John Harris

Journalist & Author

On climate change, Ed Miliband must match his bold words with real action | John Harris

While Tory ranks contain so many ‘deniers’, Labour can now lead the way in bringing the planet’s fate to the top of the political agenda

‘Either denial or dither on climate change will damage the country,” says Ed Miliband, perhaps going a bit too heavy on the alliteration. The science, he reminds us, is clear, and he wants to somehow rebuild a national consensus. Time, then, for another “D” word: “decent” Tories and Liberal Democrats, he says, will be expected to muck in. He wants us to understand the true meaning of the recent floods and restore climate change to the prominence it enjoyed before the anti-climax of 2009’s UN Copenhagen summit and the fallout from the financial crash pushed it to one side.

I am not the first to point it out, but if now is the time to belatedly protest the four-year absence of what we once called “green issues” from mainstream politics, we should be honest enough to properly apportion the blame. It’s not about Nigel Lawson, or pantomime-villain deniers: they will stick to their script no matter what, and sounded just as daft before the great deluge of 2014 as they have in the midst of it. No, if anyone is going to carry the can for the fact that climate change vanished from public discourse just as the weather was definitely turning strange, it is surely the politicians who once banged on about its urgency, and then suddenly went quiet.

That, obviously, includes just about every senior Labour figure, and a party that has still to decisively thrash out whether it believes in the social democracy of smokestacks and airports, or understands what the encroaching reality of climate change actually means. Miliband, to be fair, was a credible, forceful secretary of state for energy and climate change. It’s nice to hear him loudly voicing that side of his politics, but if what he said at the weekend is to mean much, he has a lot of urgent work to do.

By way of a timely cautionary tale, in 2010 the Lib Dems’ manifesto claimed that “climate change is the greatest challenge facing this generation” and that the party remained “unwavering in our commitment” to doing its bit. Vince Cable has since claimed that the Lib Dems have a “very tense relationship” with the Tories over environmental policy. But last year Lib Dem MPs were whipped to vote against their own policy on a decarbonisation target for the electricity industry; and with their own Ed Davey in charge of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, energy policy risks what one report has called a “high carbon lock-in”. (A token Lib Dem minister still toils away in the Department of the Environment, under the supervision of that renowned friend of the Earth, Owen Paterson.)

Self-evidently, though, a special award for cant should go to the prime minister. The husky picture, the wind turbine and the blather about being the greenest government ever barely need mentioning, but it’s still jaw-dropping to pick through the old Tory campaign bumf that has somehow survived their recent online purge – full of talk about “green growth”, “a new green revolution”, and the old hippy exhortation to “think globally and act locally”. In retrospect, it all suggests the morals of Del Boy Trotter being applied to the biggest issue facing the human race. Even Tony Blair was never quite that shameless.

Cameron’s chicanery probably played some role in climate change’s fall from grace. Polling on the subject is shot through with inconsistencies, but one thing screams out from the data: according to the UK Energy Research Centre, between 2005 and 2013, the share of people who rejected the very idea of climate change almost quintupled, from 4% to 19%. That development chimes with the most interesting recent development in modern British politics: the rise of Ukip, whose hatred of green politics is one of its biggest selling points. In turn, its popularity has emboldened those Tories who would have people believe that environmentalism is some kind of enduring leftwing plot, and terrified the erstwhile modernisers now minded to bin “green crap” at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, the EU remains the key means by which any greenish UK government might push for greater international action – but we don’t like it very much. And in any case, our trust in politicians is so low that we are unlikely to respond well to lectures about any supposed emergency – which is why it would probably be a good thing if the Lib Dems kept quiet, for now. When Davey piped up last week, he indulged in exactly the kind of piety that tends to drive British people mad; the prospect of Nick Clegg joining in is too grim to even think about.

All of that could easily suggest a counsel of complete despair. Fatalism might seem like much the most sensible option: even mitigation of climate change, let alone any kind of prevention, could be well beyond our grasp. I interviewed James Lovelock in 2010: humans, he said, are “still animals, and still semi-intelligent. I don’t think we can handle big problems like the Earth.”

Still, imagine a Labour (or Labour-led) government doing everything a small island in northern Europe could, if only it tried. It would energetically pursue the party’s support for the decarbonisation of UK energy production, and create jobs in the process. It might send people to Brussels, to insist that the recently proposed aim of producing 27% of Europe’s energy from renewables by 2030 – opposed, it should be noted, by Davey – should be reflected in firm national targets. Starting now, Labour could talk up the 2015 UN climate summit in Paris, if only to ensure that politicians and diplomats feel the heat of expectation.

In government, it could set an example to other countries by calling time on the already unpopular idea of fracking, on the simple basis that this is no time to be wasting resources on fossil fuels. Airport expansion would be a non-starter, as would any more money on carbon capture and storage, and the oxymoronic idea of “clean coal”. In 2014 all this might sound like a charter for green-left impossiblism; in fact, when climate change was fashionable, such ideas came tantalisingly close to the political mainstream.

It’s also worth asking a couple of questions: if Tory ranks contain so many so-called deniers, might it not be an idea for the opposition benches to find room for some kind of super-green corrective? Why do Labour’s supposedly bright young things make so much noise about payday lenders and smoking in cars, but pay so little attention to the fate of the planet?

Which brings us to perhaps the most glaring current absence: that of any sizable and strong body of opinion outside parliament. Not that long ago, just as the political noise around climate change was last tailing off, I watched Miliband interview Mohamed Nasheed, the then president of the Maldives – the island nation whose fears about climate change make headlines about the British weather look like indulgent moaning. Nasheed clearly understood the need to commune with power – but he also talked about the best way of pushing backsliding politicians in the right direction.

“What we need is large-scale, 60s-style direct action: dynamic street activity,” he said, “and we need to act very quickly.” He uttered those words in 2010. Four years later, they still sound like a consummate piece of advice.

• This article was amended on Tuesday 18 February 2014. The aim of producing 27% of Europe’s energy from renewables by 2030 has not yet been adopted, as we said. It has been proposed and has not yet been adopted by heads of state. This has been corrected. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 at 2:44 pm and is filed under Guardian RSS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. « Politics Weekly podcast: England’s floods and ‘Milibandism’ | Berlin: Imagine a City by Rory MacLean – review’ »
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

John Harris is powered by WordPress 2.8.4 Entries (RSS) Comments (RSS). Designed by Hywel Harris

ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galactic Elite W Blanc Cheap Womens AF Sublimation Graphic Tee 2016 Adidas Originals ZX Flux Weave Shoes Sale Mens AF Active Running Shorts Online ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Running White Ftw Metallic Silver Vivid Mint F14 Mens AF Washed Out Tee AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Court Star Slim W Sale Mens AF Classic Taper Pants Online Adidas Running adizero XT 5 Shoes Cheap Womens AF Textured Open Cardigan 2016 Mens AF Varsity Logo Cardigan AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Zx 700 W Sabpou Sabpou Noiess Mens AF Striped Icon Henley AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Earth Green S13 Tech Grey Met S14 Solar Pink Mens AF Premium Utility Jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Response Aspire Str W Running White Ftw Pink Buzz S10 Light Grey Sale Mens AF Denim Joggers Online ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball W Noiess Ormeta Nuiflu Mens AF Quilted Bomber jacket AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Tech Super W NOIR NOIR ROSSOL Mens AF Classic Chambray Shirt AF 2016 ADIDAS ORIGINALS Bankshot 2 0 W Aluminum 2 Aluminum 2 Chalk 2 Mens AF Rib-Trim Crew Sweater AF 2016 Adidas Women adidas Neo Zip Fleece Hoodie New Womens AF High Rise Cropped Flare Sateen Pants 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Running White Ftw Metallic Silver Glow S14 New Womens AF Denim Mini Skirt 2016 Adidas Men Originals Plimcana 2 0 Low Shoes New Womens AF Lace Midi Skirt 2016 ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Duramo 6 W Noiess Noiess Rosflu Men Running adizero Tempo Boost 7 Shoes ADIDAS ORIGINALS Extaball Up W Noiess Noiess Ftwbla ADIDAS PERFORMANCE Galaxy W Neon Pink Metallic Silver Black 1 Men Running Springblade Ignite Shoes