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Is 'Realism' the New Name for the Green Agenda?

30/07/2013 13:50 BST | Updated 28/09/2013 10:12 BST

It's nothing new; we all know that a debate needs at least two opposing sides and that the world would be a dull place if everyone always agreed. The distinction comes, however, when we find ourselves watching the same argument unfold day after day without advancing in any direction. This scenario can become extremely frustrating, particularly when the issue in hand gets further away from any resolution with each rehashing of the 'facts'.

In a recent article for The Times, Tim Montgomerie declared that the green movement is finished, citing unaffordable subsidies, ineffective policies and cost as the reason that 'all over the world green politicians are presiding over... climbdowns' and turning away from a sustainable future. Such weighty statements were surely intended to catch the attention of his critics, and they have not failed to do so. James Murray of BusinessGreen promptly issued a riposte detailing his account of the current situation, which unsurprisingly sees things rather differently.

I won't repeat every point argued by the two authors, but their sparring match is worth attention because both write to audiences in the thousands, and the way in which these issues are presented account for a large part of public perception. The importance of this can't be understated, and both parties are acutely aware that in order to swing future policy in their favour, they must have widespread support.

In the battle to gain competitive advantage, as Murray says in his article, it is easy to 'include plenty of factual cherry-picking', highlighting some points whilst downplaying others. An obvious example of this is seen in Montgomerie's failure to acknowledge the substantial part of the green agenda that has nothing to do with climate change. To illustrate this, suppose for one unlikely moment that he's right and that all the world leaders have decided they've had enough of trying to stop irreversible climate change, that it simply doesn't warrant the hassle. Even if this were true, it wouldn't change the fact that our indigenous energy supplies are running out and will soon leave us vulnerable to unstable global markets, pushing already soaring bills still further up. This would still be untenable, and suddenly the agenda looks less 'green' and more 'realist'. All this selective reporting has served to do is reduce the faith that people place in what they are told by any voice of authority, thereby weakening the integrity of both arguments, and hampering progress.

Progress is, after all, the reason this issue exists in the first place; one side believes that green initiatives are a poorly-implemented burden on resources, and the other believes that without significant investment in this area, we are willingly sending ourselves up the creek without a paddle. Sometimes, things don't go the sustainable way. They take a step backwards, and support falters; to deny the fact would be foolish. However, to make a sweeping statement linking this to an inevitable failure of the green agenda would be equally as ill-conceived. Here's the secret: things are far more complicated than that, but admitting it won't win headlines.

Instead, we are left with a huge majority of news outlets siding with one polarized opinion or another, choosing the appropriate set of facts and working from there. This affects the way consumers respond to things like rising household bills (is it because of increasing reliance upon imports of fossil fuels that come ever closer to running out? Or is it because of subsidies taken out of your bill by the Government to pay for renewable technologies?) and the opportunities afforded to the UK by shale gas exploration (is it an economy-boosting solution to our energy problems? Or is it a worryingly short-term response to a much bigger issue?) Informed debate is something to be encouraged, but until everyone lays their cards on the table in an honest way, we cannot hope to have one. As legally binding renewable targets creep nearer, surely it's time to start getting real with the roots of our current energy conundrum and finally make some progress.