INCREASINGLY ‘Green Reason’ – citing the environment – will be used as a justification for any kind of measure, no matter how illogical or absurd. Since March 2020 this type of justification has been used to prop up a whole range of bizarre Covid measures. But the actual substance of the argument – health or environment – is neither here nor there, it is the solipsistic quality that is most valued; these justifications invite silence. Quiet acquiescence is intrinsic to its power. Any dissent is not taken at its rational value but is rather shot down in a barrage of emotionally charged statements.
As yet there is no widespread, subconscious response to a Green Reason announcement as there is to Covid one: it does not create a sense of immediate personal danger; somehow the environment is more abstract than a microscopic pathogen. But we should not be surprised as the chains of reasoning are built up to such a degree that the majority will feel immediately insecure and clamour for the State to step up and protect them.
I recently came across Green Reason whilst travelling south on the ‘smart’ M1, around Sheffield. A gantry announced: ‘Speed limited to 60mph to improve air quality.’ I had never seen or heard of such a command before; looking askance at the other passengers in the car, they too looked puzzled.
Although the motorway was reasonably quiet as we pootled through this long section, compliance was absolute. The smart motorways employ a plethora of enforcement measures, speed traps at every gantry and, in addition to the usual copper loop sensors embedded in the road surface, ‘side-fire radar’ combined with automatic number plate recognition. These will ‘improve tracking and reaction operations’, according to Highways England.
A reasonable first question would be: who benefits from the supposed higher quality air?
A 10mph reduction does not seem to offer much, especially from an automotive point of view: at higher speeds internal combustion engines burn cleaner and more efficiently. A reduction in speed then seems counter-productive. Secondly, who on the motorway benefits from that marginal reduction in particulate matter in the immediate air surrounding their car? The high-quality filters on cars again negate that difference. Or perhaps instead it is for the improvement of the surrounding area? Possibly, but one imagines that re-planting the trees hewn down to build the expanded motorway could render greater benefit than a limited speed reduction scheme.
Although those reasons may in themselves render the scheme hopeless, they are beside the point. One can imagine the officials responsible for the sign laughing at how clever they have been; who would not want to improve air quality? Anyone who questions this measure cannot go far beyond the original statement, so plain, innocent and laudable, before being pigeon-holed as an ‘anti-environmentalist’. The narrative will be constructed to be unassailable.
Gas boilers, wood-burning stoves and flying (via stealth fuel duties – though of course private jets are exempted) are all coming under the cosh of Green Reason; and though measures are needed to protect the countryside, they must be considered rationally in accordance with tradition, in the cold light of day subject to debate and plebiscite.
‘Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.’ – C S Lewis