Struggling To Adapt
Why some attempts to halt climate change are failing.
There’s no doubting the increasing prominence of climate change in the public consciousness, particularly among young people.
Our government’s record on the environment rests mainly on unfunded aspirations and passing the buck to individual consumers; failing to link consumption patterns with climate change and being blind to the contradiction between environmental growth and sustainability.
This deficit of coherent national polices, and the unintended consequences of existing attempts to tackle the issue, are causing serious setbacks.
Companies from SMEs, to corporates, all too frequently pursue environmentally friendly initiatives in isolation, vainly seeking government leadership; if only to provide a level playing field for competition. (see the big supermarkets’ pleas for a coherent national recycling framework in HIP 118)
Both political parties’ adherence to light touch, i.e. ‘toothless’ legislation and permissive self-regulation, simply haven’t produced change quickly or radically enough.
The current administration makes much of supporting business, but is principally influenced by finance and the City, with little commercial or manufacturing expertise within its ministerial ranks. Two examples amply demonstrate this regulatory confusion:
Repurposing and reuse
Clearly, without a national government recycling strategy, the market alone cannot cope. Campaigners worldwide are focusing on the circular economy concept: designing systems to reduce the waste by reusing and purposing products. Tom Szaky, founder of US based TerraCycle, specialises in the recovery of ocean plastic and has a crisp packet recycling operation with Walkers in the UK.
“Everything in the world can be recycled,” says Mr Szaky, but cautions, “the value of garbage is far below the cost of recycling it.”
Governments could address this market imbalance through tougher legislation and committing funds to supporting emerging technologies, in the early stages. Companies will not invest in innovative remanufacture recyclable goods, without being assured of quality and quantity of materials.
Szaky adds: “It’s consumers who have the real power. When consumers make the right choices, producers and retailers will follow.”
Meanwhile there’s an emerging grassroots campaign in the EU and UK demanding a right to repair white goods. A series of proposals from European environment ministers, referring to lighting, televisions and domestic appliances, will, if passed into law, force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend.
Libby Peake from the think tank, Green Alliance, told the BBC:
“The new rules are a definite improvement. …they could have been better, but it’s good news that at last politicians are waking up to an issue that the public has recognised as a problem for a long time.”
In the US, a consumer backlash has prompted around 20 States to consider similar laws to tackle products which are unnecessarily sealed and don’t have spare parts, or repair instructions.
The British government has, so far, welcomed the new rules and would need to adopt them for UK firms, to export manufactured goods to Europe.
What happens after Brexit, is anyone’s guess. The EU has long been instrumental in pushing tardy UK governments towards tighter sustainability regulation. It is no secret many Brexit supporters view an exit as a way of avoiding ‘red tape’.
“Get rid of all the green crap,” as David Cameron, architect of the EU referendum (albeit it a remainer), so succinctly put it…
The government, smarting from a series of court defeats over air quality and Nox particulate, has been dragged kicking and screaming into placing limits on the production of diesel and petrol cars. Job done right? Hardly: the date set of 2040, is unambitious and existing cars will run on for anything up to another twenty years.
Worse, it doesn’t address the problem of buses and lorries; the largely unregulated railways and shipping industry use of the dirtiest combustible fuels; the ever-increasing number of flights and tax breaks on aviation fuel.
Getting out of town
In the clamour for electric and hybrid cars, no one gave much thought to battery recharging infrastructure. Just as one mobile phone charger cable doesn’t fit another, much the same is true of cars.
There are at least five different, privately developed charging networks, spread unevenly across the country. Consequently anyone travelling long distance, beyond the roughly 200 mile range of most electric cars, enters a lottery.
Will they find a charging point? Will it be working? Might someone be parking on the bay blocking its use? And remember, it takes far longer to fill a battery, than a tank. The large number of tourists visiting our town will find only five public charging points.
Strategic government would legislate to set charging standards, require compatibility and create a national network to address demand peaks and ensure remote rural areas don’t lose out. Instead ‘the market’ has been left to decide and the result is a mess, with increasing electric car sales likely to exacerbate the problem.
It pays to stay dirty
Surely increased diesel fuel prices, tax hikes and bad publicity, means sales of cars producing the most particulates are down? New cars, yes, but not used vehicles,
Ironically, secondhand diesel-powered cars are selling well, according to recent figures. “Generally, used-car buyers are far less concerned with (environmental) issues surrounding diesel than their new-car counterparts,” said Derren Martin, at CAP-HPI. “Fuel economy… mean(s) they continue to be an attractive proposition for many.”
“They’re hoping it will all go away but… an awful lot more needs to be done,” says Jenny Bates, from Friends of the Earth “(The government) are afraid of the motoring lobby.”
Central government’s desire to avoid political flak means most car pollution reduction initiatives are devolved to local and regional authorities.
London has led the way, with the new ultra low emission zone, beginning on April 8th 2019. Other cities, such as Bath, are set to follow. This is worthwhile, but no substitute for properly enforced national standards. Until then, you could try turning off your engine when stuck in a jam, or collecting the kids from school.
In a hole over landfill
As landfill decreases, the incineration of UK waste is rising, exacerbated by China and other countries’ ban on taking rubbish exported for recycling.
According to the ‘I’: “the number of incinerators used to burn rubbish is set to more than double within a decade… increase air pollution (and) exacerbate climate change.” Green Party MP Caroline Lucas says: “These figures are extremely concerning. Burning our rubbish marks a failure of policy and imagination on the part of the Government and local councils.”
Brighton and Hove Council is investigating claims that tonnes of rubbish meant for recycling, was burnt after Christmas, as a collection company struggled with increased volumes. According to driver Ken Quantick: “Suddenly they started telling my team of three workers to start dumping our recycling in general household waste, which is destined to be incinerated… they said our loads were listed as contaminated, but I’ve been working 14 years and this has never happened before.”
This has reportedly been spotted twice in St Leonards since Christmas. When questioned Kier, which collects recycling on behalf of Hastings District Council (HDC), responded:
“Over the festive period we made changes to our regular timetable, which the council communicated to residents in a number of ways. Unfortunately, if recycling is contaminated with non-recyclable waste we have to collect this in the refuse round. Whilst this is incredibly rare,
if residents are unsure if their waste is recyclable we urge them to visit the East Sussex Waste Partnership website for guidance.”
HDC stated: We have discussed this with senior management at Kier and they have assured us that they don’t put refuse in with the recycling unless it is badly contaminated with non-recyclable waste. However, we are aware of reports from members of the public about this happening, and our Waste and Cleansing Manager pursued the matter with Kier last week.”
Waste services in Hastings are changing from June 2019.
The contract with Kier ends, by mutual agreement, four years prematurely. Biffa will take over domestic waste and recycling collection and HDC will take over street cleaning, fly-tip removal and bulky waste collection.
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