All of us feel a moral duty to protect our environment for the benefit of future generations. As Paul Goodman on ConservativeHome wrote, our presumption is to conserve “clean water, clear air, green fields, productive farming, beautiful landscape, fine architecture and the variety and opulence of the animal world around us”. This is the real green agenda and I’m all for it. Unfortunately, what now passes for the green agenda is a deeply regressive, Malthusian programme of hyper-regulation and excessive taxation. Our adherence to this agenda has increased prices, destroyed jobs and not protected our environment.
This agenda, which seemed so intoxicating in the pre-crisis era, is a throwback to a discredited doctrine that the finite nature of the Earth’s resources means humanity is doomed unless either our population rapidly shrinks or we all cut our consumption. The adverts in the dying years of the Labour government which tried to make viewers feel guilty for driving and flying are a classic example of this. What the proponents of this distorted agenda forget is that free people are creative people and whether it is the agricultural revolution or the IT revolution, we continue to find new, more efficient means of production. Ronald Reagan put it well when he said “there are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.”
In my piece for CityAM yesterday, I made the argument that the Government (or at least the Conservative side of the Coalition) has realised that jobs and living standards must come before anti-competitive taxes, subsidies for the very wealthy and costly arbitrary targets. Human activity has an impact on the climate but being green does not have to mean damaging growth and hitting businesses and households with needless costs.
The announcement that the Carbon Price Floor will be frozen at £18 per tonne of CO2 is a major step in prioritising competitiveness. There is now recognition that energy intensive industries in the UK are placed at a disadvantage when the carbon price in the EU is about €6 today and is not expected to rise above €10 before 2016/17. Further cuts would continue to reduce electricity bills and boost supply. Fuel duty and air passenger duty were once sold to us as green taxes which would reduce our harmful travelling habits. However under this Government fuel duty has been frozen, making it about 20p cheaper per litre than it would have been and bands C and D of air passenger duty have been abolished. As Natali Pagliari explains, this will benefit households and businesses. Some renewable feed in tariffs such as for solar power, which are essentially large public payments to the very wealthy have been cut and the cost of the Eco insulation scheme has also been cut.
Energy security and lower prices through more competition and fracking for shale gas are now rightfully the focus of attention. Moreover, as Richard Muller’s CPS report demonstrates so clearly, environmentalists should really be the most enthusiastic supporters of fracking. Crucially, the evidence that ‘green’ taxes disproportionately hurt those on lower incomes is clear. Piling more taxes on the backs of the poor is simply unjustifiable and Bjørn Lomborg’s article in this week’s Spectator is well worth a read on this issue.
Our environmental problems won’t be solved by government diktat but by free enterprises innovating and experimenting with new ideas and technologies backed by solid legal and financial frameworks. The green agenda has morphed into a regressive, anti-prosperity movement and is a betrayal of authentic environmentalism.
Whilst more can be done (and I suspect will be done), the Budget showed that the Government is supporting more travel, more trade and more jobs at the expense of this misguided agenda. That can only be a good thing.