Forget the “green crap”, what are your top five green priorities?
Whether the Prime Minister said the UK needed to get rid of this “green crap” or not is beside the point. What should worry folks who are already worrying about protecting the environment is that when the phrase “green crap” was used, everyone immediately knew it was about climate policy.
A great risk of the environmental movement is that it allows itself to become ghettoised in the political debate as being solely about climate policy. Important as the issue is, the carbon problem has to be seen as part of a wider effort to protect our environment.
First, it is worth conceding that there is some genuine “green crap” about. We all have our favourite examples. For Will Straw, at the IPPR, it is the carbon floor price. For me, it is the Renewable Energy Target. For some Tory MPs, it is wind farms in the countryside (I tend to think they are quite beautiful, certainly cheaper than many alternatives and there is so far no compelling evidence that they damage house prices).
But if greens allow the debate about environmentalism to become a Manichean struggle over whether turbines damage the landscape, they are in deep trouble and will lose. No-one thought when they saw the “green crap” headlines that the discussion was about National Parks, or protection of the seas or your local wildlife reserve. The climate debate has allowed itself to become detached from more traditional concerns, at least in the political consciousness.
Climate change is sometimes described as a problem designed for people not to care about: its effects are uncertain; likely to affect people not yet born; the worst impacts will be in far-away countries; and it costs money to address it now. It is a mind-boggling collective action problem that needs sustained effort. For that to be successful, it needs to be embedded in a wider environmentalism, which sees reducing risk of global warming as part of how we improve the places in which we live. It needs to be a richer discussion about our responsibilities to future and past generations and our role as stewards.
Crucially, it also means making choices. This may jar with a “no compromise” mentality that is a strand in much green thinking, but it is politically impractical. Environmentalists need to identify priorities that are realistic and pursue them relentlessly.
In that spirit, I pose the High Fidelity, Top 5 challenge: “What would be your top five priorities for environmental improvements over the next five years?” These are the five that pop into my mind that I believe would provide the greatest benefit to the environment in the medium term. They may also provide a compelling green political narrative:
- A substantial network of no-catch, marine protected zones in UK territorial waters (including Overseas Territories).
- A reformed European Emissions Trading Scheme.
- A national urban green space map.
- A publically-funded energy efficiency programme.
- Redirecting all Common Agricultural Policy money to improving the natural environment, including piloting of “Rewilded” areas.
I missed out congestion charging, tighter air quality standards for cars, low carbon R&D, a reformed nuclear programme and compulsory biodiversity offsetting. I am sure I missed many more. But if those five were delivered in the next three years – and all are plausible – it would a be a huge success, and we could start worrying less about whether or not someone said something disparaging about climate policy.