Caroline Lucas

Opinion: As an environmentalist, why I can’t just endorse the Green Party

The leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett. Photo credit: Brainfloat via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

Political movements are changing and being shaped at a fast pace in the UK. Behind this movement is a growing dissatisfaction with mainstream political parties. This, in theory, is exciting for the evolving of politics—or it would have been if the two fastest growing parties weren’t so extreme, old fashioned and out of touch with today’s world. On the right, people are flocking to the extreme right wing anti-immigration and climate-denying party UKIP. On the left, people have now also started to flock to the extreme left, the Green Party, which is a socialist, anti-establishment party that is putting its ideology ahead of true green policies.

You might think that as an environmentalist I would be delighted by the growth of the Green Party. Wrong. In fact, I believe the Green Party has failed to put the green movement and tackling climate change at the forefront of its agenda. Instead, anti-austerity and banker bashing feature higher than tackling climate change. Under present policies, though I acknowledge Labour politicians are not as green as I would like them to be, I would chose them over the Greens as they better understand our complex energy challenges.

In my world, an ideal Green Party, in order to live up to its name, should put tackling climate change at the forefront of its agenda. It should be the number one priority and all policies should fit in under it. It’s all down to making people understand why climate change should be a mainstream issue—an issue that if not dealt with will impact all issues from terrorism to our health. It has to be said that no other parties have fully been able to make that connection either, but I would expect a party that bares the name ‘Green’ to live up to that word. For example, putting austerity at the forefront of your agenda, though a critical issue, is not linked to tackling climate change.

Terrorism and climate change
The threat of terrorism has been on the rise in recent years with the establishment of the Islamic State (ISIS) and Boka Haram, while Al Qaeda still poses a serious threat. Environment and energy is at the heart of this. We have all heard how ISIS has quickly become wealthy by taking over oil wells and refineries and is trading oil in international markets, which enables the group to gain more resources and recruit more people. But instead of responding to this threat with an argument of why terrorism is just another reason why we must vein ourselves off fossil fuels, the Greens instead say it should not be a crime to join terror organisations like ISIS and al-Qaeda, as you should not be criminalised for what you think, but what you do. This is a naive and shortsighted policy and, like many Green Party policies, has not been thought through. How would you control that? How would you control which member of ISIS does what, who is just a member, who finances them, and who takes part in killing sprees? To get hold of such data from a terror network that already in many ways has outsmarted governments is simply impossible. Even though you could track that, I for one do not believe that it should be legal to be member of an organisation that advocates hatred and the killing of anyone who does not adhere to their evil and small-minded rhetoric. And I know many other environmentalists who feel the same way. On terrorism, the Greens had the perfect opportunity to connect climate change to mainstream issues, but failed to do so. Drought and other climate issues have led to uprisings as people start fighting over basic human needs, such as water, and scientists have even linked the Syrian conflict to climate change. And it has been unexpected voices such as the Conservative former Foreign Minister, William Hague, who connected conflicts and climate change. Though I disagree with Mr. Hague on many issues, he has done much more on this crucial issue than anyone in the Green Party.

The Green Party’s ideology lies in localism, which they promote over globalism, despite living in a global world run by a global world economy. This shows they are not in touch with our modern world. The Green’s will have to embrace globalism if they are to be taken seriously, and they have to prove they can form sensible national and global policies. If they don’t, their growth, which has been heralded as the green surge, for sure stops here.

Localism is also their talking point when it comes to energy. As well as opposing fracking the Greens also oppose nuclear, despite the fact that the low carbon energy technology has the potential to get rid of fossil fuels sooner than if we were not to use it. In fact, the decommission of nuclear plants in Germany and the closing down of Japan’s nuclear plant has seen a rise in dirty coal consumption and thereby CO2 emissions. It’s absolutely bonkers to not understand that to avoid dangerous climate change, whether you like it or not, we need nuclear in our mix. We, for starters, definitely do not need to get rid of the nuclear we already have in our mix, which is capable of producing low carbon energy. It is of course a different debate when it comes to new nuclear, that debate is for another day.

Offshore wind
The Green Party’s energy policies are another example of naive policies, and their lack of understanding of the energy system. In their recently released manifesto they unsurprisingly want to go gung ho on renewable energy uptake. However, there is very little information on how they would actually achieve this, and their wording only adds to the confusion. By 2020 they want the UK to have a capacity 42 gigawatts (GW) offshore wind energy and, in a fairytale fantasy, they also want to create 42 GW of community energy by 2020. Let’s take offshore wind first. The UK currently has an installed offshore wind power capacity of 4 GW, then there is around another 1GW under construction, while another 11.6 GW is approved. This gives a total capacity of around 16.6 GW. A lot of the consented capacity will quite likely not be installed before 2020. But let’s just assume it would—this gives us a total capacity not even half of the Green Party’s target. I quote these statistics from Renewable UK, which is the leading trade body for the UK’s renewable energy industry. When the Green Party put together their energy policies, why on earth did they not consult with them? I’m all for bold ambitions on renewables, but they have to be realistic. The Green Party proudly says that they’re the most popular party when it comes to policies. But it is not difficult to form good policies. What is tricky is to implement them, which the Liberal Democrats know only too well.

Now, let’s move on to cost. Though the cost of offshore wind has come down, it remains by far the most expensive form of renewable energy we have, actually more expensive than nuclear. I’m in full support of offshore wind. I’m convinced the cost will continue to come down, and this will accelerate as more big players, such as the US, enter the field in coming years. The UK has been a world leader in offshore wind, but asking the country to go much faster on the technology than we are already, much faster than any other country in the world, would not be the right approach. There is also an issue with jobs. It is minimal how many UK jobs it currently could create. I would much rather see an emphasis to create the right infrastructure for the industry, such as the offshore wind factory that will be built in Hull next year. At the moment, a lot of foreign jobs are being created due to a lack of skills and infrastructure, which means that labor and materials come from Germany and Denmark. Another fact to consider is that the public in the UK is fortunately largely in favour of renewables. To keep it this way, we need to consider sensible investment policies. While we must invest in expensive renewable energy technologies to enhance the technology and make it cheaper, the emphasis should be on restoring investor confidence in the cheapest form of renewable energy we have—onshore wind.

Community energy
The target of 42 GW of community energy by 2020 is nothing but laughable. There is no real data on how much community energy has been installed in the UK to date, but at best it will be a couple of hundred megawatts (MW). What is wrong with setting realistic targets, and if you look set to meet those then increase them. If a proper community energy policy and strategy were formed, I think it would probably be possible to ensure 1.5 – 2 GW in the energy system by 2020, which would be some achievement.        

In the Green Party’s ideal rosy world, it very much seems like the majority of our energy should be community owned solar and wind farms. It is of course an ideal world I would love to live in, but unfortunately it is far from reality. The Green Party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, has time after time highlighted community energy as a viable alternative to dirty energy when pressing Prime Minister David Cameron on fracking in the UK Parliament. But let’s keep a bit of perspective here, the Brighton Energy Co-Operative that Lucas embraces does not even come close to generating 1% of the capacity of an offshore wind farm. Don’t get me wrong, I love community energy. I have written about it several times, have invested in it, and I will continue to do so. We need it along with more wind—onshore and offshore—and solar. Whenever community schemes can be implemented to give local people a chance to invest in them, all the better.

On fracking, however, I do agree with the Greens, though I wish all Greens could articulate the message as powerfully as their strongest card, Lucas. The reason for opposing fracking should be that we simply can’t afford to dig up, extract and burn more fossil fuels. The scaremongering stories such as earthquakes, water pollution and cancer causing chemicals do not have enough credible scientific backing, at least not yet.


We need a Green Party that puts climate change at the heart of the agenda and accepts that nuclear is needed in our mix, as well as understands that business need not be our enemy on climate change; in fact, we need them. Big corporations have been another bashing ground for the Greens. While there is enough bad corporations out there and while we should ring fence them and pressure them to own up to their responsibilities on climate change, we must also understand we need corporations to fight off climate change. The UK could not have established itself as a world leader in offshore wind if it was not for big corporations such as Dong, Siemens and many others.

To avoid dangerous climate change, we need billions of investment in clean energy, and large corporations play a huge and important role in providing clean energy investment capital.

At the heart of it, there is the theory that climate change is a left-leaning issue, when it really should be a bipartisan issue. This is of course not the Green’s fault, but they should not be linking it to other left-leaning issues such as austerity.

The growth of the Green Party in recent months has been impressive, but if the green surge is to continue, the party is in dire need of modernising itself. It must understand how terrorism is linked to energy and scarcity of resources and implement credible policies to tackle it— decriminalising terrorist groups not among them. To earn full respect, it must also form energy policies that are backed by science, trade bodies and the renewable energy industry. Until then, I will be supporting Labour.

Related news:

Video: British broadcaster Jon Snow ask where climate change is in the UK election

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