Centre Write
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 00:00

Oliver Shore: How should conservatives approach environmental issues?

Unfortunately, in recent times, those on the right have been associated with inaction on environmental issues. I can see how this view might properly be directed at the section of the right that advocates entirely free markets and as little government regulation as possible, hence the Conservative Party’s association with big business, polluters, and oil companies. However, this should not be the case for a conservative. A conservative should be concerned with environmental issues and finding solutions to problems as they arise.

This does not entail climate change alarmism, and the enacting of any and every policy handed to a politician by the green lobby. The issue in the front of my mind here is wind farms. These have been relentlessly trumpeted in England as a good thing but to me they appear more as a classic example of the politician’s syllogism “something must be done; this is something; this must be done”. They are a classic example of the absurdities which the state can go to when it does not rely on evidence-based policy making. They seem to be nothing more than a face-saving exercise in alleviating the national conscience. And, given the wide-spread opposition to them wherever they are built, they have failed on all fronts. One does not save the environment for future generations by destroying it with rank upon rank of wind turbines.

I use wind farms as an example of an environmental policy that, while being well-intentioned, does very little, if any, good. In an ideal world, we would be able to lower carbon emissions produced by energy generation while at the same time keeping the lights on for the current citizens, workers, and businesses. I do not consider those goals to be irreconcilable. In the sector of power generation, there is one source of which I am aware which can produce electricity on a scale large enough to maintain our society, while being carbon-neutral in terms of emissions: nuclear power.

While such a power source may be unpopular with the green lobby, it is the obvious and natural solution to all their concerns and is far safer than many of them would ever care to admit. Gone are the days of Chernobyl; modern reactors are far safer, and Britain is simply not at risk of the kinds of earthquakes and tsunamis that jeopardised the Fukushima reactor. Furthermore, recent advocacy for nuclear power has pointed to a greater number of small, local reactors, rather than the traditional behemoths. These reactors would take a shorter amount of time to build and can cater to local demand, thus rooting out inefficiencies in production.

This is the kind of infrastructure spending a green conservative government should be backing. Projects which would create jobs in construction and design, and which would foster skills that we can then export to countries who would seek to copy our model.

That, I would suggest, is the conservative answer to the supply side of the environmental issue. Keeping the lights on, while keeping the carbon down. On the demand side, I would argue that a conservative should be concerned with giving people the power to make the right decisions and rewarding them when they do. The most obvious instrument for this is the tax system, and perhaps co-ordinated subsidies. A current Government scheme makes it easier and cheaper for households to install solar panels on their roofs. This reduces the energy bills of households and lessens the demand for electricity from conventional power stations. Not only that, but the incentive is also there for citizens to engage in this scheme, since they can sell back surplus power to the national grid. This is how I believe a conservative should approach the demand side of the environmental issue: by helping the individual to do the right thing, and incentivising them to do so. With regards to conserving the physical environment as it stands, I think it would be wrong for a conservative to license large-scale construction of housing up and down the country. I do not deny that there is currently a great deal of pressure on the housing market. But I would rather the solution came from brownfield development, as far as is possible, and an acknowledgement of the fact that there is going to be substantial pressure on such a system for as long as we have net migration in to the country approaching 300,000 per year.

I mention this as something a conservative would want to control, since widespread urban sprawl is not something we should desire if we are to conserve the environment we see today and hand it over to the future generations to enjoy.

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