Tuesday 24 April 2007

It stands to reason

In his splendid novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams came up with the most useful computer program ever written. Called Reason, it constructed a series of plausible-sounding steps leading inexorably to a predetermined conclusion. Its inventor was immediately able to buy himself a new Porsche “despite being completely broke and a hopeless driver. Even his bank manager was unable to find fault with his reasoning.”

The joke in the book was that he never sold a single copy of the software, since it was immediately snapped up by the Pentagon to justify Star Wars. (Had Douglas Adams lived long enough, I dare say later editions of the book would have added “and the invasion of Iraq”.) But wouldn’t it be handy if Reason actually existed?

Consider, for example, the recent quote in this paper from the deputy chief executive of the North East Assembly. (You remember: that body we nearly all voted against, but end up with anyway because the EU says we must.) “This cutting-edge study provides an objective assessment of the impact that windfarm [sic] development would have on the North and South Charlton landscape.”

While I’ve had some nasty paper cuts in my time, and know that they can sting a bit, I do wonder whether a whole report can really be “cutting-edge”? Knives and swords, yes. Razor blades, certainly. But reports?

I also don’t understand how anyone can make “an objective assessment” of this issue. You may think that having 28 415ft tall wind turbines plonked around the moors north of Alnwick is going to make a bit of a hash of their beauty and tranquillity, or you may think that they’re going to brighten the place up no end. Both viewpoints are tenable, but subjective.

Down in London, Ken Livingstone commissions similar reports, “objectively” demonstrating that chucking up ruddy great skyscrapers all over the place is not going to harm the townscape because it can “absorb” them. (The analogy is rather a useful one, because the proposed turbines at Middlemoor and Wandylaw will be about the same height as a 35-storey tower block.)

Red Ken loves skyscrapers; the Government is committed to a massive expansion of “renewable energy” to meet its “Kyoto targets”. Against that background, sceptics may wonder why any consultant would pronounce against them. It seems as likely as a Government-commissioned study concluding that the NHS IT system and National Identity Register are a massive waste of time and money. What is certain is that if the consultants said “no”, further reports would be commissioned until those in authority found one that said “yes”. It would be so much cheaper and simpler if we could just apply Reason instead.

Wind power is a scam, which will serve mainly to transfer large amounts of subsidy from the UK taxpayer to big foreign corporations and smaller, home-grown concerns which have spotted the imminent departure of the gravy train. It’s sold to the gullible as a way of “saving the planet”. And, stop fretting Mr Williams of Wallsend, it is going to happen. Because, even if we voted this discredited Government out of office, every serious opposition party is falling over itself to be even “greener” than New Labour.

It’s a colossal shame. I love those moors. I used to live on them. By commissioning reports and holding public enquiries (which will undoubtedly be overruled, just like that Assembly referendum, if they come to the “wrong” conclusion), we are racking up expense and prolonging the agony. The process resembles one of those interminable American court cases that leave convicts on death row for decades. But, although fatalistic, I’m for fighting on against the odds in the faint hope that sanity may eventually prevail. By doing so, we also buy a little time in which some of us may be fortunate enough to expire of natural causes before the executioner of what’s left of rural Britain pulls the lever.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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