Regardless of how, or why, you voted the way you did yesterday, today Britain’s environment is facing an existential crisis. Whether you spent yesterday celebrating your newfound sovereignty or wallowing in a pit of despair, today we all have work to do.
As I have previously argued here, the EU was on balance a hugely positive thing for Britain’s natural world. Once the dirty man of Europe, Britain was forced to drag itself up to the exacting environmental standards of our cleaner European cousins.
Now all of that is under threat. 70% of our protected land is protected by European legislation, and as Craig Bennett of Friends of the Earth eloquently argues here, there is a very real danger that the legislation that protects these places will be burned up in the bonfire of ‘red tape’ that is to come. Alongside carbon laws, sewage laws, waste laws, water quality laws and so on and so on and so on. Farmers are rightly hugely worried that their CAP payments will not be honoured. Fishermen will soon find that they have shot themselves in the foot.
Our environmental sector was largely funding by the EU. Now all that money will be gone, and it is unlikely to be replaced by our incumbent government. And if we go into recession, which seems likely, there will be even less money in the pot for the environment.
What of immigration? It may come down I suppose. But the far greater threat to Britain’s wildlife is not a population rise of 0.5% per annum in Britain, it is a world population set to rise by billions in the next half century. Our nightingales, cuckoos and flycatchers are suffering from habitat loss in West Africa. Our seabirds are eating thousands of tonnes of plastic. Global warming poses a far greater threat than any Eastern European you may have arbitrarily decided was after your job. In the EU we were well placed to tackle those problems. Now it is up to us to ensure that we are even better placed outside of the EU.
Almost everyone in power has some reason or another to water down environmental legislation. There is a culture among Tories of climate change denial and austerity. The Brexiteers proved that they have absolutely no interest in protecting the environment by completely ignoring the issue during the campaign. In the 2015 election, pretty much every major political party, with the notable exception of the Greens, did exactly the same thing.
Which is not to say that the EU was perfect. Now is the time to reform our farming and fishing policy to protect our natural assets, and farmers, and ensure that each has a truly sustainable future. We have the opportunity to improve on what the EU started.
We now have to decide what kind of future we want for our environment and for ourselves. We can, as Milton said, make a heaven of this hell. But it will be hard work. We need to start working today.
Below is part of a poem, also called ‘Milton’, by William Blake. It has been bastardised, borrowed and broken by right wing nationalists, who do not understand why it was written, or what it was written about
It is a cry for a bucolic ‘land of milk and honey’, the land that English people do not deserve, but should always strive to achieve. It is a cry to arms to protect and improve a world bedevilled by industry, ‘dark satanic mills’, vested interests, lies, deceit, slander and hate. It is called Jerusalem, here is a verse:
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land
Things you can do:
- Join the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, etc. All of these organisations were against Brexit. Now they all face losing funding and will desperately need our help and our money. Better yet, volunteer some time for them.
- Learn. If the EU referendum taught us just one thing it is the power of ignorance can be harnessed by politicians, and that good data can often be in short supply. Knowledge is power – the more you know about the natural world, the better placed you will be to defend it.
- Enjoy it (while it lasts). Go to a nature reserve, and take a few friends, and tell them why it is so important that it is protected. Nature is its own best advocate, all we need to do is show it to enough people.
- Become political. Take a look at each major parties’ policies, see which is best. If you don’t agree with them, let your MP know.
Image credit: Walter Baxter geograph.org.uk
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