In a press conference in Biarritz yesterday, the Prime Minister said something which piqued my interest. Challenged on his green credentials, he replied by pledging:
“…a very active environmentalist administration, protecting habitat, protecting biodiversity but reducing CO2 and climate change emissions through technological progress. As our German friends would say, Vorsprung durch Technik.”
It’s not a surprise to hear him speak of biodiversity – on the very same day, he raised concerns with Shinzo Abe about Japan’s resumption of whaling, for example. And the protection of habitats is a good example of the type of green message which Eric Kaufman wrote about in his recent Sunday Times appeal for environmentalism to address the interests and concerns of small-c conservatives in order to build a broader coalition.
Johnson’s comment about “reducing CO2 and climate change emissions through technological progress” is likely to set a cat among the pigeons, though – in a good way. It wasn’t adorned with any policy announcements, and it was swiftly supplanted by his quote from Audi’s famous slogan, but it could be quite significant.
The left’s green politics – the dominant form of the genre, thus far – tends to frame reducing emissions in direct conflict with growth and economic activity. Vast restrictions and reductions of all sorts of production, consumption, and transportation are supposed to be required for an essential and swift crash reduction in emissions. (A cynic might think that for some campaigners this is a set of answers which were in search of a question, but that’s by the by.)
Alongside economic activity and emissions, however, the largely undiscussed third movable part in the equation is technological innovation. As Johnson once told this site: “I believe in the Promethean power of the human race to solve its problems – and Britain can be in the lead in coming up with the answers. When I was mayor of London we saw huge growth in population and GDP, and yet cut CO2 by 14 per cent.” If the Prime Minister intends to make that his focus, not the previously dominant command-and-control, sin taxing greenery, expect a big row in short order.