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​All the Ways Theresa May Is Screwing Up the Environment

She is, quite literally, going to kill us all.

by Adam Ramsay
11 October 2016, 11:05pm


Picture by Rui Vieira AP/Press Association Images

British soils probably only have 100 harvests left in them. Our filthy city air is killing us by the thousand. The climate is rapidly changing. Fresh water aqueducts are running out. And we're almost certainly in the sixth great mass extinction in the history of the planet.

So the question is: how's our new Prime Minister coping with this monumental and deadly set of challenges? The answer is: not very well. So here are six ways she's screwing up the planet.


Picture by Peter Byrne PA Wire/Press Association Images

Approving Fracking

Ultimately, climate change is quite simple. There's a whole bunch of carbon trapped in what, if you think back to geography classes at school, we were taught to call "the lithosphere". Or what you might now call "the ground". If we pump too much of it into the atmosphere, we fry.

Specifically, scientists estimate that we can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent amount of other kinds of greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying within the two degrees of global warming that world governments have agreed we must stay below.

But here's the problem: The last time the sums were done, there were around 2,795 gigatons of carbon in the proven coal, oil and gas reserves fossil fuel companies already have. And that's before you start adding in new ways of taking the stuff out of the ground. So going out and looking for extra kinds of fossil fuel to add to the second number is a bit like announcing you're going on a diet, then quietly deciding to add a second breakfast to your daily routine.

And then there's the addition of fracking. Because, surprisingly, it turns out that smashing the ground apart to try and get gas out of it causes a few other problems. For example, the process has frequently led to lots of the gas leaking straight from the ground into the atmosphere. And natural gas is many, many times more climate changing than carbon dioxide. A study released earlier this year showed the US has seen a disastrous 30 percent increase in methane emissions since 2001, which is thought to be a consequence of the roll out of fracking.

Given all this context, what did Theresa May's government do on the day that the world ratified the Paris climate agreement? Obviously she overruled the Lancashire local council, and granted a licence to frack there.

Expanding London City Airport

Nearly 9,500 people are killed every year by air pollution in London. Let me repeat that: more than one in a thousand Londoners die each year because of the city's grotesque invisible smog. That's before we look at everyone else who endures a regular hacking cough, asthmatic wheezing, or long-term heart disease because of the filthy soup which Londoners seem to have come to believe represents actual air, and which ensures those of us who come from somewhere civilised leave the capital as fast as we possibly can.

The government's decision to expand London City Airport, rather than doing the only sensible thing and shutting the filthy place down, is utterly absurd; ensuring more toxic particles floating from jet engines and into unsuspecting baby's lungs. And, of course, aviation is a disaster for the climate too.

A badger (Photo by Ben Birchall / PA)

Issuing New Badger Cull Licenses

Things aren't great for badgers right now. At the end of August, the government announced that it was trebling the scale of its cull of the black and white mustelids. The mass shooting of the animals began in 2013 in a vein attempt to tackle a wave of bovine TB which has everything to do with intensive farming practices, and nothing to do with badgers.

As a result of the expansion of the policy, 10,000 of these intelligent, sociable animals will be killed in the UK by November: more than one in 50 in a matter of months. As professor Rosie Woodroffe of London's Zoological Society said to the Guardian: "This is a huge disappointment for evidence based policy making... the government has failed to produce any evidence that farmer led culling is helping to control cattle TB". It's almost like the government is in the habit of blaming vulnerable bystanders for the impacts of deregulated industrial capitalism...


Photo by Andrew Matthews PA

Approving Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station

One of Theresa May's first decisions as prime minister was to approve Hinkley Point nuclear power station. Opinions among environmentalists varied. On the one hand, the pro-nuclear eco activists George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall argued that this particular proposal is so disastrous, it must be scrapped. On the other hand, long term anti-nuclear campaigners like John Sauven at Greenpeace has argued: "Hinkley will produce yet more nuclear waste to add to our huge, hazardous and homeless stockpile, and so the legacy of Osborne could haunt us for many hundreds of thousands of years."

In reality, it's pretty likely that will never happen: the only two attempts to build power stations along the Hinkley design, in Normandy and Finland, have been total failures. So at best, it's likely to be an enormous waste of money and energy policy distraction just when we need vast investment in decarbonising. At worst, it's going to leave your great (x 1044) grandchildren trying to interpret the weird signs in some ancientt runes saying "RADIOACTIVE, KEEP OUT".

Closing the Department for Energy and Climate Change

Another thing Theresa May did when she first took over was abolish the government department that look after energy and climate change. Within hours, she had been chastised by the Elders: the group of global elder statesmen and women founded by Nelson Mandela, and now chaired by Kofi Annan. The group includes Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson and Jimmy Carter. Because without a climate change seat at the cabinet table, it's easy to see how a habitable climate so often seems to be a side issue for this government.

Picture by Chris Radburn PA

Putting Andrea Leadsom in Charge Just as We Look at Which EU Laws to Keep

The EU is responsible for pretty much all of our environmental regulations. Perhaps most importantly, it's also responsible for the key thing which defines how around 70 percent of the land in the country is used: the Common Agricultural Policy. May's Great Repeal Bill will start off by bringing these into UK law. But what will happen to them from there? We don't yet know. But we do know the minister she's appointed to oversee this vast area of repatriated policy is Andrea Leadsom, whose only prior interest in a job which involves ensuring our food, air and water aren't poisoned and our wildlife isn't wiped out seems to be an expressed desire to get rid of what she calls "red tape".

@adamramsay

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