Saturday, November 08, 2008

All aboard the green revolution

I was leafing through The Times yesterday and came across this interesting piece by Camilla Cavendish, who recently won the Paul Foot award for journalism. Despite the fact that at the time of writing all the online comments to her piece have been of the climate denial variety, thus proving that the dinosaurs are not quite extinct, it's still worth a look.

Camilla points out that whilst once it was a refusal to recognise climate change was happening that prevented action now "We are still doing nothing, but with a new justification: recession." It's certainly true that one media theme of the recent economic turmoil is whether we can afford to combat climate change. I'm sure most green leaning people will agree with me that we can't afford not to but persuading the mainstream of that is quite another thing.

Part of that solution is putting forward a case for tackling the cash-o-clysm that simultaneously takes on our carbon emissions. That means investment in green jobs and new technologies. I know that the stereotype of an environmentalist is some sort of anti-science Luddite in fact it's the cutting edge renewable technologies that can provide jobs and radically cut the level of emissions caused by our energy consumption. As Camilla says "There is a huge financial upside to shifting away from fossil fuels, just as there was from abandoning the horse and carriage."

We need to break this idea that being green costs you money and involves sacrifices. As if cutting your electric bill is some sort of middle class moralism. With a commitment to improving home insulation, particularly for the poorest, we help those most vulnerable to the financial problems and give a friendly wink to the planet.

In a time when jobs in the manufacturing industry are becoming a national memory retooling could transform this country into a world exporter of affordable green technologies, rather than having to rely on imports for those few projects that do currently exist. As Camilla says that "Far from being a one-way drain on the economy, green regulation could boost the economy in straitened times... this is the wrong time to hunker down in the old economy."

There's a visible willingness to listen on green technologies

There is a very real space at the moment to push for state investment in green jobs and, importantly, a focus on education to ensure that we are developing the skills we need to support new industries. Without those skills our best intentions are unlikely to turn into practical action. Once people talked about the white heat of technology and it seems to me that we have to build up a similar optimism around green tech whether that's in production, sustainable sourcing or advances in reducing energy consumption.

This can happen at every level of society. Whether it's personal choices, businesses, local government, national government or the international level each sphere of society needs to begin gearing itself towards a new kind of approach to consumption cutting costs and emissions. There's a willingness to listen, at least at the moment, and it seems to me if we can't be part of this conservation what are we a part of?

Green St. Albans points out that whilst the Greens have put forward a radical vision for a Green New Deal "the establishment is hijacking this phrase and watering it down." I think that's true, at least in the sense that they'll always adopt cool sounding phrases without necessarily coming up with the goods in reality. We shouldn't allow this new spirit to be frittered away on government press statements without the substance to back them up.

Let's put the argument in a constructive way, trying to get policy implemented that addresses two of the key issues facing the world today - the consequences of our economic lunacies and the climate chaos that's starting to creep into our daily lives.

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