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Virtuous Circles Reach the Politicians
Hana Loftus, 29 Jul 06

gaso.jpg Worldchanging is all about the mass implementation of ideas once seen as fringe. Here in the UK, that’s certainly starting to happen. There may still be things that politicians see as unpalatable to their electorate (or the business lobby) but boy, things are changing. This week we got a frontline politico positing an idea that, even a year ago, would have been unthinkable. After announcing in the annual Energy Review on July 11th that he would look at a scheme to introduce a domestic carbon tax via energy suppliers (who would then pass this on to consumers), the Environment Secretary David Miliband gave a speech on the 19th that posited far more drastic action: making individuals personally responsible for their carbon emissions through a carbon credit card scheme.

Imagine a country where carbon becomes a new currency. We carry bank cards that store both pounds and carbon points. When we buy electricity, gas and fuel, we use our carbon points, as well as pounds. To help reduce carbon emissions, the Government would set limits on the amount of carbon that could be used.
Imagine your neighbourhood. Each neighbour receives the same free entitlement to a certain number of carbon points. The family next door has an SUV and realise they are going to have to buy more carbon points.
So instead they decide to trade in the SUV for a hybrid car. They save 2.2 tons of carbon each year. They then sell their carbon points back to the bank and share the dividends of environmental growth.

Imagine indeed – but this might be coming our way. And this comes after other ministers announced that every home (old or new) sold after May will have to have an Energy Performance Certificate, plus new boosts for micro-generation through scrapping the need for planning permission for domestic energy installations, new building codes…the list goes on.

But our government hasn’t suddenly discovered idealism – far from it. What has really happened – and this is the big jump – is that the environment has become a battleground for the mainstream political parties here for the first time. The Labour party – in power for nearly a decade – has found its Conservative opponents under their new youthful leader David Cameron trying to claim the green spot for their own. Cashing in on the middle-class electorate’s environmental guilt, he cycles to work (albeit with a car behind him carrying his suit and shiny shoes, has installed a wind turbine on his roof, taken on the editor of The Ecologist as an adviser and adopted a soft green-speak that has those of us who remember Margaret Thatcher rubbing our eyes in disbelief. His slogan for the recent local elections was ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ – which Labour matched by printing posters showing Cameron as a ‘Dave the Chameleon’ on a bicycle changing from blue to green.

The politicians have mostly yet to back up their rhetoric with action. But the speed with which green issues have become a genuine political battleground is encouraging, because a lack of real action is the first thing that politicians exploit in their rivals, taunting the greenwash.

It also shows that the speechwriters think the electorate actually care. We normally hear about virtuous circles in terms of zero-carbon, Cradle to Cradle, reuse and recycling. Now we have a virtuous circle of another kind; the spin doctors sense a shift in the public mood, put green items into the speeches of our leaders, which then result in a flurry of press articles about the shifting agenda, increasing awareness among the electorate which then gets picked up again in the focus groups. We’re still not there yet with the policies – nuclear power is also back on the agenda – but the debate has picked up an exciting speed.

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A step in the right direction? Maybe, maybe not. I don't see the political forum to be one of power in comparison to that of an incorporated company. A company acts as an individual, and has responsibility only to its shareholders. In comparison, a government is responsible to every single voter within a country, and acts within a defined structure with much room for complaint and debate. Corporations have the freedom to move territory, currency, and people any which way they please. The freedom I'm talking about is one that will sway a government to lower taxes for a specific company to move into the reigon, thus bringin jobs to the voting populace. This I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine business is very one sided, and its the corporations who are gaining.
So, when I see a politician riding a bike to work, its not too encouraging, because I know that no matter how much he, or she would like to change their land, they aren't holding all the cards to do so.
The day I see a CEO riding a bike to work, I'll get excited.

Posted by: Luke on 30 Jul 06

'Annual' Energy Review??? I hope not - the stress of responding to this one has affected my health, so if it happened every year I'd be having regular breakdowns. :( Though given that the last major statement on UK energy policy was only three years ago, it seems like we're heading that way anyway....

That aside, the central thesis of this piece is absolutely right: the transformation of the environment into a central political battlefield through David Cameron's interventions has led to the Government raising its game. Note that the carbon allowance plan was announced by David Miliband, only recently installed as Environment Secretary, who was described by Tony Blair as the Labour Party's Wayne Rooney. (For those of you out there who are soccer challenged, he is the wunderkind of English football.) Wheeling Miliband onto the pitch to directly counter Cameron's green offensive shows how serious this issue has become. Hopefully he won't operating on his own up front and end up stamping on Cameron's private parts. :)

Cameron has his own challenges, however. The Conservatives are aptly named and don't like change: expect to see a backlash from the rank-and-file party members at some point, especially if Cameron's appeal wanes as he turns those nice warm fuzzy words into hard policy proposals - at the moment he's remarkably short on specifics. But while he's riding high it's making my job a bit easier - maybe I can postpone the next breakdown. :)

Posted by: Doctor Edge on 31 Jul 06



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