Liam Watson explains how the issue of climate change is being represented in this election.
Climate Change – other than the penchant of humans to kill one another – is arguably the greatest threat to the planet as a whole. 2016 was the hottest year on record, there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has in three billion years, at a time when life was beginning to form and the Earth was a largely volcanic landscape. Ecosystems larger than New York are destroyed every year to enable humanity’s need for energy to provide energy for all of our daily activities. We know this to be fact. Scientists, politicians, John who serves me at the pub, all know climate change to be true, undeniable fact. Only “colourful” individuals like Donald Trump cast doubts on the validity of evidence substantiating the claim that humans are speeding up the natural process of the Earth heating up. We know the consequences of climate change.
So, why aren’t we doing enough about it, or voting in governments that want to do something about it? Mostly because it seems the main political parties couldn’t care less.
“The upcoming General Election easily fits into one of the most important elections of British history.”
The upcoming General Election easily fits into one of the most important elections of British history, most certainly the most important for the future of Britain since Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979. There is a myriad of possible outcomes from this election, and the future of this country has never been so uncertain. With a split in the Labour Party a distinct possibility, indyref2, and a hard Brexit looking to be near-mathematical certainty, Britain has not been in such a plight for decades. All these are very important topics. But when one thinks of the rapidly rising sea levels, it seems ludicrous that an island nation neglects the effects of climate change so much.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it makes no sense for a government that is interested in making money to invest in renewable energy when there is a huge amount of money to be made from fossil fuels. Why ensure the survival of the human race, and our home for the last few billion years, when you can ensure that some business is kept in your country? Environmentalism is a topic of conversation that has been successfully smeared by a generation of negative media portrayal, resulting in phrases such as “tree-huggers”. Ever heard the phrase “oil-barrel hugger”? No, me neither. In this election, as ever, the economy has taken front and centre stage: are we to have some strong and stable U-turns on social care policy, or Dianne Abbot provide 782,913 extra police officers on the street at the affordable cost of 23p a year? The Tory manifesto completely ignores environmental issues. Labour and the Lib Dems have economic policies with environmental aspects, but they are more of a nod to environmental issues than an actual plan to deal with it. As expected, the Greens have a huge focus on environmental issue, but we all know that they will get little, if any, seats.
There is a general trend in party policy on the environment: the greater the prospects of actually winning the election, the less is said about environmental issues. Why? The sad fact is that the electorate do not really care for the environment (YouGov have reported that only 12% of people consider the environment a serious issue). In a list of priorities, the economy, the NHS and Brexit make up the top three in the election. Environmental issues do not even make the list – YouGov polls point to only 12.8% of the population having concerns over climate change. They may feature in the manifestos of most parties and featured in the recent TV debate between representatives of all seven main parties, but they are not what the election is being fought on. The strategy coordinators of the main parties are very aware of what the public want to see an election fought on, which is why environmentalism is not a huge issue. In sixty or seventy years, when historians look at the 2017 UK General Election, they will remark on the implications the election had for Brexit and the NHS, not the impact it would have on Britain’s status as a developed economy committed to investing in green methods of supplying energy. Research by NatCen and other social research organisations point to Welfare, the NHS and Migration as being key battle areas between Labour and the Conservatives. The WWF estimates it would cost $140bn to convert the entire planet to green, sustainable energy sources. For Britain this would be a fraction of the cost, and with a GDP nearing £3 trillion in 2015, it seems inexplicable that such a hugely important issue has been so comprehensively ignored.
“They may feature in the manifestos of most parties and featured in the recent TV debate between representatives of all seven main parties, but they are not what the election is being fought on”
Here’s where the analogy of a student facing a deadline can be drawn – that three-thousand word essay due in a week doesn’t seem too troubling. But after a good old fashioned Netflix binge and a few Buzzfeed quizzes about what Harry Potter character you should be, that week has suddenly turned into three days and you’re panicking. So it is with environmental issues – only when we are facing the prospect of literally being flooded by our own ignorance will society lament the nonchalance that the environment was treated with. But at least we did our best to ensure a strong and stable Brexit, eh?