The Green Deal: what happened to climate change?
Those unlucky enough to be signed up to the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) mailing list would have received an message yesterday titled “£125m Green Deal cashback scheme opens”.
The Green Deal is – supposedly – the Coalition government’s flagship public-facing climate change policy. Over the next decade, the Green Deal aims to provide finance for household insulation and other energy-saving measures in millions of homes across the country.
It is a critical that the Green Deal works if we are to meet our national carbon targets. But it is also a once in a lifetime opportunity for the government to initiate – and lead – a national conversation about climate and energy. The success of the Green Deal – let alone the many other climate change and energy policies that will follow over the coming years – hinges critically on people accepting the rationale for saving energy.
The rationale is, of course, climate change.
But you wouldn’t know it from DECC’s press release:
“Energy saving has never been so attractive” – that’s the message from Edward Davey today as he announced the Green Deal Cashback Scheme is open, with hundreds of pounds of cash available to householders in England and Wales who make energy saving home improvements.
Householders who use the Green Deal to make improvements such as loft insulation, solid wall insulation and new heating systems will qualify. Packages could be worth over £1,000.
The more work households decide to have done, the more cash they could receive. To qualify for the Cashback Scheme, households need to book a Green Deal property assessment so they are then ready to have improvements installed under the Green Deal from 28 January and get their cashback.
The full press release, on the DECC website, mentions climate change not once. The message is clear: this is about a financial transaction, pure and simple. Energy saving has never been so attractive. But why the hell are we saving energy in the first place?
Replace the term ‘Green Deal’ with the only slightly more generic ‘Good Deal’, and you’d struggle to know what was even being promoted. It could be about furniture. Or dog food. Dog food has never been so attractive, says Ed Davey.
The dangers of using an overly-economic framing for climate change and sustainability messages are well documented. For one, promoting the Green Deal to people in this way will do absolutely nothing to make the next big initiative – perhaps a big push on public transport – any easier. No-one is being encouraged to think about what climate change means, or how different behaviours (around the home, and when commuting, for example) might be related. No-one is being encourage to think about climate change at all.
The exclusively economic framing of the government’s flagship public engagement policy sends a clear message: we should take part in the Green Deal because we might make a few quid – or at worst, not lose any.
If all we had to do to tackle climate change was make a few, unrelated, financially beneficial changes to things like cavity insulation, then this would be a brilliant public engagement strategy.
But given that what actually needs to happen is somewhat more challenging than this – ultimately involving a complete overhaul of how we travel, eat, heat our homes, consume and work – the “it’ll save you a few quid” approach seems a little shortsighted.
The longer we postpone genuine engagement with what climate change means for the UK, the harder it will be.
Sadly, the Green Deal is a missed opportunity for the government to begin this conversation.
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