Boris Bikes, politicians and environmental policy

In my youth I remember walking the streets of Amsterdam and being distracted by some peculiar sites. When I was on my way to the Van Gogh museum, honest m’lud, I was almost run over by cyclists. It was a bit scary, they were everywhere, and it was a bit like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. I dismissed it as something continentals did and never expected to see the like in England then the Boris Bikes came along.

There is some conjecture over whether or not they were actually his idea or whether or not they were already in their embryonic form under Ken Livingstone. This is only relevant to ardent politicos. What is relevant is the impact that they have had. With the London 2012 Mayoral Elections coming up, the environmental credentials of both candidates are being dredged up, amongst other things. But my question is, is it up to politicians to set the green agenda or should they follow it. Is it a case that we should be doing more? What about personal responsibility and or collective action.

Boris Johnson has been criticised for reactive rather than pro active environmental policy in his four years as mayor. An example of this was his policy on trapping fumes in pollution ‘hotspots’ with adhesive spray. However, aren’t politicians merely just responding to demand? Has Boris Johnson been inert on environmental policy because we have let him? Are environmental policies as much of a priority as we’d like to think? Issues, like crime, tax, hospitals, transport and schools are all seen as more important. Given this, is it any wonder that environmental issues are not top of the agenda? It’s the same with national politics. Tony Blair came in with a strong environmental agenda but failed to live up to those expectations (Friends of The Earth). The same could be said about the coalition government, although, in fairness, they have only been in power for 23 months.

So how does this change? It takes a genuine ground swell of public opinion and concerted effort. The government recently watered down its health bill, whether it should have is irrelevant. The point is, it did it because of both professional and public disquiet. The same can’t really be said about environmental issues, unless it’s environmental in a loose sense. People will complain about wind turbines or airports being built in their area but there’s not a mass riot in the street over the sidelining of renewable energy or the over reliance on gas. At the moment it’s just not seen as a priority amongst the general populous. It has grown in importance, but the hope is that with issues like the drought in the South of England, it will grow further and be an issue as important as health and education.

Politicians get a lot of stick, sometimes rightly so, but we have to take some responsibility. If the environment is an important issue for us then let’s make some noise. The tides turning but let’s make it turn a bit quicker.