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Leader comment: Forget the pet: energy companies have more important things to do

14 January 2022

STAR JUMPS and cat-cuddling: the Ovo energy company apologised this week for a “poorly judged and unhelpful” blog that recommended ways of getting warm without increasing energy costs. Poorly judged, yes, if it suggests to the Government that exercise and warm pets are an adequate response to the forthcoming rise in domestic bills, due when the energy cap ends in April. The Trussell Trust has warned that foodbank use is increasing even under the present price structure, reporting that families hit by the loss of the Universal Credit uplift are deciding between heating or eating (News, 24 November). Unhelpful, though? A company that encourages people to use less of its product ought to be cut some slack, especially at a time when similar advice is flying about. This week it was reported that every diocese in the Church of England is now signed up to the Eco-Church programme, in which awards are based on correct answers to a searching questionnaire, one section of which asks how often “practical lifestyle tips and advice on caring for God’s earth” are included in a church’s newsletters or on its website.

The arrival of another Attenborough series is the cue for further concern about the future of the planet and all its inhabitants, even the spores that play an increasingly recognised part in the eco-system. The programmes show that things have gone beyond the point where invisible changes can be made to the lifestyle that is enjoyed in the developed world and aspired to elsewhere. Exercise, warmer clothes, greener transport, changed diet, perhaps the eschewing of pets altogether . . . and higher fossil-fuel prices — all ought to be actively considered in the light of the urgency of the problem and the inability of the poorer, and most often the worst-affected, nations to combat global warming.

What was most ill judged about the blog, however, was that an energy company should waste its time focusing on such individual actions when it should be helping to tackle the globally dysfunctional energy market. The list of factors that affect the price of just one energy source, gas, is breathtaking. They include the climate (a cold snap last winter depleted European reserves); geo-politics (anxiety over Russian supplies if the Ukrainian border is breached); the pandemic (staff shortages have delayed maintenance in the North Sea fields, for example); poor planning (coal-fired power stations are being closed faster than greener replacements are being built); political ideology (such as the UK Government’s decision to attach a green tariff to everyone’s energy bills, even the poorest, rather than raise it through general taxation); and even sport (China has imported greater supplies of liquefied natural gas to cut down coal pollution before the Winter Olympics). And profiteering, of course. What would be most helpful is if both governments and the energy industry mitigated the effect of this supply chaos for domestic users — and worked towards a programme that protected both the poor and the planet.

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