The price of 'green'

Image by Tyler Casey

A 'Green Recovery' will come at a cost.

It has been said that 'Green' is the new 'Gold';

Not really, I just made that up. But I would like to invite you to think about that for a moment.

OK, that's enough thinking time!

The word 'green' is bandied around like some kind or armoured forecast for humanity's future. It prefixes any number of other words that by themselves are usually seen as rather more sombre; words like 'Politics', 'Energy', 'Movement', 'Policies', 'Cars' and 'Future' are all much more palatable when the word 'Green' is added to them first. It imbues them with a sense that those responsible have finally seen the light and are now working feverishly to dismantle their legacy of a warming world. Their messages are full of hope for a (you guessed it) Green Recovery, like some kind of poultice that will heal the world of its many problems. Add this to other 'green' words and you get an almost branded, perceptible thing:

How about a slice of Fresh, Clean, Cheap, Green Energy?

The reality is not so simple.

Oh, sure, some governments have made great strides in creating energy that doesn't have to be directly torn from the scarred planet and they certainly talk the talk when it comes to persuading us that they can actually mitigate the damage. If you look at almost any news article recently, you will notice that it features huge promises to become carbon neutral in the space of a couple of decades.

Our own Prime Minister recently said that the UK government is going to bring forward this miraculous date by 15 years, to 2035 to be precise.

I hope you realise what this actually means.

In order to achieve what our beloved leader wants, you are going to have to ditch your car, stop consuming meat, buy nothing that has a shred of plastic wrapping (probably the most difficult task in existence!) stop burning wood and coal (goodbye log burner) recycle all your food waste, stop going on holiday and ensure that you only live in a house sufficient to keep you alive, those who have more room than they need will simply have to share with strangers!

Does that fit in with your plans for the future?

In the likely event that you don't want to reside in a collective, eating a diet of pulses and jellyfish and sharing a single electric tram with your whole community, you could consider the alternative, which is a short but happy existence continuing to destroy the planet.

I realise that sounds a bit harsh, but please bear with me whilst I explain.

The cost of climate change was commented upon back in 2019 in an article in the New York Times.

Whilst it makes for frightening reading, the article finished on the assumption that 'greening' of our policies will help us avoid an uncertain future:

"...a new, greener economic path for growth and development. If we do that, a happy ending is still possible."

I have to disagree. Humans recover quickly and as some countries start to emerge from Covid, the much vaunted green recovery appears to be dead in the water already, according to a recent article in The Guardian, even as other countries continue to struggle with cases. Billions, perhaps trillions of pounds and dollars have been spent trying to keep the economy's head above the tide and there is unlikely to be any political will right now to invest the many billions needed to try and make a 58% cut to emissions (at least in the UK) in the next 15 years. It's not even 15, but actually 13.5 years.

I also do not believe that individuals are going to divest themselves of the comforts of a consumer life-style quite so easily. For one thing, it is extremely difficult to undo a life-style that practically demands resource overuse and the decisions we make as consumers, the things that we buy, are not always totally under our control. For example, I prefer to buy only organic fruit and vegetables, but if there is one thing that seems to attract plastic wrapping, it is organic produce, so what I may achieve in lessening fertilizers and pesticides being released, I probably more than make up for in plastic trash.

Consumer choice is closely allied to our life-styles, something that was brought home to me when engaged in conversation with someone who campaigns for sustainable forestry policy here in Scotland.

"Well, you read newspapers, don't you?" he asked; "where do you think it comes from?"

And that kind of logic is central to those people who believe that in order to sustain economic growth it must be at the expense of the environment. Yet such growth is also central to the devastation of the planet. Increasing populations require more of everything and that invariably involves environmental depredation. In Scotland, this takes the form of wholesale felling of our forests, removing food resources, wildlife corridors, allowing water to run unchecked into our lochs and bringing with it hefty doses of both organic and inorganic materials such as phosphates which kill marine systems and enable plankton blooms that remove dissolved oxygen. The oceans and lochs are also being poisoned by products from fish farms and releases of oil and diesel, deliberately or otherwise.

In this drive for 'growth' we are literally destroying ourselves.