If you haven’t clocked that we’ve really got it wrong on the environment, you must have been living under a rock.
In the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than we did in the last century – and we only recover 5% of the plastic we currently use. Hurricanes, droughts and coral deaths are caused by climate change. Climate change enhances the spread of life-threatening diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
But as fears of climate change grow, backlash against governments which are making lives harder for working people grows too. The so-called Gilets Jaunes (yellow-jackets) in France have won a concession from President Emmanuel Macron, forcing the self-described ‘Jupiterean’ leader to reverse his plans to hike fuel duty.
The Spectator ran articles entitled, ‘Macron has United France Against Him’ and ‘In Praise of the Gilets Jaunes.’ For hard-working French families, who already spend a huge proportion of their monthly income on commuting between rural areas and cities, a hike in the price of fuel was clearly deeply unwelcome.
Environmentalism may be becoming a bigger priority for people, but the cost of living will always come first. And, as we’ve seen in France, voters turn their backs on governments which give disproportionate focus to climate change at the expense of hard-working people.
We need to improve our track record on climate change, that much is certain. But this doesn’t mean we have to neglect consumers and taxpayers. In plenty of cases, we’re seeing improvements made in areas like plastic and palm oil from socially aware multinationals. We’re seeing start-up companies providing environmentally-friendly options for the socially responsible consumer. Even the small, country pub where I work has ditched plastic straws for bio-degradable and paper equivalents. On a larger scale, Tesco’s has begun to make the move to mushroom punnets over plastic options.
The war on plastic, while not the most pressing concern for climate change, is proof that the private sector, in a socially responsible world, can and will make environmentally friendly moves without government coercion – and without forcing money from the pockets of the consumer.
We can look to our friends for direction This week, the Danish government unveiled its new plastic strategy. The plan mainly centres around the Government setting itself standards on plastic, recycling, and cutting down consumption.
This flies in the face of Britain’s efforts – which have so far involved flirting with taxes on plastic and banning items which don’t majorly contribute to climate change, while insisting on making life harder for consumers in other ways. In the past few months alone, Beer Duty hikes, Fuel Duty unfreezing, and Meat Taxes have received monumental public backlash, and several targeted campaigns against them are currently in progress.
A recent ComRes poll found that, post-Brexit, two-thirds of voters want a pro-business, low-tax economy to generate growth and protect the interests of consumers and taxpayers. As a free-market liberal, I welcome this – but it doesn’t have to mean neglecting the environment. With sensible incentives for businesses, and a free-market approach to encourage environmentally-friendly alternatives to sluggish multinationals, the government can do its bit to help the environment without making life harder for working people.