Jack Perschke: The contrast between "Blue Greens" and "Red Greens" on environmental issues
Jack Perschke is the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Derby South. He is a former Captain in the army and spent three years as an aid worker after leaving the army. He now advises businesses and government departments on implementing complex and high value change programmes.
There is a sense that the environmental worm is turning. The crisis we were all sold does not seem to have materialised. Summers are as wet and miserable as ever and last winter the country grinded to a halt under record snow falls. A far cry from the tropical marshland that the media had us believe was on our doorstep.
The impact of this absent crisis is compounded by the presence of a real and tangible financial crisis. As the Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight found out, the last thing most people want to do is invest in developing sustainable technologies when unemployment is rising, soldiers are dying for lack of helicopters and school children are still not receiving the world-class education they need. Given these urgent needs it is no wonder that people are deserting the environmental colours.
Even worse for environmentalists in our party is the sense that the principles of Conservatism are being fundamentally undermined by the environmental cause. “The market has failed,” we’re told. “Only the state can make this better”, “It’ll take a rise in energy bills/taxes/petrol duty and the propping up of unprofitable industries but it will be worth it”. It seems that we’re all being conned. A big-state obsessed Labour government are hoping that the whole country is red/green colour blind. They’re telling us it’s green but it looks a lot like red to us.
This sense of being conned is right. We are being sold a line and it is time to challenge it. However, let’s make sure we don’t throw the fish stocks out with the seawater. It is simple logic that the state of the planet matters more than anything. But, being an inanimate object, it is not possible for a planet to be well or ill. We have got a little lost in the pomposity of our own position. We do not look after the planet – it looks after us.
The planet does not care what sort of organisms inhabit it. Barren Mars and lush Earth both circle the sun with the same steady contentment. Nature has no conscience. Dominated by dinosaurs, man or cockroaches the size of double-decker busses, it simply doesn’t care. It’s all just part of the natural cycle. The only thing we should be worrying about as we discuss the environment is the needs of man. How can we extend our place in natural history and delay the moment we become another of this planet’s mass extinctions? The planet is big enough to look after itself; it’s us we should be worrying about. And this is where our Red Greens fail.
In their pompous, controlling way they attempt to convince anyone who’ll listen that man must save the planet. Therefore, we (or at least the poorest who can’t be trusted to do it wisely) must travel less, consume less and reproduce less. I just don’t buy this as an answer. First of all it won’t work – when has any society in history ever successfully striven for less? Secondly it just doesn’t seem right. When social, technological, agricultural and medical advances have brought us so much how can doing less of it be the right course of action?
By contrast, I am a Blue Green. I care very much about the planet. I care about topsoil erosion, loss of biodiversity, global climate change and the destructions of our marine eco-systems to name but a few of our challenges. But I care about them because of their impact on humanity. We should be looking after the earth that supports us for selfish reasons not altruistic motives.
Selfishly, we can see that much of the environmental problems are caused not by market failure but by market absence. The commoditisation or re-pricing of things thus far sold far below their true value to humanity may be part of the way forward. We’ve seen the start of it with carbon-capping and emissions-trading but there’s got to be more to come. Water, forests, aggregates and even biodiversity offer huge social goods – there has to be incentive for governments and individuals not to waste them.
We can also see the social good in things that don’t yet exist. The mirage of nuclear fusion never seems to come closer, the full potential of solar power continues to lie frustratingly out of reach and, whilst we all know the value of storing electricity, the ability to do so continues to allude us. Progress in these directions must be kick-started. Why do the planet’s brightest minds turn to trading futures, designing Formula 1 cars or programming computers? Because the market pulls them there. With a few incentivising tweaks, we could change that and dramatically speed up our progress towards really sustainable technology.
I know that this blog has many readers sceptical about the environmental cause and I have sympathy with them. However, I would counsel that we start to look at which bit of the equation we’re uncomfortable with. Surely no one wants our planet heading in a direction that will make human existence harder? Equally why should we be sold socialism as environmentalism? Be it poverty, inequality or social mobility, socialism has failed to solve every significant world problem so far presented to it. I can’t see it doing much for the environment either. So, confident that socialism should also be kept away from the future of our planet, what else have we got?
As a Conservative, I believe that the market, catalytic incentives, and innovation will provide the answers to a sustainable future but we do have to understand the urgency of the questions and be brave enough to take the first steps.