To achieve meaningful change, vision is essential, the guiding light. It arises for Governments from formative experiences and is entrenched in policies which set the course for departments to follow. But the lag from insight to policy is measured in decades – the UN, 30 years after the scars of WWI. Thatcherism, 20 years in the making - a response to 60’s industrial relations. But some change is so disruptive that history is not a good guide, and everything needs to be thought afresh. Climate Change heralds such a change, but the government’s sudden rethink is flawed because it is built on a worldview of the economy that harks back to 80’s market doctrine.
First though, credit where its due - there is nothing wrong with many of the elements within the “new” 10 point plan – they are good things to do and the sooner the better. So what is the problem? A New Green Industrial Revolution contains an important word that worries me: revolution. I worry about the purpose of this revolution?
We might expect any green revolution to address specific issues, global warming, pollution, biodiversity, sustainability. Nine of the points in this plan focus on the Zero Carbon agenda and bravo to that. The only exception is about Protecting the Natural Environment in context of preserving or creating nature spots. This is pretty one dimensional.
So what is the purpose behind this revolution? Given the tag lines about billions invested and numbers of jobs created this looks more like a vision for industrial growth at a time when the world has a growing resources crisis. There is no visible thinking about how to deliver these good things and sustain the economy in the face of the “consumption problem”.
The Consumption Problem?
To support ever growing populations with growing demands for more goods and services, we are stripping our planet of its resources. Resources it needs to support the diversity of life essential for our own survival. The effects are visible and widely discussed in the shape of accelerating extinctions caused by pollution, loss of habitat and over-fishing/farming. So carrying on doing this without emitting lots of carbon is beside the point, the gravy train will eventually stop - shortages, resource conflict, economic turmoil and failure.
A plan for coherent, successful Green Transformation needs so much more:
- How will we reimagine our world in economic, social and ecological terms so generations can continue to live fruitful, happy lives?
- Will the government help create the conditions for a Circular Economy where mining and landfill become unnecessary?
- Can we build more self-sufficient regional economies able to make, use and recycle without total reliance on global supply chains?
- How will we incentivise businesses to let go of tried an tested business models that rely on unsustainable practices?
- How do we foster changes in culture and behaviour that a greener economy will need?
The roots of the Johnson government are planted deep in the loads-a-money generation of the late 80s and I think it shows. Its New Industrial Revolution sounds a lot like a new opportunity for investment, expansion and profit making without addressing the consumption problem. As laudable as the 10 points are, if we only do that but keep asset stripping the planet, dumping waste, wiping out species, increasing our numbers – carbon won’t matter that much.
Adam Hobbs, © JamJarCo Limited 2020