If there’s one thing that’s supposed to annoy us British about Americans, it’s their environmentally unfriendly ways. And not just George Bush and his Exxon-funded cronies. It’s the whole lot of them – as highlighted by the recent ABC News poll where “global warming” scored a big, fat zero (see page 6) in the US public’s list of priorities.
Contrast with London’s Mayoral candidates all battling to save the planet. The “central pledge” of New Labour’s Ken Livingstone to his electorate includes: “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable.” And the whole thing is only one sentence long. Boris Johnson (Conservative) pledges “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability”. Both claim to be against Heathrow’s third runway on environmental grounds. And there’s still somehow room for a Green Party candidate. Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s… well… Green.
But is our superciliousness towards the green credentials of the USA really justified? Are we really that different here in the UK? Not according to an Ipsos Mori poll last year, which indicated that more than half of us are not convinced that the science of climate change is robust enough to justify a Green revolution. Despite the vast sums of cash available to the environmental PR machine to keep the looming ecopalypse at the front of our minds, nobody’s really that interested, it seems.
Funnily enough, environmentalists like to blame their failure to capture the public’s imagination on oil-funded “deniers” (whose budget is a fraction of Greenpeace’s alone). Or they’ll blame the selfishness of the public itself, who need to be hectored into making “ethical” consumer choices… and taking fewer baths.
But is there another reason for our complacency? Could it be that we have a better nose for eco-friendly bullshit than Livingstone’s “London will tackle the great environmental problems, above all climate change, to ensure that our success is sustainable”, or Boris’s “a ban on bottled water, a ban on internal flights, recycling, green procurement and sustainability” give us credit for? Both look like nothing more than attempts to convince us that they’re taking armageddon seriously, rather than serious attempts to make the world a better place.
So why, given the public’s lack of interest, isn’t there a candidate with the balls to stand up and challenge Environmentalism? Where is the candidate who thinks a third runway is a good thing? It’s not as if Londoners don’t want to use airports. Or who thinks there aren’t enough roads? Or that a new de–salination plant is a better idea than saving water by hectoring Londoners with “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”?
Perhaps it’s because green policies can’t actually do any harm. We might be ambivalent, but we’re hardly going to vote against saving the planet. Which is perhaps why everyone from the BNP through to Socialist Worker are striking a green pose. Environmentalism is attractive to unimaginative politicians precisely because it’s seen as inoffensive and uncontroversial.
Except that it is offensive. And it should be controversial. Just ask Gareth Corkhill, the father of four who was fined a week’s wages by Copeland Borough Council and slapped with a criminal record for overflowing his wheelie bin by 4 inches. (And environmentalism is supposed to be ‘progressive’!). Once authorities get it into their heads that human concerns can take second place to a higher purpose – saving Mother Nature, Gaia, or whatever you want to call her – no reason exists for them to imagine that they owe the public anything, or are even accountable.
Environmentalism isn’t the left-wing conspiracy that those whom it accuses of being a right-wing conspiracy are wont to accuse it of being. It’s just very convenient, that’s all. Public servants can become policemen; they can suddenly make life more difficult in the name of saving the planet. Eco-Proles can be farmed out to Eco-Homes in Eco-Towns that lack flushing toilets and where the only water you are allowed to use is that which falls on your land. And to complain is to have the blood of future generations on your hands, or to be a bin-abusing ‘carbon criminal’. Environmentalism turns the purpose of government and public service on its head.
Environmentalism is all very convenient – for everybody except real, live human beings. So who’s more in tune with their electorate on environmental matters? Copeland Borough Council? Boris? Ken? Or George Bush Jr?