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Divided We Pollute - Is Political Polarisation Stalling Progress on Environmental Sustainability?

For our final D&T weekly event, we had a session with Glasgow School of Art's Sustainability Coordinator, John Thorne. He played us a series of videos surrounding different aspects of environmental sustainability in 2023.

One thing that I noticed, particularly in the last video that he showed us, was just how politically biased some of these talks and videos were. Now, I'm not oblivious to the fact that everything these days is politically biased in some way, but I feel that the purpose of last video, by ex-congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wasn't even to talk about the environment or encourage people to be sustainable; it was just a big advertisement for the Democratic Party in the United States.

This got me thinking... Are parties really doing much for sustainability, or is it just political propaganda and party politics? Let's look at some examples.

During the British election campaign in 2019, the Labour Party were extremely keen on reaching the youth generation in order to have a chance of winning. They announced a plan to plant 2 billion trees by 2040. 2 billion by 2040. Now, Ben Craven would say "let's do some simple maths on that to see if it's possible". In order to plant 2 billion trees by 2040, that requires 2 billion trees to be planted in the space of 21 years. That's more than 95 million trees a year - 260,000 a day - 10,800 an hour - 181 a minute - 3 a second. 3 trees, every second, day and night, for 21 years. This has to make you question whether they were even serious about this goal in the first place, or whether it was just political propaganda in order to obtain support from the youth generation for the election.

In 2015, Canada's Liberal Party campaigned on a promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, as of 2017, the party had only reduced emissions by 1%. Were they ever really trying to reduce emissions by 30%, or was this just political propaganda, too?

Likewise, In 2013, the Australian Liberal Party pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 5% by 2020. However, after coming to power, they got rid of the country's carbon tax and didn't introduce any effective policies to reduce emissions. As a result, emissions in Australia increased by 3.1% between 2013 and 2018.

In 2009, India's Congress Party promised to increase forest cover in the country by 10 million hectares in the by 2019. However, by 2019, they had only increased forest cover by around 1 million hectares. Some argue that it wasn't a 'real policy', and that the 1 million hectares were only achieved so that the party could say they did something.

There are many more examples of parties pledging environmental and sustainability-based policies and then not sticking to them. Is sustainability just being used as an advantage point to gain more votes in elections? Is it all just party politics? Are the real issues of sustainability and the environment getting lost in election battles? I think they probably are. Plans to support the environment are going to take a long time to complete, and political turnover is relatively quick. In the UK, we have general elections every 5 years. In the United States, they're every 4 years. You have to question whether that's actually enough time to successfully implement environmental policies that will make a big enough difference to our planet. These policies tend to just get lost in political battles, because parties are constantly having to think about what they need to do next in order to keep their seat in government, or take over in the next election. And, quite often, it's not environmental policies that take priority in winning over the current demographic. However, I feel that this will all change as the current youth generation progresses.

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