UK Cancels Energy-Saving Campaign to Avoid Being a 'Nanny State'

Even conservative allies think this is a mistake.

National Archives posters about saving fuel
Posters from the Second World War.

National Archives

There was once a time when the British government would advise its citizens on saving energy and reducing fuel consumption during a war. Now, amidst Russia's war on Ukraine, there are huge disruptions in the supply of gas and an increase in costs. The British government is going to spend billions this winter to subsidize homeowners' gas bills, so a little advice and admonition would seem appropriate. But that would contradict the new prime minister's principles.

Prime Minister Liz Truss recently told a Conservative conference: “I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.” According to The Guardian, business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who apparently previously had approved a 15 million Pounds sterling public information campaign that Truss blocked for being too interventionist, said, "I’m not sure we need to tell people to do things that are obvious. I’m not in favor of condescending government assuming people are stupid. Voters know what they need to do and don’t need me to tell them to do that." Graham Stuart, the actual minister in charge of climate change, said: “We’re not a nanny state government.”

save fuel posters

Jim Bateman / National Archives

However, a few simple changes could make a significant difference, and people don't necessarily know how much they could save. According to the Energy Savings Trust, lowering the thermostat by just 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) would reduce energy demand by 10%. If most of the nation takes shorter showers, turns out the lights, and caulks their leaks, it adds up to big savings in gas consumption. That's why lower thermostats are being mandated in Spain and Germany. (See also Treehugger's own five effortless ways to save energy at home.)

But this is London, so everyone is piling on Truss and demanding that she once again U-turn. Even the utilities are on the case; Bill Bullen, founder and CEO of Utilita Energy, complained in The Sunday Times about Stuart's nanny state comments:

“Graham Stuart’s comments are highly irresponsible and hazardous, they risk reversing the incredibly important energy efficiency work the industry has been doing for years. If our own climate minister can’t see the importance of helping homes to cut energy wastage — a move that would speed up the country’s journey towards net zero by two years — we are doomed."

The very conservative, Rupert Murdoch-owned Times editorialized in support of the campaign.

"These campaigns are helping consumers identify energy-saving ideas, providing tips to keep usage and bills low. For reasons that remain unfathomable, the British government has so far refused to launch its own campaign. Now, astonishingly, Ms Truss has killed such a plan drawn up by her own business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg. This is short-sighted, not least because there are strong economic reasons for the government to lead a national conversation on energy usage."

The conservatives at the Times, like many others, are appalled that Truss is borrowing 60 billion pounds to cap energy prices for consumers: "The poorly targeted consumer price freeze will apply to all users regardless of wealth or energy usage, thereby suppressing the market signal to reduce demand." It is more likely their real objection is that market signals might mean the poor freeze in the dark, but at least the government isn't giving them handouts.

One wonders what Murdoch's American papers would say about nanny state campaigns to turn down thermostats or slow down cars to save energy; we certainly get enough criticism here at Treehugger for proposing them. But the fact is, they make a difference if lots of people participate. It is not nanny statism—it is just logical. Gas is expensive and in short supply, so why not encourage people to save money and use less of it? And, there's a war on.

Even The Daily Mail is on the case.

View Article Sources
  1. "Quick Tips to Save Energy." Energy Saving Trust.