I wonder if George Osborne might come to regret the slightly self-satisfied way he told the House of Commons last week “we are not going to save the planet by burdening business with endless social and environmental goals”.
It echoed the Chancellor’s recent comment to the Conservative Party conference that “we’re not going to save the planet by putting the country out of business”. And it probably plays perfectly to the Jeremy Clarkson wing of the Conservative Party – I mean, why not stoke a few more prejudices about climate change and the environment while you’ve got the chance?
But the Chancellor temporarily forgot the huge amount of support the nation’s environmental, wildlife and countryside charities command — and the fact that a good deal of it comes from the traditional Conservative heartland.
Already George Osborne’s Budget speech comments have provoked a furious reaction from charities and campaign groups. This weekend many leading figures from the green and countryside lobby expressed their dismay at the Government’s handbrake turn on environment policy — from pre-election boast of “the greenest Government ever” to environmentalist taunting champion of business as usual.
In a joint letter to The Observer the directors of RSPB, CPRE, Greenpeace and the Wildlife Trusts (the latter alone sitting on top of a membership of 800,000) accuse the Chancellor of “continuing an out of date approach that cast regulations as enemies”. They question the old thinking that the environment is an obstacle to economic productivity, arguing instead that is in fact the very basis of it. Meanwhile, a second eminent group — Jonathon Porritt, Caroline Lucas and Tasmin Osmond (Save England’s Forests) among them — were shocked that “Osborne has proclaimed that protecting the environment is against the public interest, something no senior politician has done in recent times”.
The Chancellor has gambled on using the veil of another recession as cover for ushering in blatantly anti-environmentalist policy. But the reaction this weekend suggests he may have badly miscalculated. As both sets of green leaders have said, it is an economic and an environmental imperative to recognise the concept of natural capital. Justifying regressive policy as ‘real world’ politics just won’t wash.
By Jim Manson
Natural Products editor and environment journalist
Jim Manson is editor of Natural Products magazine. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian and Time Out.