I used to have a rather childish (though intentionally time-consuming) habit when on long, boring road journeys of inventing the combination of words behind acronyms of obscure businesses passing by the window. It goes without saying that each had to consist of ‘rude words’ or at least silly mixtures that made no sense; in most cases, I’d have no idea what the real words were, but I knew they would seem extremely dull by comparison. For example, LTN might stand for Lesbians Terrify Nonces – when in actual fact it stands for Low Traffic Neighbourhood. I know which I prefer, but then I’m not possessed by misguided righteousness that says placing roadblocks in residential areas to effectively outlaw the internal combustion engine there will somehow save the planet. The green lobby has been instrumental in the giving over of sections of the queen’s highway to those genial and generous road-users known as cyclists, though its enthusiastic endorsement of public transport has been somewhat hampered by the relentless reduction of bus services, not to mention the astronomical price of train fares. The Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme is its latest brainwave, even if – as ever – those who suffer most at its hands are those for whom the motorcar is not a luxury item but a livelihood.
Certain neighbourhoods in London – not the wealthiest ones, by pure coincidence – have been subjected to the LTN treatment and the measures have begun to encroach into other big cities of late. LTN is largely imposed upon the people who live in these locations without prior consultation and redirects traffic back onto the main thoroughfares, leading to increased congestion and consequently more air pollution as vehicles pump out their poison in gridlocked queues that extend the rush hour and make the lives of motorists as miserable as those of pedestrians. A street subjected to LTN makes getting in and out especially difficult for car-owners who live there as well as small businesses whose premises are essentially on wheels; it can also severely impede the rapid response of the emergency services, with ambulances confronted by a sudden roadblock forced to find an alternative route; it can then literally be the difference between life and death. In short, it is the little people who are being punished for the crimes of corporations and conglomerates; those whose vehicles are vital to their survival are not responsible for climate change, yet the vehicle in its extortionate electric incarnation is only within the price range of those who don’t rely upon it to make a living.
At a time when small businesses are struggling enough as it is for obvious reasons, the kind of wet dream Caroline Lucas must wake-up from every morning is not necessarily what most people have been waiting for this Government to promote with a fanfare; but that’s what has happened this week. The unveiling of a 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ – basically a bit of environmentally-friendly recycling of a discarded policy found at the back of Gordon Brown’s old Downing Street desk – couldn’t have been more ill-timed. Like the LTN schemes, Boris’s ‘Net Zero’ agenda is something that will be given the green light (pardon the pun) without the need to consult those whose lives it will most impact upon. And, needless to say, those whose lives it will most impact upon probably aren’t known for their handsome donations to the Conservative Party coffers.
It seems when the dust has settled on the economic apocalypse that has already begun, the only companies left standing will be the corporate behemoths, reducing the free market to an exclusive private members’ club; maybe it always has been, though it used to be sold (certainly back in the Thatcher era) as something that would open doors to wannabe entrepreneurs and any aspirational sort with a bit of ambition. But cynically adopting fashionable causes is now second nature for our corporate overlords, whether plastering the rainbow flag on their logos or showing ‘solidarity’ with BLM, so as long as they sing from the same green hymn-sheet, we can all clap for corporations. The fact that the kind of green policies usually advocated by opportunistic administrations are ones that tend to benefit a small and already affluent minority at the expense of the rest is something that either eludes its advocates or simply exposes their absolute disregard for the potential losers. After all, how many times do we have to be lectured on the evils of air pollution by jet-setting celebrities to realise how the general approach to environmental issues chiefly consists of the haves telling the have-nots to do as they say and not as they do?
A pushy salesman from British Gas turned up at my door a few weeks back, informing me a smart meter will be installed; I never requested one beforehand or was given the impression there and then that I had a choice, though a swift phone-call to the landlord informed me it wasn’t compulsory; I could contact British Gas and let them know I was content with the current arrangement and didn’t desire a replacement. As things stand, I take my own meter readings; I’ve had enough dubious estimated readings (and suspiciously high bills) from energy suppliers in the past to be sceptical when it comes to any allegedly foolproof upgrades in which I have no participation. But at least I had the option to cancel, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent to me. Replacing domestic boilers with expensive ‘heat pumps’ and phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles – all of which form part of Boris’s (or Carrie’s?) green revolution – will not require consulting those affected; the plan can simply go ahead free from any democratic process.
Then again, it’ll probably never happen. We’ve had a green revolution from every government of every colour for the past 20-odd years, with cheerleaders of the calibre of Peter Mandelson, Ed Miliband and Chris Huhne paying the same old lip-service to the green lobby and provoking sublime indifference in the electorate. None of it amounted to much – and, of course, who can forget David Cameron coming over all Lawrence of Antarctica with the huskies? Perhaps that image above all others emphasised the style-over-substance nature of what is usually proposed. At the same time, the fact Boris chose to announce this exciting news – with the potential beneficiaries minimal and predictable – in the middle of an economic meltdown perhaps underlines once again just how much the majority matter to the powers-that-be. Why on earth would anyone beyond the green obsessives and the Church of St Greta greet such an announcement with anything other than ‘Oh, not now’?
When electricity pylons first appeared on the landscape, I’ve no doubt many bemoaned them as ugly blots that despoiled the scenic appeal of the rural vista. Today, they’re so obligatory it’s difficult to imagine the landscape without them; the still-surreal spectacle of wind-farms provoke a similar response in the here and now to the one pylons once did, though I’m rather fond of the abstract apparitions and feel they blend in sympathetically when it comes to marriages between nature and technology. Whether they serve any purpose other than conveniently ticking a green box is another matter; ditto solar panels on rooftops. Yes, there are undoubtedly too many vehicles on the road today, though redirecting traffic down increasingly fruitless routes has been a central feature of urban redevelopment ever since the doomed designs for towns mapped out in the 1960s. There should be a way to balance the needs of those for whom the motorcar is a tool of their trade with improving the environment. I’ve a feeling this latest one isn’t it.
© The Editor