They are back. Or at least they look like they are trying a bit. The fuel protestors that did their best to bring the country to a halt in 2000 are trying to gear up once again. Seems things are staring slowly though. The population – in their infinite wisdom – have started to panic buy fuel. Yet again, the only solace in all of this seems to be Steve Bell’s wonderful cartoons in the Guardian – see today, and examples 1 and 2 from 2000.
But – so the argument goes – things are different this time. The high prices are in large part thanks to increases in the world oil price thanks to ongoing tensions in the Middle East and the destruction of the US hurricane. In 2000, the protests were mainly against rising levels of fuel duty, while today duty accounts for a lower total percentage of the cost of a litre of fuel. This article from the BBC refers.
While in the short term prices might be excessively high, I tend to agree with the analysis of Larry Elliott in the Guardian (among others) who say that we are effectively going to have to cope with high fuel prices and that the protesters should be faced down. Further, in the UK that has quite low taxes for businesses overall, has quite useless percentages of freight on the railways, and has no road tolling except in London, the burdens that hauliers have to face are far from excessive.
Looking towards the future all of this might not be a bad thing. Why are we in the UK not putting the cash into researching biogases or ethanol as ways to power our vehicles in the way Sweden and other EU member states are? And why are most of our trains still burning diesel too?
The challenge that these protests raise is real. But we have to lower our dependence on oil in the future – both because it geopolitically makes sense, and it can be environmentally beneficial too.