My EcoBuild thoughts – do we need a “Green Contract” with a difference?

Having gone to Day 1 of EcoBuild, I came away a bit schizophrenic!

It is certainly a big, busy and bullish event showing what green technologies can and are doing to build a more sustainable economy and society. The outcomes are pretty clear in most cases

  • Reduced energy use through energy efficiency
  • Reduced dependency on fossil fuels through renewables
  • Reduced waste through better packaging design
  • Reduced impact on the environment by re-use, recycling and conversion of waste materials, so they don’t end up in the sea or landfill as pollution
  • Better health outcomes from air quality improvements, and better homes to live in, free from dampness and easier to heat

The list could go on.

So what is there in these outcomes, which are not to appeal to politicians? Aren’t these the outcomes of a better society? Aren’t these the outcomes, which politicians say they are seeking to design, set the laws and regulations, and deliver for their voters?

Well that is where I become schizoid! Because in two debate sessions on Day 1 it was clear that some politicians, and indeed much of the 4th Estate (the press barons) are only interested in a selfish, self-interested and luddite agenda, to ensuring that the status quo stays the same.

The first debate was about what a No vote would mean for the UK in terms of the country’s green agenda. Lord Deben was absolutely clear that it would be disastrous.

And he was speaking from his experience as Secretary of State for Environment in the 1980s. He said firmly that when he became the SoS the UK was known as the “dirty man of Europe”. And it was only because the UK WAS a member of the EU that he argue that EU environmental regulations, would help improve the UK’s record.

But not only that, because he was at the EU table he was able to ask for change and improvements to make them work better.

So quite clearly he said a No vote would be a disaster. His message was adamant. How could we continue to deal with issues such as air quality, energy emissions and generation , waste and recycling, building energy efficiency without working across national boundaries on common standards? And this was equally tied into the UK’s role in being involved in creating those standards to build new markets.

He said “what kind of Britain would we be if we decided not to live with our neighbours and work out our future together when we know climate change, poverty, population increase all depends on the rest of the world”. Unequivocally he said we cannot just demand – “We are not a gunboat nation now”

So here was a positive and clear message.

But my schizophrenia became apparent in the second debate session. Because there is, as we already know there aligned against Lord Deben’s positive message, the still considerable weight of those who are totally opposed to any rational response to climate change and so implicitly an attack on the societal outcomes I listed above. Peter Lilley in the second session, was vehement in his opposition to the Climate Change Act. He saw as a betrayal of free market values. He was clear that the only way forward was its repeal and he would lobby and lobby for its repeal in the new government after the May General Election.

This left me very depressed. It is in my view, irrational to argue against energy efficiency measures, waste reduction measures, measures to protect our environment, which provide improvements to the life of our fellow human beings. But that is the ultimate direction of travel which the views of Peter Lilley, Nigel Lawson and others who are totally only interested in the freedom of neoliberal markets.

This anti-society message is continually reinforced by the oligopolistic views of the press barons. And here Lord Deben was equally forceful. That our society is now battered on a daily basis, by the oligopolistic practices in the market place. Whether this was on energy pricing and supply, on media moguls distorting the message, or financial institutions who adopted short term decision-making criteria.

After listening to this discussion, am I pessimistic or optimistic? I do hope I am optimistic!

Because there has to come a point where we must create a new dialogue. A message which promotes positive values. And that message has to be drawn up working with those in business who really do understand what is at stake. They are also the ones who understand what the real opportunities are for creating a better society, improving health, increasing disposable income, and creating sustainable jobs.

It is vital that we create this new language of sustainability to attack those who are deliberately misinforming people about energy efficiency and the environment. We need a new “Green Contract”. My thoughts on this are:

  • a plain English agenda of the goal to ensure that energy bills are cut by 80/90% through a national programme locally managed of retrofit
  • a more open energy market which is not saddled with oligopolistic market practices – indeed an energy market which is determined from the bottom upwards – not top down as we have now
  • that VAT is removed from energy conservation measures
  • that the housing mortgages are reshaped to promote energy efficiency – and that housebuilders cannot get away by building energy wasting homes in the future just to make a quick buck in the market

This means that the EcoBuild technology experts need to band together around simple clear messages on what the real outcomes in terms of very low energy bills through energy efficiency, warmer homes without burring energy, better air quality and health, and local jobs from undertaking a national scheme of retrofitting the nation.

Now this is a political agenda, which I would sign up for.

But will either of the two main parties take on the vested interests, and importantly also review and change the objectives of HM Treasury to accept, embrace and actively endorse these outcomes, and not undermine it at every turn?

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