A colleague of mine has taken to describing lavish helpings of chocolate cake as ‘an apple’. Suddenly you can tick all the healthy eating boxes and indulge yourself shamelessly at the same time.
Perhaps the same process was at work in David Cameron’s mind this week when he urged voters to ‘vote blue, go green’. Granted, he’s in favour of recycling and has been seen on a bike (though it isn’t clear how he’ll offset the environmental impact of jetting off to the Arctic this week to check out the effects of global warming).
The Tories shouldn’t be criticised for jumping on the ‘cleaner, greener, safer’ bandwagon. After all, nobody could argue against cleaning up litter, addressing noise pollution and making parks and public spaces beautiful, all of which were promoted in a party pamphlet this week.
But that’s hardly the stuff of a ‘new green revolution’. There’s little here that hasn’t already been heavily promoted by central and local government for the last five years or so.
The challenge for the Tories, and Labour too, is to balance really effective green policies against the drive for economic growth. Both parties are in hock to business interests, and you’d be naive indeed to imagine that those who finance each party have no intention of calling in their favours when the time is right.
So Labour has backed the massive expansion of air travel - one of the biggest contributors to global warming - without batting an eyelid. There’s no indication that the Conservatives would act any differently: growth depends on it.
And at local and regional level, there’s still scant evidence that we’re paying much more than lipservice to sustainability. Most economic development policies work on the principle that the thing most worth sustaining is our standard of living, even if our children and grandchildren end up paying for it.
What’s really disturbing is the way we act as if a few innocuous policy changes will be enough if they’re accompanied by all the right rhetoric. Just how much work is being done to assess the long-term environmental impact of our major regeneration schemes, or to examine the impact on the planet of the new businesses we support? At the moment we’re not even asking the questions.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine