Cars for the rich only

Three ‘Green Tories’ hold Greenpeace-protest style placards. The placards read: “Cars for the rich only”; “No foreign travel for the poor” and “It’s holidays in Blackpool for you, Johnny Pleb”. Sadly, it’s not a photo from a recent Conservative Party planning meeting or press conference but a cartoon from last week’s Private Eye. A fourth man in the cartoon says: “Um… perhaps we need to stress the Green a little more and the Tory a little less.” Perhaps indeed.

This week green issues were once again highlighted in the media. From a Mirror map exposing the seemingly excessive air-miles covered by ministers, politicians and their assistants to the Mothers’ Union issuing a commandment to reduce air travel, everyone is jumping onto the Green bandwagon (and by “bandwagon”, I mean bicycle, electric car, sustainable ox-wagon, ethical rickshaw or the endangered shanks pony). It used to be said that most environmentalists were like watermelons: ostensibly green, but beneath the surface lurked the red menace. Could it be that we need to change our metaphor? Are environmentalists these days more likely to be like a Smurf covered in moss? This seems appropriate after last week’s Tory tax commission findings.

The commission recommended £21 billion worth of tax-cuts. Proposed ways to make up for the loss in budget involved a significant number of increases in green-taxes. Christians rightly concerned with creation care and reducing global warming might welcome such a proposal as they have welcomed calls to change the world in many ways by using their buying power. This is all well and good. But I am nervous about consumer politics. As a Christian who believes we should all be making an effort, as part of living out our faith, to live more simply, I have reservations about any plan to save the world that relies on you staying or getting more engaged with consumer culture. I’m nervous of anything that inherently assumes that the more you spend the more good you can do. And be it Fair Trade or cutting down on carbon-intensive travel, I worry that if too much emphasis is placed on these personal spending based remedies, that we will think that that alone is enough, that we have done our bit. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that people should not have to exercise their will or conscience individually if they are supposed to be represented by a government.

Yes, people have an individual responsibility, but doesn’t it make more sense to legislate heavy penalties, stricter targets and more rigorous controls on power companies and stations so that less carbon is emitted in producing electricity than just telling us to turn off our lights? Wouldn’t it be smarter to legislate a target for mandatory carbon-neutral engines in all cars, planes and trains than telling us all to stay put and never venture further on this beautiful planet than where we can go by bike? And from a Christian perspective, are higher personal taxes that, according to the Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, would hit the poor hardest, really the answer?

It is easy for those who can afford them to welcome useful taxes and personal financial responsibilities for saving the world. It’s easy to say down with cheap holiday flights when you can afford the more expensive ones. And it is easy to believe that this is the best that we can do without harming corporations that have no qualms about harming us. But if we are willing to sacrifice the lives of untold numbers of people in wars to protect our democracy, shouldn’t it have the power to put people over profits? 

 

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2 Responses

  1. Nuclear powerplants, lots of them.

  2. Also, let them eat Dolphin!

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