Science will be the foundation of 21st Century economies. Where we stand on science and environmental policy will determine the world we live in tomorrow.
With the UK preparing for a general election in just under 6 weeks, we owe it to ourselves to see where parties stand on this often neglected issue, and how they fare under the microscope.
UKIP hasn't stated what it would do with the science budget. However, one of their flagship policies, withdrawal from the European Union, would have large impacts on British Science.
The UK produces around 16% of the worlds most cited research papers, and a lot of them come from EU connections. Because EU policy funds research based on "scientific excellence", it means the UK get a disproportionately large amount of scientific funding from the European Research Council (£1.40 for every £1 we pay in).
Withdrawal would mean we lose the bulk of this funding, as well as influence over what research should be prioritised.
This is what happened to Switzerland (a non EU state who could, until recently, still gain access to EU funding) after they rejected Croatians’ access to free movement.
This didn't fly well with the EU. Switzerland was stripped of its "associate member" status, which allowed it to take part in EU funded research projects.
While the EU allows Switzerland some access to EU projects, Swiss researchers and students are excluded from EU funding and grants (like the EU's Erasmus programme). This has fuelled a brain drain of researchers looking for nations where they can gain access to EU funds.
We have every reason to believe Britain would suffer the same fate.
Climate Change and the Environment:
Despite mountains of evidence that human-driven climate change exists, UKIP policy continues to stick its head in the sand (presumably looking for shale deposits).
They've made their doubts about Anthropogenic climate change plain to see (my favourite being this one). UKIP plans to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change, ban teaching of human driven climate change in schools, scrap electric car subsidies, and scrap the Climate Change Act 2008 and it’s legal reduction targets.
Their 2014 Energy policy states man-made climate change isn't a thing (it is), the observed warming is perfectly natural (it isn't), burying CO2 will destroy agriculture (seriously), and that there's growing doubt about manmade climate change (there's not. The evidence is stronger than ever).
The outright denial of scientific evidence doesn't give the impression this party is open to science-led policy.
Energy: UKIP intends to scrap green subsidies (at a time renewables are becoming competitive), along with Feed in Tariffs and Energy Efficiency Schemes.
UKIP claim that the Climate Change Act is wasteful (it isn't), renewable schemes like FiTs have pushed up electricity costs by some £200 (they haven't), that windfarms cost way too much for too little gain (they don't), that renewables will cost jobs (they won't) and we'll all be plunged into darkness with our current energy policy (we won't).
UKIP's solution? Massively expand fracking, coal, and nuclear operations.
Citing evidence from the BGS of some 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas locked underground, and a 10% extraction rate from US shale, the policy argues that it could meet gas demand for 40 years.
However UK geology is fantastically diverse. Lots of different rock types lie irregularly on top of one another. UK shale is thicker than US shale, and rock faults means fuel pools are more spread out. All of which makes extracting UK shale harder, more expensive, with lower yield.
A bad start in UK fracking operations, underdeveloped industry, public opposition, stricter regulations to protect the environment, and uncertain economics as to whether shale can compete with imported gas, or even push down gas prices (UK coal is currently cheaper than gas) might explain scepticism over UK shale gas.
When we need to make radical shifts towards renewable energy, UKIP's policy is a step back.
Public Health and Pharmaceutical Regulation:
While UKIP argue that public health campaigns should be lead by evidence, it's not a big fan of using it. Take e-cigarettes, which UKIP opposed moves to regulate after being given donations by e-cig companies. UKIP also oppose plain packaging and the public smoking ban, both of which have public health benefits.
Regarding pharmaceutical regulation, UKIP's position hasn't changed since 2010 (i.e. boosting transparency and public disclosure of information). But when the amendment came up in Europe, all of UKIP’s MEPS either abstained or voted against clinical trial transparency.
Farming and GMs:
Conclusion: UKIP remains the only main party to continue denying anthropogenic climate change. This is reflected in a fossil fuel-based energy policy that goes against the scientific consensus of needing a bold shift to renewable energy.
In other areas, UKIP adopts a more evidence-based line. However, both their manifesto pledges and their record of enacting policies suggest a more lukewarm approach to science-based policy.