By John Dixon
I’m worried about global warming. The idea that what thousands of scientists have been saying it is all a ‘grand conspiracy’ sounds itself like a grand conspiracy. And although I understand that there has been some verbal trash coming from the green corner (see David Cameron for numerous perfect examples) that doesn’t really compare to the huge mountain of it from the other side (I recently saw an advert by Exxon Mobile claiming that ‘Carbon Dioxide is life!’).
But there are problems I see in confronting global warming, in taking on the challenge. People agree global warming exists now (in general), but are we going to be able to do anything about it? I’m afraid I’m still rather sceptical.
Firstly, I don’t see the public will to deal with global warming. By that, I don’t just mean people supporting green issues, but rather people being unwilling to sacrifice convenience for the planet. If we are to deal with global warming it is not going to be easy: we can’t simply magic away 80% of our greenhouse gas emissions, and we can’t simply speak about global warming as if it’s the most important issue facing the world and yet treat it as if it’s a secondary issue that wont actually affect our everyday lives (much like the Bush administration’s stance on the war on terror).
It’s going to require radical structural changes in the way our economy and society function. People won’t do this on their own. Government must force the change, whether structurally or by actively moderating our behaviour.
There is no middle ground on environmentalism. We can either go all the way, and attempt to prevent the ensuing disasters that climate change will surely bring by checking climate change itself – or push the national effort into preparing for such calamities. Any middle road will be both ineffective and wasteful. Looking at our politics therefore (and politics around the developed world for that matter) there is cause for concern.
Our political landscape in the Tory, Labour and (dare I say it) to an extent the Liberal Democrat benches is dominated by compromisers, by people who would rather give in than give out. The Labour party and more recently the Tory party are both political groupings that have given up on their old ideologies and replaced them with a more populist (albeit vague) message. This is simply not the sort of politics that we can have if we are going to deal with a problem that is, in Al Gore’s words, ‘the greatest threat to civilisation since the 2nd World War’.
A national effort is required and, just like in the Second World War, it is going to require government intervention to a huge extent. This has led to some of our more libertarian and conservative colleagues (who declare freedom for businessmen and complacency for everyone else) decrying environmentalists as ‘undercover fascists’ and scolding the entire principle of climate change as a ‘far left wing conspiracy’. Absurd, of course, partly because the Green party doesn’t exactly exert nationalistic or fascist principles, but mainly because it lets the unattractive resultant solutions for a problem obscure the fact that there is a problem at all.
(In fact a similar thing happened with the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49, when protectionist Tories said that the famine simply didn’t exist in an attempt to stop the protectionist Corn Laws. Strange how history repeats itself, no?)
Therefore, in the current malaise of centrist, compromising and populist politics, I do not believe our politicians will be able to make the tough decisions required to deal with global warming. We may make strong moves towards it, certainly, but I don’t see the economy being greened until we have politics that advocates not just strong leadership but strong action as well.
Secondly, the way we deal with global warming is a challenge in itself. The current preferred method is to set ambitious targets on cutting emissions and then to allow individual states to find they’re preferred method of achieving their set goals. As I have said we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by about 80% to achieve a 60% reduction world wide mainly – because we can’t honestly expect India or China to reduce their emissions as their countries grow, and their populaces become affluent enough to afford electricity.
This all sounds well and good but doesn’t this hark back to the techniques of socialist planning which our party so strongly rejects? If we are against targets so much when they are used in the NHS and education, why should we expect them to work and not cause government failure when applied to emissions? A certain economist has recently written an article on such a matter.
Which brings me to my third point. In order to tackle climate change we will have to, whether we like it or not, have huge amounts of government intervention. We may well become a socialist state. Carbon rationing, government monitoring of our firms’ environmental impact or even quite possibly government control. There are certainly quite a few people within our own centre-left party (let alone the general public) who would be against such a move.
Carbon trading schemes would allow a certain amount of marketisation within the greening society, but, as we have seen recently, unless strictly enforced they do not reduce carbon emissions, and can simply lead to more market and government failure if too highly or too lightly implemented.
This is the question I therefore put to all of you: will we have to become a socialist party (at least in method) to retain our green credentials in the future? And if so will the political parties be honest with the electorate about the resultant changes to their lives of a greening society and economy. As I said earlier, I’m still sceptical.
* John Dixon blogs at a radical writes.