New Year, Old Problems

By Peter Shirley on Jan 5, 12 09:38 AM in

My New Year resolution is to try harder to believe the public statements of government ministers and others to whom environmental regulation and protection is a bane. The trouble is that they do so much which appears to go against their pronouncements that it will be a very difficult resolution to keep.

The Government for instance said that it would be 'the greenest Government ever', and its members continue to claim environmental credentials. This is whilst, amongst other things, denigrating and threatening the planning system, watering down every initiative which might help nature (such as the provision of Marine Conservation Zones) changing the rules on solar power generation and setting up badger culls against all available scientific advice. It has also apparently provided trillions of pounds to the banks' begging bowls, but cut and cut and cut again the infrastructure for nature conservation and environmental protection and enhancement, an infrastructure which only cost a few tens of millions in the first place.

As for house builders and developers, well, they are past masters at presenting a less than balanced view. One of their favourite complaints is that the planning system is too slow, and causes too much delay. Ask any ecological consultant and you will hear tales of developers working hard to comply with whatever regulations affect their project - except those relating to environmental or wildlife protection. When this oversight is revealed, often late in the process, suddenly it's the 'fault of the system' and something must be changed. They are right: their approach to compliance must be changed.

Things became about as extreme as they can get just before Christmas. A spokesperson for house builders blamed the nation's housing shortage on wildlife protection legislation. I had to check that I had not hibernated and woken up on the first of April. This person seemed unaware of the recession, a generation of policies against building council houses, and the extreme difficulty first-time buyers have securing mortgages. These seemingly count for nothing, the problems are apparently all down to people trying to protect our dwindling wildlife.

There is a saying that if you think training is expensive, try costing ignorance. We could have no clearer example of that than the current approaches to the twin economic and environmental crises that face us. Wealth is ultimately created by adding value to natural resources. Until the economists become ecologically literate enough to understand this the problems will multiply, especially if we continue to move money from where it is needed (the natural environment) to where it may be frittered away (so-called economic development).

I would love to get to the end of the year with my resolution intact, but I suspect that it may be broken by the time you are reading this.

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