The subtitle to Pilita Clark’s excellent article (“Climate warriors”, Books Essay, FT Weekend, February 27) claims “global warming has made environmentalists of us all” and “debate still rages over what is the best solution”. The first is true only until we have to pay more, as evidenced by the UK fuel duty, frozen since 2011. On the second, there is near-unanimity — excepting Jonathan Franzen’s presumption of failure — that the goal is net-zero emissions, and that piecemeal policies or individual do-gooding are no substitute for effective, broad collective action such as carbon pricing. No serious expert would disagree with the usefulness of a rising carbon price. Yet policies for next year, rather than the next decade, are timid and inadequate, for fear of tabloid campaigns or gilets jaunes.
As Clark states, “more political will” is needed, and in a democracy this in turn needs the space created by more public acceptance of the necessary measures. But as fuel duty shows, our “environmentalism” is currently disconnected from an understanding of what is needed to realise it.
This apparent impasse is fixable, and government has the means to fix it. Governments have spent liberally informing us about the dangers of Covid-19 or Aids. Why should they not do so for the vastly greater threat of climate change? All preconditions are given: a real danger; the government in possession of better information than most of the population; and a debate which, left to itself, is regularly distorted by vested interests.
While no cure-all, a concerted communication/engagement campaign can only increase public understanding and acceptance of meaningful policies, and hence create more political space. Ministers’ current inaction is costing us dearly, by preventing more effective and cost-effective climate policies.
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