If you are an 'Unthinking Green' you're likely to subscribe to the notion that sustainability brings universal benefits; if you're a little less credulous, you'll be wont to acknowledge that there might be a few – a very few perhaps – downsides. But even then, you'll likely want to believe that these will be universally or even equitably shared. Steve Gough was having none of it. To anyone who would listen, and to those who didn't want to, he'd say that there would be winners and losers, and that the losers wouldn't like it very much.
Many of those losers will be those in financial and situational poverty – those without the money to escape the problem or those trapped by socio-geography. Nothing new there you might think. In autocratic regimes, by and large the poor have to lump it. In more democratic societies they, in theory at least, have a chance to influence matters – think of the French Gilets Jaunes. And some believe that we saw a glimpse of that here last week when the voters in a West London borough seemed to say "no thanks" to the extension of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone – ULEZ – out of the central area and into their pressured lives. ULEZ is the brainchild of the London Mayor and its ostensible purpose is to clean London's air, but also (perhaps) to ease the internal combustion engine to an early grave.
People who will fall foul of ULEZ are those, by definition, who are driving older vehicles. These have little residual value but might be expensive to replace. Many of these drivers do not have a lot of spare cash and a lot drive vans suggesting that it is small traders who will be badly affected. As if they did not have worries already.
It's going to be instructive to see whether this becomes an election issue; to see if one of the parties recognises the discrimination here and reacts to it. Maybe some of these completely arbitrary dates 2025 / 2030 / 2035 / 2045* / 2050 will be pushed back? Will some policies just be abandoned or other means found to ease the transition? Giving the market a nudge, perhaps. Well maybe; but there is a possibility here of electoral advantage – whilst (of course) maintaining your commitment to the net zero ideal.
But there's a broader question here: should poorer families be held to less account than the richer ones? For example, should they be allowed to keep on driving petrol cars and not be forced to the expense and inconvenience of going electric? Should their houses be exempt from the swinging costs of gas boiler replacement? Should they pay less for gas and electricity? Should they be exempt from the energy performance certificate scandal? Should ...
Sustainability advocates are always going on about helping the Earth's poor so why not start in the UK?
*In progressive Scotland it is, of course, net zero by 2045, not 2050.