So, have the results of the General Election been good for the environment?! On the face of it, the Green Party did not gain ground, issues of ecological sustainability did not seem high on candidates’ agendas and Britain now has an Environment Secretary who is not exactly known for his green credentials. Is the outlook therefore bleaker than it was?
Firstly, let’s identify six of the key challenges we face:
a) Implementation of the Paris agreement on climate change
b) Revising UK environmental policies after Brexit
c) Addressing major air quality concerns
d) Reviewing Britain’s energy policy
e) Greening our cities
f) Development pressures on water, land and habitat
The minority Tory administration cooperating with the DUP could well see deals developed to water down environmental protection measures after pulling away from the EU frameworks. Climate deniers shaping policy might also dilute commitments to the Paris deal, even though the agreement has been signed. It is highly unlikely the UK will withdraw like the USA, but the longer-term future of the planet could well be given less priority than a short-term acceptable political desire to stay in office.
Theresa May’s former regime is already under pressure from the High Court to activate its own air pollution plan. The country’s air quality is already thought to be responsible for 40,000 premature deaths annually. This should now be a matter of priority for Michael Gove, but we wait to see…
In Britain we have just seen the highest ever output of low carbon electricity as wind turbines and solar panels help to meet more than half of the country’s demand. On 7th June 19.3GW output of renewable energy was enough to meet more than 50% of our midday power demand. And yet we fall well behind other northern European countries which are on the cusp of phasing out fossil fuels in the next few years – making every economic, social and environmental sense. Surely, we need a government to take a strong lead away from technologies such as fracking towards a fully solar, water, biomass and wind economy (not to mention consistently tackling energy conservation and inefficiencies)?
Our countryside continues to be a source of too cheap land for building and our cities lack the positive green planning of other countries. Loss of habitat and species in the countryside is critical. We are still painting bus and bike lanes on our streets whilst others invest in green urban infrastructure, trams and electric transit systems.
It seems there is much ground to be covered before we get greener policies and I am not going to hold my breath with the incoming administration. The neo-liberal philosophy of leaving things to the ‘free’ market and offering benefits to big business is threatening, not benefitting, our planet Earth under pressure.
Is there hope then?
Yes – I believe the influence of the Scottish Tories could pull in a greener direction, certainly more than the DUP and probably their English counterparts. An all-party approach to Brexit will mean some of the harsher elements will not be supported. A better-balanced parliament will put paid to superficial attempts at greenwash, and the influence of more women than ever in the House of Commons might yet bring rewards for our common home.
But from a perspective of faith, some of us would say there still needs to be a change of heart. There has been a tendency for all governments to pay lip-service to greener perspectives and policies. Too many politicians have been too passive in their commitment to the environment.
What is needed now is much more active engagement and a turning away from laissez faire practices that effectively transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, prompt massive inequalities wrapped up in regressive rhetoric, and a desecration of the Earth in the name of ‘progress’. The systems we live under produce instability, illness and inequality - here and across the world.
Prioritising the kinds of issues I outline above have to become key planks for a more sustainable and resilient civilisation. But will the new government think the same?!
These challenges call for a significant social change of direction (metanoiain biblical Greek). Some of us would call this a conversion to a more inclusive, respectful and replenishing culture, in which all can flourish as part of an interconnected humanity connected to an interdependent web of life. That is the central message of love – and that is why faith groups (especially Christians), NGOs, civil society and local communities have to hold our new ‘task-masters’ to task on creating a just future for all…
This item was originally publishes in Devon Churches Green News, June 2017