“Vote Blue, Go Green.” Remember that? And, of course, “the greenest government ever”? Listen as the peals of maniacal laughter echo down the corridors of power.
Last week DEFRA launched its triennial review of Natural England and the Environment Agency. According to his foreword to the consultation paper, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson sees his job as being “to radically reprioritise Defra so that the Department and its work is focused on growing our economy”. While still, of course, “improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health”. The problem with tagging on such reassurances is that they become self-denying prophecies. Any evidence that growth is harming the environment will be either disregarded or downplayed, with much waffle about striking the right ‘balance’.
(Really, you’ve NOTHING to worry about. Oh, your local environment? Well, that didn’t matter all that much, did it? And at least it was destroyed in a good cause, don’t you think?)
It was last week too that DECC, headed by Energy Secretary Ed Davey, assured us that there’s nothing to worry about over fracking. Only the possibility of groundwater pollution and maybe a small earthquake or two. But just in case you’re not convinced, you’re not going to be allowed a say anyway. Central government, not local planning committees, will decide. (Cue more Torygraph readers heading off to UKIP, unaware that their policies are even worse.)
Don’t assume that fracking is a matter local to Lancashire folk; they’re just the first to face the consequences. Its potential extends over much of England, including Wessex. Londoners aren’t likely to be directly affected but they’re already keen to push the idea onto others. You want an economy rebalanced away from financial services? Well, there you are. Dig it. Then watch the profits flow away, just like those that enriched the coal owners a hundred years ago. The London regime will get its royalties, for transmission to the bankers; and we’ll get the pollution. Community benefits package? Who benefited most from Scotland’s oil? Or Dorset’s, for that matter?
It WILL happen though, regardless of the environmental harm, because humans generally lack the ability to plan ahead, trusting to the mystery of ‘markets’ instead. It isn’t in the nature of capitalism to let profitable commodities lie idle in the ground. Nor in the nature of cash-strapped governments to do the decent thing and agree an international default on so-called ‘debts’. And when the last molecule of commercially viable fossil fuel has been extracted from the ground, then what?
We’re told that fracking will buy time, providing us with a cheap (though that’s unlikely), independent source of energy while we work out how to make renewables profitable. Yet all the time the scientific mainstream tells us that we should be cutting greenhouse gas emissions yesterday, not today, let alone tomorrow. Are the likes of George Osborne worried? Not a bit. As William Hague put it, 30 or 40 years ago, half of them won't be here in 30 or 40 years' time. And if they are, they’ll still want to take the world down with them.
We have patiently explained where the root of all evil lies. We can only protect our environment from unnecessary harm if we curb our demand for energy. We can only do that if we end our addiction to economic growth, unrelated to human needs. Which we can only do if our financial system is not built on the idea that interest remains payable even when growth is absent. And that in turn means asserting ecological reality against the illusion-production and inter-generational irresponsibility that is no-holds-barred locust capitalism.
Homo ‘sapiens’ is a stupid creature, competing at financial and legal mind-games instead of taking action to rein-in its excesses. What we can do as individuals to oppose stupidity is to buy as little as possible, and to buy it locally from locally-based and ethical suppliers whom we know and trust. A leaner, more localised economy is in everyone’s long-term interest. Disengagement from national and global economic institutions is a process that needs to make much more rapid progress.