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Why your vote on the 12th matters to the environment more than you think
It’s a changing world. The Collins Dictionary has announced that their word of the year for 2019 will be “climate strike”. The days of the environment being a niche and background concern are well and truly over. As a naturalist, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome you all to this age of environmental concern. It’s a changing world, and it’s changing fast.
With the election imminent, politics is once again a fertile topic for casual debate, although you still mention the “B” word at your own risk. It has certainly been fascinating to watch the political scene from an environmental perspective over the last few years. With the environment ranking higher than ever before in its importance to the public (behind only Brexit and the NHS), I think it’s time we considered just how much politics matters to the environment.
I won’t go into much depth about what each party is promising because, as I’m writing this, it’s still early days, and it’s up to you to work out what’s of personal importance. What I want to discuss is whether it matters. Can politics drive the change that our broken world so desperately needs? If so, can your vote in the upcoming election become an act of environmental stewardship?
If you’re under 18 months old or have spent the last six years in prison, you may not have realised that climate change is the hottest environmental news right now. For the rest of us, it’s hard to escape being bombarded by wild statistics and scare stories. The Conservatives have adjusted their target of reducing carbon emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050 and are now aiming for “net zero” in that time-frame. This means that by 2050, the UK will absorb as much carbon dioxide as it emits. Change UK wants to aim for this by 2045, and Labour and Green Parties have been more ambitious still, saying they will aim for net-zero by 2030.
But what does all that mean? Well, for a start, it means we need a stronger environmental policy. Currently, the focus is very much on renewable energy and transport, but each party has different ideas; the Conservatives have stopped fracking, Labour will instigate a “green industrial revolution”, Change UK wants to phase out hydrocarbon-fuelled vehicles by 2030 (as opposed to the current target of 2040) and the Liberal Democrats and Greens have pledged £100 billion each year to fighting climate change. The Conservatives say they’ll plant 30 million trees a year and the Lib Dems have promised 60 million.
However, politics struggles with climate change because climate change is a highly complex issue involving many different greenhouse gasses from almost all human activities, and that’s not easy to resolve with a policy from a single party. Some say the transition to net-zero is almost impossible and will cost the UK over £1 trillion, whilst Extinction Rebellion says that going net-zero in 2050 won’t be nearly enough.
But politics is not always a useless collection of old men who argue all day and couldn’t get stuff done if all our lives depended on it. It can deliver serious environmental change. If you haven’t yet seen a wild Peregrine Falcon, keep an eye on the skies around campus. One flew over a few weeks ago. The world’s fastest bird, lazily soaring over Barker House Farm on a dull grey Tuesday morning. It owes its life to politics. In the 1950s and 60s, our population of Peregrines was decimated by DDT, a widely-used agricultural pesticide. In the UK DDT was banned in 1984 and now we have over 1,400 breeding pairs of Peregrines.
There’s power in this. The action of a few people in London has meant a future for these iconic raptors on rugged northern coastlines.
So, politics works well in the face of specific aims, strong scientific evidence and change that can be implemented through policy. But when it comes to the environment, there’s more than meets the eye. Simply sucking vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, even if possible, won’t be enough to rectify our relationship with the planet.
The truth is that climate change isn’t the problem at all.
It’s an expression of almost all the issues that run deep through our society: bitter divisions between different people, abuse of power, ignorance, unequal women’s rights, failure to take responsibility, and above all, the greed that drives productivity at the cost of our planet’s ecological wellbeing. It’s the same story with biodiversity loss, plastic pollution and poverty.
This is where politics gets it wrong. Trying to solve environmental problems by throwing money at renewable energy, without tempering the attitude of consumerism, is like trying to fix a broken bone with a plaster. National politics has a huge part to play in fighting environmental issues, but it may never solve them alone because what matters is whether we will change our societal objectives and economic processes. The good news is that we can all play a part in that simply by caring about how we live. Furthermore, regardless of the outcome of the election, we can demonstrate this with our vote.
Whilst I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, I do have some advice for making that choice: be properly informed. Above all, be careful with the media. I know it’s weird to read that in a newspaper article written by an aspiring TV presenter but bear with me. In the media, “Reducing climate change” becomes “saving the planet”. The UN report that advised reducing carbon emissions “well before 2030” became “12 years until the point of no return” in the headlines. This is a lie that changes our outlook on climate change, which cannot have a deadline.
But don’t take my word for it! Do your research. You might just be surprised.
So, the choice is yours. If you want to ignore environmental issues, believe everything in the press and think your vote won’t matter, go ahead. But you’ll need to fasten your seatbelt. Remember that our nearest emergency exit may be 20 years behind us. In the event of a failure in the oxygen supply, remember look after your own needs before helping others. In the likely event of a landing on water, I’m sure you’ll attract the attention of someone to complain to with your light and whistle.
Or you could look at the bigger picture. It’s a changing world, and young people are at the forefront of this change. Step by step, we’re tipping the balance towards the most important message of all; the message that says, “I care”.
Your vote is a shot at voicing this to the political scene.
Don’t throw away this shot. Be informed. Use it wisely.