Putting an acknowledged environmental sceptic in charge of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was always going to be bad news. Shropshire MP Owen Paterson’s sympathies lie with industrial scale farming and fracked landscapes. He hates windfarms and is a global warming sceptic. Now he’s trying to restrict the scope of the carrier bag charge.
It’s no surprise then that he is reluctant to introduce a charge on supermarket carrier bags. Previously, Defra sat on its heels. Its ministers claimed it needed better evidence about the impact of a charge. That’s an ironic position to take given that Defra has launched a badger cull against the scientific evidence of the Krebs trails.
It is true that under the former Labour government, Defra became obsessed with carbon emissions at the expense of the contribution of the environment to wellbeing and biodiversity – as did much of the environmental movement. It fretted that a one use paper bag used more carbon than a well-used plastic bag. Everyone but CPRE and few other charities ignored the impact of plastic bags on landfill, the landscape, our streets and the seas.
Nick Clegg announced a five pence charge from autumn 2015 at the Glasgow conference. Yesterday at the Conservative conference, Owen Paterson declared that he wants 100% degradable bags to be charge free (full speech). Although these bags will eventually degrade, until they do they will still litter our environment and damage wildlife. Many will be tipped and create methane in landfill. And issuing free carrier bags does nothing to encourage reuse, the most environmentally friendly option.
Even the Daily Mail has been calling for a charge for years. So why is Paterson so reluctant to introduce a bag charge? Some think he is a political hostage of the bag industry, which is furious about the charge. But I don’t think that is the real reason.
Owen Paterson glories in his reputation as an environmental sceptic. Old style Tories admire him. His legacy as a Defra minister will be dragging Britain back to the bad old world of anti-environmentalism and that for many Conservatives is something to be celebrated. Paterson and his supporters are taking us back to a world where present day consumption is more important than caring for a natural environment that future generations will need much more than us. Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University told the Independent: “His view that we can muddle through climate change is a colonial, arrogant, rich person’s view.” That’s spot on.
I’m just popping off to Aldi. I’ll take my rucksack rather than pay for plastic bags. I’ve not once heard a complaint at an Aldi checkout about its longstanding bag charges. Customers come to Aldi with their own bags. If Aldi and Marks and Spencer can do it, and whole countries like Ireland and Wales, why can’t Owen Paterson ensure that every other supermarket in England does it?
It’s time for a reshuffle and to send Owen Paterson to somewhere less damaging to the world’s future. It is also time for the Lib Dems to develop a strong environmental voice within Defra to counter the anti-environment sentiments of the current Tory paradigm.
* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice