Back in April, Nick Clegg restated government resolve to pursue ambitious environmental goals. The Deputy Prime Minister rebuffed rumours that the credit crunch had killed environmentalism. On the contrary, “going green has never made so much sense” and sustainability, in fact, coincides with economic recovery; “lean times can be green times”, he repeated. Clegg called his idea “environmental thrift”, which is basically just good housekeeping. Indeed, it seems quite possible that Mr Clegg’s speech was inspired by our grandmothers war-time abilities to make a little go a long very way. And good on him for that. The global economy has a thing or two to learn from sound home economics.
Mr Clegg’s position makes a lot of sense, but he’s missing one important factor in the equation. His speech draws our attention to two areas of government action: cutting consumer energy consumption to reduce emissions and alleviate financial pressure on households and building up low carbon sectors to create a competitive green industry for Britain’s economic future. That’s all well and good, but it misses the crux of the matter. Clegg’s proposals are top-down initiatives. Real “environmental thrift”, honest, hand-on, efficient and effective housekeeping, is not happening top-down, through policy. It’s happening bottom-up, through consumers.