King Canute and Climate Change

King Canute attempts to dissuade the tide
King Canute attempts to dissuade the tide from coming in

Despite being couched in the ridiculous ‘world-beating’ language that failed us so badly during the Coronavirus pandemic, the UK government’s recent promise to spend around £4 billion pounds of new money on a 10-point green recovery plan should be welcomed. But the timing of the new money is vague and the figure is dwarfed by the subsequent announcement to spend an extra £4 billion every year on military spending for the next four years. That is on top of existing commitments, leading to a total increase of £21.5 billion on military spending until March 2025.

This at a time when the government has resisted funding free school meals for children during the holidays and is set to reduce the overseas aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%

Other than reducing spending elsewhere, the government has not told us how the increased spending will be paid for. It risks saddling the country with extra debt that it can ill afford, especially given the self-inflicted shock to our economic system that is likely to follow our exit from Europe. Nor, given the blatant cronyism we have witnessed during the Coronavirus pandemic, can we have any assurance that the money will be well spent.

The difference in spending on green recovery compared to the military is grossly disproportionate. The government justifies it on the grounds of ‘defence of the realm’, a rather quaint and comforting term. But if the environmental crisis is not addressed with the urgency that it demands there may not be much of a realm left to defend. You cannot fight climate change with clubs. That is a bit like King Canute trying to stem the tide. The best defence of the realm is not more spending on boys’ toys but a genuine and sustained commitment to addressing the single biggest threat to our existence, the climate and ecological crisis.