For many people, including so-called ‘environmentalists’, the environment is a BIG issue. Not just in priority but in scale. The environment is everything. climate change affects everyone, there are so many endangered species and there is just so much to do. How do you even begin to put that in a manifesto?
This is strange in one regard as, unlike some of the more ‘mainstream’ matters such as say, the NHS. We know exactly what we need to do to protect our environment and mitigate for climate change. We have the solutions, the technology, the innovation and the knowledge. We know the time frames for action. We even have the companies ready and willing to invest. Yet still we tinker around the issues, announce a ‘green’ fund here and there, pass through some environmental protection legislation and environmentalists applaud because we have to be satisfied with small wins.
The truth is that the environment in politics is a much bigger beast than it looks on the surface, the tip of the melting iceberg. Environmental issues lay bare the fundamentals of our modern society and exposes truths that many people, do not want to see. The fundamental truth is that taking action at scale on the environment means taking action at scale on the entire economic system. This is not just transitioning to a ‘Green economy’ (whichever interpretation of that you wish to apply) … this is telling capitalism to it’s face that this is where it ends.
This has lead to decades of willful ignorance, a green washing of promises and a quiet discomfort, particularly for the left. This has led to climate change deniers in top positions in the US, despite all evidence to the contrary. To quote Naomi Klein “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.
This is rarely admitted on the left but fully understood by the right. It is much harder for political parties of the left to articulate the connection between economy and environment when the pressure, as it has been in recent elections and will certainly be a big feature in the next, is on large scale employment. It explains the confused messages of say, declaring a climate change emergency and simultaneously supporting Airbus and car manufacturer investment. But at some point soon, we are going to have to say this out loud.
Time has quite simply run out. No incremental options are now available to us so it is time to rethink what we need, as a nation and as a planet. There will be no future government in Wales that does not have to deal with at least one major extreme weather event in their term. There will be no future government that will not have to address fuel poverty, risks to biodiversity loss, ocean pollution or scarcity of resources. This means loss of housing, loss of livelihoods and loss of life, this means increased homelessness, increased poverty, increased lack of opportunities.
Regardless of the ‘post-Covid’ impact, we can be certain that this is the new ‘normal’. The next Welsh Government just might get away with dragging their heels and postponing action. But the one after that will certainly not.
One of the most simple ways to change this is to consider how we measure our success. Many still see this measure in terms of GDP, or NHS waiting times, or employment figures. None of these reflect a successful government or the change that is required. It is the government equivalent of a calorie counting diet, it might lead to a change in shape but it is not a healthy habit for general wellbeing. Essentially, if we change the way we look at things, the things we see will change.
So what does this mean for political parties who are prepared to get serious about the environment?
- Introduce wellbeing economy
- Strengthen the Future Generations Act to penalize non-compliance
- Make the environment central to post covid economic recovery
- Introduce a 100% renewable energy target
- Refocus the workforce for green jobs and green skills
- Provide nature with legal rights
Jemma Bere is the policy officer at Keep Wales Tidy