Is it the job of local government to make us green?

According to the Guardian, Mayor Livingstone intends to “slash London’s carbon emissions by 60% within 20 years and place the city at the forefront of the battle against climate change.”

The target is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 4% a year to 18m tonnes by 2025.  The focus will be on marketing and “awareness-raising” public relations to encourage reduced energy by the public and businesses.  A budget of £47m will be set aside next year for initiatives such as “green gurus” helping people to make their lifestyles “more environmentally friendly”, alongside other strategies.  Those behind the new plan claim:

half the required carbon savings can be made through simple changes in behaviour.

Needless to say, Livingstone can’t resist the stereotype of a “gas-guzzling 4×4 vehicle” as part of this behaviour change, aiming that this “individual choice” should “be no more socially acceptable than to claim the right to dump rubbish in the street“.  The plan includes charging drivers of “the most polluting cars” £25 to enter the ever-increasing congestion zone.

But of course, the mayor is unable to address emissions from aviation and the Guardian reports increase in flights will equate to half the emissions (13 m tonnes) that the individual Londoners are being ordered to save.

There is a genuine focus here to draw together a number of ideas to address environmental impact of pollution on London.  Many of these involve communications – such as promotion and recognition of those “doing the most” and “green consultants” to encourage cycling and use of public transport and encouragement of combined heat and power schemes.

And London is not alone in its plans – the reports over 100 local authorities have committed to the , pledging to cut emissions in their area.

I don’t want to decry those with genuine intentions, but why does this all seem to be directed at people, telling them how to lead their lives, enforcing behaviour change?  I would like to see a lot more “putting their house in order”, with the public sector itself leading rather than just preaching to others about going green. 

I also question whether it really is the job of local government to make us go green – rather than providing services that demonstrate, encourage and support positive environmental action.  Who made them the “green” team leader?

The focus on enforcing a personal commitment to take action also feels somewhat futile if aspects that are outside the control of an individual or local authority, such as aviation and international development, are not tackled.   

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Is it the job of local government to make us green?”

  1. Who made them the green team leader? CLoG did!

    See here:

    How omnipotent as our current Government become that Government Departments don’t need the word ‘department’ any more? They exist therefore they are!

    Local government’s ‘licence to operate’ is given by us when we vote for them. On balance, I think that someone who sends his kids to the same schools as mine go to, and who uses the same services, is more likely to care about my environment than a remote entity at an organisation that calls itself CLoG.

    I absolutely agree it’s got to go hand in hand with councils putting their own house in order. I could go on….

  2. Thanks for your increasingly expert insight Caroline – I suppose I am reacting against what feels like those “jolly keen kids” who are always telling the rest of us what to do. We might elect them as team captain or head boy/girl, but that should mean they represent us, not boss us about. The more authoritarian government (and its myriad bodies) becomes, the more Marxist I feel….

    I’m also reacting against the Utilitarian notion of Bentham regarding government achieving “the greatest good for the greatest number”, which has been translated into practice as not only improving conditions for society but seeking to improve the people themselves.

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