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The Green Speech

There was a great deal of heralding of Tony Blair's Green speech. Michael Meacher came on Dimbleby, the TV show headed by Jonathan Dimbleby, on Sunday, 21 October. The Greens rather got to like Gummer, as he conformed no end to their hogwash, but if anything, they like Meacher even more. He boldly told us that the climate warming was not something of the future but is with us today. Far too much has occurred in the last two years to let him say anything else. But what of the great storms in England in 1913 or in 1872 or of the many storms Matthew Paris (1200-59) wrote of in his history of his times? Meacher seems to know nothing of that and he feels it is all a new phenomenon. The Green fad has, in fact, revived certain reactionary ideas formed at the end of the eighteenth century. Meacher held the state was well on its way to curbing emissions to meet the target agreed for 2010. The government was not lagging as some Greens said. A publication would be out in the next few weeks that would make all the work that the government was doing quite explicit, said Meacher.

The government had been accused of abandoning the fuel duty escalator, but the OPEC price rise had rendered it defunct. Indeed, the price was now too high. Dimbleby pointed out that fuel was still cheaper in real terms than it was 25 years ago and wages have doubled since then. Meacher agreed, but he said that the price rise was too sudden and too high. We are over-dependent on oil and there was a Green issue involved. We could have a carbon tax to stop the sort of flooding that has been seen in Sussex of late. But we must beware not to hit the poor too hard. If the poor are let off the extra cost by providing refunds below a certain income level, the carbon tax would still tend to catch quite a few people who have saved just enough to be unfairly hit by such a tax. The aim was to decrease carbon dioxide, said Meacher. He thought that the USA was a big problem as it caused 25% of the pollution. But they would be soon won round, whoever wins their election.

The speech itself was reported in the press on Wednesday. Blair called for a partnership between the Green lobby, business and the public. He thought that business could solve the problems and make a profit also. It all rather sounds like the new tune that the Lovins family now plays. Mr Lovins was the most anti-capitalist Green around 1980 when he was single, but since the early 1990s has been very pro-capitalism, seeing the market as the solution to pollution and other Green problems. And his wife agrees with this new outlook. Tony Blair said that the Green issue was a big one for New Labour, but it had taken more of a back seat than he expected before the election. His big message was that there is no clash between greenness and progress. We can all get richer and be greener too. He wanted to push Green issues right up to the top of the agenda. He said, "millions in Britain are now Green in outlook. They want the air that they breathe to be fresh. They want the countryside that they live in or visit to be protected. They have respect for the world. They hate cruelty to animals, hate the destruction of natural beauty." He has arranged a one-off £5 million grant from the national lottery to support offshore wind energy projects and other renewable energy generation. There is also £50 million for waste disposal.

His speech was welcomed by the Greens for its analysis of the problems, but they felt he was not planning to do enough in response. Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth (FOE) said, "It takes two to tango. Mr Blair's speech contained some sharp analysis of how environmental action can be good for business. Now we want to see specific and radical Green polices in Labour's manifesto." Secrett thought that it was not quite right of Blair to claim that he had been neutral on GM foods when he had clearly been in favour of them. Lynn Sloman said, "At long last, Mr Blair has made explicit the link between using cars and climate change. We hope this makes a change of tack for a government that has been on the run from the motoring and haulage lobbies." Lord Melchett the outgoing director of Greenpiece said, "We are pleased that the Prime Minister has accepted the royal commission on environmental pollution's conclusion that we need to cut down carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60% by 2050." It would mean investment in renewable technology.

The government expects to raise £50 million from a carbon climate change tax on business that is due next year. That will force industry to develop lower carbon emissions. They aim to aid international efforts to cut carbon emissions. But the Greens feel they should do more to help developing countries, especially through aid. Blair said, "We should proceed according to science and common values as there are points of real conflict between consumption and the environment. Politicians need to woo the electorate as well as to lead it. But on Green issues, business was part of the solution rather than part of the problem." If there are pollution problems, then the tragedy of the commons will be a factor in them and more privatisation will aid the solution. But many Green stories are mere scare stories. The Green solution is a modern version of the masochistic hair shirt that has gratified the Puritan fanatic down the ages; an end in itself rather than an actual candidate solution to any problem.

Old Hickory

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