Leading article: A new model for green politics

Share
Related Topics

Going green never quite loses its capacity to surprise. Things that once seemed obvious turn out not to be. Once, we took it for granted that nuclear power was an environmental disaster story. Once, we thought windmills were a picturesque feature of a fairy-tale Middle Ages. Once, we thought British politics would never be the same because the Green Party won 15 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament elections of 1989.

And, sometimes, environmental opportunities that are staring us in the face remain unexploited. Today, we report that a nation that made its wealth on the sea, that had the most powerful navy and built an empire with it, is failing to harness its remarkable geographical advantages to lead the world in wave and tide power. The select committee of MPs that scrutinises his department has welcomed Ed Davey, the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, to his post by urging him to do more to support innovation in marine renewable energy.

Of course, we know by now that environmental sustainability requires hard choices, and that this applies to wave power too. Currently, it is more expensive than onshore wind power, which is itself more expensive than carbon-based energy, but there is more scope for the price to come down if different technologies were tested and improved. But we have to accept that putting a higher price on carbon-based energy, worldwide, is the most efficient way of cutting carbon emissions.

We know, too, that action to mitigate climate change for the sake of global ecology can conflict with the preservation of local habitats. That was one of the contradictions at the heart of the Severn tidal barrage project, which this newspaper supported but which was abandoned by the coalition Government in October 2010. If we cannot do the Severn barrage – and the idea is not completely dead yet – we should surely experiment with as many small tide- or wave-power projects as possible.

That should be the model for the new green politics: flexible, open to new ideas, willing to realise that the old certainties are getting in the way of making the right decisions. That is why we should consider returning to the expansion of nuclear power; why we should appreciate that there could be beauty in wind turbines; and why the so-called "business case" for new airports cannot always carry all before it.

Such dilemmas for government are replicated at the personal level. We might think that gardens are "green", but, as our report today suggests, there are many ways in which our attempts to commune with nature do more harm than good. Some of this is obvious, if you think about it, such as the use of water, the import of foreign plants, the use of peat and pesticides. But some of it is less so, such as the release of greenhouse gases by mowing grass and digging soil.

Then, in between the politics of personal responsibility and that of governments and intergovernmental treaties lies local government. This is where the Green Party, having elected its first MP, Caroline Lucas, two years ago, passes its next milestone this week. Brighton Council, on which it holds a majority, will be voting on its first Green Party budget. This involves making difficult compromises, because of cuts in central government funding. And the party had to abandon the idea of Meat-Free Mondays in council canteens when staff revolted. Such tensions between idealism and the politics of the locally possible are likely to dominate at the Green Party spring conference in Liverpool this week.

We hope that the Green Party continues to work through its growing pains, because for all that the main parties have pretended to take up green priorities, their commitment turned out to be fairly shallow the moment the recession hit. Britain urgently needs a green movement that understands that idealism and fixed assumptions are not enough to make progress towards a more sustainable economy. David Cameron's early promise to lead the "greenest government ever" rings increasingly hollow. His Chancellor made clear in his speech to the Tory party conference last year that he was opposed to Britain taking a lead in tackling climate change.

Let us hope that today's ragged retreat is merely the prelude to the green cause's more certain advance, older, wiser and more understanding of the hard choices that must be made. How Mr Davey will respond to George Osborne's ambition to be the slowest ship in the convoy is an important test of the new Climate Change Secretary.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Katie Hopkins is a true Twitter villain

Felicity Morse
Adele performs onstage during the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A  

Adele knows that privacy is the best gift a famous mother can give her child

Chloe Hamilton
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game