Now, I don’t say this as some cynical capitalist fat cat in a suit and swivel chair, stroking my cat maniacally. No, I’m allergic to cats for one. But, when I say this I mean that targeting money could keep the world afloat in an environmental sense; it could be the key to the climate crisis. Most annoyingly about this whole ecological crisis is that sinking feeling that we’re knowingly jumping off a cliff (and willingly nosediving) into the irreversible consequences that come with climate change. Especially since I believe that we already have a solution.

Let me explain.

Persuasion rather than coercion

In October 2015 a quietly monumental thing happened: plastic bags in the UK had a small 5p levy (charge for using them) put on them. Although this may seem insignificant, but ever since then the amount of plastic bags used per year has gone from 7.2 billion (2014) down to just 1.1 billion in 2019, and the rate continues to fall every year. It seems that our English frugality has saved the turtles! And, simultaneously made some money for recycling schemes in the process. Therein lies the key: targeting people’s coffers has proven to be the best deterrent against planet-undermining behaviour. This way, people don’t feel they’re being forced to forfeit something at the hands of government restrictions; instead, they get to choose between paying for something more environmentally beneficial, or using their own bag for free. After all, preaching and chiding people into doing something rarely works. Human nature has a tendency to rebel. So, we must adopt a system of persuasion via the public’s purse strings.

‘Great’, you’re thinking, ‘problem solved, now we can just transfer this idea on to other things’ is what I’m sure you’re pondering. And, we certainly can do that, but the government won’t. Take coffee cups for example. We throw away a whopping 2.5 billion of these a year — a true testament to the power of caffeine. Despite this item seemingly being recyclable because they’re made from cardboard, they still end up in landfills in Asia most of the time due to their plastic linings. So, in 2019 the EAC (environmental Audit Committee) decided to face this head on by coming up with a list of suggestions for the government to decrease the amount of single-use coffee cups in a similar way to plastic bags. Admittedly, the initial test wasn’t too encouraging, but it was at least a start. In select Starbucks stores in London, they introduced a 5p surplus charge for anyone who wanted a disposable cup. The result was that this increased reusable cup usage from 2.2 per cent to 5.8 per cent in three months. More encouragingly though, the Commons’ cafe introduced a 25p charge to their cups (and yes, the Commons has a coffee shop called the Jubilee Cafe) which reduced the number of wasted cups from 58,000 down to 15,000 per month.

From these extremely interesting and enlightening studies the EAC suggested a reasonable 25p ‘latte levy’ charge to all large coffee chains. Their prediction was that it could get disposable coffee cup numbers down by ’50-300 million a year’. Unfortunately, as this idea started to gain traction within the government, Costa lobbied against it arguing that it was ‘deliberately targeting coffee drinkers’ — presumably an oppressed class. The idea that a person paying for a premium chai latte or caramel macchiato would feel victimised for having to pay a 25p charge (if they chose not to bring their own cup), made perfect sense. In fact, dominant chains like Costa and Starbucks say they already offer discounts if you bring your own cup. But honestly, the stores seem to purposefully hide any mention of these discounts behind shelves of energy bars and gift cards. So, not many people know that this s even an option. Long story short, as soon as Costa went crying to the government, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer — Phillip Hammond — dropped the idea completely, and now we’re 2.5 billion cups richer. Yippee. 

The second troublemaker

The government doesn’t just fall short on food packaging. They’re also reluctant to do anything about the second biggest polluter on earth, which you may be surprised to learn is … Fashion. Interestingly, it’s the fashionistas and shopaholics that are contributing more to climate change than even the aviation industry. But yet again, the government are unwilling to try and quell the damaging output of this industry. Again, our old friend the EAC recommended, amongst other things, a 1 penny per garment tax to any clothing manufacturer making over £36 million a year to fund schemes for recycling (making that an extra £35 million pounds a year to pump into this area) and also to create VAT breaks for companies specialising in clothing repairs. Once again, the reaction was one of dismissal. The government completely shut this down, arguing that they’ve already committed to the human injustice of fashion. However, there was no additional comment on the environmental issue.

I admit that maybe this alone wouldn’t have destroyed our annual 300,000 tonne heap of clothing in the UK, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to try and reduce it a bit. In response to the aptly named ‘fashion tax’ the government replied that the they ‘agree’, but ultimately wouldn’t do anything about this since they’re apparently already working on this issue. That’s remarkable — given that it’s stayed so under the radar. In their 25-year environment plan there has not been one mention of fast fashion or even the textile industry anywhere.

Enter the pandemic

The coronavirus has changed our world dramatically. You need only to walk outside and see so many of us masked up and socially distancing to realise this. But, the pandemic has also shown us that it isn’t too late to turn the tide on climate change. From the clear skies of California to the drop in emissions around China’s industrial areas, when pressed, we can divert our habits and even readapt them. When it comes to making vast policy changes, I would argue that nothing is impossible. I mean, just look at the string of U-turns the government made throughout the summer alone and continues to make. If they can change an exam grading system in a day then they can certainly add a 1p per garment tax on fast fashion to protect our fragile planet.

Climate change isn’t some ‘elusive’ creature, it’s a beast we know how to slay. The only question is: will the government do it?

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