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Tech, not taxes, will save us

    This year we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. It is also 100 years since the birth of Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution and quite probably the man who saved a billion lives.

    There are many who argue persuasively that our environmental problems have been overblown but for the moment, let’s presume that they are wrong. If indeed, we are hurtling toward an ecological disaster, what can be done?

    For too long there has been a political consensus that tax will save us. Green taxes – on industry, on energy, on travel and just about anything else that leaves a “carbon footprint” (which is just about everything else). The Conservatives rightfully ditched plans to match Brownian spending when faced with the financial crisis of 2007-08. For some reason, equally awful green tax plans never went out the window with it.

    The argument became “we cannot afford not to apply green taxes”, such was the environmental catastrophe that awaited Gaia. We’re now finding out that we can’t afford to live with green taxes. It is to be welcomed that the Government has taken some steps to remove these levies from household bills.

    Now the Government must go much further on releasing business and people from the burden of taxation because it is technological innovation not new pages of tax law that will save us.

    In the 60s and 70s, it was widely held (and is becoming more popular again) that there were too many people on earth. As Paul Ehrlich wrote in his immensely popular 1968 book The Population Bomb:

    “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate...”

    Dr. Norman Borlaug was not prepared to let that happen. He worked with many groups to create a high-yield, disease-resistant wheat credited with saving hundreds of millions from starvation.

    The effect of these increased yields was that poorer countries like Mexico, India and Pakistan were able to become net exporters of wheat, rather than importers. Innovation in agriculture and subsequent market success led to vastly improved lives for countless people.

    It is only through a similar sense of innovation (and yes, Dr. Borlaug worked with many groups, private and government) that we could tackle our environmental challenges.

    Maybe the answer will lie in carbon capture, or a new form of energy, or something us laymen will not hear of for another decade.  

    It will not come from stifling economic activity. Green taxes will save no lives, only prevent people from striving for a better one. We should have no time for such waste. 

    Lewis joined the Centre for Policy Studies in April 2011 with responsibility for social media and digital engagement.

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