Parliament is up for reform, says MP and environmentalist Zac Goldsmith. He tells Alex Blackburne about his mission to bring back both the British electorate’s sense of empowerment and the Conservative party’s historical conservationist instinct.
Whereas some of his colleagues might prefer to toe the party line, Zac Goldsmith certainly isn’t afraid to voice his opinion. In his four years as an MP, he has earned a reputation as being something of an outspoken rebel – perhaps a reflection of his former life as an environmental activist. The man himself insists he isn’t.
Looking around Portcullis House in Westminster, where our interview takes place, Goldsmith points out Conservative colleagues who he says would “naturally agree” with most of what he says. MP for Waveney Peter Aldous, who had walked past us a couple of minutes earlier, is an ardent champion of renewables; meanwhile on the next table is Laura Sandys, the green-minded South Thanet MP who is stepping down in 2015. “I’m not in a tiny minority. It may not be the noisiest majority, but I’m not on my own.”
For a man who not so long ago might have recoiled at the thought of even voting Tory, never mind representing them in parliament, Goldsmith is on a mission to help reclaim the party’s inner green. He says this was lost “sometime towards the end of Margaret Thatcher and during the time of her successors”, and subsequently adopted as an issue for the left wing. Alongside him is a network of like-minded conservatives, as well as the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) that his brother Ben chairs.
At a CEN launch event in February, education secretary Michael Gove revealed himself to be a “shy green”. But Goldsmith is much more vocal about his own environmentalism. As editor of the Ecologist magazine for nine years, he campaigned on issues as varied as nuclear power to marine protected areas. His transition into politics was a natural progression from his role as an activist journalist, he says: “Anyone who cares about anything is political, because politics impacts and is influenced by everything.”
But while politics may have always been his calling, his decision to stand for the Conservatives was not always set in stone. Goldsmith admits he has had – and still has – “a lot of issues” with the party and the conservative movement more generally, most notably the radical ‘neoconservatives’ with whom he says he “simply cannot relate to politically”. What drew him to the Tories, though, was what he calls the “traditional conservative approach” to dealing with problems like the environmental crisis.
“I don’t want to have a situation where we have an enormous, overwhelming, overpowering government”, he adds.
“I like the idea that people should be free to make choices, but I recognise at the same time that the market, left to itself without any kind of interference, is incapable of solving some of the biggest problems we face today. There is a balance there, but on balance, I think the conservative approach is the one that makes most sense.”
Goldsmith laments the fact the environment – a vote-winner at the last general election – has been overlooked by his party in recent years. But he is adamant that green issues are central to conservative thought. He describes society living within its ecological limits as an “obvious, mathematical observation”. And he speaks of a need to look after future generations, which he says is about stability, security and sovereignty. “I feel like in the panic of government, our leadership has lost sight of some of these issues… and I think that is a real shame.”
The Conservative party recently pledged that it would bring an end to onshore wind subsidies if it won the general election in 2015. In disagreement again, Goldsmith pulls no punches: “It just seems very odd to have that policy in relation to wind and then the exact opposite in relation to fracking, which is going to be far more politically contentious. Whatever people think of fracking, there are going to be movements up and down the country from all parties opposing endless fracking installations.
“It just seems a very odd, mixed up and interventionist approach from the government that speaks a very different language. It’s totally political but it’s wrong-headed in my view, and completely juvenile.”
Goldsmith’s environmental instinct is perhaps what has made him an ardent opponent of the possible third runway at Heathrow airport. The expansion would cut right into his Richmond Park and north Kingston constituency, and he has even threatened to stand down as an MP if the plans are approved by the government. That said, he remains confident that the project is “politically undeliverable” and says the answer to Britain’s airport capacity issues lies with better competition between airports and greater investment in surface transport links to each.
His passion for the environment is undeniable – but it is an issue of democracy in which he has invested much of his time in recent months, leading the recall bill campaign. If successful, constituents would have the ability to oust their MPs if they thought they weren’t up to the job, and replace them with someone from the same party. In a recent survey conducted by Blue & Green Tomorrow and Vote for Policies for The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014, 93% of the 6,999 respondents said such a policy would improve our democracy. Just 2% said it would worsen it. “I’m not surprised by that. I know there’s an appetite for this outside of parliament”, Goldsmith says.
Along with 15 parliamentary colleagues from across the political spectrum, he recently wrote to the Telegraph saying it was “time for parties to honour their promise in full” and for recall to be implemented properly. The recall of MPs bill was included in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, but among its proposals is the creation of a committee of MPs that would have final say – which Goldsmith says is not true recall.
“Parliament is up for reform. The problem is all three parties are deeply hostile to this, because if you’re in power, direct democracy of any sort becomes a nuisance. There’s this inherent fear of democracy, and I confront that almost every day. There’s this terror of what could happen and how it could go wrong, but actually, all the arguments that are used [against recall] are arguments against democracy. The campaign will succeed for sure; it’s just a matter of when.”
Properly implemented, recall would empower the British electorate, Goldsmith argues. Anything that can do this is welcome: “If people feel like they’re in control, they’re much less likely just to boycott elections and pull away”. He says that most of the reforms currently on offer serve only to empower political parties.
It is perhaps the notion of helping people feel in more control and better engaged with politics that led to him standing as an MP in the first place. Rebel or not, minority or majority, the UK’s political landscape would surely only benefit from having elected representatives with similar attributes. At a time of scripted politicians, Zac Goldsmith’s free-spoken approach is refreshing to say the least.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
What is going green?
Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.
The first step in going green
There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Making needed changes within the company
After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.
Reducing the common paper waste
Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.
Make money by spreading the word
Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.