There’s an article in today’s Observer about how the credit crunch has affected green attitudes. To be honest, it’s a bit of a meandering piece but after all the talk of fashionable carrier bags, it does make a serious point. No politician in the UK will implement green policies at the moment since a) Labour’s scared stiff that the public will dislike them even more than they already do, b) the Tories don’t want to rock the boat that looks to be sailling towards a big majority in 2010 and c) the Lib Dems are still the Lib Dems, watching politely from the sidelines. They can say pretty much whatever they like and they still won’t get elected.
For most people, “green policies” essentially mean increased taxation on fuel, waste disposal, aviation etc and so it’s not surprising that people are a little reluctant to say, “Yes please, more tax” when times get tough. But to me, this short-term view seems to be the whole problem with the situation. If the government is serious about dealing with climate change, energy security and other long-term problems, then politicians need to be able to act without fear of short-term retribution. In other words, the government as a whole (both politicians and civil servants) has a responsibility to ensure the long-term success of the country and this duty isn’t necessarily best-served by focusing on the next election.
Against this backdrop, green taxation shouldn’t be seen as short-term political hot potato but as a strategic issue, a policy adopted by the country as a whole in order to shift to a low carbon economy over perhaps a decade or two. Cross party alliances could work together to sort out the decidely tricky details. For example, a green taxation shift that’s revenue neutral to the Treasury may leave some individuals significantly better or worse off. I don’t drive much so decreasing my income tax in favour of a higher petrol tax wouldn’t bother me but someone who has to drive 30 miles to work every day would be hurt. However with a clear statement that the end goal must be pursued, then voters can focus on electing those who deliver the goals with the least possible inconvenience. The question becomes not, “would you like green taxes?” but “which policies would you like to meet this goal?”.
As a commenter to the original Observer article noted, “greenwash is the first paint to flake off”. Shifting to a low carbon economy is a long-term project and sadly if we can’t design a political process that weathers a few storms along the way, then we may be in for an even rougher ride.