Apr 20, 2008

Questions Raised By FT Editorial

We quote from yesterday's Editorial in the Financial Times, London

Remember the green old days? They seem like only last year. In fact they were only last year: according to one long-running opinion poll, concern for the environment among consumers reached a peak in January 2007. Since then it has all but disappeared.

It is not hard to see why. Those were the days when the formidably named duo of Gore and Stern were rewriting the politics of climate change. Sir Nicholas Stern (now Lord Stern) offered a heavyweight analysis of its economics. Former US vice-president Al Gore campaigned with his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, earning both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. Heady days indeed for environmentalism.

What a difference a year makes. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have taken Mr Gore’s place in the hearts of the Democratic faithful, while Britons look to the Treasury for a response to the credit squeeze, not a view on carbon emissions. Given the price of oil and petrol, energy security has replaced the environment as a key concern.

Hang on - can this be true? Are we not being told that we must rush to be a perfect model lest we suffer a consumer backlash in Europe (particularly the UK) where the environment is the most important issue in consumer and retailer minds? The FT seems to be challenging the assumption.

For the record, and lest the Greens etc. accuse use us of quoting some Tory rag just out to delay decisions or action the rest of the Editorial is a call to action

Interest in green issues will ebb and flow, but while climate change remains a threat, it will return to the agenda again and again.
That is why companies that have adopted green initiatives must stick to them for their own good. Consumers may have other worries right now but, when environmental concerns resurface, they will remember the companies that abandoned their principles. While consumers are fickle, companies cannot afford to be; life is unfair.
Of far more concern is the response of governments. Their whimsical changes of direction are worse than useless, achieving many of the economic costs of emissions regulation with few of the environmental benefits.
The UK government spews green-trimmed red tape while subsidising domestic fuel. The European situation is no better: the European Unions emissions trading scheme, which should have been a model of how to reduce emissions efficiently, has exemplified only confusion. As for the US, this week President George W. Bush effectively
kicked the post-Kyoto negotiations into touch by proposing an emissions target so timid and so distant as to be ridiculous. Nothing serious can now be achieved on climate change until his successor is in place.
None of this bodes well for the planet. Effective policy on climate change need not be draconian – indeed, it should not be – but it must be credible. In a world where politicians are even more whimsical than the electorate, that credibility will remain elusive.