Blog 22.04.20

Political culture wars make a Green Recovery unlikely

Credit: SophieB

If you thought Covid-19 gave a Green Deal recovery package − green infrastructure, green jobs − an easy glide path, think again.

For those celebrating this month’s launch of the GreenRecovery alliance to promote “a new model of prosperity” based on sustainability, it would be wise to hold the champagne.

Those who fear statism as a consequence of the current blooming of big government see an opportunity to use the fear of job losses and threat of widespread poverty to promote their deregulation agenda to undermine any green deal.

Big business backing

The alliance, led by Pascal Canfin, a liberal French MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on environment, is supported by businesses such as AB InBev, H&M Group, IKEA, Lego, L’Oreal, Microsoft and Suez.

Canfin argues that the “political will is here” for a green recovery.  But he would be the first to admit that there’s plenty of politics working in the opposite direction.  We see it in the USA with the castration of the EPA, and we’re hearing it now in the UK from the same charmers who brought us Brexit.

Their arguments are neatly summed up by one of their cheerleaders, Daniel Hannan, writing in what Trump would call the UK’s “failing Daily Telegraph”. 

Asks Hannan: “When a million more people are on the dole, does anyone think it will be a priority to publish gender pay gaps?” He goes on to argue that it would be foolish to keep industry to tight carbon targets touted before the lockdown because the extra costs would suppress a recovery.

He’s right that economic priorities before Covid-19 will be very different in its aftermath. Getting food on the plate will be more important than worrying about chlorine washed chickens.

Hope for the long-term  

Hannan and his fellow ideologues will press for a return to the argument that a strong economy is needed before we can afford to protect nature. It’s a powerful argument and has worked well in the past. But maybe, just maybe, the collective experience of the pandemic will inject a bit of long-term thinking and allow us to see how our dependence on nature underpins healthy, resilient economies.

The GreenRecovery will only happen with strong political leadership, currently as rare as an approved face mask. We need leaders who can manage the pandemic while tackling the long-term threat of climate change. 

It’s a lot to ask, but such leadership is necessary if the so-called “culture wars” between the left and right that now define western politics are going to be put aside for the broader benefits of society.

This looks highly unlikely, given the inability of the EU to formulate a collective response to reduce the economic pain felt by members of its community, such as Italy and Spain.

But here’s an idle thought. Perhaps Boris Johnson’s brush with death will give him the cajones to lead us all to the promised green land.

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