I vowed I would keep politics out of My Eco Pledge, and make sure My Eco Pledge keeps a steady focus on environmental concerns, but sometimes the two are so deeply entwined that it’s impossible. The environmental is political.
Today’s Observer carries the story that Ministers are blocking plans to ban the burning of peatlands. DEFRA, it appears, could use its powers immediately to ban October’s scheduled environmental destruction, but it seems that the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, is standing in the way. He’ll have plenty of support for his stance from his Cabinet colleagues: the owners of the grouse moors are among the most important Tory Party donors. Why else would grouse shoots be exempt from the new ‘rule of six’?
It’s frightening, really, how brazenly the Government is acting in support of its own interests, and how we are all, in our failure to hold them to account, complicit in their actions. Are we being apathetic or just bewildered? What is a stake here?
Firstly, the peatlands themselves, and the CO2 sequestered within them. Like coal and oil, peat is the result of millennia of plant decomposition. Extremely slow-forming, our peatlands began to form after the ice age; over the past 10,000 years, UK peatlands have sequestered 5,500,000,000 tonnes of CO2 and are now estimated to store 3.2 billion tonnes of CO2. This makes peatland a more effective store of carbon than even our forests and grasslands. When peat is disturbed and dried in any way, this CO2 is released. Burning it is, of course, the fastest and most damaging form of release, and completely unnecessary.
Secondly at stake is any belief that our Government is going to behave responsibly in the climate crisis. It is increasingly hard (impossible?) to believe that they understand their responsibilities when they are prepared to allow this autumn’s burn to proceed unchecked simply because it suits the wallets and pass-times of their friends and allies. It is clear that members of the Government did not seek their positions of responsibility out of any sense of civic duty. Just in case any doubt remains.
Thirdly at stake is our hope that even this Government would have sufficient shame to make at least some effort to hide their cronyism. The fact that their decisions in all areas are growing increasingly outrageous and shameless suggests increasing confidence, and arrogance. Their hubris shows that they have no fear of the electorate; they don’t think they’ll be held to account through the term of this Parliament, which right now feels like a very long time.
Time is the one thing we do not have. We know the urgency of the crisis. As we watch the earth burn to death on our TV screens each night, we have to turn our minds to what we can do. We need to act now to show them we’ll stand up for the future of our earth. We are not powerless and we must not be complicit.
The burn is due to start on October 1st this year. The time to act and protest is short; less than two weeks. Is there a glimmer of hope that we can succeed? Well, our Government is somewhat renowned for its u-turns under the weight of public opinion, but can we persuade them to flush their vested interests down the u-bend? We have only days to prevent this disastrous release of carbon adding to the horrors of the fires in the US and Brazil.
If we write to our MPs, look for online petitions, follow #bantheburn, make our feelings very clear to George Eustice and share this blog with your friends, we might just win this. Imagine we do. It would be a CO2 saving above anything else we do this year.