Backchat: Environmental Politics

In response to ‘The Guardian view on Rishi Sunak and net zero: a cowardly retreat‘:


The Guardian’s editorial (dated June 2023) describing Sunak’s then position on climate change as a “cowardly retreat” demonstrates just how polarised and deprived of nuance the environmental policymaking debate has become. Readers will be correct in pointing out that this Backchat piece responds to an article over 4 months old and before Sunak’s September delay of the petrol ban and boiler replacement. However, as we are now a few weeks away from COP28, where host nation the UAE’s green credentials will be criticised by commentators, we too should be conscious of how labelling and intense bickering is damaging our own green policymaking at home before we begin condemning a petrol state’s record.

Calling Sunak a coward for criticising policies such as a petrol ban within seven years, without key infrastructure such as charging points, electrical capacity and cheap EV models available on the market, shows how insular green policymaking has become. It seems as if any scrutiny of policies proposed by the scientists, with an economic angle, now means you don’t take the climate crisis seriously. There is no doubt that it’s a colossal crisis which will require us all to rethink our behaviour and consumerist habits- which will be painful and, yes, expensive. As a Silicon Valley-educated liberal, Sunak understands that environmental policymaking is paramount, whether by choice or involuntarily. The recent Tory by-election win in Uxbridge and South Ruislip because of voters’ discontent with the ULEZ charge (effectively a tax on those who can’t choose not to drive and can’t afford a newer vehicle) illustrates that the public are not willing to accept harsh policies that cost them personally, even though the empirical data proves that they are needed for us to meet carbon reduction targets.

Ultimately, the climate crisis isn’t going away and seems more like a marathon than a sprint

Ultimately, the climate crisis isn’t going away and seems more like a marathon than a sprint. Keeping the public onside will be key. If that means more nuanced policymaking to ensure green principles don’t trump voters’ economic concerns – especially during a long cost-of-living crisis – then we should embrace scrutiny of the practicality of policies; even if it might require us rethinking how we achieve net zero by 2050.

In response to Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ article ‘Ed Miliband’s net zero plan is a disaster waiting to happen’ in The Telegraph:


The issue of balancing environmental issues with socio-economic concerns is fast becoming a mainstay in British politics. In Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ article, the former is supported, but the writer is keen to argue that in no way should it be at the expense of the latter. Within the Labour party’s New Green Deal is the concept of aligning economic growth in the framework of reaching carbon net-zero by 2030, a goal which far outstrips the Conservative party’s more conservative 2050 timeframe. In this radical proposal, Labour seek to create one million new ‘good new jobs’ centred around clean and cheap power in Great Britain, while lowering newly nationalised energy prices for households across the country. All this, in time for the beginning of the next decade. While Ashworth-Hayes suggests that the economic growth is a positive proposal, its linkage with an environmental scheme for clean energy raises ‘unsustainable’ alarm bells.

To act slowly now regarding our growing climate malaise is a choice even schoolchildren can recognise the inherent dangers of

I would however, politely suggest that the writer is perhaps missing the woods for the trees. It seems logical to criticise Labour’s timescale as being optimistic to the point of idealistic, but instead critique is levied at bureaucratic stalling and the possibility of prices being raised, the latter being a point which Labour explicitly denies in their initial proposal. Yet, the hour grows late. To act slowly now regarding our growing climate malaise is a choice even school children can recognise the inherent dangers of. Extreme weather events increasing in frequency, colder winters and warmer summers all lend credence to the facts at which beleaguered scientists have been pointing for years; act now, or don’t act at all.

However, the point the article raises is nevertheless a valid one, in the context of voter habits. The electorate do not want to be told about the probability of uncertainty. Starmer’s plan would, in all likelihood, lead to a shift in lifestyle for the majority of people. The alternative is a far-off issue which will not be faced by a large contingent of the current voting base, but certainly will affect my, and future, generations. At this point, it’s not fearmongering, but a sad reality. Bring on the idealism.

In response to Caroline Lucas stepping down as MP after the next election:


Recently, and I have no idea why, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline has become a British anthem elevated to the same status as Come on Eileen and Mr. Brightside. How such a song so utterly drenched in Americana (and yes I know the Killers are American, but Mr Brightside is so clearly inspired by the sound of Britpop it should not be a debate as to whether the song is “British”) should become so central within British pop-culture—with stadium speakers blasting it into the crowd for every big game—I suspect is all an ode to Caroline Lucas.

A beacon for environmental and overall progressive politics in a political period characterised by its antithesis

Caroline Lucas—the Green Party’s sole MP, which she has been since 2010—has been a beacon for environmental, and overall progressive politics in a political period characterised by its antithesis. In many ways, she has been Westminster’s biggest loser—in the sense she has represented the greatest hope and therefore the greatest receding of such hope. So, she is stepping-down, after announcing in June she will not run for re-election. And with the recent U-turn on Net Zero by Rishi Sunak; as well as the utter vagueness of Keir Starmer and Labour’s environmental policies (Yes to ULEZ? No to ULEZ?), Westminster will now be without a true champion for the combatting of climate change.

Beloved by her Brighton constituency, beloved by environmentalists, and certainly respected by opposition leaders: Caroline Lucas, your absence will be felt in the Commons. You will be missed.

Image: Steve Eason via Flickr

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