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The Election and the Environment

MATTHEW SMITH 30/04/2015

Next week the people of the U.K will be heading to the polls to decide what political party they trust to govern them for the next 5 years. As is usual with a general election the issues that have taken precedence are mainly those confined to domestic importance; the NHS, our economic recovery, education and immigration being the main talking points. These are undoubtedly key issues, ones that are important to the British people and that will impact their everyday lives. However, despite the importance of these it seems that most of the competing parties are completely  neglecting the discussion about the role we have to play globally, specifically in looking after the planet and our natural resources. Climate change is undeniably transforming our planet for the worst yet is confusingly not an issue that seems to get a mention; it is widely accepted that if changes are not made immediately then the damage already done will be irreversible. A 2°c rise in our global temperature will result in the loss of many island nations, displace millions of people and lead to loss of crops and livestock in places that rely on them to survive - experts predict that we are on course for a rise of up to 4°c within the next 100 years. In a British context this will lead to increased and severe flooding, heat waves and drought, threats to our water supply and damage to our ecosystem, all noticeable within the next 20-30 years


So why doesn't anyone seem to care? The rise of UKIP and the right sided movement of many Tory policies has resulted  in a pervading narrative that we need to only think of Britain, that we need to be independent and should shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. This is a belief that is harmful in many ways, and could be the subject of many discussions, but with an issue as globally encompassing as our environment it is a disastrous stance to take. Another issue is the way that our current political system is structured. It does not seem to allow for long term planning and a global conscience; party politics seems to value short term, quick fix solutions rather than real long term, effective action. Also, the adoption of an almost deregulated capitalist global economy that prioritises wealth, profit and expansion is not a natural bedfellow for a sustainable and pollution free world


What are the parties planning to do about it? A look at the main parties 2015 election manifestos shows us their pledges for the environment:


David Cameron has claimed that his party have presided over the 'Greenest government ever', this despite the fact that last year the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) delivered a 'red card' in its fifth report for lacklustre environmental efforts by the Government. Of the 10 areas surveyed by the committee 0 were marked green, meaning no single area had seen satisfactory improvement since 2010. Looking at the environmental and energy policies in their 2015 manifesto the Conservatives are focusing almost exclusively on domestic 'green policies', mostly concerning maintaining our forests and parks. They have vowed to push forward with fracking and only back 'good-value' renewable energy, meaning they will only look at investing in renewable energy if there's money to be made. These are both policies echoed by UKIP in their recent manifesto, a document that also vows to repeal the Climate Change Act of 2008, end subsidies for solar and wind power and 'rejuvenate' the coal industry


The Liberal Democrats have set out a few long term goals; they want to double renewable electricity by 2020 and decarbonise the power sector by 2030. As a part of government they have planted one million trees, created 27 marine conservation zones and will be introducing a 5p charge for plastic bags in supermarkets in Autumn


The Labour manifesto shows a promise to reduce carbon emissions generated during electricity production to zero by 2030 and to 'push' for a global reduction of carbon emissions. This 'push' is also mentioned by the Conservatives and on the surface is a small step in the right direction. However, no significant action has yet been taken by any country to tackle any of the causes of the climate change crisis. The Kyoto agreement of 1992 has been shown to be virtually ineffective in halting the changes brought on by pollution and no country seems keen to attempt to make any real change to their industrial habits in case their profit margins narrow



Of course the one political party that does show an awareness of these issues and how they affect the rest of society are the Green party. Their plans for a 'one planet economy' involve being responsible with the planets resources and scrapping  GDP as a measure of national success and instead use ANP (Adjusted National Product) which would take account of capital and environmental depreciation and include the value of many things not currently paid for, such as unpaid work at home. They plan to ban fracking, invest in renewable energy and have long term plans to phase out fossil fuel based energy generation. They are also the only party to mention a reduction of greenhouse gasses in their manifesto. Aside from the Greens, who dedicate 14 pages to pledges on the environment and related causes, none of the other parties assign more than 4 pages to these issues


Perhaps public apathy is a reason for the lack of focus on this issue in the election: alarmingly a recent YouGov survey shows that only 9% of people surveyed said that the Environment was a key issue in the upcoming election and in a similar Stastista survey it did not feature in the top 10 issues for the election. This shows another side to the climate change issue; do people really not see it as a cause for concern? I suspect that if given the facts and the truth about just how important this issue is to all our futures there would be a consensus that this a vital issue. So why is there not more coverage? Surely an issue of this magnitude deserves more media and political attention? The answer is that many of the most powerful and influential facets of our society gain a lot from maintaining the status quo: huge energy suppliers make billions from draining our natural resources, not caring what effects it may have on the environment or local people, they are also scared of the consequences of increased reliance on renewable energy and how that will affect their profits. Rupert Murdoch, who controls much of the media (and is a well publicised climate change sceptic), is a share holder in Genie gas and oil, a company who have been fracking for shale gas in Israel. Even Matthew Hancock, the Conservative  Energy and Climate change minister, the man whose job it is to form a responsible energy and environmental policy, has accepted donations totalling £18,000 from a leading climate change sceptic lobby group


So it is clear that the issue of climate change and its effects will go unmentioned in the debates surrounding this election; too many powerful people risk losing too much power and wealth for something as trivial as the survival of our planet and its inhabitants. For this reason, and perhaps the enormity of the scale of change it would take to address, it will remain a minor issue, probably until we are facing catastrophe. The recklessness and pursuit of wealth that caused a near total collapse of our financial system not so long ago looks set to be culpable for the near total collapse of our global ecosystem but when this happens, unlike with the financial crisis, there will be no bailout