One of the most effective tactics of opposition parties against the government has been to weaponise concerns over the environment. With an increasing majority of voters concerned about the climate emergency, the opening of new coal mines, sewage spills, and fracking have all become easy targets for criticism.
Local moves against green power
Despite this, many of these same progressive politicians have failed to match their local actions to their national rhetoric, particularly often opposing green power developments in their own constituencies. While it is easy for an MP to tweet about rising global temperatures, it is harder to face constituents objecting about a new green development.
These have come from politicians of all parties.
In November, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran expressed concern about a solar farm in her constituency which could power 300,000 homes. While recognising the importance of renewable energy, she noted that “it is also important that the impact of any new solar plant on the green belt must be considered”.
This supposed impact is minimal. The farm, like all solar farms, is only a temporary project, returning the site back to agricultural use in 35 to 40 years. The carefully designed proposal by Photovolt Development Partners includes buffer zones from existing woodland, the planting of new trees, and continued use of the land for grazing during the project.
Resistance to renewable energy has also extended to Yorkshire, where newly-elected Wakefield MP Simon Lightwood has joined residents in opposing a solar farm which would generate power for 14,900 homes in his constituency over fears that it would “destroy the heart of community”.
The site, located on ‘grade 3’ moderate agricultural land, will result in a net gain of both biodiversity and woodland. Indeed, many of the community’s objections have focused more on the impact on local footpaths and the area’s natural beauty, rather than on objective environmental harm.
Similarly, earlier in the year a Green councillor, Rick Wilson, unseated a Conservative on a mandate to oppose a local solar farm, which was once again on mid-tier ‘grade 3’ land. In the aftermath of his election, Cllr. Wilson complained that “It’s going to envelop the area. Where I live, it almost circles the village and it is just going to be overwhelming.”
NIMBYism on climate emergency
This dichotomy reveals an apparent split in the environmental coalition. While many voters are willing to accept the reality of the climate emergency, fewer are willing to sacrifice the character of their local area to combat it.
Worse still, many campaigners have co-opted the language of the climate emergency to oppose local developments which are both essential to improving people’s lives, and which also help create a greener Britain.
This can go to such extreme lengths as local campaigners against a new brownfield housing development in the London borough of Haringey on the basis of it being “bad for climate change, wildlife and air quality”. These campaigners included local Labour councillor and self-described socialist Tammy Hymas.
The development in question is “close to net-zero carbon”, increasing local tree cover by 157%, while offering over half of its dwellings as affordable homes. Any environmental concerns are but a fig-leaf for naked NIMBYism.
Progressives against climate action?
This is an increasing trend, combining the long-running anti-development streak in many areas’ local politics with the trendier coating of environmental campaigning. Cutting down a handful of trees has now become a matter of saving the polar bears. Middle class homeowners protecting their views have cast themselves as the British Greta Thunbergs.
Any attempt to deliver a net zero economy has to involve building. Huge renewable farms need to be built to allow existing power stations to shut down. Expansive public transport projects need to be installed to offer a fast and affordable alternative to car travel. And existing uninsulated homes need to be both retrofitted and replaced with millions of energy-efficient dwellings.
Ironically, it is not ‘progressives’, but the Conservatives who are acting to allow this building, with former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke mobilising a rebellion to force the government to end the ban on construction of onshore wind farms. Neither Layla Moran, Simon Lightwood, nor Rick Wilson have commented about this since it occurred.
If progressive politicians are serious about tackling the climate emergency, then they need to have tough conversations with their constituents who are standing in the way of this change. Anything else will only make these changes more difficult.