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UK Conservatives' Blueprint for a Green Economy
Alex Steffen, 13 Sep 07
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The U.K. Conservative Party released its Blueprint for a Green Economy this morning, and it is groundbreaking, indeed, yes, worldchanging political work. [Download the 3.4 MB PDF from the party web site.]

The tone of the report is somehow bit off -- like bankers at Burning Man -- but the content is phenomenal. The authors don't pull any punches here, bandying around phrases like "One Planet Conservatism," arguing for redefining progress away from purely economic measurements of well-being, advocating smart growth and a roads moratorium, demanding "zero carbon" new home construction standards, even calling for stiff carbon pricing as "the most effective surrogate for environmental cost" for greening the economy ("It's time to cut taxes on families and increase taxes on pollution.")

Indeed, the Conservatives go farther than do most progressive North American politicians these days, calling for a recognition of absolute ecological limits and the demands they place on us for both radical innovation and societal change:

A fixation on the idea that the market can manage all things if ‘externalities’ are ‘internalised’ is wrong, firstly because of the scale and urgency of the challenge which means that we simply do not have time for the market to ‘adjust over time’, and secondly, because we have a far from perfect understanding of the complex interactions between the climate, biosphere, soils and other elements which make up the delicate balance of the Earth. We know too little of the potential implications of the changes in sea p.h., temperature and salinity. We don’t fully comprehend how these interact with climate or how climate impacts on sea life and the fish stocks upon which large sections of the global population rely. It is areas of debate such as this that it is clearly not possible to put a value and ‘price’ on the natural world. Simply to ignore anything of which we are not certain would be irresponsible so we have to protect where we cannot be utterly certain.

If, however, our appetite for material goods continues on its current trajectory, it is unlikely that resource-use efficiency in and of itself will halt or reverse our impacts on the planet... Simply cleaning up existing lifestyles and patterns of economic growth will not take us far enough, not least if we are to achieve equitable global development within the natural limits of the planet. After all, if everyone on Earth equaled the resource consumption of our citizens here in the UK, it would take three planets to support us. If we all aspired to US patterns it would demand five planets.

The issue is not whether but when we recognize that fact. The current economic model, relying on universal cheap energy, is bust. There are sticking plaster solutions but, in the end we have to find an alternative way forward. Sensibly, we should do that before we damage the environment irreversibly. If we are stupid, we’ll fail to act now and then seek the solution in extremis when, even if an answer is still possible, it will be immeasurably more difficult and infinitely more expensive. If society at large can shift its thinking away from ‘what can I buy?’ to ‘what do I want from life?’ or ‘what needs do I have?’ then perhaps we can decouple economic growth from resource input. This is our challenge.

This is, honestly, the most sensible environmental rhetoric I've ever heard from an English-speaking political party. And they back it up with policy recommendations I can't imagine any "credible" North American politician putting forward:

Markets and regulation: Environmental tax reform; price the use of carbon; ensure that the true costs of transport are paid by the user; incentivise the building of green homes; introduce strict rules on the energy-efficiency of everything from consumer technology to power stations; institute a significant moratorium on new road and airport building.

Communities and individuals:
Give more power to local councils, including the power to hold referendums; promote the local food economy; promote local transport solutions, from walking to cycling to local buses; focus on ‘mixed-use’ neighbourhoods, and working and shopping nearer home.

Business:
Set binding, long-term targets on carbon reductions and climate change to give business a clear, long-term framework for planning; develop national and international standards for carbon measurement and labelling; ally with progressive voices in industry rather than those which promote ‘business as usual’; help progressive businesses succeed through the tax and incentive system.

Public procurement:
Use public sector financial and political muscle to entrench sustainable purchasing decisions and favour green companies; set a timetable for spending a growing proportion of public procurement with companies accredited as carbon neutral; adopt clean car procurement policies across all parts of the public sector; set the highest possible energy performance standards in buildings of the public estate; establish supply chains for use of local and low-carbon food.

National sovereignty:
Use Britain’s influence to help secure binding, international targets on climate change; set national carbon reduction targets in line with this; work within EU to strengthen and promote EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

I'm no convert to the Tory cause (they're still conservatives, with all the blinders and bed-fellows that come along with that), but I am impressed with this blueprint. This is policy work that takes the future seriously, and it ought to be widely read and discussed.

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Comments

I applaud your ability to look past the politician and see the merit of the idea, Mr. Steffen. Personally, I think anyone can have a good idea, and we should care about the motives behind an idea only insomuch as knowledge of those motives may help us to better analyze the implications of the idea.

For example, pretend there is a country named Texarkana. Some people may wish to push Texarkana into producing more environmentally friendly products because they believe such products would be best for the economy. Others may wish to have Texarkana improve its environmental policies because a healthy Texarkana could more easily achieve world domination than an unhealthy Texarkana.

It's good to know motivations since they might produce an "I never thought of that implication" moment, but we should not reject ideas without analysis simple because we don't like or trust the person offering the idea. Even a flower growing out of a dungpile can be beautiful.

As for me, I'll pluck-up good ideas where I find them. Thanks for your open-mindedness.


Posted by: Zephyr on 14 Sep 07

I applaud your ability to look past the politician and see the merit of the idea, Mr. Steffen. Personally, I think anyone can have a good idea, and we should care about the motives behind an idea only insomuch as knowledge of those motives may help us to better analyze the implications of the idea.

For example, pretend there is a country named Texarkana. Some people may wish to push Texarkana into producing more environmentally friendly products because they believe such products would be best for the economy. Others may wish to have Texarkana improve its environmental policies because a healthy Texarkana could more easily achieve world domination than an unhealthy Texarkana.

It's good to know motivations since they might produce an "I never thought of that implication" moment, but we should not reject ideas without analysis simple because we don't like or trust the person offering the idea. Even a flower growing out of a dungpile can be beautiful.

As for me, I'll pluck-up good ideas where I find them. Thanks for your open-mindedness.


Posted by: Zephyr on 14 Sep 07

The Tories are the second uk party to outline ambitious climate plans. The first being the Liberal Democrats who outlined a plan for Zero Carbon Britain by 2050.

This is significant as it ups the pressure on Labour to do likewise, also, if neither the tories or Labour get the requisite votes for a single party govronment at the next election it is quite likely that a Lib/Lab coallition could exist so the Liberals could push there zero carbon agenda.

The Zero Carbon Britain report available from the linked post.


Posted by: Calvin Jones on 14 Sep 07

While there is much that is commendable in the Quality of Life report, even the most progressive Tories seem to end up pandering to strange prejudices. In the chapter on energy, a wild claim is made that onshore wind farms make project returns of 25%, and that consequently all support for this technology should be withdrawn. This move would kill the wind industry in the UK stone dead, and is at complete odds with the claimed priority for renewables. The only interpretation I can think of is that the authors made up their minds at the start to stop wind and are using this 'superprofits' claim to justify it. In addition, it should be noted that this document is *not* party policy, having been written by an arms-length review group. How much of it ends up in the next election manifesto remains to be seen; it is in direct contradiction with another policy review group's report on 'competitiveness', which argued for economic growth, tax cuts and major airport expansion. Whether this party is New or Old is not decided yet.


Posted by: Doctor Edge on 14 Sep 07

This is an astonishing document, and coming from the Conservatives, one of the most hopeful signs that I've seen. It signals the possibility of the kind of awakening that we desperately need, that breaches party lines and traditional habits of thought.

"We have acted as if we could exploit the earth with impunity and pollute its atmosphere without risk. Climate change is only the latest and the most threatening evidence that our assumptions are unsustainable. To survive and prosper, we now know that we must find a different way to live."

Sounds like the Sierra Club, but this is the UK's conservative wing talking, featured on the home page of their web site.


Posted by: Phil Mitchell on 15 Sep 07

Hi Alex,
Thanks for posting this, saw it on energybulletin. I'm glad that some portions of UK political organizations are aware of the dire need for immediate remediation of their society through a sustained, comprehensive sustainability focus. Look forward to US government bodies doing more of the same, and none too soon!

Many US cities have been leading the way for a while now, but far from a majority. Yet. I can't believe the people who still don't "believe" in the problems we collectively cause, and refuse to see or hear any evidence. The rest of us must lead by example!

Cheers,

Ken

SustainLane Government
http://sustainlane.us/


Posted by: Ken Ott on 16 Sep 07



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