The chancellor George Osborne is a dangerous man. A disciple of financial service deregulating and climate change denying ex-chancellor Lord Lawson, he delivered a budget statement on Wednesday as depressing as the Conservative Environment Network’s recent Responsibility & Resilience pamphlet was encouraging.
As we repeatedly explain, we hold no torch for a particular party, despite what our magazine’s name suggests. No, we are not the green wing of the blue Conservative party. The preservation of our precious blue and green planet is simply more important that the colours domestic parties wrap themselves in. There is no plan(et) B.
Our fundamental concern is whether a government’s programme of policies and budget decisions is sustainable or whether it is not. This budget was not.
Conservation and environmentalism, expressed rationally as sustainability – the triple bottom line, balancing the needs of planet, people and profit – is not ‘green crap’, nor is it the domain of socialist watermelons (green on the outside, red in the middle), semi-religious treehuggers or an ‘environmental Taliban’.
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It’s for the grown-ups, serious scientists, serious investors, serious institutions, serious corporations, serious policymakers or politicians and serious Conservatives.
We are not concerned about fiddling with alcohol duties (100 pints to save £1?) or the eclectic mix of tax rises and reductions on gambling. Bingo good, fixed odds betting bad.
If we need to discourage smoking with above inflation tax rises as it’s bad for our health, then we equally need to discourage non-essential flying and driving, as they are bad for our own and our planet’s health. Air pollution costs us £20 billion a year in health costs. Two-thirds of all car journeys are under five miles. You never really need to fly within the UK.
New ISAs, the abolition of the 10p tax on savers and a rise in premium bond caps to £500k are all sensible reforms. The pensions industry is unsustainable with an ageing population and in need of root and branch reform. Abolishing the requirement to buy an annuity might be good idea, or it may not, if unscrupulous organisations encourage the recently retired to enjoy some of the lump sum, regardless of future implications.
Tax on company-owned residential properties will go a tiny way to addressing the UK’s chronic housing issues, which has pushed the average age of a first time buyer to 37. Whether Help to Buy is a prudent policy or just creates another bubble has yet to play out in full.
Fifteen thousand new homes at Ebbsfleet, Kent, is not exactly a ‘city’. We need significantly more houses and a government courageous enough to create the economic and political conditions to make this happen.
£140m for flood defences is welcome if it really is new money, but undermined by capping the price of carbon for the next decade. A £50,000 energy bill saving for medium-sized business and £15 for households today will seem like a poor deal when the lights go out tomorrow and extreme weather events become even more extreme and common.
Every time Osborne speaks about supporting hydraulic fracturing or the oil and gas industry, we can only hold our heads in despair and shame. Someone who is so evidently anti-science and is willing to mortgage all of our children’s future for short-term political gain is unfit for high office.
‘Extracting every drop of oil we can’
Our chancellor cannot be bothered to read the excellent work by Carbon Tracker on unburnable carbon assets in the oil and gas industry. Our chancellor ignores the wave of fossil fuel divestment by investors, institutions and sovereign wealth funds. Our chancellor dismisses the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, ignoring the catastrophic effects to our national and energy security from our dependence on fossil fuels.
“Extracting every drop of oil we can” from the North Sea is just another way of saying “drill baby, drill”. We present George Osborne, the United Kingdom’s Sarah Palin and the world’s Nero.
This is a budget for energy-inefficient makers, climate change deniers and planet wreckers. Who could commend it to anyone?