One of the great myths that the present government peddles is that excessive government borrowing got us into this mess. This conveniently ignores the fact that it was the financial crisis of 2008, when the excessive expansion of lending and credit-creation by the big banks created a giant bubble that exploded and triggered a global financial crash, that led to a collapse of lending and credit, thereby leading to a severe recession amongst most economies around the world. We are still living with the consequences of that financial crash in 2008. Perhaps we always will, as the financial system was not reformed, only held together with sticking plaster through an enormous bail-out by governments of the big banks, now deemed “too big to fail”. That bail-out cost governments huge amounts of taxpayers money; in the case of some governments, far too much, leading governments to borrow huge amounts of money themselves to fund the bail-outs and to stop the recession from becoming too severe. The proof that even governments accept that the banking system is what really started it all is the fact that much government legislation, especially in the UK, is now devoted to trying to reform the banking system so that it can no longer threaten the collapse of the entire global financial system in the way that it did back in 2008. If there is no real problem with our economic systems, why the need for so much reform of the banks and so much difficulty in getting the banks to lend enough to businesses and households to help them get out of recession?
Another related myth is that in a time of austerity we should not spend government money on social or environmental goals; indeed, protecting the environment must not be allowed to get in the way of business expansion and economic growth. David Cameron said the other day at a recent EU energy summit that “regulation must not stand in the way of shale gas” – presumably he included environmental and safety regulations within such a broad statement. But spending on the environment, especially government spending, is essentially unavoidable if we are to have a livable environment, let alone one we can all enjoy recreationally. Investing in renewable energy gets us off dependency upon fossil fuels, the burning of which is leading to an unsafe climate. Creating clean energy also creates sustainable jobs, fulfilling a key social goal, especially important for the many young unemployed. While spending on biosecurity and combatting tree and plant diseases is necessary to preserve the features of the countryside we all love, such as ash, oak, and horse-chestnut trees. Spending on cleaning up our rivers from pollution makes our beaches cleaner, leading to safe bathing for holidaymakers.While investing in a National Bee Action Plan to help stop the catastrophic decline in bee and other pollinators health and numbers is absolutely essential to protect agricultural output and food security for us all, as well as saving iconic species like bees which have huge cultural and social meaning for us. In so many ways spending on the environment always saves more than we spend, because the true source of all our wealth is not banks or businesses, but nature itself.
A healthy nature means that we have healthy air, water and food, and a safe place to live and grow within. The fact that such an obvious case needs to be stated at all shows the depth to which the present government has divorced itself from any realistic consideration of the value of nature, seeking instead for economic salvation and prosperity from shale gas fracking, a vast new road-building programme, airport expansion, and the HS2 rail project from London to the North, all projects that entail massive government spending and investment and lots of negative consequences for the environment, thereby potentially wasting both taxpayers money and precious environmental resources.