England's green and pleasant land may have to change to feed our thirst for fuelUnited Kingdom
As we look for alternatives to oil, our familiar pattern of meadows and pastures could become interspersed with biofuel plantations
Yesterday Dustin Benton of the Campaign to Protect Rural England criticised the vision for the countryside outlined in our Zero Carbon Britain report. He argues that our proposals would disrupt the familiar look of the countryside.
Our vision for the countryside is about creating energy security, rural jobs and tackling climate change. It also increases food security – we can produce all of our own essential food in the UK. The benefits include many things the CPRE values: rural jobs, biodiversity and locally produced food.
But it does result in a landscape that looks very different. That said, I think the changes we propose are not as drastic or unattractive as Dustin imagines. We can avoid the monoculture plantations he's worried about and the increased diversity of what we grow will lead to a mixed patchwork landscape.
But we still face a dilemma about UK-grown energy crops. I'm pleased that we've agreed on the need for a rapid decarbonisation and to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. However, without UK-grown energy crops we have a problem: where will we get the aviation fuel from?
We have several other options:
• We could carry on making it from oil. This commits to looking for oil in increasingly difficult and dangerous places such as offshore drilling and from tar sands. Both of which are destroying the "warp and weft" of someone else's "historic landscape".
• We could make aviation fuel from biofuels grown in another country. This would destroy the "familiar meadows and pastures" of someone else's countryside. Recent experience has shown us that growing biofuels has led to a variety of problems including food shortages and human rights abuses.
• We could cut aviation entirely. No aviation means no energy crops interfering with our "valued English landscapes". We thought a two-thirds reduction in aviation was radical – but maybe you think we can persuade the British public to ditch flying completely.
Unfortunately Dustin's suggestion of importing solar electricity from north Africa doesn't help here. It could help meet electricity demand but does not help with aviation fuel. And it's aviation fuel that is the main demand for energy crops in our scenario.
This touches the core of our dilemma. I can't see a way to maintain an idealised chocolate box landscape that also provides us with enough aviation fuel to maintain even a small amount of flying.
All human societies have faced challenges. The scale of those facing us today are perhaps greater than any in recorded history. A changing climate, diminishing fossil fuel reserves and rising energy demands are inter-connected problems that need a common solution.
Dustin is right to say the landscape will change. We need a landscape that creates low carbon jobs, food and energy – not one that struggles to deal with a changing climate and its disastrous consequences.
• Alex Randall is a spokesman for the Centre for Alternative Technology
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