Other changes are more symbolic but nonetheless filled with significance. The move from paper £5 notes to plastic ones was interesting in many ways. On the reverse side we lost social reformer and Quaker Elizabeth Fry and gained former Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill whose very chequered political past has been largely forgotten due to the strong, inspiring and necessary leadership he provided in World War 2. It was, however, the material rather than the images on it that had the most impact on me. We had moved from paper, a renewable resource, to plastic a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry. The £5 note, as a symbol of our economy, showed that the Bank of England investing in a non renewable resource (even if it is longer lasting and can survive a washing machine) and as such is a symbol of the problem with how UK Government policies on energy are fundamentally flawed on climate change with support for renewables and energy efficiency dumped in favour of fracking and nuclear.
Compared with the worldwide subsidy of fossil fuels, the changing of the material for a few billion worth of UK bank notes is small fry. It is estimated, by the International Monetary Fund, that worldwide fossil fuels are subsidised to the tune of $5.3Trillion each and every year. On Tuesday I was interviewed by Talk Radio who asked me to comment on the £100/year on UK domestic energy bills to support renewables and energy efficiency programmes. This is peanuts when compared to the huge tax breaks and other subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel companies and generators and this will be something I will be pointing out at every opportunity when I attend the World Climate Summit on Climate Change, COP22 in Marrakech next month. The shift we need at Marrakech is to put the subsidy we give to climate destroying fossil fuels into sustainable sources of renewable energy and energy efficiency to limit demand for heat and power.
If we do invest $5.3 Trillion a year towards a sustainable future maybe then we could symbolically return to paper based money, sourced from recycled materials but who would we have on the back of the £5 note? Answers on a post consumer waste postcard please.