The Transition New Mills Reading Group continues to meet monthly on Zoom, to discuss a book, watch a film/video or host a speaker. This month we discussed Dieter Helm’s book Green and Prosperous Land – A Blueprint for Rescuing the British Countryside.

Dieter Helm is an economist and brings a pragmatic view to the discussion of how to repair the damage that has been done to the environment in the UK. He explains the concept of Natural Capital, these are free, natural assets. Some are non-renewable such as fossil fuels, others are productive on an ongoing basis and will deliver returns for ever unless they are damaged below a base survival level, for example our rivers/water supplies, land, marine environment etc

There are three principles underlying his proposal – Public money should only be used for public goods, the Polluter should pay and there should always be a Net environmental gain. He presents a strong argument for the inclusion of external costs (eg pollution) in the cost of things as this will lead to changes in behaviour. (we referred to the plastic bag charge several times as an example of how things can change behaviour overnight).

He chaired a government committee which has drawn up a 25 year plan to restore and improve the natural environment in the UK. It involves major changes to taxes, subsidies, regulation and enforcement but argues for local non profits (ie not government or private sector) to be the main agents to carry out the delivery. This is a very detailed and comprehensive plan which shows what can be done with the resources available to turn environmental degradation around.

We had some criticisms – that it only refers to the UK and some issues are global (eg. the aviation industry) and/or involve our relationship with other countries (for example food security) and there is no reference to wider issues such as class or decolonisation which could be relevant to the current situation.