Net Zero? I’ve been there, or almost. It was cold, dark and dirty.
There aren’t many people in England who remember what things were like before mains electricity came to their homes, and you needed to burn something if you wanted to be comfortable. Now we expect to reach for a switch to boil a kettle, heat a room or cook a meal. The laborious everyday processes needed to get through the day before central heating boilers were invented and reliable electricity came to us down a wire are forgotten. Our entire political class is ignorant of the realities of what they are letting us in for with their scientifically illiterate plan to ‘de-carbonise the economy’, with its suicidal (and murderous) route to Net Zero. Let me, as someone who remembers what it was like, take you back seventy years to a little Hampshire village, take you back to your future.
Even in 1950s Froxfield, there were services which used energy: the Little Wonder Bus Company sent a 1940s model Bedford bus up Stoner Hill twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays; the school bus did two circular runs on weekdays; Churcher’s College boys who did a six-day week had a taxi run on Saturday; water was pumped uphill to the water tower in order to give cold taps a bit of pressure. As far as consumer products went, there were batteries: the radio used a big block of zinc-carbon cells for the high tension circuit and a small lead acid rechargeable cell fed the low tension. Every few weeks we would take the LT battery to Curry’s in Petersfield and have it recharged – they could do that in the time it took between the arrival of the first and only morning bus, and the end of market day when the last and only afternoon bus did the return journey. The only other uses for electricity were the telephone box and bicycle lamps.
Which left heat and light as the main energy demand. For those we used Victorian solutions, coal, wax, oil or wood.
The paraffin oil cooker was a lot of cotton wicks dipped in paraffin with cog wheels to increase or decrease the size of the flame. If you wanted to make it into an oven there was an iron box that sat on top – the same wicks, the same cogwheels. No wonder I have very few memories of anything roasted except for very special occasions – roast chicken at Christmas was about it. Even that cooker was rarely used. If Mum wanted to boil a kettle, boil vegetables or make jam then she used a Primus stove which doubled up for many years as the chief means of space heating. You can see Primus stoves in museums, but for those who haven’t encountered them they work like this: paraffin oil is pumped from a pressurised container through a heated pipe. The resultant vapour is forced through a tiny orifice into the same sort of burner arrangement you get in gas stoves. To get the whole affair hot enough to vaporise the oil you fill a reservoir with methylated spirits and get it really hot before you pump up the pressure. Too soon and neat paraffin is ejected, and a smoky flame shoots three feet or more up into the air with a thump like an exploding Elon Musk Starship. Now imagine that procedure carried out by two little boys of primary school age whose working mother was miles away. Tell kids that today…
A Christmas tree with real live wax candles had its moments – the smell of burning pine needles haunts me still. But wax isn’t Net Zero cleared, it comes from fossil fuel. Maybe we’ll go back to stinking tallow made from real dead renewable sheep.
Initially, our main heating source, only used in deepest winter, was a coal stove which cost too much to use very often – paraffin could be bought by the gallon, not too expensive, but coal, even nutty slack, came in hundredweight sacks and that was too much to spend at one go. By the end of my time at home – mid sixties – we had a paraffin heater, a glowing dome of wire with a flame underneath. Smelly and no doubt unhealthy but a great improvement on the alternatives. Lighting was by Aladdin lamp which was a paraffin reservoir, a wick and a glowing mantle made of thorium dioxide. The mantle was probably radioactive, but at least it gave a white light. And smuts if you let it turn itself up too high.
One building had electricity – the Trooper Inn had its own generator and, when it worked, we could see bright electric light shining into the pitch darkness of a proper country night.
1950s Froxfield was close to where Boris Johnson and his Green advisor wants to take us, but that still isn’t enough for the Climate Change hysterics. So how do we become even more virtuous than my childhood, take the great leap backwards from those terribly Net Damn All days to the nirvana of Net Zero?
Transport will have to be by electric vehicle or by muscle power. We used to walk a lot anyway – for years Mum walked up and down Stoner Hill in all weathers to her job at Bedales school (an arty establishment which has given the world such luminaries as Gyles Brandreth of whom I’m sure they are very proud) until the school bursar found a second-hand bike for her. We can pedal, we can walk, so all the fuel used to take us back and forth can be saved. Magic Zero, here we come!
Light and heat are more difficult. That’ll have to be provided by renewable electricity. And here we run into the inconvenience of physics. When you do anything to energy you lose some of it. Some of the output of a wind turbine is wasted if you send it down a cable to a heating coil. Some of the wind’s energy has already been lost as it is converted into electricity in the first place, but that’s OK because wind is free – well, it is if you don’t count the cost of actually harvesting it. Guess what happens to the wind energy that doesn’t get converted into electrons – it turns into heat which rather defeats the point which is to stop global warming. If you add up the total CO2 used to make the wind turbines, manufacturing and laying the cables, allow for maintenance, driving the engineers around and mixing 1000 tonnes of concrete for the base of your offshore wind turbine, ‘renewable’ electricity probably won’t beat the carbon footprint we had back in the1950s. You’ll be just as cold, just as dirty – no hot baths then or in our future – and you’ll have less money because renewables have to be subsidised in order to make some lucky people very rich indeed, people like Al Gore. Some people, but not you. Not us. We won’t just be colder and dirtier, we’ll be poorer in our Net Zero future. And stocking up on chilblain cream won’t be cheap. Not much to look forward to.
But wait. Froxfield teaches us another lesson.
It’s a 500ft climb up from Petersfield through the beautiful beech woods of Stoner Hill to Froxfield. You no doubt know that as you go up the air gets cooler, but you may not know the rate: 3 deg C per 1000ft. So Petersfield is on average 1.5 deg C warmer than Froxfield. According to the climate hysterics this difference is dangerous enough to mandate closing down our entire way of life, to destroy all we have achieved since we discovered electricity and stopped melting down whales and penguins to light our houses.
Mum died in January 2020, four months short of her 100th birthday. From 1920 to 1945 the world warmed by 0.4 deg C. Then it cooled a bit. It began to warm again in 1975. At the time of her death the world was a shade under 1 deg C warmer than the day she was born. One degree per hundred years.
Drive down from The Trooper Inn to The Red Lion at the bottom of Petersfield High Street. Just look around. Those trees and plants are living in a world that is more than 100 years warmer than Froxfield. Does that look like a climate catastrophe to you? Me neither. Has everyone gone insane?
Pass the chilblain cream.