I’m sharing today my notes on the fuel crisis and what it reveals about how the government is acting in the wider context of climate breakdown.

Defending fossil fuels

Fossil fuels are a dying out. One way or another, their use will dwindle. But for now at least the government is prepared to ensure their supply by using the army to distribute supplies. What is so striking is the use of the armed services to prop up the dying system rather than directing these resources towards tackling the far larger crisis: how to massively reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in the first place. It is a sign of how committed the government is to the status quo rather than to find a path away from the bigger problem.

In a related tactic, the government is willing to bend the rules to fast-track HGV licenses and visas for drivers, but we don’t see it acting to legislate to promote the rapid development of solutions that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Deflecting the blame

I hear this ‘perfect storm’ language more and more often, alluding to an extreme superposition of adverse factors that it would be unreasonable for any individual or organisation to expect to overcome unscathed. 

I foresee this language being used more and more to defend inaction in the face of increasing instability. Calling a bad event a perfect storm takes away some of the blame from the metaphorical captain of the ship. But it hides the reality that governments and organisations have had decades to steer a different course away from this inevitable storm. 

Failure to talk about climate change

While we talk about fuel shortages, very little attention is paid to the fact that we shouldn’t be consuming this fuel in the first place. Nor to the fact that by 2030 the sale of fuel-powered cars will be banned in any case. 

Likewise, there appears to be little attention paid to the domino effect of systems breaking down that we see here, and what we might see in more climate breakdown-triggered scenarios. Last week it was the shortage of gas supplies, that caused a shortage of fertiliser manufacture, that caused a shortage of CO2 production, that caused a potential shortage of meat and soft drink products. Today it is a shortage of fuel that leads to a shortage of doctors and teachers being able to get to work that leads to a whole range of potential problems. 

What is missing here is a narrative that asks why are these important systems so dependent on fossil fuel supplies that are poisonous to the environment, not resilient in their supply and needing to be phased out in any case?

The right to drive

The pro-fuel and pro-road lobbies will present arguments about people needing their cars to do essential work. They tend to focus especially on key workers, and especially people getting to hospital. This argument is valid on one level – these are essential services, but it tends to miss the point that these services shouldn’t depend on fossil fuels in the first place. It is not a given that we should have to drive to where we work. That is a result of planning decisions made by successive governments. But it is not the only way to plan our towns and cities. An effective, affordable, active, public transport system is possible – it is a political choice not to build it.

The right to drive is also presented in the press as a working class issue, and that it is only the wealthy who can afford not to drive. But the reality is the lowest level of car ownership are amongst the poorest. The poorest tend to live in areas of highest air traffic pollution. If we want social justice then fewer polluting cars on the road and better public transport is the way to go.