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Coffee House

Hydropower: the winner of the 2012 Matt Ridley award

2 September 2012

10:26 PM

2 September 2012

10:26 PM

The 2013 Matt Ridley Prize is now open. Click here for more details.


When Matt Ridley offered £8,500 for the best prize essay for environmental heresy, we at The Spectator expected lots of entries. But what took us by surprise was the quality of the submissions. The winner is Pippa Cuckson, whose piece on hydropower is the cover story of this week’s magazine.

The judges had a pretty tough task. There were quite a few brilliant demolitions of environmentalism in general: as Stephen Hawking said at the Paralympic Games opening ceremony, the enemy of knowledge isn’t ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. It could sum up the problem with rational discussion of global warming and related topics. Cuckson’s piece scored because, as well as being a profoundly rational piece, it best rose best to Matt Ridley’s invitation ‘to gore one of the sacred cows of the environmentalist movement’.

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Her essay broke new ground: no one has focused much on Hydroelectricity, and she the general problem with taking an energy business model that works for the Highlands and applying it to England’s green and pleasant. She also uncovered a story: the tale of Gunthorpe Weir, and how local anglers were aghast to find that the supposedly fish-friendly turbine had a license to chop up to 100 fish a month (how do you monitor that?) while slowing the river to drought levels. She revealed how British Waterways, a quango, went on to buy a stake in a turbine company and rename itself.

She also tracked down a former Environment Agency executive, who became disillusioned with the hydro spin. His comment to me summed it up: people don’t get angry about the environmental damage inflicted by hyrdo turbines, he said, because no one really understands ecosystems.

Her essay was punchy and original, and had enough new material for a cover story. It’s a brilliant read, and our subscribers can find it here (or sign up from just £1 a week).

But the other entries were also outstanding. We will be publishing a few of them over the next few days on Coffee House. I’d like to thank everyone who entered the 2012 Matt Ridley Prize and made it such an outstanding success. Next year’s one will open on 1 April and close on 30 June.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


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