Last Wednesday, a new face took residence of Number 10 Downing Street.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party and the new UK Prime Minister after Theresa May stood down two months ago. 150,000 Conservative Party members chose Johnson over Jeremy Hunt who was defeated with less than a third of the vote.
The new Conservative leader and Prime Minister also carried out a major reshuffle of his Cabinet, giving a number of prominent Brexiteers high-ranking roles within his Government. In comparison to the Government Theresa May had formed, there are a number of controversial changes right across the board. Not only that, this is arguably one of the least environmentally-conscious cabinets in recent history.
Sad to See Gove Go
Five words I thought I’d never think I’d say.
Part of Boris’ Cabinet reshuffle involved removing Michael Gove from his position as Environment Secretary and replacing him with Theresa Villiers. When Gove was announced as the Environment Secretary under Theresa May I was sceptical, but Gove appeared to be taking climate crisis and plastic pollution seriously. He’d overseen bans on microplastics and had only recently backed a deposit-return scheme that would give consumers somewhere to return plastic bottles for them to be recycled.
Even in the BBC’s War on Plastic he sounded genuine in his push to enforce a polluter pays principle that would see companies who produce or use plastic packaging be charged to ensure that the plastic waste was either recycled or disposed of much better.
The changes he was planning would have had very real and positive impacts on the climate and plastic crisis. Hopefully, the new Environment Secretary continues the good work that Gove carried out, but that doesn’t look likely…
An Anti-Environment Environment Secretary
With a man like Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, someone who has shown in recent years that he has no problem with blatantly lying and ignoring facts, it’s no surprise that his appointment for Environment Secretary has a poor voting record when it comes to environmental issues.
Johnson’s appointment, Theresa Villiers, is the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet and has held positions as Minister of State for Transport and Secretary of State to Northern Ireland more recently. She was also a prominent leave campaigner during the EU Referendum campaign.
Her voting record on environmental issues also isn’t particularly great. She has supported fracking, voted against subsidising renewable and low carbon technology and rejected or not shown up for a number of votes that would lead to more stringent limits on carbon emissions.
Theresa Villiers isn’t alone with her anti-environment views. Boris Johnson seems to have surrounded himself with peers who have no intention in tackling the climate crisis.
An Anti-Environment Cabinet
I singled out Theresa Villiers because the buck stops with her. She’s the UK Government’s Environment Secretary and has the most important role in leading the UK through the climate crisis and tackling other vitally important environmental issues like plastic pollution.
However, the climate crisis is ingrained in so many aspects of our daily lives that it needs to be considered in each of the other Cabinet positions.
Take, for example, the Transport Secretary. Transport is a huge contributor to the total UK carbon emissions and also plays a very key role in the extremely unhealthy air pollution that plagues our cities. Surely we need someone in that position who wants to encourage public transport and push for zero-emission vehicles on our roads?
Grant Shapps has been promoted to Transport Secretary. A man who has spent years campaigning for a third runway at Heathrow, voting against a majority of votes on cutting carbon emissions and refusing to slow or stop the excessive rises of train tickets, pricing many people out from commuting by train.
Another very important figure in the Johnson Cabinet with even more troubling environmental views is Sajid Javid – the man who is now UK Chancellor. It’s his job to decide where money from our taxes goes, which judging from his voting record won’t be going to combat the climate crisis.
The Desperate Need for Environmental Leadership
Yesterday was Earth’s Overshoot Day. The day where humanity’s demand on natural resources exceeds the amount that can be naturally regenerated over a year. There’s still 5 months of this year left. That’s the average for the entire planet as well – if you just consider the UK then that day was back in May.
What we need right now is a government that is serious about tackling the climate emergency. We need a government that can commit to achieving a carbon-neutral future before it’s too late. We urgently need action, yet we’re getting so little response. Europe has just experienced some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded, yet broken records appeared to be celebrated instead of treated as growing evidence of climate breakdown.
For the foreseeable future, however, we have a Conservative government that is doing absolutely nothing to even try and get us out of the climate crisis we currently find ourselves in. The primary focus is Brexit and unfortunately will continue to be until there is an outcome to that. In the meantime, we have to resist and pressure a government to taken a more environmentally-conscious approach to every decision made in Parliament.
So good luck, we’re all going to need it…