“Conservative instinct” is at the heart of environmental stewardship, the education secretary Michael Gove said in a speech at Westminster on Wednesday. Read the full text below.
I’d like to begin by saying a special word of thanks to Zac [Goldsmith, Conservative MP]. I knew Zac before he became a member of parliament, and I was one of a number of people who sought to persuade him that his formidable powers, his keen mind, but above all his high attachment to principles deserve to be put under country service in parliament. In doing so I think I may have ruined Zac’s life.
But I do know that the House of Commons and the people of Richmond have gained enormously. And I know one thing in particular: when Zac eventually accepted that perhaps he might dip his toe into parliamentary water, there were a number of constituencies that were beating a path to his door – many of them safe Conservative constituencies in beautiful parts of the country with very, very healthy majorities.
But Zac decided that rather than go to one of these lush, green safe seats, that he would fight the highly marginal seat of Richmond Park because that’s where home was. That’s where his heart was. That’s what he believed in. He decided to fight Richmond Park as a matter of principle.
That’s one of the reasons he was elected, one of the reasons why he is going to be re-elected with a large majority and one of the reasons why he’s such a fantastic asset for the House of Commons, because he’s someone who’s there because he believes in doing the right thing. He sets the standard of what backbenchers, indeed what politicians, should aspire to, so it’s hugely flattering that Zac invited me to speak today because I’m a huge and unreserved fan of his.
One of the other things which Zac scented about me is that he knew that I was one of those characters we call a ‘shy green’. We’re familiar with the concept of shy Tories – people who are naturally Conservative but don’t want to make a song and dance about it. One of the things that I’ve learnt throughout my life is that I’m an environmentalist but a lot of time I didn’t realise it.
I grew up in a part of the world, in Scotland, where natural beauty was part of my birth right. One of my greatest pleasures – for example, this weekend – is being able to travel back to the north-east of Scotland with my children to introduce them to the environment in which I grew up, and to give them an opportunity to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of that part of our country.
But I also grew up in Aberdeen with a father who was a fish merchant. His business depended on husbanding and preserving our stocks in the North Sea, and one of the reasons why I take the occasionally mildly sceptical view of the European Union that I do is that because I saw his livelihood – and the livelihood of many who depended on the husbanding of those stocks – affected by an approach towards our natural resources in the North Sea that was driven not by a proper desire to preserve, but by a bureaucratic approach which ultimately ended in impoverishing communities and depriving those seas of their natural richness.
One of the other reasons why I was a shy green is that one of my favourite subjects at school was English literature. And one of my favourite poets, Wordsworth, spoke to me as a teenager when he talked about the way in which nature refreshes the care of one’s spirit. And for all of us here, that’s true.
We all know that when we have that opportunity to be outdoors and to see natural beauty, we find that our own spirits are lifted and we recognise that we’re in the presence of a creation, Wordsworth believes, that renews ourselves from within. All of these things are part of me and I expect part of many of you, but one of the other things that’s part of all of you is being a conservative.
Being a conservative, you like me will want to pass on what we’ve inherited to the next generation. I think in education it’s important that I pass onto the next generation the best that’s been thought and written.
I think it’s important to pass onto the next generation an economy that’s sound and works rather than one that saddled by debt – which is why that the work that George [Osborne] has been leading the Treasury in order to repair our finances is, in the best sense of the word, a work of renewal and of nurture and reuse.
But we also want to pass onto the next generation the natural beauty that all of us have enjoyed – the diversity of creation that has flourished in these islands – and we wanted to make sure that this is properly valued and available to future generations in the way that it was been available to us.
But in saying conservatives naturally believe in inheritance and in passing on intact or if possible enhanced what we’ve inherited, conservatives tend […] to be a wee bit shy about some of these things. In the same way the English don’t like talking about religion, conservatives often don’t like talking about their own passions. Conservatives are big hearted but they don’t want to wear their heart on their sleeve.
Conservatives have, as the prime minister put it earlier in the House of Commons today, walked the walk without talking the talk. As Zac pointed out, Anthony Eden, Disraeli – Conservative prime ministers have been responsible for ground-breaking environmental legislation. Margaret Thatcher, the godmother, as it were, of modern environmentalism, was responsible for making clear, as Zac said, that we have a full repairing lease on this planet – not a freehold that allows us to do what we will.
That sentiment, I think, is at the heart of many of the things that we’ve done in this government, which is we haven’t celebrated or shouted about enough.
The work that Greg Barker has done at [the Department of Energy and Climate Change], to my mind, has harnessed not just a conservative respect for the environment, but a belief that it is through innovation and entrepreneurialism that we will unleash the technological change required in order to enhance our environment and to provide green jobs.
It has been the case that Caroline Spelman and Richard Benyon when they were at [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] initiated the approach towards valuing the environment through the concept of natural capital that Owen [Paterson] and George Eustace have taken on, which ensures that we recognise the economic value of the beauty and the richness of our cultivated environment.
And it all says, and it can’t be stressed often enough, that the leadership that David Cameron has shown throughout his premiership, has ensured that people appreciate that conservative commitment to ensuring that we change the way in which we value energy, ensuring that we change the way in which we celebrate beauty, ensuring that we recognise the value of what we have around us as being at the heart of thinking in many departments, including my own.
Zac was very generous about what we’ve done at the Department for Education. And one of the things that I just wanted to underline is that there is a big agenda in seeking to improve our education system and to change our schools. We want to get children to not only read and write, but also appreciate the value and the beauty of the environment around them.
That’s why we’ve change our science curriculum so that natural history is at its heart. That’s why the geography curriculum makes sure that people understand, map and spend time outdoors appreciate the natural environment.
That’s why also, as Zac said, we commissioned John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby from the Sustainable Restaurant Association to develop a school food challenge that made sure not just that all children have the chance to enjoy a nutritious meal in schools, but also that children appreciate where their food came from – the impact of the seasons and the vital importance of making sure that what we put on our plates is connected to the country in which we live and the world which we value.
All of these things come naturally to conservatives, because as this pamphlet makes clear, it’s conservative instinct – for example, over property rights – which safeguard the environment better than a bureaucratic or collectivist approach. It’s celebrating those people who live and work in the natural environment, like our farmers, which is central to making sure that the environment is stewarded totally – rather than always in the default mode, looking to bureaucrats and quangos to celebrate what is beautiful and right.
And above all, one of the reasons I’m so glad to be here is that, as many of you all know, the little platoons that start organisations, from the RSPB to the – in my constituency – Chobham Common Preservation Society, are natural conservatives. It seems to me that all those platoons there are part of an army that we should enlist to ensure that our country and our world is passed onto the next generation enhanced – that should be core to what we, as a Conservative party and a Conservative people, believe in.
With the launch of the Conservative Environment Network, I know that those willing volunteers will at last have an organisation to help shape and lead and inspire, which is why I’m so glad that this network has been launched today and so flattered to have been asked to come on board and talk.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
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.
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