Brexit: My thoughts on the environment and our future

Last Summer in Falmouth 020
Falmouth and Helford Special Area of Conservation (SAC).  SAC protection comes from the EU. This is SAC could face destructive dredging without EU protection.

 

Brexit means we could lose strong protections for our environment; controls on air pollution, rules on water use, protections for wildlife and key habitats, scientific research, funding on projects and collaboration on tackling climate change. Yes, these laws have been transposed into our law, however, our laws make direct reference to the directives making them more or less meaningless without the authority of the directives that comes with membership of the EU. We cannot assume our government will replace these laws to the same level. They already sought to weaken the nature directives and are currently breaking EU air pollution laws. They have already failed to meet the number of protected areas they are supposed to establish. Our country is on the cusp of being in a state of deforestation. Our government is turning its back on tackling climate change with its commitment to fracking and slashing of renewables subsidies. Valuable habitats are continuously being destroyed due to the false belief that development solves everything. Under IUCN criteria we don’t actually have any ‘national parks’.

This is the main reason, amongst many others, why I awoke on Friday to see the result and burst into tears. I was inconsolable for the whole drive to work. It was only ranting with colleagues and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all that placated the tears. The fear of what this could mean for all our hard work was tangible in the air. I work for an environmental NGO (but all views here are entirely my own). One of my colleagues works on a brilliant EU funded project. It is only now that my feelings of impending doom are beginning to fade. But even so I feel the future is less bright than it was before 23rd June.

I respect that most have vastly different priorities, principles and perspectives to me which are no less valid than my own and I respect the, albeit non-binding, decision our country has made. However, I reserve the right to not agree with it and to remain angry. And I’ll freely admit if it was overturned by Parliament (which is possible) or another referendum or an early general election (please let this happen), I would be over the moon. Nor will I stop campaigning against the decision that seems to be ripping our country apart, legitimising racism and, is not even embraced by those who led the campaign for it. The rats have abandoned the ship with no plan and do not even have the decency to face up to the consequences of their actions. Although perhaps it will at least end talk of the tasteless ‘Independence Day’. Independence Day is a byword for escaping colonialism, slavery and racial oppression. It is not a word for leaving a democratic community with positive collective aims we once chose to be a part of. And yes the EU is democratic, we vote for MEPs to represent us, and no, the EU is not a federal state.

I feel many who voted on both sides do not fully appreciate the implications of that decision on our environment, amongst other things. But in my lowly opinion, the protections and funding for our struggling biodiversity that come from the nature directives are the most brilliant thing about the EU. The environment is not an external luxury only to be enjoyed by nature lovers, it underpins humankind’s very survival and happiness. And of course the EU is not perfect, nothing so intrinsically man made, complex and diverse ever could be. But now we will be isolated from the decisions the EU makes, barred from the opportunity to help reform it even though it will continue to impact us. I studied EU law for two terms at university but I’m fully aware I only touched the tip of the iceberg. All I know is I came out of that earnestly believing the EU is a wonderful principle that has given us so much. I also wonder if a simplistic ‘yes/no’ vote can ever go beyond touching the surface of the complex matters wound up in the structure, power, history, and achievements of the EU.

Yet, environmental arguments were not mentioned in the Remain and Leave campaigns but lies about £350 million freed up for the NHS and reducing immigration were. For some it was these claims that decided their vote and now, finding out they were lied to they regret their decision. This is harrowing to hear, we should not be living in a country where lies and misinformation can override an informed democratic vote. I’m sure many Leave voters were informed and had valid reasons or principles for voting that way but there were many who seemed not to.

For me the lack of appreciation of the implications or vain hope that some remote people in government will sort it all out does not cut it. Together, all of our actions resulted in this turmoil. So we should stand united in the outcome because it is not about young versus old, educated versus uneducated, rich versus poor, racism versus tolerance, left versus right. Though evidently, to my recent shock, racism is still a serious problem in this country. It’s about broken politics and broken democracy and, for the first time since the general election I have some hope that this crisitunity (as 38 Degrees are calling it) could kickstart real change that both Britain and the EU need. Although the threat of a prime minister who appears to oppose gay rights and protecting the environment is tainting that hope somewhat. The decisions we have made as individuals and those of the people we have put in power have historically step by step led us to this point. We have all made our bed and now we must lie in it.

But taking this lying down is something we cannot do. If you voted in the referendum it’s because you care. We should all be angry as Leavers have been just as let down as Remainers. Let us work together to build a better politics and a better future for our environment, our wildlife, for human rights, for prosperity, for us and for our children. This is only the beginning so let us stand together and take the first step as one.

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