Green Crap Redux

David Cameron’s “green crap” moment was deeply depressing. Not just because of the policy change it indicated, but because it suggested the electorate didn’t care about it. The environment had never been a vote winner, and here in 2013 was proof the Conservatives realised it still wasn’t. Now it looks as if green crap is coming back, with a vengeance.

Green Crap
Thanks for everything, Dave.

Michael Gove’s startling speech on farm subsidies post Brexit was met with a cautious but universal welcome from the environmental lobby. Today we had the government’s 25 year environmental plan. There’s lots in it which is bang on in terms of aspiration, but as the Conservative chair of  the Environment Committee commented, desperately short on detail.

It begs far more questions than it answers, and its credibility, given the government’s track record in funding the Environment Agency, energy, pollution, etc. etc., is – well, let’s just say the jury is out. Theresa May’s own voting record is hardly suggestive of hidden eco-credentials. In fact, it’s a shocker.

There’s no joined up thinking in the plan either. Plastic waste in our oceans is a secondary threat after acidification and climate change – an area where UK policy has disintegrated.

In future times, if genuine, I suspect the government’s Damascene conversion will seem absurdly modest and overdue. On the other hand, it may just be political opportunism. Whichever, it is, however, a watershed moment.

It’s important because senior ministers suddenly seem to think the environment is a vote winner.* Let’s connect with millennials in an area where Labour, too, have been weak. Let’s convert all those millions of young Blue Planet watchers into turquoise Tories. Hugging a husky in 2006 looked like naive, off-script green wash. I have canvassed on environmental issues on the Somerset Levels. Even there – perhaps amazingly – issues like climate change didn’t seem to matter very much.

Today’s plan may or may not be green wash, but it’s calculated and very much on script. That’s what’s exciting about it.

*Credit for this seems to go to Conservative think tank Bright Blue.

The Environment and Brexit

andreaIt was disappointing but predictable that the environment didn’t feature in the Brexit debate. It’s just not seen as a vote winner – yet. The vast majority of environmentalists were “remainers”, including the Wildlife Trusts, who pointed to the raft of EU regulation which has protected endangered habitats and species, improved water and air quality, restricted planning consents, encouraged renewable energy, etc..There are also concerns that cuts in farming subsidies following Brexit might lead to lower benefits for farmers wanting to improve biodiversity on their patch.
We wait to see what a post Brexit world is going to look like, specifically a post Brexit world with Andrea Leadsom as Minister for the Environment. Commentators are studying the tea leaves. She seems to have been a climate change sceptic with an inconsistent voting record – mixed on fracking and fuel taxes. She voted for the sale of State owned forests and wants the fox hunting ban repealed.
While not wanting to pre-judge her, I’m rather gloomy. UK governments at both ends of the political spectrum have been poor on the environment, left to their own devices. As for the current administration, it’s clearly not a priority for them, as this week’s abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change suggests.
Agri-environment schemes will look like luscious low hanging fruit for a new administration keen to cut “red tape” and subsidies. Stand by for much talk about the New Zealand experience. My guess is that we will head towards even more intensive use of farmland with many small scale producers going bust, particularly if casual labour becomes more expensive. I just don’t see a willingness to embrace progressive ideas on land use either, to combat flooding, for example. Sadly, as usual, the environment looks set to become an ideological football.

A Bad Week for Bees and Solar

It has been a bad week at Habitat Aid’s HQ. The spending axe has fallen – again – on renewables – which has effectively now halted the building of any solar farms not in the system from April 2016.

Solar Century site
Solar site seeded last year.
I know this is good news for some folk, but we’d been doing a lot of work for a small number of responsible developers who had gone the extra mile to massively increase biodiversity on previously knackered farmland.

The subsidy system has clearly had its problems, but it has meant that a lot has been achieved. Arguably its biggest issue with solar was that it was too successful! The government seems to have been pretty quick on the trigger.

When someone like Neil Woodford, doyen of City fund managers, writes an open letter to government about what’s going on you might reasonably suspect a serious issue. Neil is certainly not a left wing anti-capitalist dictating the climate change agenda, which is how Amber Rudd has characterised opposition to her views.

The other depressing news this week is the temporary lifting of the ban on neonicotinoids in East Anglia. The chemical involved is precisely the same one which has recently been linked to declines in bee populations in a large scale field trial.

Government has also portrayed this as a political issue. In fairness so have the environmentalists. For them the bad guys are large, well resourced anti-environment agribusinesses, served by their pro-business political servants. For government, the ban was imposed against their wishes and the NFU’s advice by interfering EU bureaucrats.

The Press perpetuates this politicization. The BBC report I’ve linked to above quotes Paul de Zyla from Friends of the Earth, and Radio 4 interviewed someone from 38 Degrees. These are both left leaning lobbying groups*. At the other end of the political spectrum, the next time I hear Nigel Lawson talk about climate change (or lack therof) the radio is going out of the window.

Ditto the next time I hear any environmental policies justified by their benefit to the hard working families of Britain. Er… wouldn’t “short term populism” be a bit more honest?

Left or right wing I’d say the same thing. Environmental issues should not be sacrificed on the altar of political dogma.

*To declare my interest, FoE are customers of ours.

A Triumph of Dogma Over Reason

In a previous life, in a universe far far away, I trod the capitalist treadmill at a large investment bank, in the tiny and mostly loss making bit covering the Japanese stock market. Every now and then a grossly over-promoted hot shot from head office – wherever that happened to be – would pitch up to do a strategic review. In order to justify his bonus he would re-invent the Japanese equity product after a consultation period which involved flying around the world endlessly and falling asleep in presentations pretending to listen to people who knew better but were much less important. He would invariably come up with a staggeringly uninformed and glib solution which followed the dogma of the day but was so unworkable it turned into no solution at all – thank God – so most of us kept our jobs and things staggered on. Hot Shot was applauded for doing something and by the time people realized he had no idea about Japan other than what Narita Airport looked like (see above), he had made so much money he didn’t care when he was fired.
I was unhappily reminded of this experience today while looking at the “Biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation” page of HMG’s website,
“Red Tape Challenge”. This is what it says:

These regulations are designed to conserve vulnerable or rare species and habitats and protect important wildlife sites. They also include regulations on rights of way and protecting national parks.

You can find all 159 regulations that relate to biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation here [opens in new window].

Tell us what you think should happen to these regulations and why, being specific where possible:

Should they be scrapped altogether?
Can they be merged with existing regulations?
Can we simplify them – or reduce the bureaucracy associated with them?
Have you got any ideas to make these regulations better?
Do you think they should be left as they are?

Ironically we may need a rethink about environmental regulation; I’ve argued elsewhere that our persistent failure to stop loss of biodiversity in the UK might mean we need a totally different approach. This is very clearly not, however, what is driving this exercise. Head Office has decided that something needs to be done, and whether it’s in “landscape” or “recreation” doesn’t really matter.

Black Dog

Brown DogBasil is the most lovely dog and, while short of brainpower and prone to social gaffes, is the most trusting and straightforward soul. It’s a cheap shot to put him in a post about Black Dog (as opposed to Liver Dog, or Curly Coated Retriever Dog), but on the other hand, why not.

I don’t tend to do many shows as an exhibitor – most are just too expensive and/or irrelevant – but I have enjoyed the couple I’ve done this year. On my way back from the catchily named Stock Gaylard Oak Show in Dorset yesterday (blog to follow) I was positively glowing after meeting some really genuine, caring, and unremittingly bullish folk. Like Basil, they’re a good antidote to the occasional reaction I’ve had since setting up Habitat Aid.

Over the last year or so most people have been very onside and some incredibly supportive, but I’ve been surprised by a residue of suspicion. It can – frankly – be dispiriting if you’ve had a few days stuck behind a computer and the orders aren’t coming in. Social Enterprises are a new concept for a lot of folk, who will get the idea in time that there are an increasing number of businesses for whom financial profit is not the main objective. I’m occasionally even asked who funds us (Barclays, I guess!), which always seems an odd question and indicative of a state of mind that’s very odd to someone with my background. I also regularly get people asking if this blog is commercial or not… I’ve no idea!

One of the reasons I set this business up is that it is absolutely clear to me that, despite the RSPB’s best efforts, public sector funding for conservation is rapidly disappearing and is not coming back any time soon. As the tide goes out many conservation charities will be left high and dry. Tide Going Out Many related good quality small businesses will also go bust. Everyone has to look for alternative sources of revenue.

At this critical juncture and in this financial environment it is imperative that we forget ego and get on with it. There is absolutely no point founding another charity to help bees or hedgehogs or whatever. Help or help to change an existing one – there are really good organizations out there really short of funds. There is absolutely no point in specialist charities working in the same area competing with each other for diminishing funding and membership. There is absolutely no point people slagging off commentators or organizations who are trying to promote the same agenda.

There’s no hidden subtext to what I’m saying here or what we’re doing. I’m just a new kid on the block, but I’m not a hobbyist, or an egotist (arguably!). I’m no expert either; all I want to do is promote the right messages, the right suppliers, and the right people. There are lots of brilliant causes, products and experts out there that the internet is exquisitely equipped to help. Our business model might just be a fantastic way for small charities, specialist companies, and highly skilled consultants to benefit. To say nothing of the environment. Who knows – I might even make a living out of it, touch wood. Time to walk the dog.