At the Sheffield Student Union hustings on May 19th, Green Party PPC Natalie Bennett was asked what she thought was the most important policy for students.
Bennett, as most will know, represents a party that has pledged not only to scrap university tuition fees, but also to cancel all student loan debt. Now, despite this — despite these rather show stopping policies — Bennett did not answer the question by referencing either of those initiatives. Instead, she said that the most important concern for students must be climate change.
Bennett is obviously right. Right in an obvious way. There won’t be many jobs on a dead planet. There won’t be too many people, either.
But what does that statement translate to in real political terms? Does it mean that young people have to recycle more? Does it mean that they should stop buying plastic bags in the supermarket? Should they buy a bike instead of a car?
Well, sure, yes — those are all good things. Every little bit helps. But, of course, it has to mean a lot more than just that. To think that climate change can be reversed by those measures alone is to kid oneself.
To truly tackle climate change, the UK needs to implement major policy reforms. Full responsibility cannot lie at the foot of the individual consumer. Consequently, the world — as most countries agreed in Paris in 2015 — needs to move away from high-carbon energy industries and put greater emphasis on renewable energy sources.
So, what Bennett says — in real political terms — is that young people need to be prepared to vote for the climate. They need to be prepared to vote for the kind of change that will ensure that they and their kids will have a planet to live on in the future.
Why now, though? Isn’t climate change getting kind of old? Haven’t eco-conscious policies already been put in motion? The Paris Agreement has been signed, so what’s the problem?
Well, despite the fact that renewable energy sources are deemed our best chance at reversing global warming, and despite the fact that renewables present a cost-efficient, commercially viable alternative to fossil fuels, the Tory Manifesto still promises “unprecedented” support for fossil fuel industries. In 2016, Angus MacNeil MP — then Committee Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee — said that the UK would fail to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets unless major policy reforms were implemented.
Clearly, those major policy reforms don’t seem to be happening any time soon. The Conservatives’ economic model just doesn’t seem to have that much room for the environment. For being a party that purports to represent long-term economic interests and stability over time, the Conservatives seem remarkably uninterested in ensuring a future beyond the next few decades. And rather than tackling the air pollution that is linked to 40,000 premature deaths in the UK annually, as well as numerous other health concerns — not least asthma, which alone costs the NHS an estimated £1bn per annum — the Conservatives prefer to invest in fracking.
Now is as important as ever. The General Election of 2017 isn’t only about the next five years. It isn’t just about Brexit. It’s about deciding what kind of country you want to live in. Green Party candidates like Natalie Bennett represent a slightly different way of doing things. They represent an economic model that respects the limitations of the planet on which we live, and in which people, and the well-being of people, is at the centre of every policy. It’s an economic model that puts people, not business, first.
The truth often hurts. In this case, it certainly does. Scrapping tuition fees – yes! Cancelling debt — yes! But Natalie Bennett still had the guts to say it, she still had the guts to be more than a crowd-pleaser. She said it like she sees it.
It’s about the environment. It was 20 years ago and it still is. The House of Commons need Green MPs. It needs more people like Caroline Lucas. It needs people who believe in alternative ways of doing things, it needs people who insist on putting people first. It needs people like Natalie Bennett, people who are realistic about the world we live in. People who are in politics for more than just power.
#VoteGreen2017 to #ChangeTheGame. Vote for Natalie Bennett in Sheffield Central.