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The New Economic Development Agenda

By Stuart Hertzog
July 2nd, 2008

Is the UK’s industrial strategy the shape of things to come?

Country Report by Sandy Irvine

The United Kingdom

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, UK — Prime minister Gordon Brown, who recently took over leadership of Tony Blair’s New Labour government, is now driving through a questionable planning and energy agenda that could well foreshadow economic development policy in other western countries. New Labour’s industrial strategy includes:

1. Revival of nuclear power

A new generation of such plants will be constructed. Plans include ‘bribes’ to localities to host waste disposal sites, and there are already some keen takers. An excellent critique of the new enthusiasm for nuclear power, The Lean Guide to Nucelar Energy, can be downloaded from The Lean Economy Connection.

2. Expansion of coal-burning power plants

In addition to the expanion of nuclear power, new coal-burning power plants will be constructed. Noises are being made about ‘clean coal, but at this stage this refers to unproven and probably unfeasible technologies for carbon capture and storage, and ignores the unsustainable side-effects of coal mining.

3. A major expansion of wind energy

This policy needs the first two since wind power must have baseload power to cover those times when the wind is not blowing. Thus the frequently-praised wind farms of Denmark rely on the ecologically destructive hydroelectric baseload power of Norway. Wind power can be quite damaging, not least in the harm done to bird life, especially raptors. Wind energy can make only a comparatively small-scale contribution to the meeting of current power demand (see the writings of Ted Trainer and Andrew Ferguson). Wind farms also require increased electrical transmission infrastructure.

4. Commitment to GM food

The government  is beginning to be much more pro-active in support of genetically-modified crops. ‘Nanofood ’doubtless will follow shortly. 

5. Increased industrial farming

A enormous greenhouse has just been opened in Kent and more are in the pipeline. It uses the argument that it is ‘carbon-neutral’, underlining the foolishness of the green movement in focussing so much on just one dimension of ecological impact. The impact of such developments on, for example, wildlife will be even more disastrous than that of conventional farming. Rising food prices are being used to push through (4) & (5).

6. Expanded transport infrastructure

Despite the concern about greenhouse gas emissions, the UK government is backing more road, rail, and air transportation development. Major damaging infrastructure projects have been pushed through, not least the Olympic Games site in east London whose cost, predictably, is already high and still rising.

7. New “Ecotowns”

The name might sound appealing but, in reality the new ‘ecotowns’ will result in more urban sprawl obliterating farmland and wildlife habitat. The construction industry is pushing their development; naturally, there is more money to be made from greenfield development. The Guardian has published some good critiques, accessible on its Archive site by searching for ‘ecotown’.

8. ‘Streamlined’ planning laws

Municipal and rural planning controls and the rights of objectors are being severely curtailed to facilitate the fast implementation of above policies. There is some debate about carbon quotas, but this mistakenly assumes that carbon emissions are the problem and that economy and ecology are separate and equivalent. The Stern Report talked about the economic cost of global warming as if the economy could keep functioning on an ecologically-devastated planet. 

There has been some cooling of enthusiasm for biofuels but it is likely that official support for this policy will eventually be revived.

Public ignorance and apathy

The government is helped by public ignorance and apathy. A June 22nd, 2008 poll in The Observer newspaper found that most Britons think that global warming is some sort of groundless scare while another survey found that most people are against ‘green taxes’. The Conservative Party, probably the next government, has started to drop its green talk and is framing ecological issues as a ‘quality of life’ matter, as if ecosystems were optional extras.

Hardly anyone is talking about the real issue: the impact of unsustainable population levels — the UK population is still growing — multiplied by per capita consumption. Most people still want more consumer goodies.

Brown’s industrial development strategy does not bode well for ever achieving ecological sustainability in Britain. But at least the battle lines are clearer.


Sandy IrvineUK political activist and writer Sandy Irvine first joined the Ecology Party in the late 1970s. He created and co-edited Real World quarterly journal and contributed articles to other publications including the late and much-missed Wild Earth, as well as being a member of the editorial advisory board of The Ecologist magazine. A vegetarian and a real ale aficionado, Sandy teaches film studies at a local college and is currently working on a book tentatively titled A Deeper Shade of Green. You can read more of Sandy’s work at www.sandyirvine.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk.


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