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Environmental ambitions for the General Election

October 30, 2019 10:13 PM
By Keith Melton

Turtles at sea

There is a story about Pacific islanders of old who used to go fishing for sea turtles. It always took a while just to catch one and, if the fishing was good Turtles at seaand they were catching plenty, once they had caught at least three, they would attach a rope to each turtle and attach the other end of the rope to a ring. The islanders knew that the natural reaction of the turtles would be to swim away from each other. If they were thus attached, they would expend a lot of energy swimming but, overall, they would get nowhere, so the islanders could leave them untended and keep on fishing, knowing they would hardly have moved in the water, preventing each other from getting away. They could then all be picked up with ease once the fishing trip was complete

House of Commons

The reason this image sprung into my mind is because it reminds me of the situation recently in the House of Commons as far as Brexit is concerned. Huge amounts of energy being expended but no-one getting anywhere!

The problem is that there is a tsunami coming in the form of the Climate Crisis and, if we carry on paddling but getting nowhere, we are all going to get swept away by the tsunami. It is not as if the warning signs are not clear to be seen. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) sound the klaxon a whole year ago. So the turtles (Political Parties) need to start acting together in order to get to a place of safety. As they are turtles, they have two options - they can turn and swim further out to sea, take a deep breath and ride the wave. Or they can all swim to shore together and climb to higher ground before the tsunami hits.

In terms of the Brexit analogy, they could either choose to stay in the European Union, where the common environmental protections should provide them with the best conditions to combat the oncoming menace. Or they could swim out to sea, hoping the waves are yet not too big to overwhelm them all.

The underlying problem is that most of the turtles do not yet realise and accept the scale of the Climate Change wave coming towards us, nor the speed at which it is hurtling in our direction. I feel as though we Green Liberal Democrats have been standing on the high ground, onshore, shouting and waving with all our might, but the bigger turtles are simply watching the display with casual disdain.

It seems clear to me that the dangers of the Climate Crisis, combined with the huge problem of biodiversity loss, are going to make the problems of Brexit appear as relatively minor ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

Our own particular favourite turtle, the Liberal Democrat one, does now seem to be paying attention to the scale of the problem and has seen us waving. We can only hope that Lib Dem leadership will place the environmental imperative front and centre in our campaigning during the forthcoming General Election, now the date has been decided. The danger is that all the noise and pandemonium of Brexit will drown out the concerns over the Climate Crisis and the parallel problem of biodiversity loss (equally menacing in its own way.)

It may be that voters (or, at least, a significant proportion of voters) are well ahead of politicians generally on the environmental dangers that face us. The high profile in recent months of the eXtinction Rebellion (XR) actions in and around the UK as well as around the world, have certainly raised the consciousness of these issues amongst schoolchildren and their families. Thus it is clear that our messaging is going to be heard by these voters at least - although it may be that our approach is not yet seen as sufficiently radical by the most concerned members of this community.

However, our policies may be clear enough for the most clear-thinking voters to appreciate that we know quite well what we are talking about and that we have worked out some significant ways of tackling the problems we face. My feeling is that we need to be rather more emotive than we are currently to get the message across to best effect. The Party has appropriate policies in place - we just need to wear our hearts on our sleeves a little more openly.

The recent Climate change paper passed in our Bournemouth Conference was formidable in its scope - and several Green Liberal Democrat members, including myself, were invovled in the working group formed over two years to draw the recommendations together. The most telling point was that the actions needed to curtail carbon emissions should be taken NOW in order for us to have any chance of keeping Global Warming under some sort of control.

This represents a sense of urgency we do not generally see from the other major parties - although the Labour Party has recently realised they ought to play policy catch up with us. They do not, however, appear to have looked in anywhere near as much depth as we did into the detailed planning to tackle the carbon emissions - and yet they now bandy about a 2030 end-date for net zero carbon. Their more worked-through figures in a subsequent background briefing for the press does, however, talk about reaching a net zero position "in the 2030s" - so they have already rather knocked their own targets askew!

Environmental ambitions and "Green Heroes"

For my part, we should have been MORE ambitious with our end-date for net zero. Because our working group had been using recent research, but not the VERY latest papers on METHANE impacts on global warming, Green Liberal Democrats consider we could have justifiably set a 2040 end-date for net zero. So we moved an amendment as such to the debate on the working paper. The party "establishment" took a more cautious approach, however, and wheeled the big guns out to scupper the amendment. I just hope we do not lose the propaganda war during the general election as a result.

On a more practical basis, look out for our "Green Heroes" list of key Environmental Candidates from the party, as we move into more action during the GE campaign… At the top of this list will be GLD members Pippa Heylings in SE Cambridgeshire and Jason Billins in Rushcliffe. So, if you are going to help outside your own constituency in nearby target seats, we hope GLD members will gravitate towards our "Green Heroes".- keep watching this space.

Keith Melton

Vice Chair (Campaigns)