The toxic, burning embarrassment of this government’s record on the environment is laid bare by Boris Johnson’s cowardice.
For too long, politics has completely ignored the state of the climate and the blight on our life that climate change will wreak. Indeed, just yesterday, the EU government declared a global “climate and environmental emergency”, urging commitment from all countries within the bloc to hitting targets for zero net emissions within the next 30 years. We’ve also learned that many scientists believe that we may have already reached the tipping point for reversing or inhibiting the effects of climate change.
It’s not like we haven’t already seen what climate change can do – the UK has already been effected with flooding in vulnerable parts of the UK and the uncharacteristic ‘beast from the East’ in 2018. It’s difficult to think of an issue more pressing than Climate Change – without the planet being habitable, whether or not we’re part of a dying Europe or not pales into insignificance. Jo Swinson possibly put it best when she said “It is morally wrong to leave our seat at the table of the EU when it comes to the climate crisis- we must work with our European partners to ensure we do not leave our children a poisoned planet.” Climate Policy Adviser, Sebastian Many, has said “Our house is on fire. The European parliament has seen the blaze, but it’s not enough to stand by and watch”.
So what did we learn from these debates?
We learned that David Attenborough was not afraid to weigh in on Johnson’s failure to show, replaced as he was by a melting ice sculpture of the world. Attenborough called his absence ‘shameful’. Today, during his hour-long interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC, Johnson said he wasn’t able to get to every TV appearance, saying that the Conservatives had a “fantastic record” on the environment.
We also learned that Boris Johnson clearly thought it was acceptable to substitute himself with his father, Stanley Johnson and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, recently known for his risible attacks on British Rapper Stormzy. Another one of his ‘dead cat bounce’ strategies, it seems, especially since his Dad dropped a horrid comment saying the British public were unlikely to see his son as a ‘Pinocchio’ character since they were probably unable to spell it.
Tonight, Green Party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas, who is running for Brighton Pavilion MP once again, as the incumbent, disagreed with Johnson’s earlier assertion, calling the Tory track record “abysmal”.
We learned that Labour want to focus on planting more trees – 2 billion by 2040 – as Corbyn revealed we have a tree coverage lower than any other in the EU at 14%, compared with the 30% of the rest of the bloc. Many have criticised the feasibility of this plant rate, which some have calculated as a quarter of a million trees per day. The BBC have done an interesting piece on how this might be done, which is worth a look if you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP Leader, proudly revealed that Scotland had halved their emissions, saying they were leading the way.
Liberal Democrat Leader, Jo Swinson, pledged that new-build homes will be zero carbon under the tutelage of her government, in the unlikely event they win a majority, and blamed the Conservatives for scrapping plans to make this happen.
Green Party Co-Leader, Sian Berry, detailed their plans to target the 15% of people who get on 70% of all flights.
We all learned that Jo Swinson’s children had never seen a hedgehog. Important info.
Examining Boris Johnson’s views on climate
What was missing from the debate, perhaps rather cleverly, was any real scrutiny of the Conservative’s record on the environment. Despite those two ice sculptures, dripping ominously, representing the melting ice caps and stricken, starving animals, the Tories largely got off lightly. They’ve backed fracking, banned wind power except for off-shore wind farms and dismissed environmental protesters as ‘crusty’, saying they lived in “hemp-smelling bivouacs”.
Since Johnson shunned the debate, we can only discuss what he has previously said on the subject. Indeed, it seems that his views on the importance of the environment do seem to change rather often.
In 2015, he demonstrated extreme scepticism, saying that “global leaders [are] driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation.”
Fast forward to July 2018 and he admits that he doesn’t really want to comply with the EU’s environmental protection directives, quoted in Hansard as saying “we are volunteering for economic vassalage, not just in goods and agri-foods, but we will be forced to match EU arrangements on the environment, social affairs and much else besides”.
However, when addressing the question of Extinction Rebellion and their recent rise to prominence when they disrupted cities across the world, he said they were “right to sound the alarm about all manner of man-made pollution”.
Which party makes the most sense on climate change?
It’s no surprise that independent fact-checking and scrutiny of all the campaigning parties’ manifestos reveals that the Green Party comes out with the best plan for our planet. But what of the three larger parties?
Labour, according to Professor Rick Stafford, is the clear winner from rivals Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. He and his colleagues’ research, previewed in the Guardian, will be presented to the British Ecological Society on December 11th, Election Eve. Prof. Stafford said that Labour’s manifesto has a “comprehensive ‘green industrial revolution’”. The Liberal Democrats come in second place, with “a greater commitment to reforesting” (somewhat surprisingly, given the 2 billion trees mooted by Labour). The Tories trail into last place, with far “weaker nature-based solutions”.
Dry, boring and lacking in much firefighting, the climate change debate was the antithesis of the climate change emergency that faces us. Without Farage (for he didn’t show either) and Johnson, there was a calmer and more civil agreement than only varied in how much each leader believed in the science and necessity of the measures they mean to bring in. Variations on a theme, each time.
Left with just puddles on the floor, when all was said (and not much done), all I could think was that it was a good night for ice sculptors and climate change activists, the real winners of Channel 4’s Climate Change Debate.