Discarding my hair-shirt

by Stephen Tall on January 10, 2007

The problem (and joy) of being a liberal is the duty to consider issues in 360 degrees. So I have some sympathy with Mr Blair’s comments, when the question was put to him that the government should encourage people to take holidays closer to home:

I personally think these things are a bit impractical, actually to expect people to do that. You know, I’m still waiting for the first politician who’s actually running for office who’s going to come out and say it – and they’re not. It’s like telling people you shouldn’t drive anywhere.

The ability to travel – to explore new regions, understand different cultures – is a natural and healthy human impulse. It is not one government should seek to curtail. What government should do, of course, is ensure the negative externalities are borne by those enjoying the benefits: that the polluter pays.

I recall – always with a grimace – George Monbiot passionately exhorting last year’s Lib Dem conference to give serious thought about whether we should (eg) fly to New York to witness a son/daughter’s wedding because of the damage we would wreak en route. It was the kind of bonkers, hair-shirted remark (in an otherwise very good speech) which taints the environmental movement.

The Labour Party has failed to tackle global warming sufficiently seriously. We need higher taxes on pollution; and compensating lower taxes on income (one might almost call it a Green Tax Switch). But we won’t begin to save the planet by seeking to dis-invent the wheel.