Bennett is the new chief executive of Friends of the Earth, having taken up the role in July. Previously, he was the policy and campaigns director at the environmental charity, where he has worked since 1999, as well as the director of the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change. He is a senior associate at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, where he was once the deputy director.
Bennett on fracking for shale gas: “I genuinely believe by trying to take us down this line this government is making a catastrophic error for the future prosperity of the United Kingdom.”
On nuclear power: “I think the evidence is really clear now: nuclear gets in the way of some of these other alternatives, including demand-reduction energy efficiency as well.”
On the Conservatives: “For some reason, the Conservative Party’s got stuck in a place, stuck in the past, where it now seems conservative with a small ‘c’ about no change in our energy system.”
On biofuels: “I think in the biofuel story there’s a real lesson for environmentalists, but also for people that are obsessed with climate change…but if you look at climate change just through the lens of climate change, without, say looking at biodiversity angles as well, you often can get the wrong solutions.”
On inertia: “The biggest problem we face, across all of these sustainability issues at the moment, is inertia. Industrial and economic and cultural inertia. And that is what’s holding progress back.”
On the Paris climate conference: “Paris is not going to deliver a global deal that is going to deliver anything like what is required by what the science says is necessary…Without question, according to any kind of scientific assessment, it will fail.”
On campaigning for the 1.5C target, rather than 2C: “I think from either a justice point of view or a pragmatic point of view, it would be wrong somehow to give up on 1.5C.”
Leo Hickman for Carbon Brief: Let’s begin with the topical issue of the day. So early today you were on the Today programme involved in a debate with Bryony Worthington over the carbon benefits, or otherwise, of shale gas and fracking. More widely, this issue about the environmental benefits, or otherwise, of fracking are being portrayed as a kind of pragmatism versus idealism. Is that a fair description of this debate?
Craig Bennett: I think the debate is one of pragmatism versus idealism and I think the pragmatism is more on the side of the organisations and communities opposing shale gas. I think it is absolutely fair to say that George Osborne and other advocates of shale gas in the UK, they are the ones with the extraordinary ideology behind this. I mean look at what they’ve done with the evidence here. I mean they’ve looked at the US experience and they’ve looked at it very simplistically and thinking you can kind of cut and paste that experience into the UK – even though in the UK we have very different geology, we have much higher population densities, we have very different kind of regulatory frameworks, but, perhaps most importantly, we have the Climate Change Act, we have the Committee on Climate Change [CCC] with their recommendations about decarbonising our power sector by 2030, and we have a very different energy market, where we trade our gas, we buy our gas on the international market really for the cheapest price. And so it’s deeply naive for George Osborne and other advocates of shale gas to think that just because it had a certain impact in the United States, that it would have the same impact here, or that there would be many more problems associated with shale gas here in the UK. Which is not to say that there haven’t been problems with shale gas in the US as well; there have been, which I think have been pretty well documented. So I think actually the ideology is very much on the side of those who are advocating shale gas that are stuck in a ideology of the past, of the 1970s and 1980s, where we’ve been addicted to fossil fuels and they think the only future is fossil fuels. I find it really fascinating that often those commentators and politicians that talk about, “hey, we’re in an energy crisis and we’ve got to do something about it”, you know, let’s be clear, this country has prioritised oil, gas, coal and nuclear over the last five decades, and pampered those sectors like no other sectors across the business community. And yet after doing that – after pampering those fossil fuel and nuclear sectors for five, six, in some cases, seven decades, with sometimes extraordinary subsidies and all kinds of bailouts and supports in other kinds of ways – you have commentators saying we’re facing an energy crisis and their solution is to carry on pampering gas, coal and nuclear for decades ahead. Why do they think that’s going to lead to a different outcome? If we’re going to move away from so-called energy crises, to real proper energy security, and deal with climate change, and move to a stable low-carbon future that’s also prosperous for the UK and delivers all kinds of other advantages and health advantages as well, that means we’ve got to kick our addiction to fossil fuels, and move on. And that represents real progress for humanity, not stuck in the past.
Press link for more: Leo Hickman | carbonbrief.org