Voters are Distracted. Let’s Destroy the Environment

The locals it’s intending to help are against it. The activists it’s trying to please are against it. The planet it’s supposedly trying to save will suffer because of it.

But the government has given it the go-ahead, likely crossing their fingers that the electorate won’t notice.

HS2 is a high speed rail project that will decimate over 100 ancient woodlands in what is claimed to be an attempt to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint (and improve rail connections in the country). You notice the contradiction there, too, right? Destroying and saving nature don’t normally go hand in hand, and this case is no exception. When I think of HS2, I wouldn’t say that climate project would be the first thought that comes to mind – no, my first thought would be vanity project.

Why else would they make it high speed rail, despite the fact that the carbon footprint of the venture would be lowered if they made it, well, normal speed? It’s certainly not for the locals, I can tell you that. Groups like StopHS2, The HS2 Action Alliance, and the 51m group show that there’s widespread local dissatisfaction with the project, even though they’re the ones that would be benefitting from its high speeds.

If I lived near the remnants of the forest that inspired Shakespeare, I think a fast train would be little recompense for chopping it down, too.

Deforestation is going to rob more than just cultural history from future generations, though. And not just human generations either – HS2 Ltd has decided to start work in the Spring, right when bulldozing nature will result in the most harm for current and future generations of the surrounding wildlife. Birds (of course) nest in Spring, and even though disturbing them is illegal, that hasn’t stopped HS2. They’ve resorted to releasing hawks in order to prevent nesting occurring in the first place. Whilst that particular practice isn’t illegal yet, I think we can all agree that the government are downright lying when they claim that “environmental assessment” has been the “foundation” of designing HS2.

It’s not only moral values that this project has been ignoring, but environmentalists, too. Even though when it comes to “environmental assessment”, actual environmentalists are probably the people you’re going to want to go to. And they did, I guess – the RSPB, for example, was one of the organisations initially working to help HS2 live up to its eco-friendly potential. But they’ve since called the government out for “ignor[ing]” their advice whilst still making “wild claims that it will be an environmentally leading scheme”. Extinction Rebellion (a group which has previously succeeded in preventing the government’s environmentally harmful projects from going ahead) have also voiced their support for the #NHSNotHS2 campaign, as well as taking part in the HS2 protection camps.

Perhaps the most well reported resistance, though, has come from Chris Packham. The well known Springwatch presenter crowdfunded over £100,000 to legally challenge HS2, only for the bid to be rejected. Below is the ‘reason’ why.

“Timothy Mould QC, for the secretary of state for transport, said that cost would ‘come from the public purse. The court will not be seduced into treating that as an insignificant consideration.'”

I’ll tell you why I’m confused by this argument. The cost that Timothy is speaking about here is the £20-25 million that would be required in order to halt the work already being done on the project. That’s by no means a small sum. But when you compare it to the £106 billion that the project as a whole is estimated to cost, it’s a pretty minor sacrifice to make. After all, it’s going to ensure that the other hundred billion is worth the expense, and isn’t just going to be wasted on a project which is doing more harm than good. Oh, and let’s not forget that we can’t exactly spare all that much money at the moment. There’s a reason that the campaign against this is increasingly being called #NHSNotHS2.

In fact, this project has its priorities all wrong when it comes to the NHS. At a time when health workers are being told to reuse PPE, the money being spent on this vanity project is honestly just offensive. But that’s not the only way they’re disrespecting our health service – they’re asking people to leave their houses for non-essential work, endangering both themselves and their communities. To me, that just shows a complete lack of consideration for the people who risk their lives by working in hospitals where the consequences of carelessness like this will be keenly felt.

Of course, construction workers are one of the many groups whose work has had to be furloughed for the time being, so it’s easy to see how this will be beneficial to the financial circumstances of individuals. That doesn’t mean that the government has their best interests at heart, though. It’s the health of the economy, not the health of the population that they have at the forefront of their minds.

They’re not pushing ahead with HS2 because they want to create employment opportunities for construction workers, or keep them and their families out of worsening financial circumstances. “Poverty is a political choice“, as a poverty envoy for the UN said when he came to the UK in 2018 – that choice being, of course, the austerity that the Conservatives are so desperately keen on. In this case, the government (not just the Conservatives) have essentially chosen to offer people money in exchange for risking their lives. Using that money to ensure that people don’t have to risk their lives to improve their finances is apparently not on the table.

If you can’t tell by now, I think that all non essential work that can’t be done from home should be postponed until there’s no doubt that it’s safe to resume. But if you absolutely have to ask people to risk their health right now, it should be for a worthy reason. Like, for example, an alternative to HS2 that’s actually eco-friendly. Joe Mellor from London economic says that the government could focus their money instead towards “fixing the dilapidated commuter rail network”, which in turn would both “cut carbon emissions from travel” and fulfil their aim of improving transport connections. This sort of project could also be done “in years rather than decades” according to the Guardian, which would show commitment from the Government to actually achieve their (conveniently distant) aim of carbon neutrality by 2050. Unlike HS2 of course, which will be around for 120 years or more, but will not ever be carbon neutral.

This government seems to want to be known as the one that kick started climate action – they were one of the first in the world to declare a climate emergency, after all. But, as the cliché goes, actions speak louder than words. Right now all we’ve got is action that goes against the words to such an extent that it leaves you questioning whether they ever meant them in the first place.

I’m guessing they just don’t have the motivation to carry them out – the climate emergency will affect the rich far less than the rest of us, so even Boris’ newborn might not be affected by the bleak future that awaits the rest of us. The rest of us will be affected, though. Our government is happy to condemn future generations to a world I’d not even like to imagine. And the coronavirus crisis creates a distraction that may mean they get away with it.

HS2 is nothing less than ecocide. Deforestation is being caused on a scale not seen in 100 years, and yet the people making it happen are claiming to be on the side of the environment.

These woodlands contain “the seeds of future life“. Let’s not rip them from the ground for the sake of a fast train.

Sign the petition to stop it from going ahead

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