Editorial: Light green is not green enough

How to measure the fate of the purple hairstreak against tackling climate change?

Related Topics

How should a fair-minded environmentalist make a decision about HS2? How, indeed, should such a person, or even a group of people claiming to be "the greenest government ever", make decisions about huge infrastructure projects for which great environmental benefits are claimed?

Last week, the route of the second phase of the proposed high-speed railway from London to the north was announced, and today The Independent on Sunday publishes an investigation of its effect on nature reserves, wetlands and irreplaceable ancient woodlands. How can the fate of the purple hairstreak butterfly and the Bechstein bat, and their habitats, be weighed against the marginal mitigation of climate change? And how then can the supposed gains for the economy, and in particular for closing the north-south divide, be measured in the equation?

We have been here before. This newspaper supported the Severn barrage scheme before the election, but we accepted reluctantly that the electricity it would generate would be much more expensive than the main green alternatives. We accepted that, if Chris Huhne, the former energy secretary who abandoned the scheme in October 2010, could not make it work, no one else was likely to.

Similar arguments apply to our conditional support for renewing nuclear power stations. If the operators can make them pay without subsidy, let them go ahead. Yet the timetable is forever slipping, and the big difference in green energy is being made by wind turbines.

The HS2 plan runs on sentiment. High-speed rail is the sort of shiny project that any go-ahead government ought to be proposing. Cars and planes bad; trains good, and green. The domination of the economy by London and the south-east is The Problem and high-speed trains are The Solution.

There are far too many assumptions behind the project that need to be challenged. Even if the high-speed line were extended to Scotland this century, would it really suppress demand for domestic air travel? It would make no difference to motorway traffic volumes; it might simply allow a little extra traffic to be carried by train once the roads are saturated. That might add a tick or two to the Gross National Product – but it would make no difference to climate change. Is that worth the huge cost? We are sceptical. Action on climate change, as the IoS has consistently argued, means putting a price on carbon and it needs to be global.

What, then, of the argument that HS2 would "rebalance" the British economy away from London and the south-east? There is one problem with the case for cutting journey times from Scotland and northern England to the continent: the route passes through London. Look at the HS2 route, and you see that it simply adds a spoke to the existing rail network – starting from London. Although HS2 might extend the London commuter zone and business penumbra along its route, it would increase its gravitational pull on the rest of the economy.

Yes, parts of the existing rail network are running close to capacity. But the truly green and balanced policy might be to increase its capacity, while building fast east-west rail connections across the north of England and central Scotland, and to invest in green technology to cut carbon use by road traffic.

As soon as the green credentials for HS2 are examined, they are found wanting. Nor has the case yet been made to justify the loss of 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower