A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go a discussion about the Severn Barrage, but I didn't go because it sounded boring. However, the plans have recently created a bit of a stir in some circles because the "green" community is resolutely against the idea even though it would essentially make a massive contribution to the amount of renewable energy being produced.
As I understand it the barrage is basically to be stretched right the way across the Severn estuary harnessing the power of the tides for our energy consumption. The Ecologist points out that not only would the barrage cause "devastation" to the local environment, there were grave doubts about its ability to produce energy in a consistent and cost effective way.
Creating 18,000 construction jobs for seven years in building a huge renewable energy project is surely exactly the kind of thing that these Green New Deal types should be into - but they aren't. The government proposes creating loads of green collar jobs and they get all snooty - I'm not surprised some of the public are confused.
The Financial Times claims this means that environmentalists "want to eat their brown rice cakes and still have them" because they promote renewable energy, but only when it suits them. Fair enough in some senses. Addressing climate change is not the same thing as being nice to local birds and sometimes those tasks contradict each other even though they both fall under the general heading "green".
Paul Kingsnorth wrote a really excellent piece in the Guardian yesterday 'A line in the green sand' which really draws out these contradictions. He says that;
"A tidal barrage that turns a great river into a glorified mill stream is a desecration... while renewable energy is a good thing in principle, if schemes end up, like their conventional forbears, as centralised mega-projects that override local feeling and destroy wild landscapes, then they become precisely the kind of projects that people like me cut their teeth trying to stop..."Obviously the grown up greens he refers to here are not reflected in the Green Party who claim "this barrage is an irresponsible and wasteful gamble" and endorse the stop the barrage now campaign, along with a number of other environmentalist organisations.
"Environmentalism is surely inspired by a sense of wonder at the richness of the natural world. Without that inspiration, it becomes the kind of bleached, technocratic, office-bound variety so common today, which pushes for the taming of rivers, mountains and wildlands in the name of making the ever-expanding human economy more "sustainable". Desperate to seem grown up, serious and economically literate, many greens seem to have become terrified of talking about the things that motivated them in the first place. Beauty. Wildness. A connection to the non-human, the remote, the untamed."
Where Paul is wrong, I should say, is that green types are not all products of the same kinds of inspiration as he is. I've never been up a mountain and don't want to either. I accept that nature is alright, but I'm not going further than that. When people start talking about wildness, and untamed nature I start eyeing them nervously wondering if they're about to start chanting. That's just not where I'm coming from.
The effect of pollution on human beings drew me into the green movement and got me enthusiastic. As I became more aware of how urgent the issue of climate change was this kept me there. Trees are ok, I guess, and I don't want to see a planet run like a factory - everything with a use and a use for everything is a frightening idea. I like diversity, in people, in politics and in the environment. I like towns and cities, they fascinate me in a way that a hedge doesn't.
However, where I think he's right is that combating climate change is more than simply producing greater amounts of energy in a more carbon neutral way. We have to challenge how we live and why, and attempt to draw visions of better societies, that are happier, more sustainable and free up our imaginations. In short we need to learn to live more lightly. If we simply turn the planet into our factory we wont survive.