For the Common Good: The Environment in the General Election 2015

Professor Jenny Pickerill, 21st April 2015

Views posted in comment articles are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the University of Sheffield.

If you have been watching the election debates on TV, or reading media coverage you might not have noticed the lack of discussion about the environment. Despite the greater visibly of The Greens in this election, environmental issues are largely absent. This could be seen as shortsighted in an era of climate change, energy insecurity, fuel poverty, and pollution problems. Unfortunately environmental issues are all too often either deemed as less important than economic pressures, or only understood as economic problems that need economic solutions, hence government support for fracking shale gas is advocated because of energy insecurity and fuel poverty. This election has been dominated by arguments around austerity, tax, economic growth, and the cost of the NHS, immigration and education. It seems to have been assumed by the current coalition parties and Labour that economic problems must take precedence and that the electorate will only be convinced by the bribe of lower taxes and more jobs.

While economic stability is important, The Greens, in their election manifesto ‘For the Common Good’, seek to move beyond the dichotomy of economy versus environment. Their vision of a one-planet economy and a decent livelihood is based on the premise that economic growth, which is environmentally unsustainable, is shortsighted and will ultimately cost us all dearly. The Greens vision is for a fair and more equal society that accepts that resources are finite.

To do this they advocate creating more worthwhile secure jobs (as opposed to the casual zero-hours contracts current advocated by the Coalition), which are paid at least the living wage, through a larger public sector and growth and in the renewable energy industries. These would be achieved through state investment, cutting existing subsidies to many environmentally unsustainable companies, and higher taxation. It relies on encouraging and supporting a mixed economy – on public, private and third sector organisations – and acknowledges that the private sector is not necessarily more efficient, more productive or better at delivering services.

They are also campaigning for a standard 35-hour week, a maximum ratio of 10:1 of pay across an organisation (in other words, bosses could only ever earn ten times those on the lowest wage), and equal pay for men and women. They also support the creation of more social enterprises, co-operatives and community banks that work for the benefit of their local communities. Finally, The Greens propose a new way of measuring the economy – the Adjusted National Product – which, unlike the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), would measure capital, environmental degradation, and diverse forms of work such as unpaid work at home. But this approach to a one-planet economy is also based on recognition “that not everything valuable has a price attached to it” (The Greens Manifesto, 2015, p.12).

solar panelsThe Greens are highly unlikely to win a majority in this election, but their party membership is growing, their visibility as an important part of British politics is increasing and they may well secure more MP’s in the next government. Crucially they are offering robust economic alternatives to the current system, and are the only party to not just take the environment seriously, but to understand that a stable and sustainable economic future is reliant upon good environmental policies too. Even if they remain a marginal part of our government we should reflect on the ways The Greens have moved beyond the environment versus economy dichotomy and on the various one-planet policies they are proposing.

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