. Net Zero will make us poorer. A new report finds that the British government’s climate-change policies are likely to ‘make the poor poorer, and push struggling communities further into deprivation and exclusion’.

Our Journey to Net Zero, by the Institute for Community Studies (ICS), shows that the transition to Net Zero will cause a rise in unemployment, as carbon-intensive industries are forcibly restructured. Food will become more expensive. And the eco-friendly changes we’ll all be forced to make, such as insulating our homes or switching to electric cars, will be extremely difficult ’for low-income households’. The ICS concludes that the poorest 40 per cent of households are at risk of falling into ‘transition poverty’.

As shocking as this statistic is, the report is no rant. A team of researchers from ICS, Trinity College Dublin, and the universities of Leeds and York have thoroughly reviewed the policy changes and instruments – subsidies, taxation and so on – most likely to prove effective in reducing emissions of CO2. And they have concluded that these Net Zero measures will push down living standards for a lot of people in the UK.

Essentially, the general effect of Net Zero is similar to that of regressive taxation. Just as a tax that is the same for everyone will most hurt those who earn the least, Net Zero policies mete out more pain to those who are least well-off. This won’t just affect the very poorest though. As the ICS warns, even ‘middle-income households that were not previously experiencing financial precarity’ might struggle.

The report also highlights the other depredations brought about by Net Zero. For instance, the added cost and difficulty of car travel will reduce people’s leisure opportunities.

The report certainly pulls no punches about the downsides of Net Zero. But it does not challenge the green transition itself. It instead calls for a ‘just’ transition to ease the socio-economic pain caused – a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

The report even complains that the disadvantages brought about by Net Zero policies are being exploited ‘by those who are against transition to Net Zero’. Mentioning populist opposition to anti-car schemes like low-emission zones and low-traffic neighbourhoods, it says that some activists are ‘provoking political flashpoints and civic revolts concerning “rights and freedoms”’. To get round such opposition, the report calls for more popular participation in Net Zero policymaking. The transition, it says, can be ‘managed more fairly with the voice and participation of the households and communities it affects’.

Yet in the context of a report exposing the terrible privations Net Zero will visit on society, this call for greater participation rings hollow. It sounds like an attempt to mobilise the poor for their own impoverishment.

In truth, Net Zero will be an immiserating objective, however it’s dressed up. We are sleepwalking towards economic and social disaster. It’s high time we woke up.

James Woudhuysen is visiting professor of forecasting and innovation at London South Bank University.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics Science & Tech UK

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