Lat week the British government, love them, announced they would ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. On the face of it, that could be the most important headline around the environment in decades. And so it is. A very important headline.
I’ll just make two observations:
First – it’s obviously total bollocks. It’s hard to imagine a more cynical measure intended to deflect the public’s attention from the authorities’ abandonment of every green promise they have ever made.
For starters, the announcement was made in the same week the UK government failed, once again to meet its EU targets on pollution. Funny; no headlines about that.
And it comes a week after the same government cancelled the electrification of three rail lines – so the trains in large parts of Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District will be running not on electricity but, taste the irony, on diesel.
But for the real story of our green government you have to look at pricing. That’s where – through duty and tax – government has the biggest direct influence. Over recent years people have been priced out of public transport and back into their cars.
According to Caroline Lucas (Green Party) writing in The Guardian: To get a real sense of the transport priorities of recent governments it’s worth considering how the cost of getting around has changed. While the real price of travelling by car has plummeted by 16% since 1997, train fares are up 23%, and coaches and buses up 33%. Shockingly, the real cost of domestic flights dropped 16% between 2010 and 2015 too.
So far, so predictably short-term and manipulative.It’s entirely predictable.
Second – it’s an interesting example of what behavioural economists talk about as the immediacy effect or temporal discounting. When the argument for greener energy was focused on climate change – an idea so ‘long-term’ in nature most of us will be dead before it’s really important – the policy response was negligible. There are no votes in a policy that will be hugely important a hundred years from now. But now we’re talking about pollution today, here and now in our cities, that’s a different matter. There could be votes in clean air today where there were none in saving the planet next century.
So we may get some more telling headlines. Who knows, one day we may even get some policies. But we’re still doomed.