The Greenest Government Ever ?

If you’re outside the UK, you might be unaware of the extent to which the environment has been embraced by all the main political parties in recent years.

The Conservatives, and David Cameron in particular, went to great lengths to align themselves with all things green in the minds of the electorate. In 2006 David Cameron accompanied the WWF on a fact finding trip to the Arctic, was filmed cycling to work and even changed his party logo to a tree – complete with a splash of green. Then in the 2006 local election campaign voters were urged vote blue to go green, and within days of forming the coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, he announced publicly I want us to be the greenest government ever.

Fast forward just 18 months.

Last week, following the Autumn Statement, an open letter to the Prime Minister, from the Chief Executives of Friends of the Earth, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Greenpeace and the Wildlife Trusts, said:

“The environmental movement has spoken out repeatedly against policies that put short-term profit ahead of our countryside and wildlife, eroding our natural capital and quality of life, but rarely have we been as incredulous as we were last Tuesday, hearing the autumn statement. The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June”

Environmental organisations now appear to be queing-up to criticise the government:

The WWF“deeply disappointing to see this government continuing to see environmental protection as a burden and rewarding high-carbon infrastructure”.

Friends of the Earth“The Autumn Statement was grim for people, the environment, and the prospects for a thriving green economy”.

Greenpeace“George Osborne launched an assault on green measures in his Autumn Statement that reads as if it were written by the UK’s biggest polluters.”

What’s gone wrong ? How has it so quickly come to this ?

Well from the outside at least, it seems that the government’s, best environmental intentions have simply been sacrificed in the desperate dash for growth.

Given the stream of constant bad news from the world’s economic markets, it appears that the desire to keep money in the coffers in the short term takes presidense over other long term ambitions and concerns. The result is that they are having to endure widespread criticism, not only for failing to act to protect the environment, which of course, ultimately means failing to act to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people across the world, but also for their apparent hypocrisy.

But the point I want to make isn’t party political – I don’t think it very likely another government of a different colour would have acted any differently in the same circumstances.

My point is how are we acting in our circumstances ?

- Have we signed-up for that ‘slightly more expensive’ green electricity yet ?

- Have we been down to the shops to buy that draught-proofing and insulation ?

- Have we transferred our finances to an ethical bank ?

- When we last went shopping did we buy the slightly more expensive Fairtrade food and clothing instead of the cut price ones ?

- Are we giving enough to charity ?

We’re all under pressure financially these days and it makes it harder to make the choices we know are right, if at the same time we have to put our hand a little deeper into our pocket as a result.

Of course we should hold our governments to account, but we mustn’t be selectively blind to inconsistencies in our own life. We all face the temptation of  ’flexible virtue’ – our inbuilt desire to see ourselves as right and everyone else as wrong, adjusting our moral boundaries accordingly. This is dangerous territory and we can easily get into all kinds of trouble once we start thinking ‘it’s not me, it’s everyone else’s fault’.

Tell the government what you think they should be doing – but make sure you’re doing it yourself.


Photo by IseemodernBritain via Flickr

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  1. (infact I’ve discussed this in detail on my blog page:

  2. I’m very glad charity has been put at the end of that list!

    I actually think that giving to charity has become a simple, very effective method of putting us on the moral high ground, which just allows us to live the rest of our lives in a guilt-free, business-as-usual manner.

    After all, ‘every little helps’ when giving to charity, but an attitude of ‘every little hurts’ is not often associated with unethical consuming. Instead, the attitude of ‘what difference does my little contribution make’ is more common; and if this thinking were also applied to charity we wouldn’t feel so good about ourselves!

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