Critique of the Northamptonshire Climate Change Strategy 2020-2023

The Northamptonshire Climate Change Strategy is an organized plan that has been followed over time to achieve the stated objectives. We will assess the model used, potential problems with that selection and an alternative, comparisons and origins of the plan, where the strategy has done well, some concerns with the strategy, and the context within which it exists. Taking this balanced approach of give and take in both positives and negatives we shall see that Northamptonshire has done well in the execution of the strategy, but that their focus may be overly oriented by special interests to an overall detriment to the country that will be felt disproportionately by those with lower incomes over a longer period of time.

The Northamptonshire Climate Change Strategy is a rational planning model created in accordance with a centralized and authoritarian rational planning model from the national government, which was campaigned for by a largely volunteer international activist organization, and thus is demonstrative of both a strategy from above and a strategy from below. (Freedman, 2013) I will go into some of this history later in the paper to show the greater context. In following rational planning theory the Northamptonshire strategy does well by first working from goals, through policies, through programs, and then to actions. This, however is unlikely to be successful from a larger societal view because there either needs to be a consensus in all of these areas, or someone with enough power to overrule any dissent. Therefore, it calls for and assumes a centralized and authoritarian political structure. (Bryson, 2018, pg 44) To the extent then that the British political system is not centralized and authoritarian there will be systemic failures seen in either means or ends, as well as unforeseen secondary and tertiary effects that may be more harmful to humanity than the potential benefit of the pursued program, with such failures being potential justifications for a greater centralization of power leading to a greater authoritarian regime in Britain, with the consequences that follow such a progression. This policy being enacted starting at the national level in the United Kingdom through the efforts of a special interest group doesn't allow for decentralization such as would be necessary in something like the political decision-making model, where the issues would be local and emergent before growing into larger policies. (Bryson, 2018, pgs 44-45)

The strategy has three key objectives, as stated in 2020: "Raising awareness of the issues of climate change and its impact on Northamptonshire; Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases across the County; and Planning for and adapting to the impacts of climate change." The objectives as stated in 2010 were almost identical: "Raise awareness of the issue of Climate Change and its impact on Northamptonshire; Reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the county; Plan for and adapt to the predicted impacts of Climate Change." This demonstrates a decade of consistency in the goals, which are clearly stated. In the 2010 version there is a list of references with one of them being the Worcestershire Climate Change Strategy 2005-2011 (and the 2008 Review). This no longer being available online, I was able to compare it to the 2012 version, wherein they state four goals: "building our low carbon economy; hitting tough but critical carbon targets; adapting to inevitable climate change; empowering people to take action". Although stated differently the influence is noticeable. In their 'Climate Action Timeline' the Worcestershire County Council notes that they created one of the first Agenda 21 action plans in the country in 1995, which has a focus on climate change from the United Nations. There is a continuing theme of international involvement, the 2010 version of the strategy cites the Kyoto protocol treaty and the Copenhagen Accords, and the 2020 version talks of the Paris Agreement Treaty.

The 2020 version of the Northamptonshire document itself is an update on changes in multiple levels of context, a plan for moving forward, and a communication device. On these things the document does well at fulfilling its role and function. In comparison to the 2010 version it does better at setting a context and giving updates. The development process for the document is not explicitly addressed in any extensive way in either the 2010 nor the 2020 version. In the 2020 version in section 1.1 there is a discussion of how action plans are developed, updates given, and results tracked, but this presumes the strategies and goals being in place. It can be assumed that the partners, 19 in 2010 and 22 in 2020, as listed in each document held meetings to establish these things, similar to the quarterly and annual meetings held for the tracking of results as stated in the 2020 version. 

In section 1.3 of the 2020 strategy it goes over "Developments in the understanding of the impacts of climate change since 2017". It's notable that very short historical time periods and a large amount of projections are used. False predictions about climate change have been published across a range of sources. (Ebell and Milloy, 2019; Perry, 2019; Post Editorial Board, 2021) The complexity and uncertainty of these models that are so heavily relied on are largely ignored, including the possibility that warming could be occurring for other reasons. (Henderson and Hooper, 2017) There are strong arguments that warming is not a catastrophe and that the attempts to curtail it are more damaging to people than the potential change itself. (Lomborg, 2021) Decisions are trade-offs, including monetary and regulatory decisions. (Sowell, 2014) If the government has calculated a prediction wrong, has sourced the problem incorrectly or misattributed it, or misrepresented the intensity, then the allocation of many billions of pounds of taxpayer money in climate change programs has been a misallocation of funds causing severe repercussions that are damaging to economic development and therefore directly harmful to the lowest income households which have the least resources to adapt to the regulations and changes unnecessarily implemented by a growing and complex set of levels of government, damaging both flourishing and hindering the finding and pursuit of purpose and meaning in life. This effects those with the resources to navigate greater complexity, restrictions, and regulations less. (Chambers, McLaughlin, and Stanley, 2019; Chambers, Thomas, McLaughlin, and Waldron, 2019)

The climate impacts that the 2020 strategy go over are: "Flooding and co[a]stal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure; Risks to health, well-being and productivity from high temperatures; Risk of shortages in the public water supply, and for agriculture, energy supply and industry; Risks to natural capital, including terrestrial, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems, soils and biodiversity; Risks to domestic and international food production and trade; New and emerging pests and diseases, and invasive and non-invasive species, affecting people, plants and animals." There are multiple issues here including misattribution, contradiction, and self-fulfilling prophecy. I'll give an example of each.

New pests and diseases largely come about as a transfer from one place to another. Changes in climate can go with that by either stopping or reinforcing the ability of an animal to live in another location, but with the minor changes that we've seen in climate this is of little concern. Rather, travel and trade by people on ships and airplanes is the primary cause of the transfer of differing animals, plants, and diseases. To attribute this to climate change is a misrepresentation.

In the 2020 strategy it notes that climate change will result in more flooding. It also states that there will be water shortages. This is an obvious contradiction. The UK government has recorded that both winters and summers are getting wetter from increasing precipitation. (Met Office, 2022) Since the strategy also cites in section 4.3 increasing population as a potential problem leading to water shortages, it may be that their attribution is unrelated to climate change. However, it has been stated in multiple plans by the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership and the Northamptonshire County Council that they are seeking to, encouraging, and supporting population growth. (Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, 2014)

Hindrances to domestic and international food production and trade are often the result of government interference. Recent lockdowns during the Covid era are a good example of this. Increasing regulations to "combat" climate change such as limiting the fuel that farmers can use, limiting the fertilizer that farmers can use, limiting trucking, limiting ships, limiting the water farmers can use, and raising the costs through restrictions, regulations, and increased taxes for the "fight" against climate change along with inflation from centralized funding for these programs all pose significant risks to domestic and international food production and trade. A policy that solves a problem that is smaller than the problems it causes reminds me of a tale from Aesop, 'The Hawk, the Kite, and the Pigeons'. "Avoid a remedy that is worse than the disease." (Weir, Tenniel, and Griset, 2020)

In section five the strategy breaks down the three objectives into key aims. There are three aims to help raise awareness of the issues of climate change: "Communications and advertising; Events and Workshops; Education in Schools". There are seven aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and there are five aims to plan and adapt to the impacts of climate change. These are expanded on to a limited extent within the document.

The 2020 strategy nicely lays out in section 7 changes in emissions from 2005 to 2017 in Northamptonshire, showing that they are achieving their objective of lowering emissions. They note that significant progress has been made in emissions by industry and commercial and in domestic, but that transport is now trending up, and that will be a priority moving forward. Section 3.2 covers what has been achieved since 2017, highlighting 12 such things. Both of these support the notion that the objectives and aims are being pursued and achieved, and that the monitoring and review mechanisms involving stakeholders with quarterly and annual meetings is effective and working.

It can be, should be, and has been argued that actions taken to curtail climate change projections can inhibit economic growth. However, Northamptonshire has shown growth in both employment and businesses. From 2015 to 2020 the number of employees in the county grew from 327,000 to 360,000. (Office for National Statistics, 2022a) From 2011 to 2021 the number of businesses grew from 29,050 to 42,895, with most of this growth coming from micro companies of 9 employees or less. (Office for National Statistics, 2022b) In Northamptonshire's Strategic Economic Plan from 2014 they set specific goals for 2021, one of which was to have 32,500 new jobs, and this goal was met. In 2011 a plan was developed called the Northamptonshire Arc for development throughout the county. This used a SWOT analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and generated ten priorities. (Northamptonshire County Council, 2011)

A two-prong approach was used. One, to emphasize the growth of businesses and housing as clearly stated in the 2014 Strategic Economic Plan. Two, to get financial support by asking the national government for aid. This was laid out in 2013 in Northamptonshire's 10 Point Plan. These local growth deals have gone through multiple rounds resulting in the expenditure of tens of billions of pounds to counties in the UK. (Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government; et al, 2014) Northamptonshire has received 76.3 million pounds. Other municipalities have received more or less, with some getting over half of a billion pounds. (UK Government, n.d.c) The growth deal focused on three areas: infrastructure, connectivity and housing; business and innovation; and skills. (UK Government, n.d.a) These areas coincide both with the goals of Northamptonshire and in the positive results that have been shown.

This influx of funding from centralized taxpayer money may not only account for the increases seen in the local Northamptonshire economy, it may be that the expense is greater than the reward, as I suspect. I was unable to find the correct gross domestic product and gross value added numbers to do a proper comparison of this. Future researchers should keep this in mind when the data becomes available.

Having assessed some of the Northamptonshire strategy in detail, we will now revisit the grander context. This specific movement started when Friends of the Earth drafted a climate change bill in 2005 and started their 'Big Ask' campaign. From there 23 major events are noted until the Climate Change Act was passed in 2008. (Friends of the Earth, 2017) That part of the process is largely a bottom-up movement. It's organized by a large international special interest group founded in the United States in the late 1960s, which used the traction from the law in the UK to launch their campaign in 17 other European countries that year, so it's not an emergent movement, and it has very little to do with local concerns or issues, but it does present that way at times because of the hundreds of thousands of supporters in the UK that participated to encourage MPs to pass the law. A highly coordinated international special interest project that presents as a grassroots movement. From there things continued to grow. The United Nations Paris Agreement in 2015 is an international treaty on climate change. So in one decade this grew from an unofficial draft bill in the UK to a large and legally binding international treaty. And Friends of the Earth continues to guide the development, for instance in 2022 they brought a suit in the High Court against the UK Secretary of the State based on the 2008 Act. So the influence has not waned. Such fervent zeal for a cause that may cause more harm than good when all factors are taken into account (Bastiat, 1848), and where the possibility of miscalculations in projections are ignored, has even brought environmental activists to see the movement as having gone too far, the policies being driven because they are "False gods for lost souls." (Shellenberger, 2020) With such things we must be careful and seek truth in whether the local government is addressing the proper issues or following a policy program that it should be more skeptical and wary of.

From this assessment of the Northamptonshire Climate Change Strategy we can see that the execution of the plan has been seemingly successful in the stated objectives. We have also found significant concerns with the approach including: the centralized structure of government necessary for such policies; the large influence of international special interests; a lack of uncertainty in projections requiring great cost and sacrifice; perverse incentives by the national government for financial aid; and potential misattributions, contradictions, and self-fulfilling prophecies within the strategy itself. For these reasons the foundational concepts, objectives, model, and approach to the subject should be reassessed with a view toward creating a resilient and sustainable local economy, environment, and community to the greatest extent possible unreliant upon outside financial aid and influence from special interest groups and lobbies.

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