Monthly Archives: December 2009

Has Environmentalism Become Embedded In British Politics?

This is a piece I wrote for a small project last year. It seems relevant given the current events, although it doesn’t reflect information which has been released in the past 9 months.
Environmentalism is not a new issue in British politics. During the 19th century, a number of groups around the country advocated redesigning cities so they were less polluted, with modern sewage and water systems. However, then, as now, environmental policies tend to be enacted in reaction to problems rather then pre-emptive or beneficial measures of merit. This tendency is one of the main reasons why environmentalism as a policy has not become firmly embedded within British politics.

This can be illustrated through a number of examples. Chief amongst these are British environmental policy before and after both the ‘Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer’ and the ‘Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change’. Also relevant are the environmental policy decisions surrounding the 2000 fuel tax protests and the reaction to environmental protests by the Thatcher and Major governments. The sources of environmental policy will also be discussed.

It should also be noted that while policy does not seem to be embedded within British government or any of the mainstream parties, it remains a consistent issue with the British population. Thus, it can be said to be embedded as a policy in Britain in general. The persistence of the Green Party – in particular in Scotland post-devolution – is particularly telling.

The origin of contemporary environmental policy can be traced to the London’s smog crisis of 1952, in a pollution-thickened fog descended on the city, lasting nearly a week and resulting in more then 4,000 deaths. Four years later, the Clean Air Act 1956 was passed. This placed restrictions on the amount of smoke emitted by new furnaces and factories, the emission of solid pollutants and types of fuel which could be burnt both in commercial and domestic facilities (United Kingdom 1956, pp3-9). A Clean Air Council was also established to monitor the effectiveness of the this early environmental policy (United Kingdom 1956, pp26).
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