The Environment and the Short Term: What is to be done?

by Andy Brown,

Stood at last election as Parliamentary Candidate for the Green Party in the constituency of Skipton and Ripon and got 3,116 votes
Follow him on Twitter via @voteandybrown
See his blog via

All the scientific evidence tells us that we are facing a whole series of major environmental crises. They include:

* Climate change and an increase in extreme weather events caused by pumping so much carbon dioxide into the air that it is already at higher levels than at any time since humans, or even apes, existed.

* The continued removal of protective forest cover destroying wildlife and reducing rainfall


* Drastic reduction of fish stocks, devastation of ocean floors by dragging metal rakes across them, and the creation of gigantic rafts of plastic in our oceans

* The approach of peak production for many crops due to unsustainable agricultural practices such as devoting more energy to their production via oil, fertiliser, pesticide and seed treatments than is generated by the harvest.

* Destruction of pollinating insects by over use of chemicals and the removal of insect habitats

* The loss of effectiveness of antibiotics in part because of regular feeding of continual low doses of antibiotics to animals. This threaten to leave us with no effective medicines to treat major human diseases such as TB.


Dealing with these global and local problems isn’t a luxury that we can worry about some time in the future when we have tackled our ‘real’ problems. They represent fundamental threats to the prospects of humanity surviving comfortably for any length of time and will take a great deal of effort to solve even if we start acting seriously now. We know that there will be an increasing world population to feed and we are expecting an increase in average consumption at the same time. The pressures on our environment are going to become more extreme and we need to start tackling them now.

For me the key measures that we need to take are:

* Investing in measures to reduce the consumption of energy such as insulation and more energy efficient consumer goods and transport.

* Investing in the science and technology of sustainable energy production including long term solutions such as hydrogen fuel

* Investment in reduction of food waste via improved storage, reduction of food miles and changes in supermarket practices

* Increased support to farmers to produce food via sustainable methods many of which will require subsidies to support increased labour costs.

* Improved international systems for ensuring the full environmental cost of production is taken by producers

* Protection of our remaining forests and reforestation programmes, if necessary with varied food producing trees.


A mix of private and state enterprise is required to tackle our environmental problems

There are strong free market forces which will help generate a response to some of these problems. For example private enterprise is highly likely to be much better at inventing ways of producing consumer goods that require less energy than the state and has more than doubled the efficiency of cars in response to market pressures. Nevertheless, several of these problems cannot be tackled without serious national and international state intervention. Left to their own devices many private companies will not invest in technology that might be of huge benefit to society but is unlikely to generate enough profit to pay back the capital investment costs. The failure to produce a replacement for antibiotics in time may yet prove to be the most dangerous example of this.

The free market can’t and won’t deal with problems that are shared by many but produce profits for the individuals who create those problems. There is no avoiding major state subsidies and significant state intervention via taxes and charges on those who produce pollution. You can’t tackle problems on this scale without the help of state intervention and when since many of the problems have become global we need to tackle them at EU level and also via much more effective global international management.


The Environment must be the immidiate priority of state investment now rather than later.

As in so many areas of modern life what we need most is a change in the way people think. We need two key changes to the prevailing ideology.

1. We need to recognise that the free market isn’t always and everywhere the best solution to every problem. We need a mix of state and private enterprise.
2. We need to move beyond the nation state and tackle global problems via effective global institutions

In other words we can only get out of our problems via major political change. People’s views will differ on the best place to put in their effort but in the end there is no avoiding the reality. Political power may be messy, corrupting, and the odds in terms of publicity may be stacked against us. Nevertheless there is no escaping the fact that it has to be obtained if change is going to happen. And the only way we can do that in the face of a hostile press is good steady work in local communities that makes it clear that there are some folk that can be trusted and do want to do their best by those communities rather than just build their own career.

If you wish to contribute a similar piece covering contemporary economic and political events or left wing politics in general. Please contact James Clark at:@jclarkpolecon


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