As is now traditional, I end the year with a word cloud based on the posts I’ve written over the past 12 months. Comparing it to 2016’s word cloud I see that “see” is still prominent but that the word “diatoms” is now larger than “algae” whilst “desmid” also makes an appearance on the left-hand side. “Brexit”, despite occupying much of my thoughts, does not merit an appearance.
I am no more optimistic as 2017 closes than I was at the end of 2016. The Government still has no clear vision for life outside the European Union and the impact on the economy is still uncertain (see note at the end). There are a few shafts of light: I was pleased to see, for example, that Michael Gove was prepared to consider a new environmental regulator wholly independent of government (“OfEnv”, as some have termed it), responding to genuine concerns raised by Caroline Lucas and others (see “(In)competent authority”). We will, however, have to wait to see how these fine words are translated into action, bearing in mind Michael Gove’s track record in other ministerial roles.
An “OfEnv” will have its work cut out. I suspect that one of the unintended consequences of Brexit is going to be a yet greater squeeze on public finances. This is because many issues whose budgets were, to some extent, ring-fenced in order to meet UK’s obligations to the EU will be less protected in our post-EU economy. Bearing in mind the huge political significance of health care and education and, in the case of the former, the increasing care needs of an aging population, every other sphere of government spending is going to be under intense scrutiny. At best, the environment is a mid-table concern in the eyes of politicians, which makes Government funding crucially dependent upon the state of the economy.
That’s ironic in the extreme because one of the most thought-provoking books I read this year was Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth (Random House). Her core argument is that an economic system focussed on growth is unsustainable for many reasons, one of which is the likely consequences for the environment. Yet environmental regulation is, at present, dependent upon tax revenues arising from the tired economic system that Kate Raworth decries. And the hiccups in economic growth from 2010 onwards have put enormous strains on the Environment Agency and other environmental regulators, though management is reluctant to admit this publicly. I suspect that the BBC’s self-satire “W1A” is very close to the mark for much of the public sector. Its catchphrase “more of less”* catches the dilemma faced by middle-managers who have bought into an illusion that a leaner, more efficient organisation has arisen from the self-examination that cuts have precipitated.
There are no easy answers. Long-term, I suspect that neither the EU nor a post-Brexit UK government will deliver a truly green future, for as long as both depend upon politicians needing to meet the material aspirations of their electorates. Wanting less is a good first step for each of us, as individuals, but such lines of thought are too far from the core business of this blog for me to venture. I’ll leave that with you as my personal New Year’s resolution and see you all in 2018.
* “To identify what the BBC does best and find more ways of doing less of it better”
A summary of Kate Raworth’s economic thinking can be found here:
I was pulled up by one reader for my pessimistic view of the economic prospects post-Brexit. I have, consequently, changed the wording to emphasise the uncertainty in all economic predictions. Three reports from responsible sources that offer perspectives on the post-Brxit economy are: Brexit and the economy one year on, Brexit: is the UK economy growing or slowing? and: UK economy in 2018: steady growth tempered by Brexit politics. My primary point – about the vulnerability of the budgets of environmental regulators – remains.