What I will do for the environment if elected

I’ve received the following standard petition, with the subject heading “What will you do for the environment if elected?”

Dear Dr Platt,

NB this email is sent when somebody in your constituency signs this petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/429/898/151/

The environmental threats we face will change life on Earth for millennia, and may leave our children and even ourselves struggling to survive as many already are elsewhere. These issues make others seem almost minor yet our MPs rarely refer to them let alone prioritise them as is urgently needed:

Loss of species and the habitats they depend upon: It is reasonable to consider that our fellow species have an intrinsic right not to be carelessly made extinct. Even from a selfishly anthropocentric perspective, a strong biodiverse natural world is vital to support the environmental services that we depend upon. It has become clear that the loss of even some obscure species can cause a domino effect resulting in dramatic environmental change. Consider corals that shelter the young fish that many fish stocks depend upon.

Climate Change: This issue is well covered by the media, and no-one serving the public has any excuse not to be familiar with it and determined to reassess all other policy in relation to it. It brings into question the GDP growth basis of policy, and suggests that we need to re-focus on less environmentally destructive values. We also need government to put policy and funding on a ‘war footing’ to de-carbonise our economy. This means abandoning the misplaced and backward looking support for fracking.

Agricultural soils: Tilling the soil, leaving it bare, and extracting organic materials in ever larger amounts (‘higher efficiency’) has dramatically degraded many farm soils. Mineral content has dropped by as much as, eg: 50% (for iron) over 60 years, which is reflected in the food produced and the fact that these soils only have 60 years of cropping left in them.

In the UK, that means losing the ability to feed ourselves – a dire security risk, in a world where international supplies will likely become severely restricted over the coming decades.

Elsewhere, where wilderness still exists, it will likely be destroyed in desperation as farm soils fail, exacerbating the other issues mentioned. Solutions to this are harder with such a large and expanding world human population, but include switching to perennial crops, intercropping, no-till, the returning of nutrients to close the cycle ( and change sewage as a problem into a solution), and a determined research push.

I would like to hear what you intend to do to address these issues urgently, and can promise that many will be watching as these disasters unfold (if not addressed), reflecting back on who did and didn’t do what. If you’re on the side of a genuinely safe, healthy and equitable future where these matters have been addressed seriously with the full force of the British state, then I wish you good luck on June 8th.

Sincerely,

My response was as follows

Thank you for your email. UKIP is committed to direct democracy and bottom-up politics, and it’s good to get interaction even from petition sites and even if I have to give the answer “yes and no”.

Care for our environment is absolutely, literally, vital. And that’s been something dear to me from an early age, ever since I started fishing as a young lad and spent many days in the country by canal, river, and lake, and grew concerned about pollution (and not just water pollution). And, growing up in what was then Preston North constituency, just off Lightfoot Lane, in the time of the Central Lancashire New Town, I became aware of the damage that can be done by development projects. How can I forget the campaign “Cows not Concrete for Cottam”?

So let’s consider your points one by one.

It is important to maintain biodiversity. Although I believe very strongly that mankind is more important than other life on earth (is that selfishly anthropocentric?) that’s because of the great value of individual human lives, not because other species are unimportant. We’ll never stop extinctions completely, of course, and there must have been uncountably many extinctions before mankind ever began to have a significant effect on Earth’s ecology – and lost habitats galore, too. I don’t think it makes sense to impute rights, intrinsic or otherwise, to species, however.

I must also disagree that Climate Change is well covered in the media. Far from it! At least, it is very poorly covered in mainstream media. Did you know, for example, that climate models that are used to influence political decisions, such as the disastrous Climate Change Act 2008, have been shown not to replicate real trends in climate (see, for example, here, https://youtu.be/6GzNATrGH7I?t=1h39m45s for evidence presented to parliament on this issue). Nonetheless, even though our economic activity is having very little effect on global climate, I think you are right that an almost exclusive emphasis on GDP is not healthy; I think it is not sustainable.

I’m afraid that “decarbonising” our economy is a terrible idea. We rely utterly on energy, and hydrocarbon fuels are currently the only practical and environmentally friendly source of such energy. (I think that will be the case until we have successfully met the fusion challenge.) For example, the Climate Change Act 2008 is extremely damaging to the lives of poorer people, raising fuel bills significantly, to energy security, and to the environment. Did you know, for example, that Britain’s biggest power station, Drax, now generates power mostly from wood pellets, a form of biomass, a development which is considered “decarbonisation” because of the relatively quick regrowth of trees (at least, on the geological time scale). Drax, which is built on top of a coal field, ships these pellets in from across the Atlantic. As an environmentalist, that doesn’t seem sensible to me. But the people at Drax are forced to do this by misguided legislation.

Our hydrocarbon resources are very important. Shale gas is the obvious example, and very important in Lancashire. There are good reasons for being concerned about fracking, in my view, but these are to do with infrastructure development and with the perceived risk of pollution. If these concerns can be overcome, we must exploit shale gas, for energy security and to provide the low-cost energy needed by families and the economy. I think Lancashire County Council approached this issue very well in its recent consideration of the planning application from Cuadrilla, balancing the need for a prompt answer with the need properly to consider the evidence received. They said: “Wait. We’re not sure yet.” The shale gas isn’t going away, and we should have taken longer to consider the environmental evidence, not just for Lancashire but for the sake of the whole country. I think that for the County Council’s decision to be overruled by the government in London should not be acceptable. The government’s response was unnecessarily gung-ho. And to add insult to injury, we in Lancashire now have to police the protests at Weeton out of our limited police budget.

UKIP would do things differently, balancing energy security with environmental protection and listening to local voices.

And food security is as important as energy security. It is difficult for a country like Britain to feed itself; we have a large population density and the least populated areas are in many cases not very productive. So we must take care of our farmers and fisherman, of our farming land and our fishing waters. These are serous issues, although I am not aware of evidence of the reduction in mineral content that you state – perhaps only because it is not my specialist field. Nonetheless, I agree that caring for the soil is very important, and support organic farming and buy organic produce where possible for that reason, and I agree that agricultural land ought not to be built upon, at least not for the kind of large-scale developments we see around Preston. This is UKIP policy, too. And, of course, once we are free of the EU and free of the damaging Common Agricultural and Fishing Policies, we can set our own sensible, environmentally friendly policies.

I’m sorry to send such a long reply. As you can see, environmental policy is something about which I care a great deal, but don’t often get the chance to talk about. Thank you.

People are welcome to contact me in this way; I’ll do my best to respond, whether or not I agree with the petitioners, and post my responses here, for all to see.

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Author: Simon Platt

UKIP candidate for Preston in the 2017 general election

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