(This article was written in response to a call from climate scientist Myles Allen for voters to avoid voting Green in the UK general election. Myles' s piece in the Guardian is here.) Myles Allen wants the Greens to revert to being a party solely concerned with the environment. He says that by offering a full slate of policies we are weakening our appeal to people who those want a focus on climate change and other urgent ecological issues. He says that by linking our policies on the environment to wider ambitions for improving Britain, we are diluting our appeal to our natural supporters. In fact he thinks that our environmental concerns are little more than a cloak to disguise our ambitions for more equitable Britain. We aren’t really interested in arresting climate change, he seems to say. Our secret desire is to build a fairer society.
At the European elections in June of last year, Oxford voters like Myles cast more votes for the Green Party than any other political grouping. In any reasonably fair political system one of Oxford’s two MPs would be wearing a Green rosette on May 7th. Why do so many of his neighbours support the party when Myles himself think that our approach is muddy and confused because it aims both at climate change objectives and at broader social goals? In my experience of talking to local voters, most of them see the strongest of connections between environmental and other political issues. Local Green councillors have shown that action on climate change is wholly compatible with improving the services offered by councils and public services. For example, improving public transport is good for the environment and good for communities. Getting recycling rates up reduces methane emissions as well as reducing the need for new landfill sites. Investing in municipally-owned wind farms is profitable and will reduce council tax for Oxford voters. Improving access to locally grown food reduces energy consumption and helps bind communities together.
Dr Allen’s research group continues to warn us that fossil fuel consumption must eventually fall if we are to avert accelerating climate change. Partly as result of his work, most people know that economic growth based on the increasing use of fossil fuels is extremely unlikely to be possible or desirable. So they back the Green New Deal, an attempt to rebuild Britain’s manufacturing, agricultural, forestry and building industries around low carbon alternatives to our wasteful use of coal, gas and oil. Our focus on clean technology is an attempt to use British engineering skills to decrease pollution levels and diminish the harm we impose on the environment. This is neither pointless from a climate change standpoint nor from the need to improve employment prospects for young Britons.
Right at the heart of the Green campaign is the slogan that Dr Allen seems most to dislike ‘Fair is worth fighting for’. Briefly, let me say why I think fairness is important. The UK faces some major challenges, of which reducing emissions is one of the most urgent and important. So far, Britain has transparently failed to achieve progress on this and many other issues. The Green hypothesis is that this failure partly derives from our unequal and fractured society. How can any political party build consensus on the need for large scale sacrifices or for difficult choices if some groups in society are so well off as to be insulated from the cost? Societies that put fairness at the heart of their policy-making, such as the Nordic countries or even less well-off states like Costa Rica, find it easier to build cohesion and a shared commitment to undertaking painful changes. Those who want action on climate change should vote Green both because of our commitment to taking action on emissions and because we are more likely to build the sense of fairness and shared purpose that will make it possible to achieve those reductions.
Much to my personal regret, Myles will not be marking his cross against the Greens in three weeks time. So who will get his vote in Oxford West and Abingdon? UKIP, the people who think that climate change is fabrication? Labour, which wants to build a third runway at Heathrow, and has expanded road building? And having been in power for thirteen years has pretty much the worst record on renewable energy of all European countries? The Conservatives, whose new prospective MPs are said to be agnostic on climate change and who have opposed almost every onshore wind farm? Or finally, the LibDems, who have just proposed reducing fuel duties for transport and whose councillors blocked the nearest wind farm to Oxford for ten years while backing new local road schemes? Dr Allen wrote last year that ‘emission reductions are urgently needed to avoid dangerous climate change’. Who else does he trust more than the Greens to achieve these reductions?