I always thought Tony Blair was going to save the planet and I reckon in 1997 so did he – but we were both young and naive back then. I was reminded of this when my best mate came over from LA last week for a visit. He settled out there a few years ago after marrying a Californian girl (originally met her in a club in Dublin which I know is v.random!) and he remarked that he was originally looking forward to a bit of British weather but was shocked at the heat in London which he described as just like LA but without the air conditioning.
As we watched Tony Blair on Sky News desperately looking for a legacy on the international stage yet shunted to bit part player by the fiendish French in the Lebanese peace negotiations our conversation turned to Tony’s trip to LA to talk climate change with Arnie Schwarznegger. Don’t forget Ken Livingstone also announced plans to make London the greenest city in the world at a power charged meeting with Bill Clinton and the grandly named Clinton Climate Change Agency.
Britain is sweltering at the moment and despite all the big guys getting together to announce deals, the UK’s carbon emissions are up 3% since Blair was elected and London spews out more pollution than when Ken was elected in 2000.But despite his warm words poor old Blair wakes up in cold sweats over his mauling by the fuel protesters, which occurred at a time when he was actually still popular and this seems to colour his entire energy policy. It seems that a handful of right-wing farmers with tractors laying siege to power stations have totally neutered climate-change policy, frightening Labour from making the case that the solutions to global disaster will involve people paying more for their energy or using less.
There are however young pups who weren’t around at this time who are coming forward with schemes that might just save the world. Transport Minister Douglas Alexander is putting forward a bill to introduce charging on trunk roads all over the country, with a congestion-charging system for any city that wants one. The environment audit committee is calling on him to set a ?1,800 excise-duty differential between the most and least polluting cars. If the money raised is poured back into better public transport, this will shift more journeys from cars on to buses and trains.
David Miliband has one idea that could make most difference – a personal carbon-trading scheme. If all energy from gas and electricity at home, petrol in cars and air travel were apportioned fairly as a quota per head, people with above-average use would have to buy any extra they needed, while under-users sell their spare capacity. People would save points from car travel in order to take an extra flight, or turn down the heating to earn more petrol.
In the end fair rationing is the only way. Despite recent price rises, energy in Britain is almost the cheapest in the EU. Only huge energy taxes would change most people’s habits. But a system that allowed non-drivers (the poor) to sell their quota to gas-guzzlers and frequent flyers would be massively redistributive.
Hope for the future and redistributive, now that does remind me of 1997………
Mark Hanson is producer and presenter of weekly podcast ‘The Big Issue’