Michael Meacher: 'We need a global shift to renewable energy sources'

From a speech at the Cheltenham Literary Festival by the former environment minister
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The Independent Online

The environment is our quality of life. But with honourable exceptions - air and water quality has improved, industrial pollution has been more tightly regulated - we continue to degrade it.

The environment is our quality of life. But with honourable exceptions - air and water quality has improved, industrial pollution has been more tightly regulated - we continue to degrade it.

Industry continues to press its own vested interests. The oil industry and the burning of fossil fuels steadily intensify climate change. There are more than a thousand chemicals in constant use, many of them a serious risk to human health and the environment. Leukaemia clusters continue to be found near nuclear power stations. Far too much waste still goes into landfill tips or incineration.

Airlines increasingly contribute to climate change, yet are subsidised by VAT exemption on plane purchases and repairs and by yearly real terms cuts in fares. Motor vehicles are the fastest rising cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Power generation remains inefficient, leaking significant quantities of gases into the environment. The construction industry builds few houses that are as well-insulated and energy-efficient as they could and should be.

None of these problems is insuperable. But because the environment is global, national action is not enough. Global treaties are needed to contain resource exploitation, pollution, and environmental pressure. Kyoto is so far the biggest, and there have been a few others, for example on trans-boundary movement of waste and international trade in GM products.

But the largest gap concerns the remorseless pressure exerted by unbridled industrialisation and population growth on finite resource availability. Oil and gas supplies are beginning to reduce, but there is so far no sign of a global shift to renewables. And access to water, rundown of fish stocks, and cropland degradation are global crises already looming.

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