These fracking licences could be Zac’s moment of truth. I have searched for references to his stance on hydraulic fracturing, and found him wanting. He was on the Environmental Audit Committee during the 2010-15 Parliament, but tellingly, in a report in January 2015 on the EAC’s approach to fracking, Conservative Caroline Spelman came out against, but Zac was not reported as doing so. Elsewhere I have found that he has been involved with the Countryside Alliance in drawing up what he and they regard as satisfactory safeguards, so they do not oppose fracking in principle. There is of course Zac’s absence when Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, was arrested at Balcombe, and subsequently vindicated.
I cannot help wondering what Zac’s uncle, Edward Goldsmith, would make of this. Edward was a pioneer of the new paradigm which recognizes that the biosphere, which surrounds a little ball in space, is not being cared for sensibly. Until Teddy’s death 6 years ago the two were very close. In the early days after the 1972 Limits to Growth report Teddy Goldsmith and I took it for granted that indiscriminate economic growth would have to be stopped. The only question was how to change the world-wide growth-oriented culture.
It may appear to some that efforts to deal with climate change are making progress. There is certainly a dawning recognition of the need to deal with threats to the ecosphere, but those forging ahead with fracking are oblivious to this. Hydrocarbons must stay in the ground, but looked at within the conventional mind set, fracking is a perfectly natural novel development, just like mobile telephones, computers, graphene or solar panelled roads. Within that mind set, it is obvious that shale gas must be exploited. Edward Goldsmith would have been eloquent as to why it must not. I would like to think that Zac Goldsmith is at least uneasy about the government’s push for shale gas.
Although less illustrious than either Goldsmith, I have for 42 years been trying to suggests a way out of this dilemma, based at least in part on the Basic or Citizens’ income. My three reasons are to allow a recession to be acceptable, so that if necessary on ecological grounds, a steady state, i.e.no-growth economy can be a policy choice, instead of the accident is always has been. The second reason, to deal with the poverty trap and make work pay need not detain us here, though again, it would help if Zac was disgusted at his government’s approach to austerity generally, or benefits in particular, all of which I doubt.
But my third reason is that the Basic Income has unsuspected advantages for both sides of the old political divide. It will be quite drastically redistributive, which makes it look wildly socialist. But in addition to making a recession palatable, it will enable anyone with entrepreneurial skill or ambition to take advantage. Ideas which are rightly condemned as oppressive will make sense with a Basic Income. Think Zero hours, when you can say no, and not be punished. A Party with the basic income at its core could appeal to both sides of the old , but still very active polarization.
My hope that the Green Party would have the vision and nerve to exploit this appeal to both sides has not materialized, and it remains anyway too small a political presence. The possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader, and implementing his aide Richard Murphy’s version of a basic income, will still leave the idea in opposition for 5 years, and there are too many ifs around that scenario.
But consider Zac Goldsmith’s position. He is a member of a party with a majority of 12, which means only 6 need change their minds. Even if only Zac expresses his misgivings (and Caroline Spelman?), he can have far more influence on the government than anyone from another party. But this would require both vision and courage. I am not even sure he minds enough about hydraulic fracturing.