In yesterday’s ITV Leaders’ Debate, Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said two things that struck me as particularly important. It also struck me as particularly important that none of the other leaders seemed to want to relate to the fact that she’d said them. One of the statements concerned the NHS, and the other had to do with the energy industry — but really, they both went back to the same thing, and it’s that one thing that the Tories keep saying that they’re so good at. The economy.
The five leaders had been at it for what seemed like a rather long time when Lucas, almost as an afterthought, and seemingly surprised that none of the other leaders had yet raised the issue, pointed out that the very air we breathe is a large contributing factor to illness in the UK. Air pollution, said Lucas, not only makes people ill, but it also puts unnecessary pressure on UK health services. In 2016, a report published by The Royal College of Physicians suggested that poor air quality is linked to approximately 40,000 premature deaths annually in the UK. “Polluters,” the report recommended,
“must be required to take responsibility for harming our health. Political leaders at a local, national and EU level must introduce tougher regulations, including reliable emissions testing for cars.”
Prof Jonathan Grigg, co-author of the report, said to the BBC last year that air pollution is “linked to heart disease and lung problems, including asthma”, and that
“as NHS costs continue to escalate due to poor public health – asthma alone costs the NHS an estimated £1bn a year – it is essential that policy makers consider the effects of long-term exposure on our children and the public purse.”
Interesting, eh? We’ll get back to all of that in a hurry.
Now, the second point made by Lucas concerned the energy industry.
Once again, she was the first and only leader to mention the fact that it is now considerably cheaper to get energy from renewable sources than from fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it, then, be wiser to focus more on solar and wind energy than on high-carbon industries?
In January this year, Michael Drexler — the Head of Long Term Investing, Infrastructure and Development at the World Economic Forum — said that renewable energy now “constitutes the best chance to reverse global warming” and that it “is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns.”
Alright, so as we put one and one together we can thus conclude the following:
1) it is cheaper to invest in renewable energy than in dirty energy
2) renewable energy is perhaps our best chance to reverse global warming
3) renewable energy will reduce air pollution
4) air pollution may cause as many as 40,000 premature deaths annually in the UK
5) preventing aforementioned deaths and would not only be a great victory for all human beings, but would potentially save the NHS ahuge amount of money
Now, then, where does all of this take us? I suppose it’s all pretty straightforward, isn’t it? The politicians have got their work cut out for them so it’s all just about getting it done. Let’s invest in a greener economy in order not only to save money, but also to save our health and the environment in which we live! Yay! No?
If it was only that easy, right?
Where Caroline Lucas and her Green Party have plans to focus investments on renewable energy and on creating more jobs in the renewables sector, and where they hope to sort out the NHS by 1) introducing a more progressive tax system, 2) by scrapping Trident in order to free up billions that could be spent on health rather than on weapons of mass destruction, and 3) by stopping the clutter that is privatised health services, the Conservative Party — in other words, the current government — have, unfortunately, absurdly, chosen to set a rather different agenda.
“With the UK’s climate targets slipping further out of reach and biodiversity in free fall, it appears Theresa May has decided to bury her head in the sand.
“There is one paltry mention of the air pollution crisis, and no mention of the jaw-dropping cost reductions in renewable energy.
“Fracking will be forced on local communities, whilst the dirty and expensive energy of the past will continue to receive lavish public hand-outs. The cheapest and cleanest energy once again loses out.”
Well, it’s no wonder Theresa May didn’t bother to show up to last night’s debate, is it?
The Conservative Party has no long term environmental plan, and it has no plans to tackle air pollution. At this rate, the UK will miss its 2020 renewables targets, and as the country leaves the EU it will potentially no longer deign to hold itself to the EU’s high standards and regulations on the environment. Rather than addressing the environmental problem and attempting to find creative, long term solutions, the Tories have chosen to neglect the advice of the Royal College of Physicians, and their call for tougher regulations on diesel-emitting cars.
Come June 8th, I hope that voters in Bristol, Brighton, Sheffield and in many more cities around the country will gather behind those candidates that will promote the idea of a greener economy to the House of Commons. #VoteGreen2017 to #ChangeTheGame and to support a new, greener way of doing things.
As Caroline Lucas has said: the economy will have to be green, or it won’t be at all.