Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Government should take the choice out of sustainability

Social Forum Wales 2006 took place in Aberystwyth over the weekend with lots of workshops, seminars and films and music. In the workshop on climate change the Low Carbon Kid asked the panel what they thought it would take to provide a tipping point for behaviour change so that the whole country takes the real measures necessary to combat climate change?

Two answers were forthcoming: either strong leadership from government or a series of crises such as floods, power cuts, high energy prices.

This conclusion is echoed in the new report from the sustainable consumption roundtable which says that government must make it a lot easier for individuals to take the action they need to take. At the moment it is just too confusing and too difficult and most people can't be bothered or remain ignorant.

It's ridiculous to expect people to work out the life cycle analysis of a range of washing machines before choosing one, the ecological footprint of a computer, or to know if a shoe manufacturer exploits children in Thailand, or to find out how to carbon neutralise their holiday.

It should be done for them!

According to the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable, consumers need to be able to buy green products and services as second nature. Government and business must take radical action to help people tackle climate change and environmental problems, and get damaging products out of the shops.

As they say, "To see real improvements, the deadlock must be broken."

“The Government has got to stop relying on information leaflets and hoping for the best - and start working with businesses and NGOs to get practical measures into people’s lives.” - Alan Knight, co-chair of the Roundtable

According to the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable report – I will if you will – Government should:

• Unite with business to get the most damaging products out of the shops, and replace them with environmental products, e.g.
- TV and set-top boxes which use massively less power when on standby
- Affordable hybrid cars
- Alternative fish species to Britain’s much-loved, but hugely over-fished, cod

• Give consumers up-to-date energy information, so they can manage their energy use, by getting smart meters into every home by 2012

• Take the lead and make all schools and hospitals carbon-neutral by 2015

• Automatically give travellers the option to carbon offset their flights, to demonstrate the environmental impact of flying

• Develop a working economic model to track the links between national income, consumption growth and resources, by 2008.

So it's either this - or more crisis management?

Probably the latter. The response from Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett to the report was merely to "promise the government would take a lead in helping consumers make choices which are more sustainable".

This is simply an abnegation of responsibility. Government should lead. It's instead confused by its oft-repeated mantra of choice.

Too often we hear about 'empowering choice' when all we actually want are decent services everywhere - like schools, healthcare etc.

In this case, we don't want choice either - we want sustainability built into everything, so we don't even have to trouble our little heads with it, and the Low Carbon Kid can give up writing this column and go and do something fun.

That's what I'd choose.

Full Report of the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable

» I will if you will - Towards sustainable consumption

Summary Booklet

» I will if you will - A summary

» Full press release.

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