Last year in the UK, the vandals were given the keys to the art gallery. Environmental policy is now in the hands of people who have no more feeling for the natural world than the Puritans had for fine art. They are busy defacing the old masters and smashing the ancient sculptures.
They have lit a bonfire of environmental regulations, hobbled bodies such as Natural England and the Environment Agency and ensured that the countryside becomes even more of an exclusive playground for the ultra-rich, unhampered by effective restraints on the burning of grouse moors, the use of lead shot, the killing of birds of prey and the spraying of pesticides that are wiping out our bees and other invertebrates.
In the same spirit, the government has reduced the list of possible marine conservation zones from 127 to 31. Even these 31 will be protected in name only: The fishing industry will still be allowed to rampage through them. Two weeks ago, the UK lobbied successfully for quotas of several overexploited fish species to be raised, while pouring scorn on the scientific evidence that shows this is madness.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has done the same thing to the UK’s climate change policies. Though even the big power companies oppose him, he is seeking to scrap or delay our targets for cutting carbon emissions and to ensure that we remain hooked on natural gas as our primary source of power. The green investment bank which was supposed to have funded the transition to new technologies is the only state bank in Europe that is forbidden to borrow. It might as well not be there at all.
If there is hope, it lies with the people. Opinion polls show that voters do not support their governments’ inaction. Even a majority of Conservatives believe that the UK should generate most of its electricity from renewables by 2030. In the US, 80 percent of people polled now say that climate change will be a serious problem for their country if nothing is done about it: a substantial rise since 2009. The problem is that most people are not prepared to act on these beliefs. Citizens, as well as governments and the media, have turned their faces away from humanity’s greatest problem.
To avoid another terrible year like the last, we must translate these passive concerns into a mass mobilization. Groups such as 350.org show how it might be done. If this annus horribilis tells us anything, it is that action, in the absence of such mobilization, is simply not going to happen. Governments care only as much as their citizens force them to care. Nothing changes unless we change.