Environment and Rural Affairs

Environmental Progress: Reasons to be Cheerful

As the song by Ian Dury and The Blockheads goes “One, two, three” – writes Joe Kidd, Campus Outreach Director for the British Conservation Alliance.

One.

We are, in fact, making great progress. Taking electricity and heat production, the greatest contributor to annual pollution in the world, as an example. Over our recent Easter period low-carbon energy sources made up a record near 80% of Britain’s power. This shows not only that we are improving the sustainability of our electricity production, but how far we have come without even harnessing our most efficient source of energy. Imagine the progress we will make when utilising more nuclear power alongside renewable sources!

There are too many environmentally beneficial success stories to note. In Wales alone, some triumphs I’ve noticed recently range all the way from more electric scooters zooming around Cardiff, to the vast numbers of wind turbines erected across the hills of the Brecon Beacons. This progress will often go under the radar but it’s happening and happening fast, with the market driving this progress like an electric car on a road to sustainability.

Over the past 25 years, global economic growth has outpaced global energy consumption. This achievement has been driven by prosperity and technological progress. Capitalism incentivises using resources most effectively and efficiently, and there’s no concept more important to the environmental movement. Environmental progress does not, therefore, require an overhaul of our economic system. Far from it, in fact: environmental progress requires us to unleash its potential by freeing innovators and entrepreneurs from state-subsidised fossil fuel favouritism and cumbersome state regulation. If that’s not a reason to be cheerful, then I’m not sure what is.

Two.

Us, by which I mean the innovators, the ecopreneurs, and the number of environmentally dedicated organisations and individuals. Market-environmentalist attitudes have presented the most effective and efficient tools to fight climate change: from carbon capture technology that captures and stores waste carbon dioxide to dynamic electric vehicle charging to lab-grown meat and genetically modified crops. 

It is clear that people are becoming more environmentally aware, with 60% of consumers reporting making more environmentally friendly purchases since the start of the pandemic.  This has resulted in changing consumer habits and demands that are shaping businesses in an increasingly sustainable direction. A lot of this awareness has arisen from movements like Fridays for Future, which was driven by young people. Nevertheless, the ability for consumers to shape the market is one of the many reasons why capitalism is the perfect tool to fight climate change. 

Three.

Optimism, or – as put in the title of this article, being “cheerful” – is directly beneficial to raising awareness and protecting our natural environment. Nobody can deny that the shock factor draws attention, we see this tactic employed all the time. However, whilst effective in the short-term, in the long-term people need positive reinforcement. This is a long-term fight. Optimists see failures as an opportunity to persevere, innovate, and create something better. This mindset is vital if we want to tackle climate change. 

An Opinium survey’s findings perfectly display the argument for optimism, with the results finding that: 4 in 10 UK adults – equating to just under 20 million people – say that feeling more optimistic about the future of the planet is inspiring them to do their bit to help the environment. Around-the-clock pessimism is not the best motivator. 

There is no denying the huge number of challenges we face. But victory requires we ditch the constant doom and gloom we often see promoted. Let’s inject some optimism into the environmental movement, because – as Chris Barnard brilliantly put – “Hope conquers fear. Optimism trumps pessimism. Ambition breeds progress. Progress beats climate change.”

Joe Kidd is the British Conservation Alliance Campus Outreach Director & President of Cardiff University Conservative Association.