When will government take the environment seriously?

Good piece in The Guardian today about the government’s policy on the environment. Ashley Seager points out just how slowly the politicians are responding to the crisis of climate change. He points out that the widening of a stretch of the M6 will cost £3bn, whereas that is 40 times what the government is spending on its low-carbon buildings programme aimed at boosting the take up of renewable energies.
Seager focuses mainly on the failings of the government’s energy policy on encouraging use of renewable sources, which he shows is completely inadequate compared with what the Germans are doing.
On transport, he reiterates the point, which you can find often on my website, that the price of public transport has been rising far faster than the price of motoring, so therefore it is not surprising that more and more people are jumping into their cars. Price signals are available to the government to, for example, reduce the demand for air travel and boost rail use, but they are not used.
I remember Alistair Darling, then the transport secretary, arguing that the government had no role in encouraging people to choose a particular mode of travel as that was up to the market. I do wonder why people like him go into politics, apart from the fact that they must enjoy the power and the free chauffeur driven cars if they don’t feel they can change anything. As Seager points out, it is now this same colourless, unimaginative man who is preventing Britain from developing a system to encourage, through generous pricing, the production of electricity from renewable sources.
The usual argument is that putting up the price of petrol would be too unpopular and that the road fuel protestors would rise up again. But there has always seemed to me something fishy about the road fuel protest. The demonstration could so easily have been nipped in the bud since it consisted of a couple of hundred farmers and road hauliers intimidating fuel tank delivery drivers which brought the country to its knees. The protestors did not have mass support and today, with such a different political zeitgeist in relation to climate change, they would attract even fewer people.
At root, there is the fundamental issue of whether capitalism can ever be sustainable. But long before we get into that debate, there is a whole range of policies which can be adopted that will, at least, reduce the damage caused by our desire to grow the economy relentlessly. Yet, the government is so timid about introducing them that one could be forgiven for thinking that ministers are not really interested. Prove us wrong.

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