Will Brexit Take us Back to Being the “Dirty Man of Europe”?

We can’t pretend that our time in the European Union has always been a walk in the park, but those parks and their inhabitants are going to be left at risk without it – as are we. Leaving the EU is going to mean taking a plunge into some very murky waters filled with a whole lot of unknown, so now that it’s happening, it’s up to us to make those unknowns as inhabitable as possible.

Friends of the Earth are leading the way with their campaigns to politicians and the public, aiming to educate, persuade, and remind us what the EU has done for the environment already. Over 80% of our environmental laws were at least influenced by the EU, and it’s essential that these laws are protected before they can be weakened. In the UK we can try to take pride in the fact that we’re at the forefront of the fight against climate change, but that was only after a less-than-gentle nudge in the right direction. We were scarily apathetic until then, being dubbed the “dirty man of Europe” in the 70s and 80s due to our waste-filled water and unbreathable air. Not only that, the EU helped to…:

– clean our beaches

– ensure the safety of our chemicals

– redirect our waste for recycling

– protect habitats and their inhabitants

– ensure the safety of our food- improve animal welfare.

Head to Friends of the Earth’s article to read more about the possibility of a Green Brexit!Whilst many of the EU environmental laws we’re wrapped up in won’t be going anywhere, the incentive to reinforce them could wither. Without the EU acting as a watchdog, the UK is able to set itself less strenuous goals. The law enforcement will be more lenient, and many environmental matters will become the responsibility of those who are unprepared and inexperienced. This becomes even more dangerous when you realise that no one can be held accountable for failing to adhere to post-Brexit environmental policies outlined by Michael Gove. If the UK were to go for a “soft Brexit” (unlikely, let’s be honest), we’d be pretty safely tucked into the EU economic area meaning that the laws would still apply to us. The real fear is a hard Brexit or No Deal, which would leave us in limbo with nothing but a handful of empty promises. That’s why it’s so important to push for a ‘Green Brexit’ and the enactment of intentions to replace EU laws that will no longer apply with a suitable alternative.

Sadly, another thing we have to take into account is fossil fuel use. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn lobbies for the complete ban of fracking, Johnson has responded in stark contrast by claiming that fracking for natural gas is beneficial for the environment. It’s true that natural gas releases less CO2 into the atmosphere than coal, but leaking through shale releases methane directly into the environment. Fracking may make natural gas cheaper than coal, but this incentive is only positive to an extent – it becomes cheap enough that once it replaces coal, it starts to get exploited for other uses.There have certainly been a handful of (almost quite convincing) attempts to put the situation in a good light. Michael Gove, the environment secretary, reminded us earlier this year that moving to locally-grown crops would have a far smaller carbon footprint than importing. However, the UK agricultural industry has only been allowed to thrive through subsidies provided by the EU. 

Might there be a silver lining? Well, it depends where you’re sitting. taking matters into our own hands, if they’re the right hands, could lead to fast-tracked effective implementation of policies that are better targeted. Not only that, there is a possibility that greater taxpayer investment could be injected into the environment once it becomes more readily available due to diversion from the agricultural industry. 

So in conclusion… We don’t really know how Brexit will impact the environment. There are too many factors that have so much resting on them, and it really depends on what kind of agreement Boris Johnson and the Cabinet are able to draw up. It’s therefore more important than ever for us to do what we can as both individuals and as a community, in an effort to mitigate the situation. The room for human error is scary, but we can’t ignore the opportunities – comment below how you think we could go about affecting change!

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