The transition to a sustainable economy will require governments to understand how policy and rhetoric impact public concern about environment and development issues, according to a report from think tank ResPublica published today.
The 56-page report is being launched to coincide with soul-searching in the aftermath of the Durban Climate Change Conference. It addresses the crucial question: how can governments work to create greater political space for proportional responses to environmental problems?
Supported by WWF-UK and Oxfam, the report argues that past and present political objectives have not succeeded in deepening public concern about climate change and poverty. Without such concern, technical policy interventions will never enjoy the public support and momentum that they need.
The report, Different Politics, Same Planet: Values for sustainable development beyond left and right, written by David Boyle, Tom Crompton, Martin Kirk and Guy Shrubsole, is highly critical of current approaches to environmental policy, saying that these often crowded out ordinary people.
It calls for a radically different approach to policy making in the future, one that taps into the cultural values of people and their communities in determining responses to today’s profound social, humanitarian and environmental challenges.
Writing in the Foreword, Phillip Blond argues: “The left has vacated the space that previously valued the inherent beauty and intrinsic value of the natural order, prioritising instead extrinsic values such as material wealth or a utilitarian calculus of leisure and utility.
“The right similarly appealed to extrinsic values through its adoption of market-driven strategies. The natural became a commodity that was to be addressed in a purely instrumentalist manner, with some advocating its protection not in terms of inherent worth or transcendent value, but on purely economic grounds.”
The report dismisses criticisms that such values lack support and are the pursuit of a small minority. Rather, it points to evidence from psychology that these values are there in all of us – if politicians only found the courage to appeal to them.
Martin Kirk, Head of UK Campaigns at Oxfam, says: “The environment and development movements are energised by a concern for others, which psychologists have shown to be virtually universal. And yet, too often, governments have run scared of speaking to these values, preferring to ‘sell’ concern for the environment and poverty on the grounds of narrow self-interest. This is profoundly counterproductive.”
David Norman, Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK, says: “Public support for government action on the environment is built upon much the same values that underpin public concern for the NHS or universal education. We must begin to situate people’s natural concern for the environment on a bigger political canvas.”
The report seeks to shift the centre of gravity of political debate. It calls for a shift in the way that politicians frame international development and environment policy, advocating that they appeal to – and help strengthen – people’s inherent sense of what is right for future generations and the global poor.