Free market innovation will keep the UK green, not left-wing environmentalists

Published by freemarketconservatives on

BY MADSEN PIRIE

It is somewhat surprising that many environmentalist lobby groups have systematically opposed some of the developments that could achieve their objectives. It could be that scare stories sell subscriptions and donations, whereas progress towards objectives does not.

Many opposed nuclear power, and some still do, although it is a source of energy that is fairly environmentally friendly, putting out no greenhouse gases and consuming no fossil fuels. Gas yielded by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is relatively clean compared to coal and oil, and could be a useful intermediate energy source to enable coal and oil power stations to be closed until renewables such as wind and solar take over. Genetic modification could enable crops to be self-fertilizing and pest-resistant, removing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides to be spread onto land and to leach into the environment. They could enable drought and saline resistant crops to be grown on otherwise unproductive land, reducing pressure on rainforest land.

Despite these advantages, many environmentalists have peddled scare stories about radioactive wastes, earthquakes and ‘Frankenstein foods’ to oppose these technologies. They even duped Prince Charles into warning that nanotechnology could envelop the planet in a ‘grey goo.’ In fact, these and other technologies could enable the UK to green itself faster than most other countries.

Cultured meats and vertical hydroponic farming could release land for reforestation. At the last election, the parties encouragingly tried to outbid each other on the number of millions of trees they promised to plant. This takes time, but the process could be speeded if substantial prizes were offered for the development of varieties genetically modified to be fast-growing, reaching maturity in perhaps 6 years instead of 50, and drawing more carbon from the atmosphere.

Only 13 per cent of the UK’s land is tree-covered, compared with an EU average of 35 per cent. In England it is only 10 per cent. Although government has commendably funded the planting of 15 million trees in the past 8 years, it could instigate far more by suitable incentives. Some 30 per cent of UK woodland is publicly owned, compared to the 70 per cent that is owned privately, and together they provide only 10 per cent of the timber used annually in the UK. Clearly there is an economic case for reforestation, as well as an environmental one.

The development of genetically modified trees, together with incentives for planting, could see the UK triple its tree cover within two or three decades, making a substantial contribution to carbon neutrality. Britain could become the “Green Island,” setting an example to the world, and assisting other countries to follow its lead.

Dr Madsen Pirie is President of the Adam Smith Institute and author of “Britain and the World in 2050.”


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