The government is clearly justified in making the announcement—the ban will clean up our air and help tackle global warming. But the real change is only just beginningby Bryony Worthington / July 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
You’ve got to hand it to Environment Secretary Michael Gove, he’s a quick learner with an instinctive grasp of how to control an agenda. The recent announcement that the UK will follow France in banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 dominated the news. A spectrum of papers ran it on their front pages and TV crews were hastily despatched on a search for electric vehicle charging points to juxtapose with ubiquitous close up footage of car exhaust fumes. The announcement makes it clear that belching emissions from the rear end of a car is set to become the social equivalent of lighting up a cigarette in a restaurant—just not allowed.
The question of how governments drive social change on this scale is fascinating. I’m a longtime believer in competitive market-based policies to uncover least cost solutions. But sometimes there’s nothing like a simple ban to cut through the smog of scandal, celebrity gossip and disinformation masquerading as news, to land in company executive in-trays with a resounding thud. Precipitous drops in smoking were undoubtedly triggered by the ban on smoking in public places. Taxation, labelling policies and advances in alternatives that deliver the nicotine hit minus the harm all contributed, but the policy that reached every single smoker and tobacco firm overnight was the sudden change in where it was acceptable to light up.
There are obvious parallels with the public health challenge posed by the burning of fossil fuels in close proximity to humans. By announcing a complete ban on the internal combustion engine, even one 23 years hence, the government has effectively removed the social license of those car manufacturers and oil companies, who have for too long undermined efforts to rein in their impact on our lungs and the planet. General awareness of the problem of air pollution is rising thanks to publicly available data and the action of numerous campaign groups. Local governments of every hue will feel emboldened to act. More people will decide to try out an electric alternative and as ranges extend and prices fall they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it feels to drive around with a clear conscience. I can’t be the only protective mother increasingly feeling justified in knocking on…