By Ben Norris and Jamie O’Dell
Yesterday morning’s edition of the Daily Express was a little different to the paper’s typical approach. The spear-wielding crusader above the masthead was coloured in a fetching shade of olive instead of the usual red – an inconsistency explained by the giant headline inviting the reader to ‘JOIN OUR GREEN REVOLUTION’ beneath. Incongruously nestled above this screamer, juxtaposed against a picture of PM Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, was a mugshot of Ecotricity founder Dale Vince proclaiming that we ‘have nothing to lose and everything to gain’.
Meanwhile, today’s Express features a letter from Vince addressed to the Chancellor as part of a campaign exploring the issues of ‘Energy, Transport and Food’; in his letter, Vince appeals for a ‘Brexit boost for the green economy’, seeking a VAT reduction on low-carbon foods. Vince claimed this represented a ‘fantastic opportunity’ to share the company’s work and ideas with a huge audience; “equally the kind of audience we need on board to get to where we need to be”.
Given the scale of the global climate crisis, it’s arguably prudent to be reaching out to broader audiences with a dedicated message about the radical structural changes required to avoid a catastrophic level of warming by 2100. In writing in the Express for their green campaign – a famously climate-sceptic paper that provided ‘100 Reasons Why Global Warming is Natural’ in 2009 – Vince is definitely targeting a different demographic of consumers. Logistically, reducing tax rates on low-carbon food items makes sense too; incentivising the trade and export of alternative food products by making them more affordable is one approach to reducing the food industry’s carbon footprint.
While Vince’s attempt to reach out and connect with an audience who would be less likely to encounter information on the possibilities and importance of a Green economy is laudable, one of the main things he seems to be selling is himself. As anyone who’s walked past the Ecotricity building opposite the Stroud Subscription Rooms and seen the company’s faux patriotic posters may be inclined to agree, Dale Vince seems as intent on marketing Dale Vince as he does a greener Britain.
Writer and activist Chris Saltmarsh provided a climate campaigner’s take on the Express piece. “Really this is just Dale Vince campaigning for a tax cut for himself,” Saltmarsh said. “Proposing a reduction in VAT for green products like solar panels and green cars. This is supposedly the source of the economic boost and green jobs promised on the front page. The proposed VAT cut is framed as an ‘incentive’ for consumers, but these are just the same failed market-based solutions that have done nothing to bring about an energy transition so far. They just mean marginally increasing Dale’s profit margins.”
Endorsements from several high profile NGOs including GreenPeace and the National Trust are featured alongside Johnson and Vince on the Express’ front page. While some might say it’s great that they are lending support, these gestures ultimately feel a little tokenistic. When it comes to backing the kind of radical transformations needed, such as the Green New Deal, NGOs are often found wanting. Saltmarsh continued: “The environmental NGOs lending their reputations to these campaigns may talk about climate justice from time to time, but supporting market-based approaches and palling around with the Express and opportunistic businessmen casts real doubt on how serious they are about justice.”
One of Vince’s key lines is that nothing in our daily lives has to change; that we can live our lives as we do now, just greener. Now, this may be true of football, burgers, and sky diamonds, three examples he uses but his fourth, cars – which he states can just be replaced with electric vehicles – cannot simply be replaced without huge increases in energy production and resource extraction.
Resource extraction is essential to consider, and entirely absent from both Vince and the Express’s arguments, because it pertains to an issue of climate justice. The natural resources needed to power direct replacements for how we live now, such as electric vehicles, would, without accompanying radical change to the global economy, operate along the same lines of resource extraction and exploitation in the Global South that the original Industrial Revolution was powered by. Given that those experiencing the worst impacts of the climate emergency, despite having the lowest carbon footprint yet, are overwhelmingly countries in the Global South and working class communities within the UK, building a Green Industrial Revolution off their backs is an unjust and unsustainable path forward.
As such, there’s a significant risk that while the policies Vince and the Express are advocating for aren’t themselves bad, the notion that we just need to follow Stroud’s own ‘Maverick Entrepreneur’ and his new manifesto masks the scale and pace of change needed, as well as the patterns of exploitation and inequality it will perpetuate.
It is undoubtedly true that the more people on board with taking radical action, the better, and as such Vince’s partnership with British media’s most unsavoury bedfellow is a step forward, but if we leave it at this, it will be nowhere near far enough. There is a reason protesters demand ‘system change, not climate change’ at youth climate strikes.