“Careless talk costs lives”

29th Apr 2019


I bet you’ve seen those old World War 2 posters with various slogans, all designed to ultimately bring about victory. “Careless talk costs lives” was designed to stop an indiscrete remark giving the enemy a valuable piece of intelligence. In the war against climate change, we also need to avoid careless talk.

Whether it is responding to street protests, school-pupil strikes or Swedish climate activists, being more precise in what we say; what is broadcast and what is debated can only help us all reach a better understanding of how we do reduce our carbon emissions.

“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, is often used to highlight what is a strategy – what is the ultimate end-game. It should be obvious, but it isn’t always, but it should be carbon reduction. Whether it is 80 per cent from the 1990 baseline or “net zero” the focus must be on carbon. So targets for “renewables” risk missing the point. The target needs to be carbon. 

When policies are being debated, there is a real risk that technologies or applications are highlighted – for example, “the end of gas boilers”. Again this misses the point. If the gas boiler is low carbon (we can argue about the definition later) then the appliance or technology isn’t the problem. We need more precision in the language used. So, by all means, let’s talk about the end of natural gas being used by boilers, but stress how alternative fuels such as biomethane or hydrogen keep the recognised appliance but deliver the carbon saving.

That precision doesn’t always make for a great headline but it might prevent unintended consequences. Why scare would-be investors away from gas networks and gas appliances because you are too lazy to be precise about the combination of appliance and fuel type? Why spook would-be workers away from being gas-engineers because natural gas contributes to climate change, but other gases such as biomethane and hydrogen do not. If we are to meet our climate change obligations, that investment and those workers are going to be needed.

Climate change is deadly serious. We need to save the planet and its people. For those discussing climate change policies (if not done properly), careless talk may indeed end up costing lives.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO