March 17, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Has anyone else noticed the lack of any debate or attention during this election campaign on the issues of the environment and climate change? The Tories, having made their journey between the “vote blue, go green” detoxification days of early David Cameron (and whose logo is still a green tree), have moved to silence on the issue, apart from David Cameron being quoted as wanting to get rid of some of the ‘green crap’ and having given up the Department of a Energy and Climate Change to the Lib Dems in coalition negotiations. Labour’s recently released pledge cards mention nothing about the environment, and they might want to be quiet about the 16% of energy bills accounted for by green subsidies committed to under the climate change secretary in the previous government was was…Ed Miliband. I have little doubt it won’t be talked about if we have the TV debates (apart from by the Green Party) and between the mainstream parties there are little votes in it.
Yet, It may have escaped your notice but the tiny Pacific country of Vanuatu was overcome by a tropical cyclone at the weekend. Vanuatu consists of 65 islands and 267,000 people. Early reports indicate over 50 deaths but dozens more may be dead. The cyclone was not supposed to hit the islands but veered off course at the last minute, meaning the country was not readied for what was to come. Many in the capital, Port Vila, have lost their home. But even if you did know about what could turn out to be the worst weather related incident in the history of the Pacific Islands, one can’t help wondering whether this is the start of the end for these islands. They said this day would come, and these extreme weather events are coming more frequently. Does this mean global warming is here? Shouldn’t that mean a government like the Tories who talk constantly about long-term plans should be talking about climate change more.
Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian gives a fabulous explanation why they are not:
“It lacks a hard deadline: there’s a Paris summit in December but there have been summits before. The climate crisis lacks a specific location. What places there are – those that will be hit first by, say, rising water levels – are far away. It’s long on technical details, stats and numbers, and short on human narrative – it lacks a clearly defined, single villain. Above all, it’s a bit of a downer. Plenty of news is depressing – Isis, child abuse, austerity – but a world rendered uninhabitable to human beings? Faced with that, who wouldn’t rather talk about the boy who turned up at school dressed as Christian Grey?”
Out of all these I would argue that the lack of a clearly defined, single villain is the most important issue in explaining why we are getting nowhere with climate change. Despite many attempt to do so, it is actually always hard to point at the actual cause of global warming, in terms of exactly who is responsible. Therefore it is very hard to decide who should be compensating who for it, and that being the case, it is hard to do much more than argue for adaptation of existing defences against the negative consequences of it. The reason summit fail is that they are effectively trying to persuade democratic countries to accept a fall in short term living standards in order to try and increase long term living standards for everyone. We can’t even cut the deficit in the UK because our democracy won’t let us do that, so how to do that to combat climate change is hard to see. All this, and there are a bunch of countries we are competing against who argue that there shouldn’t be responsibilities on them as they are growing now like we grew and want to do so without restrictions, like we did.
So it would be a brave politician who makes an issue of climate change right now, given the electorate are not massively interested in sacrificing anything on the short term. Our environmental legislation took a massive step forward due to our many years of economic growth giving us some leeway to invest in it without much opportunity cost. This is why it turned into the consensus issue it did, and why the financial crisis, ensuing recession, and current debt crisis has put it on the back burner.