A few small steps towards a greener Britain

Amidst all the weeping and gnashing of teeth coming from Westminster, Chancellor Hammond’s spring statement came and went from the headlines almost unnoticed. Among those who did give it more than a passing glance were the environmentalists, because for once there was something to see. For the benefit of those who missed it, here’s a quick summary of some new green measures that were announced last week.

It was easily missed in Hammond’s speech, if you didn’t listen to the end. There was the usual priapic boasting about the size of the economy to get through first. Then there was talk of a mysterious Brexit dividend. Then money for roads, and supercomputers, nuclear fusion and “new types of lasers.”

Finally, towards the end, came a section on “the challenge of shaping the carbon neutral economy of the future”, and to “build sustainability into the heart of our economic model.” Obviously I have questions about that can be achieved while also pursuing relentless growth, but putting my heterodox views aside for a moment, what did Hammond have up his sleeves?

  • First, another consultation – should airlines be obliged to offer offsetting?
  • A Business Energy Efficiency Scheme to help small businesses cut their carbon. Or rather, a call for evidence on such a thing.
  • Proposals to increase green gas production.
  • Potentially the big one: a “Future Homes Standard, mandating the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025.”
  • New plans to mandate “biodiversity net gain for development in England”.
  • A comprehensive global review of the link between biodiversity and economic growth.

That’s a very mixed bag. The first of them is possibly the most feeble environmental announcement I’ve ever heard, several steps removed from any meaningful action on reducing emissions from aviation. It’s good to see green gas and energy efficiency included though.

The future homes standard sounds a lot like the zero carbon homes that the Conservatives killed, and now can put back and claim the credit for – with a decade of lost time to pay for it. Still, that’s actually quite bold. No fossil fuel heating from 2025 is a clear goal and the housing sector already did a lot of research into this for the zero carbon homes standard. It follows the Climate Change Committee’s advice in their recent housing report, and it might finally focus minds on the question of renewable heat and our dependence on gas.

I don’t know what the biodiversity net gain will involve – hopefully not biodiversity offsets. And I don’t know what to say about the project exploring the links between biodiversity and economic growth. Will that be in any way objective? Because if it is, it might not come out in favour of economic growth.

On the environment, Theresa May’s government has announced a lot more consultations or calls for evidence than actual policies, and it’s hard to know how serious any of it is. Yes, it’s nowhere near the scale of the response needed to climate change, and it’s all couched in pro-growth and market rhetoric. But at least there are a handful of measures to report for a change, and the homes standard will be one to watch.


  1. Hi Jeremy!

    Once again thanks for providing such a great resource through this blog!

    *Re aviation:* are you aware of this project? Using a former US military dirigible prototype, now fairly well developed, at Cardington:


    As a lighter than air vehicle capable of point-to-point travel it obviously cuts out a lot of infrastructure requirements for passenger, freight, humanitarian and tourist travel. Unfortunately it will probably be part of greenwashing mining and fossil fuel operations (a market they mention) by ‘reducing their transport emissions’ etc, but equally it has better applications. High end tourism seems to be a market they’re aiming at, as you can imagine, and they are aware of the demand for ‘environmental sensitivity’ in this realm, like Huritgruten (incidentally one of the best holidays I’ve ever had, the Bergen to Arctic and back 12 day Northern Lights voyage):


    A recent newsletter highlighted the quietness and low fuel burn of the aircraft, and a desire to explore ‘alternative propulsion’ for it. Additionally, they cite a move to developing smaller aircraft and the need to rethink urban transport as areas for future development. Personally, I’d rather the 21C delivered ‘airships’ than jetpacks or autonomous drone-taxi-copters… Watch that space…

    *Dairy and Livestock*

    I’ve been following the debate around this with interest (I’ve taken the eat much less better meat route for now); I wonder if the push for ‘stockfree’, ‘vegan vegetables (no animal manure fertiliser/compost etc) is going a little too far? Obviously Big Dairy / Livestock etc is unsustainable in so many ways, but surely there is still a place for smaller numbers of some breeds of livestock in small-scale mixed farming operations. It is possible to be fully grass fed, in agriculturally marginal areas, e.g.


    For some areas such as a national park, as above, or other landscapes that are not likely to be made available for permaculture-type systems (SSSI’s, etc), surely this is healthy? I volunteered at Hilfield Friary for 11 months in 2015/16 (well worth a visit by the way, they cater for families):


    We had rare breed Shetland cattle and Dorset poll sheep mainly for conservation grazing of wildflower meadows, some of which had never had any artificial inputs, with various species of orchid, etc, and which were mown for hay in the summer; the meat was a byproduct, but we used all parts of the animal, after they were slaughtered at a small local abbatoir, and though we had to source some fruit and veg from outside due to the number of volunteers and guests we catered for, we only sourced meat from these sheep and cattle, and our own pigs/meat hens.

    It seems to me that the meat free movement (for want of a better phrase) make essentially the same mistake as industrial meat – seeing livestock merely as meat on legs. Animals have other characteristics and roles in ecosystems beyond providing protein, for instance grazing and livestock behaviours can be used to mimic ‘natural’ systems, as at Polyface Farm in the US:


    Knepp Rewilding are doing something different but also using cattle grazing behaviour to establish biodiversity, eco-tourism, etc, as part of their farming bussines.

    Surely encouraging (and enabling) a transition away from industrial meat (on a massive scale) to orders of magnitude fewer but much more diverse groups of livestock in regenerative systems, is more likely to engage meat-eaters (admittedly, more well-off ones) and farmers, especially those concerned that their businesses will cease if there is a mass shift from meat, and looking to ways to be sustainable but remain financially viable? Discuss…

    These thoughts were prompted by reading this piece from a fellow-student of mine at CAT:




    On Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 1:01 PM Make Wealth History wrote:

    > Jeremy Williams posted: “Amidst all the weeping and gnashing of teeth > coming from Westminster, Chancellor Hammond’s spring statement came and > went from the headlines almost unnoticed. Among those who did give it more > than a passing glance were the environmentalists, because for o” >

    1. Thanks, lots to investigate there. I know about the Airlander, as it’s based not far from me and there’s a lot of local interest in the ‘flying bum’ as it’s known.

      Yes, I think there’s huge potential for integrated farming, where animal wastes are used as fertiliser. It’s one of the main reasons that I don’t advocate vegetarianism or vegan diets myself. There are very well established methods for using chickens, cows or even fish alongside vegetable growing.

      There’s definitely room for regenerative livestock farming, as long as it isn’t being proposed as a total solution. It will only work with a dramatic reduction in meat consumption – a less meat better meat approach, as you suggest.

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