This week, the larger of the two parties forming the UK’s coalition government, the Conservative Party, held its annual party conference. It didn’t start well for environmentalists when the Chancellor, George Osborne (the man who in 2009 said “If I become chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe”), revealed his plan that “We’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”
The Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, then revealed plans to increase the speed limit on British motorways to 80 miles per hour. The government acknowledged soon after that this would lead to more pollution and increase the risk of road deaths. I find this policy completely bonkers – aren’t governments there to protect the people, even from themselves?
Then we had David Cameron, the Prime Minister, the man in charge with a clear vision for how to take the country forward. His speech did not use the words ‘environment’, ‘carbon’ or ‘climate’ even once. He said ‘green’ twice and, according to The Guardian, “both mentions of ‘green’ were in passing. One was part of a wide-ranging blast by David Cameron at the [previous] Labour [government]’s failings. The other – ‘green engineering’ – also came as part of a list of technologies a new economy would be built on.”
So all in all not very promising. The Guardian newspaper has been tracking the government’s progress using a Green-o-meter, and following the Conservative Party Conference, they dropped the needle from doing better than ‘middle of the road’ to doing worse, and I tend to agree.
There simply does not seem to be any fresh ideas coming from the government, with the same old rhetoric focussing always on GDP growth and short-sighted protectionism of established industries. Andrew Simms in The Guardian asked Why protect BAE jobs when you can convert them to the green economy? He argued against protecting jobs in the arms industry while setting out greater benefits that would arise from spending on houses, public transport and infrastructure. I also think there must be a lot of talented engineers and other professionals in the arms industry whose skills could be put to more humane uses elsewhere.
And finally I also read this week about Niu Wenyuan, a senior economist and government adviser in China who is trying to promote the use of a ‘quality index’ which measures the economy not just by size, but by sustainability, social equality and ecological impact. You might say that this would then give a truer sense of costs and benefits than relying on GDP alone as a measure of progress. This seems like a great idea to me, and it may or may not take off in China, but I can’t see it being adopted in western democracies where our politicians can’t see past the next election and don’t seem to have the vision or courage to stray from the accepted way of doing things.