Connor Tomlinson is the policy director for the British Conservation Alliance and a Young Voices UK Associate Contributor.
Modern environmental policy boils down to a binary of which to burn: our world, or our wallets.
These new policies are further exacerbating their existing widespread apathy and opposition to climate policies, which will abolish the industries that put food on their tables. The head of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has launched a new Climate Crisis Advisory Group, stoking concerns that cabinet ministers will be convinced to reuse lockdown-like restrictions to reduce carbon emissions.
Now that the Net Zero transition has become the UK’s post-Covid imperative, it is urgent that policies designed to fulfill that promise don’t cripple Britain’s economic competitiveness.
A market-environmentalist approach belays both concerns by compensating private sector actors with profit incentives for ecological responsibility. This framework also insulates the public purse from the damage of incorrect climate predictions (and any all-encompassing policies based upon their faulty assumptions). Companies burden themselves with all possible risk in exchange for the long-term financial viability of identifying a more sustainable business model. Meanwhile, public goods like clean air, clean water, and a green-lined horizon are produced as externalities for all to enjoy.
This monetary prize has not been ‘astroturfed’ either: rather, consumer choice has driven many businesses’ transitions to environmental friendliness. Businesses adopting sustainability tenets saw a rise in profits long before the pandemic. The Environmental Kuznets Curve lays this trend out, by showing how conservation efforts correlate with an increase in a nation’s GDP. Sustainable fashion, consumer behaviours, and dietary changes even experienced an uptick in search engine traffic during lockdown.
Quite inversely, 98 of the 100 big business polluters on The Guardian’s bombshell list collect state subsidies. Market-environmentalism is as organic as its products; whereas governments prop up the world’s biggest emitters.
Beyond raw numbers: it makes sense that corporations would want to ensure the continuation of their target markets. Mobilising the ethic and efficacy of free markets allows environmental policies to avoid the enforcement costs implicit in any government edict. Without prescriptive legislation, innovation and competition can replace compliance and hesitation at the core of our climate solutions.
The proclamations of eco-socialists and propaganda of Marxist states aren’t reflective of reality. Controlled-economy countries are disproportionately culpable for environmental atrocities. Russia, China, and Cuba emit several times more carbon per unit of GDP than the United States. In the Soviet Union, as Solzhenitsyn documented, the ‘dry execution’ of inefficient outdoor labour under communism meant Russians ‘hate[d] [the] forest, this beauty of the earth’, and walked ‘beneath the arches of pine and birch with a shudder of revulsion’.
In Venezuela, the “Tragedy of the Commons” plays out in the form of the ‘Dutch Disease,’ where countries become reliant on natural resources, but don’t practice sustainable extraction or use. Chavez and Maduro’s petrostatism has produced an economic collapse which dwarfs the Great Depression, with 90 percent of Venezuelans experiencing starvation.
In Britain, our appreciation for nature is a product of capitalism. Before the Industrial Revolution, our countryside was routinely depleted for firewood. We scorn fossil fuels now, but they once constituted a necessary stage in improving our quality of life. Only with coal could Blake, Keats, and Wordsworth cultivate an appreciation of sublime. Without the contrast of high-rises and skyscrapers, we would still see nature in Medieval fashion: as a wilderness, where predators lurk in the dense underbrush, to be tamed with blade and flames.
Therefore, it’s vital we mobilise the engine of innovation that are free-markets to fulfill the public promise of a cleaner, greener nation. A new paper, published by the Adam Smith Institute, lays out the policy pathways toward prosperity that a market-environmentalist approach could take Britain down.
Nuclear is our best bet for carbon neutral electricity, while renewables’ storage, battery, and grid inertia production capacities continue to play catch-up. Liberalising funding vectors for nuclear plants would make planning and construction a less precarious investment, and could alleviate our present unsavoury reliance on Chinese state subsidies.
Accompanying this with adjustments to post-Brexit trade – such as a border-adjusted carbon tax, and membership of international pacts exempting environmental goods from tariffs – could net the UK treasury plenty to patch up our COVID deficit.
It’s easier going green than the Government makes it seem. All it needs do is bow out of the limelight that coronavirus briefings and intrusive emergency powers have gotten them used to, and allow industry experts and innovators to get on with improving our planet.