Those who are far sighted about the next phase of the industrial revolution are working flat out to get at the forefront of the change. For example a company has developed and is actually selling a graphene heating system which cuts energy requirements by half because it takes so little energy to heat the graphene itself. Solar panel suppliers have brought the price down and the efficiency up to the point where installing them can make commercial sense without subsidies. We are reaching a classic tipping point whereby energy saving techniques are combining with renewable energy production techniques in ways that change the economic equations permanently.
Faced with moments of fundamental technical change there are two common reactions. One is to try and stick with what we know and hope the change goes away. There are plenty of people who thought that the valve driven computers that were the size of a garage and could do little more than calculate a payroll run would never widely catch on. They tried to stick with the old heavy industries and the old way of doing things and most of them went out of business. This is almost an exact parallel with the thinking of the current British government. Their reaction to the emerging opportunities of a low carbon economy is to try and invest in fracking. They are desperately trying to encourage further drilling in the north sea and exploring for gas beneath our countryside at the same time as removing as many incentives as they can from programmes to develop and implement renewable energy. Their basic strategy is to assume that the future will be the same as the past and to gear the country up to work successfully on the back of finding more fossil fuels.
The contrasting approach is to think about where technology is heading next and to help the country prepare for it. Logically it is impossible to depend on fossil fuel for ever. Logically any technology that can generate and deliver energy cheaply almost anywhere in the world or deliver products and services that require very low uses of it feels like a winner. A technology that depends on mining a scarce resource, refining it, shipping or piping it, buying it out of foreign exchange and then delivering it to remote locations across your country is highly clumsy and is wide open to competition from new and more flexible ways of generating, storing and saving electricity.
The countries that are gearing up for the next phase of technology are likely to be financially successful and to provide their citizens with high standards of living. The ones that are clinging onto the past in the hope that it doesn't change are likely to get bypassed and become progressively poorer. Much of the changes that are needed will happen as a result of the creative efforts of the free market. But the free market needs a supportive environment in which there is heavy investment in suitable science and suitable education and there are incentives for early adopters of new technology and support to bring products to the market. Not enough of that is happening in the UK.
In China they are rapidly moving from a dangerous dependency on dirty costly coal power that has been horribly polluting the cities to installing millions of solar panels and generating huge quantities of power from renewables. They are trying to gear up their economy for a major change. Germany is also placing a strong emphasis on this transition and is trying to get itself free of Russian oil as soon as it can. The technological lead this is helping it to establish over the UK's industry is dramatic.
Green economic policies are moving from being radical ideas expressed by those on the fringes of society. They are increasingly becoming a commonplace as practical deliverable policies that are being implemented.
A country like Britain which has a proud tradition of technological innovation and of science and industry really should be formulating a carefully thought through economic plan to set about transforming itself into the leading force in that transition.
We have the opposite. Our government claims that it is following a long term economic plan. In reality what we have is a short term backward looking reactive plan that tries to look for the quickest and the easiest temporary fix. You cannot respond to a fundamental technological revolution without investing in being at the forefront of change. There is no point in balancing a budget if what you are doing with any money you spend and any decisions you make is to lock your country even more firmly into the past.
Our country needs to get itself at the leading edge of modern low energy technology. We are at risk of being at the back end of a costly dependence on fossil fuels. If this is what the Conservatives mean by economic competence then the country is in deep trouble.