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Would the environment be safe in the free market’s hands?

    Few things in Britain will escape the impact of Brexit and its environmental laws won’t be one of them.  The Environmental Policy Forum (EPF), a network of British professional environmental bodies and societies, has recently warned that the clock is ticking for the UK to transpose the great pile of EU legislation that makes up the basis of Britain’s environmental law. Concerns have been raised over the extent to which the UK will remain committed to environmentally friendly policy once its blue and yellow stabilising wheels have been removed.

    Fears that a post-Brexit UK might look something like the scenes described in a Charles Dickens novel have been recently assuaged by Michael Gove, the Environmental Secretary, who announced plans to establish an environmental watchdog to hold the government to account and ensure the delivery of a ‘green Brexit’.

    But are we justified in being so worried about trusting ourselves with being green? Is it absolutely essential that our environment is protected by a litany of laws and its own watchdog?

    Innovation in the green technology sector is now taking place at a faster pace than ever before. In the car industry, for example, the American electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla currently has a 400,000-strong waiting list for its Model 3, the firm’s first easily affordable mass-production vehicle and deliveries of its pre-existing models have passed the 250,000 mark. These encouraging sales figures have begun to lure into the market automotive heavy-weights such as Chevrolet, whose recently released ‘Bolt’ outnumbered Tesla sales last month.

    Last week Tesla unveiled its first foray into the world of heavy goods vehicles. According to its Chief Executive Elon Musk the fully electric semi-truck will, compared to a conventional diesel truck, cost 20% less per mile to run, accelerate faster and have a range of 500 miles whilst travelling at full speed and at full hauling capacity. In convoy, Musk claims they will provide a cheaper form of goods transportation than rail can offer.

    Admittedly, an excited CEO perhaps shouldn’t have the final word in a debate concerning his own product’s brilliance, but the activity of Tesla’s competitors make evident the market’s lucrative potential. In September Daimler AG made the first delivery of its new electric truck, whilst many others in the auto industry such as Volkswagen, Cummins and Nikola are similarly working on their own versions.

    And this is just one industry. Companies with green ethics like outdoor-wear brand Patagonia (who donate 1% of their revenues to environmental charities and grass-root organisations, amounting to $74 million last year) that were unusual when it was founded in the 1970s are now commonplace. So much so that other big corporations such as Nike, GAP and even Coca-Cola – who flew an entire team from South Africa to Patagonia’s California headquarters – have sought Patagonia’s advice. The US government isn’t presiding over this: this is the market making conscientious and environmentally friendly choices on its own initiative.

    These developments in corporate culture are to be found in the UK as well. James Dyson’s Beeswax Dyson Farms, Britain’s largest farming company, invests considerably more of its profits back into the environment than EU law requires. From anaerobic digesters that turn waste food into electricity to drones which save bird nests from combine harvesters, Beeswax Dyson is fully committed to a policy of environmental and wildlife protection. In its owner’s own words, ‘We do far, far more than we need to’.

    Greater research into the damage the environment has sustained, unprecedented innovation in the field of environmentally friendly technology and a shifting corporate culture are evidence of a market that is already doing a great deal to go green and the efficacy of these combined factors pokes a large hole in the credibility of the EPF’s concerns. The market is proving that it can be trusted to solve our environmental crisis without government supervision.

    DISCLAIMER: The views set out in this intern blog are those of the individual author(s) only and should not be taken to represent a corporate view of the Centre for Policy Studies

    Daniel Burgon is a CPS Economic Research Intern. He holds a BA in History from Royal Holloway, University of London and an MA in Modern History from King’s College London.

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    Comments

    Marlene Bauer - About 22 days ago

    Agreed. The disruptors are coming to every industry and the opportunities are endless.

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