Our Environment: Not an Optional Extra

The Environment

I strongly believe that environmental issues and social issues must be addressed together, as two sides of the same coin. Which means rethinking our politics (including making better, longer term decisions) and our economics (to make sure our economy delivers better quality of life for all, within environmental limits).

Climate change, air pollution and the countryside are not factored into policies about housing, industry, or for that matter trade and Brexit strategies.

The Green Party has challenged the other parties to take the environment seriously. Our key commitments are set out in our environment manifesto.

Neither public debt, nor Brexit should be used as excuses to delay or downgrade the importance of including environmental issues in our decision making today. Instead, they require different decisions and priorities. For example, we propose a better alternative to austerity that would start with creating a million green jobs to improve the vitality of our economy alongside protecting (instead of cutting) public services.

Living Locally – and Protecting our Green Belt

The Green Party has long been in the ‎forefront of campaigns to protect our countryside, as well as advocating a radical shift in transport and planning policy to encourage far more people to walk both for leisure and as a mode of travel. Yet with the current government in power we recognise that there is much still to do.

At present our Green Belt is under threat not because there is a housing crisis, but because developers and Government want to maximise profits in the one region of the country where land prices are high and where public investment continues to create infrastructure and jobs. Our housing crisis could disappear if people really believed other regions have a strong prosperous future. If people could become confident in investing and living away from the south east the situation could be changed and the sacrifice of our landscape and ecology and our public health could be unnecessary. At present the Government is planning for a further 3.5 million people in Greater London over the next 25 years. We need to implement a green plan to rebalance the national economy if other places are given the chance to compete and grow.

The local consequences of not having a national plan are already being felt. For example, here in Surrey, cuts in government funding have meant spending on rights of way was cut from £300,000 to £100,000 this year. This is barely enough for the summer vegetation clearance from paths alone. Meanwhile, the coalition government’s National Planning Policy Framework has led to a quadrupling of building on the Green Belt.

We need move things in a positive direction instead. Investment in low traffic neighbourhoods and safe, convenient networks of routes for walking and cycling would be a good start.

I believe that Surrey residents want to be able to enjoy a healthy environment and an affordable place to live – not be forced to choose between these things. Which is why we are calling for better protection of the Green Belt, National Parks, SSSIs and our AONB. And we also need an Environmental Protection Act to sustain environmental safeguards in the face of Brexit and improve our food and farming systems.

Thinking Globally – needs a Different Political Climate

The issue of climate change has for so long has been a policy discussion, not resulting in sufficient action by politicians.

For example, the idea that we can expand Heathrow Airport, generating an additional 22 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year, and stay within a carbon budget that requires huge reductions in emissions by 2050 is creative accounting. The Green Party’s position on this is clear – we can’t expand Heathrow or Gatwick as either would accelerate climate change.

We must bridge the chasm between political promises and current economic priorities. We have taken big steps backwards in the UK in the last few years – cancelling programmes to insulate housing, eliminating the ‘Code for Sustainable Homes’, which committed all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016, and then Vince Cable introducing tax incentives which led the dash towards the extraction of unconventional oil and gas through fracking and similar processes. We’ve seen this – locally at Horse Hill, Brockham and Leith Hill. Our government is moving us in the wrong direction.

To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, as predicted by the vast majority of climate scientists, we need to move at least twice as fast, reducing fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2030. And this means not just focusing on direct energy use (in transport, heating, electricity) but the carbon ’embedded’ in our imports –which accounts for around half our impact on the climate. I have written an idea of what such a transition to a more caring, stronger local British economy might look like here, in a report I wrote for the Green House think tank.

And it requires some new hope injected into our politics and economics, before Trump’s plan to exclude the USA from the Paris climate agreement raised the stakes yet further.

Beyond Climate Change

But the global environmental challenge is not just about acting on climate change is not the only environmental challenge – that ‘just’ sets some limits of how different the future might be, and how quickly we must act. We also need to stop disposing of plastic, which is that is getting into the food-chain and swirling around in the middle of our oceans and getting into the food-chain. And we need to care for our environment so it can retain and improve soils (not degrading degrade it them with chemical dependant farming) so we can feed ourselves sustainably into the future. Also, we must start to revalue not just the rural economy (beyond farming to how we manage natural resources more widely), and countryside, but land, on which everything ultimately depends.

We need to stand up for protecting animals from – not just those threatened with extinction that is important, but protecting animals full stop. Only the Greens are prepared to take on big business by opposing all forms of factory farming, and working for the full replacement of animals used in research and testing. As well as resisting any attempt to weaken laws on animal welfare or environmental protection, we have set out seven key pledges on animal welfare to reflect how we must not just better care for each other, but animals too.

Finally, standing up for the environment means protecting nature, for its own sake – from the Spring-watch excitement of seeing blue tits leaving the nest for the first time (which I did this morning at home in my garden!) or the wonder of wilderness. We need to leave space for wildlife, too which means we must stop over-exploiting nature. And have better protection of our nature hotspots and wild spaces (including opposing Reigate & Banstead Borough Council’s plan to possibly build homes on a nature reserve off Cockshott Hill in Reigate and into the Biodiversity Opportunity Area and Nutfield marshes east of Redhill, a network of varied wildlife habitats which is a major focus for environmental improvement by the Surrey Wildlife Trust, east of Redhill that are restoring to create an important wildlife corridor.

I hope you share my passion that it is this issue – how we value the environment, alongside inequality and how we value each other – which must define our politics, as together they will define the future we create for ourselves.

I might not win, but I am standing because I want to change politics for the better. And then means a joined-up plan for how we can make quality-of-life better for everyone, while respecting environmental limits. Which It needs a lot of hope, and a bold, clear vision too.

Please support and, if you share my passion and believe this too, then why not join us.