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Green schisms

Peter Roffey | Published:

AT TIMES it seems as if there is a schism in our community over its thinking on environmental matters and how the States should respond to the (almost) unanimous scientific warnings about climate change.

(Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock) (24573144)

On one hand you have the grumpy old germogen brigade and the petrol heads who seem to regard any kind of environmental policy as an infringement of their basic human rights. ‘How dare you encourage me to stop fouling my own nest?’ It is almost as if they regard ‘the environment’ as a nasty stick the States wants to beat them with rather than the medium in which they and their families live.

Often they resort to insults instead of engaging in genuine debate on the issues. They describe green policies as ‘nanny state’ or ‘social engineering’ and dismiss their advocates as ‘tree huggers’ or ‘woolly hat wearers’ as if such feeble clichéd epithets are all that is needed to dismiss those policies as ill-conceived or excessive.

Of course debate is healthy and there are competing imperatives to consider. For instance, there can often be conflict between economic policy and environmental policy, although I would argue that, done well, ‘green policies’ can actually benefit the economy. So I welcome robust debate and would hate environmentalism to be regarded as some sort of ultraorthodox quasi-religion where any counter view is seen as heresy. All I ask is that the arguments are based on reason and not pathetic, childish name calling.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the zealots on climate change and all things environmental. That’s not me resorting to name calling by the way. It’s just a descriptive term. After all, those who feel passionate on this have a lot to be zealous about. If you can’t get hot under the collar over the future of the one and only habitable planet we know about, then what can you legitimately get het up over?

I sometimes feel guilty that I’m not more of a zealot myself in this area. I care about it lots, but am I a passionate enough advocate? Probably not, and that is partly because experience tells me that being excessively evangelistic can backfire and put people off. Then again, perhaps the time for such niceties has passed.

I suppose it’s no surprise that Guernsey’s young people tend to be among the most passionate advocates of green policies. That’s partly because the young are always more idealistic than their grizzled old forebears and partly because they have the most to lose in terms of having a world worth living in 40 years from now. Although older people, who may know they’ll probably be gone by then, obviously still care deeply about their children and grandchildren.

Recently deputies were asked by a group of school pupils to sign a pledge that Guernsey should aim to be carbon neutral within a relatively few years. I didn’t sign it simply because I have never signed any sort of pledge and never will. Frankly if people don’t believe what I say without me signing a pledge to prove my sincerity I’m afraid they’ll just have to doubt me. That said, I strongly support the sentiment behind this initiative.

In fact the world needs desperately to aim to be carbon negative within a reasonable period of time and that process needs to be led by wealthier communities. I know there are particular difficulties in Guernsey’s case due to our extraordinarily high population density and the need to import almost everything we consume, but we should at least try our hardest. If we don’t do our utmost, how can we expect much poorer communities to do so? At the moment we can’t possibly claim we are giving it our best shot.

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Lying somewhere between the nay-sayers and the zealots, we have probably the biggest group of islanders whose philosophy goes something like this: ‘I do worry about climate change and the sort of world we are leaving for our children, but we are such a small drop in the ocean what difference does Guernsey really make to global warming?’

It’s an understandable stance, but of course it is a complete cop-out. The eight billion people in this world are made up of millions of communities, all of which could claim that their actions alone won’t make any difference either way. That may be almost true, but they would make small differences and aggregated, those small differences add up to the difference between a hopeful future for our planet or humanity going the way of the dinosaurs.

What is a far more legitimate response to possible environmental policies by the States is: ‘please don’t do anything that will put up the cost of living in this already very expensive island.’ Quite right. We can’t approach this issue from a position of middle-class superiority and push through policies which will inflict real hardship on poorer families. Done properly, we won’t. For example environmental taxes could replace other taxes rather than being an extra burden. If, for example, the revenue from green taxes allowed better income tax allowances for those on low incomes, it would be a win-win.

Guernsey may be split on these issues but there is one thing which unites us. We’re all hypocrites. I certainly am.

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On one hand as a teenager I took the decision not to have any children as I thought world population was a huge problem – and there were only four billion of us back then. Environmental concerns were also one major factor in my decision back in the 1970s to become a life-long vegetarian. I have also lived much of my life without many objects which others regard as indispensable, such as a car, television, dishwasher or microwave. When it comes to material objects, I am a happy minimalist.

So does that make me some sort of green paragon? Far from it. I fall down in many ways, but the biggest by far is my love of travel. I desperately look forward to the introduction of first hybrid then fully electric passenger planes so I can feel a little less guilty about flying. At the moment my love of exploring the world is ironically helping to damage its environment.

It gets worse. My oil-fired boiler gave up the ghost recently. Right, I thought, that’s the spur I need to go electric. Then when the quote for a replacement oil-fired boiler turned out to be fully £2K less than installing an electric one, I made a different decision, which I still feel rather guilty about.

So you will get no lectures from the moral high ground from me. That doesn’t mean that I, or any other deputy, can ignore the biggest challenge facing humanity when considering Guernsey’s future policy framework.

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