Explain why the Environment is such a discursive subject

It is a fact that the planets weather is becoming more erratic, and ultimately warmer. The causes of the changes to our weather system are undeniable, but the real debate is if they are entirely man made. Evidence of carbon emissions increasing is available, but there is no “smoking gun” that categorically proves that the two are linked (sceptical science website – accessed 20/04/11). Until this can be proved beyond doubt one way or the other, people will disagree on mans impact on the earth.
Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century there has been a growing concern on the impact of economic development in nature (Moran, 2005, p338). Different individuals and different political parties will have differing views on the impact and relevance of environmental issues in the modern political world. Despite the awareness of the issue, environmental issues would not enter mainstream politics until the 1960’s. Previously there was little thought given to the natural resources consumed by man, but in the modern world their finite nature has been realised (Bentley, 2006, p137).
By the late 1980’s all mainstream political parties would have adopted and developed their own environmental agendas (ibid, p138). Pressure groups such as Greenpeace, the CND, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund were campaigning in the UK and around the world during the 70’s and 80’s in order to bring the environmental agenda to the political forefront. But it was not just pressure groups bringing environmentalism to the political landscape, but also a whole new political party.

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The Green party was started in 1985 with the aim of moving politics away from what it felt was the continued pursuit of economic growth and focusing more on clean sustainable living (Moran, 2005, p338). The Green party has continued to rise since it’s inception. The party currently has 109 elected local councillors, 2 European MP’s and in the May 2010 election gained their first seat in the Westminster when party leader Caroline Lucas won Brighton and Hove (Green Party Website – accessed 20/04/2011).
With the Green parties growing influence in British Politics, the real threat of global warming, a globalized economy and the existence of more and more pressure groups, we can be assured that the environmental agenda will remain in British Politics for many years to come. There are many examples of environmental campaigns that have already been and gone and the results of which can still be seen today. In 1982 and Englishman named Des Wilson began a campaign called CLEAR, with the aim of reducing the impact of lead pollution from petrol.
Lead pollution was known to have serious impact on the health of young children, as well as the environment as a whole. Fortunately for the members of CLEAR, the campaign had already begun to reduce lead pollution in the UK. These campaigns had support in some very influential places. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution had already stated its desires for lead free petrol, and the German government had been appealing to the rest of Europe over the danger to German and other European forests.
A European Union directive shortly followed and the majority of Western states installed lead-free petrol in their petrol stations by the end of 1983 (Leach, 2006, p423). In 1972 International think tank “the club of Rome” published a book called “The Limits of Growth”, and warned that the existing economic growth was putting a serious strain on Earths natural resources and warned of an impending catastrophe for mankind.
Awareness of environmental issues was growing in Britain too, with the National Trust, the Council for Protection of Rural England and the RSPB some of the long standing organisation’s joining the environmental campaign. Also, newer groups such as Transport 2000 and the Centre for Alternative Technology sprung up and joined many UK affected and/or based campaigns (Leach, 2005, p424). There is little doubt that the campaigns of these pressure groups helped to bring the environmental agenda to the forefront of British Politics.
Environmental issues will affect all other policy areas of political parties and governments in a way that few other issues can. As stated previously with the CLEAR campaign, the effect of placing lead free petrol on the petrol station forecourt would of been non-existent had the lead-free petrol been twice the price of leaded fuel. As such, the British government encouraged the switch by placing reduced taxes on unleaded petrol, so the impact of making the environmentally conscious policy affected taxation in 1983 (ibid, p423).
Any new development of roads, rail track or real estate will need to go through certain environmental checks prior to any planning permission being granted. An excellent example from recent times of environmental issues affecting a political decision relates to the planning permissions of the new Olympic Games site in Stratford. As part of the process for obtaining planning permission, the Olympic Delivery Authority produced a 40 page Environment statement on how they planned to maintain the sites wildlife before, during and after the Olympic Games (London 2012 website – accessed 20/04/11).
Rather then possibly serving as a hindrance to the project, the environmental impact and sustainability became a key component of what the project wished to achieve. This is clears evidence that environmental issues are so ingrained in political thought that they are no longer considered as an after thought. This is, in my opinion, a clear indication of how the early environmental lobbyists were successful in their pursuit to bring environmentalism to the mainstream political agenda. International agreements on environmental issues will also affect the thinking of a governing political organisation.
In 1997 186 states agreed on limits to their carbon emissions. The aim was to reduce the carbon emissions of signed countries to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. Although initially successful (the 2002 targets set out by the agreement were met) the problems with the Kyoto began when the US withdrew from the agreement in 2001. Although President Clinton had agreed to the treaty in ’97, there were serious issues getting it through the senate, and in 2001 President Bush pulled the US out of Kyoto declaring that it would gravely damage the US economy.
The principal of the agreement on Kyoto would see states given a set quota of emissions each year, and these limits they would be allowed to trade off against one another. This would see high emission nations such as the US buy unused credits off of less polluting countries such as The Netherlands. Nations could also earn extra credits by getting involved in environmental conservation works in their own country or in a developing nation (BBC website accessed 19/04/2011).
Kyoto would ultimately fail because the principal of trading emissions quotas would be unsustainable, and no significant reductions in emissions were achieved though the life of the treaty. The last attempt to broker an agreement in the international community was in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. As John Vidal wrote in the Guardian “The so-called Copenhagen accord “recognises” the scientific case for keeping temperature rises to no more than 2C but does not contain commitments to emissions reductions to achieve that goal”.
After the conference, G77 executive director Lumumba Di-Aping described the deal as having “the lowest level of ambition you can get”, and John Sauven of Greenpeace UK described Copenhagen as a “crime scene” (Guardian Website, accessed 19/04/11). The simple truth is that environmental issues are here to stay. The early work of environmental pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace has clearly had an effect on modern political thought. Every political party will have an environmental policy outlined in its pre-election manifesto as well as in the policy section of its website.
As we saw with the Olympic Stadium, the environmental impact of the construction process and post games legacy was a major factor when the whole project was outlined. Environmentalism in politics is here to stay. Major international agreements may fail like Kyoto, or fail to even appear as was the case with Copenhagen, but the pressure groups are growing is strength and influence, and any move by the political system to remove environmentalism will be met with strong opposition and serious repercussions.

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