Is the Earth an election priority?

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If a bricks and mortar ‘home’ is a source of stability for individuals and families, how much more so is what Pope Francis has called ‘Our Common Home,’ the Earth?

Care for creation isn’t a partisan concern: whether we’re left, right, or centre, we depend on the earth, and its flourishing is essential to ours. And as Christians – whether we take our lead from Genesis’ call to good stewardship, Christ’s command to ‘love our neighbour (with whom we share this planet) as ourselves’ or any of the Bible’s myriad calls to cherish God’s world – care for creation is in the DNA of our faith.

As we approach this election, the country faces some crucial choices. The evidence is clearer and clearer that we can’t take earth’s resources for granted. Pollution means that our air quality in many areas is “a continued threat to public health”: Kings College published a study estimating that more 9,000 Londoners a year die prematurely as a result of exposure to air pollution; the Royal College of Physicians estimated the national number at 40,000; and Government figures show that nitrogen dioxide pollution alone, much of it from diesel fumes, is linked to about 64 premature deaths a day. Will the next government commit to air pollution standards post-Brexit that are at the same level as current ones, or higher? What measures will they take to ensure that the air we breathe meets those standards? How will they encourage the removal of the most polluting vehicles from the roads – including the phasing out of high-polluting diesel – and how will they encourage low-emissions vehicles?

How we source and use energy is another key concern. There are complex issues at play: security, cost, preserving local environments, reducing carbon emissions, improving efficiency. No one is pretending that navigating a way through the complexities will be easy. But certain key values can  inform the policy choices we favour. Concern for the vulnerable and for long-term sustainability  might, for example, lead us to favour policies that help all of us, starting with people in poverty, to improve current housing stock so it’s more efficient – and that restore previously proposed  efficiency standards for new-build housing so that purchasers of new homes require less – and pay for less – energy.  The same concerns might lead us to favour taking up new technologies to make a decisive shift to clean, renewable energy, recognising that the fossil-fuel-led status quo cannot continue, that clean energy has enormous potential to generate jobs as well as power, and that the way we generate energy has impacts on not only our country but also the rest of the world.

In a changing climate, we also need to plan for resiliency in response to flooding – and for measures that will protect our precious natural resources, such as wetlands and forests.

The parties have each set out their environmental commitments in their manifesto statements: the full texts can be found via these links: Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP. It really is worth reading the sections on the environment in detail – and making use of tools like the Carbon Brief summary comparison; the Friends of the Earth assessment; and the Wired magazine guide to manifesto commitments on science and technology.

When we look at the parties’ statements and try to evaluate their proposals, we’re actually making a statement about our faith, too. We’re recalling that the Earth is God’s, and that we’re called to live in right relationship with God, each other and the rest of creation. And we’re saying we take this seriously enough to make it one of our election issues … for love of God and neighbour.

Maranda St John Nicolle
World Development Adviser