Yet technological fixes can only get us so far. Chris Patten admitted, when drawing up his Green Act, that the biggest issue was energy and its use.
His line of thought raises questions about the true ecological cost of manufactured goods. How much, for example, would a washing machine cost if its price included an amount to repair all of the environmental damage caused by making and using it. Removing all ecological subsidies would put pressure on companies to find new ways of making washing machines affordable. Alternatively, if there is no such solution, individuals can decide on economic grounds to go dirty; either way, the environment wins.
Such arguments are unacceptable to all of the major political parties. Even a modest tax on coal to reduce carbon dioxide would hit industry badly. According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a 20% cut in emissions would require a £300 tax on each tonne of coal. This would double the price of electricity and lead to a quintupling in the price of coal.
As scientists and politicians ponder the conundrum of green growth, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw a clear line between the intended market solutions and the earlier radical green thinking. The question arises as to who is playing the more subtle game: those who engulf radical ideas in order to reshape them in line with present thinking, or those who allow their ideas to be engulfed in order to reshape present thinking.
(Pallab Ghosh is a science and technology writer.)