The greenest government ever?

“Environmental Taliban”

David Cameron promised this would be the greenest government ever “When I became prime minister I said I would aim to have the greenest government ever and this is exactly what we have”.  Unfortunately, hardly anyone else seems to agree. Opinion polls suggest that only 2% of the public think this is the case, and organisations as diverse as the CBI and Greenpeace also disagree.

George Osborne

George Osborne’s latest apparent comments about the green lobby being the ‘environmental Taliban’ adds nothing to any sense that this government intends to see through its verdant promise. Not that this is new.  When George Osborne previously remarked that “we’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business” and that green policies were a “burden” on business, he may have let the rhetorical camouflage slip to reveal the true attitudes which underlie the government’s approach to the natural environment. 

Looking more widely for some comfort only brings further disappointment. The Rio+20 summit was viewed by most environmental commentators as, at best, feeble and lacking in detail. Since the original Rio summit, global emissions of CO2 have risen by 48%, 300 million hectares of forest have been cleared and the population has increased by 1.6 billion people.

Austerity politics are driving restrictions to funding and a retrenchment to a focus on economic growth.  So whilst the rhetoric recognises the importance of the natural environment in a sustainable economy, governments privately see it as a burden, slowing a return to growth, however unsustainable. It belies an ideology which continually undervalues the natural environment. 

Changing attitudes

Healthy environments give us clean water that supports life and a number of human economic interests, such as fishing.

But maybe this is just a reflection of wider values and attitudes? The National Centre for Social Research 2011 report on social attitudes suggests that across the five measures used to judge how people perceived threats to the environment, including climate change and pollution of rivers and streams, there was a significant drop in the proportion of people who thought they posed a danger.  There was also an increase in the number of people who felt that “we worry too much about the environment and not enough about prices and jobs today” and that “people worry too much about human progress harming the environment”.

The report concludes that there is a combination of growing pressures from the recession and an increasing scepticism about environmental issues, particularly climate change – there is a rising sense of “environment fatigue”.

Despite The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA), the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) and the Lawton Review in England, the natural environment just isn’t seen as central to economic activity or people’s immediate concerns.

Balancing the budget

It would, or course, be naive to suggest this is an easy call for any government. These are not easy times or easy choices.  The trouble is, governments failed to meet the challenge of recognising and acting on the fundamental importance of the natural environment when times were good, and they now have the cloak of austerity to hide behind, as well as real pressures to balance budgets.

People like wildlife and nature reserves and habitats, and government want to be seen to support what people like. But people like other things more when times are hard, and the natural environment is still largely viewed by most people as something which is nice, but not essential. When that happens and times are tough, governments will focus on the things people like most. Government may have hard decisions to make, but ignoring the natural environment doesn’t seem to be one of them. 

The environmental movement often fails to tell people why the natural environment matters, not just globally or nationally, but to them individually and to their families and to the economy. We need to work harder to find the ways in which the natural environment is seen and understood as something important, not just for itself, but for the way in which it underpins the economy at a level which makes sense to individuals and to businesses.

Mike Townsend, Communications and Evidence Adviser

The Future…

To make your views heard on the future of England’s forests join the Woodland Trust’s ‘Tell Owen’ campaign. We are asking the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson MP, to say YES and adopt the recommendations made in the Forests Report as a whole.


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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11 Responses to The greenest government ever?

  1. Kay Haw says:

    Thank you all for your comments and your support!

  2. Pingback: « THROUGHSTONES

  3. Alex Jones says:

    This government has a bad track record over the environment from badger culls to fracking.

  4. Reblogged this on LEARN FROM NATURE and commented:
    Great blog – ‘#Greenest Government ever’ ? #forests #environment

  5. steve says:

    There is a tendency to pay lip service to environmental issues,to treat them as any other short term topical trend of discussion. Maybe this is in the hope that like predecessors the issues and their attached public interest will go away as another takes precedent. It is probably true that to a some degree this is already starting to happen amongst those who either never believed or simply don’t care. It is certainly true that a lot of money and vested interest is involved in attempting to discredit everything about climate change as whim of crazy do gooders and the politically displaced.

    Nevertheless for the first time the issue in question is so inherently part of everything about our species that it will call the tune no matter how we behave. This is the scariest story ever told and for many,including politicians, denial and statistical tennis are the only way to cope.

    The changes in behaviour required of our species are so overwhelming and so disruptive that to address the problem face on requires true courage.Everything about the way our species operates is out of sink with the planet as a whole. Our necessary systems of existence are based on theory and practice formed when our view of the bigger picture was in it’s infancy. We are a world of nation states whose greatest faults lie in overcoming each other through war, wealth and religion wasting energy, life and resources. Unless we think as a whole, one world to coin a catchy phrase,we have no hope of survival. Can we expect any politician to say, “the whole things a mess lets start again” , unlikely but you never know. The greatest changes come from the bottom up, around the world in so many ways this is already happening. This is not the greenest government ever but come on,we always knew that,no government will be green enough to make a difference that counts. There is a chance,a small one that we might come out on top, but if we do it wont be world leaders that make it happen.

  6. Davep says:

    i think it is about time the UK took some responsibility and carried out a massive tree planting to bring us up to the European average tree cover.

  7. Laura says:

    without environmental sustainability there will eventually be no life, let alone an economy which therefore suggests that ignorance will prevail. People like Osbourne are blind to the eventualities that may occur. Politicians display a tunnel vision and a selected mindset that is only beneficial to themselves, and what they can achieve within their political career, its all about what they can gain for themselves in their self absorbed little world. The worst government ever to have come into power. and what has the taliban got to do with it?? what a stupid comment, its a far cry from the concerns of the entire natural world!

    • You are right – we are an inseparable part of the environment, and without environmental sustainability, the human species is without any doubt heading towards extinction. I suspect this “Taliban” comment was not just a stupid display of ignorance, but a well-worn ploy of name-calling and belittling what is considered to be a threat – and at the same time playing on the economic fears of potential voters.

  8. John Thatcher says:

    Sadly, Osborne’s comments show how little he understands about the Evironmental Movement or the Taliban. I wonder whether he will ever register how many votes this little admission of ignorance will cost him and Cameron? Still, one shouldn’t be surprised. There are few politicians capable of seeing either the wider view or the longer view,

  9. guy says:

    The good of the Green lobby has been done terrible damage by becoming infused with collectivist, socialist activism. The Green lobby needs to distance itself from this highjacking and return to it’s core values of protecting the environment from a more Libertarian point of view. The Swiss are a perfect example of how this can be achieved through public and political consensus.

  10. Pingback: The greenest government ever? | Conservation & Environment |

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