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LQD: Green movement forgets its politics

by Sassafras Fri May 16th, 2008 at 05:22:45 AM EST

Ann Pettifor, writing in The Green Room at the BBC, argues that the green movement needs to take lessons from the civil rights movement.

Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest - How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, writes that "there are over one - maybe even two - million organisations (worldwide) working toward ecological sustainability and social justice".

And yet... and yet... there is no real climate change movement. There is no organised effort leading society towards a legislative framework that would urgently drive down greenhouse gas emissions across the board, and begin to sequester carbon dioxide.

Not in the UK, or in the US, or internationally. The "movement" that Hawken refers to is, he notes, "atomised" and "largely ignored".

Diary rescue by Migeru

Despite polls showing increasing public concern about the effects of climate change,

green organisations focus on individual ("change your lightbulbs") or community ("recycle, reuse, reduce, localise") action.

They fail to highlight the need for the kind of structural change that can only be brought about by governmental action.

Governments helpfully collude in this atomisation and fragmentation of action and reaction.

The population at large instinctively understands that they alone, or even in community, cannot deal with the threat of climate change.

They are acutely aware that while individuals may take action, others may become "freeriders"...

In the UK, Ipsos Mori polled public attitudes to climate change in July 2007.

Seventy percent "strongly agreed" or "tended to agree" that "the government should take the lead in combating climate change, even if it means using the law to change people's behaviour".

Sceptics may well say that people will always tell the nice lady with the clipboard what makes them look good, but in the privacy of the polling booth are likely to vote against any politician who interferes with their "right" to a 4X4.

And yet:

Throughout history, social movements have focused on the need for government action.

The anti-slavery movement sought to change laws that permitted slavery.

The suffragette movement only ensured votes for women once discriminatory laws had been displaced; the anti-apartheid movement was only successful once apartheid laws had been removed.

In the US, the black civil rights movement campaigned from 1947 until the introduction of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act to end discrimination in certain spheres.

Today...governmental action is unpopular and out of fashion.

So...has the ideological fashion for "minimal government" (itself a right-wing frame) discouraged the green movement from pressing for the necessary changes in the law?  

Or, worse, has the framing been so successful that large-scale governmental intervention now seems impossible?

All the small parties need votes.  Where I live, the Greens became very conservative (small c) because it suited the area--No Street Bins (not without the community's permission!)  When the bins have clearly worked--okay, bins are okay!

In the pub this evening, I realised that anyone--anyone!--who votes (in the UK) for the conservative or labour candidate is saying, "Yes, things are more or less okay!"

What can the Greens do but forward candidates, then win elections, then effect the area they govern?  Good PR lines are fine, but it will only be in the good governance of (from the smallest to the biggest) regions that any party can demonstrate its effectiveness.

That the powerful take the power from the powerless is a dynamic, and should be shown as such--contrariwise, where the powerful have not been able to wrest power from the local community, local parties should be creating environments that benefit the local community.

As a simple example:

All local Green parties should propose that (in an order they can decide with votes) local food production should be henceforth funded by the local community such that locally grown organic food is distributed to:

Old people's homes
Primary schools
Secondary schools
Workers' canteens

....such that the entire food distribution chain (money money) acts locally.

And they could set up job-swap clinics, for those who realise they're travelling too far (by car) and would like the same job (more or less) closer to home.

But those tasks would involve a multiplicity of disciplines--and people will still vote "conservative or labour"--

So there needs to be an ideological glue--

"Act responsibly within your local environment" is good glue, not bad.

Heh....maybe I got this all backwards, but when U.S. voters vote for Bush, and when the choice in the U.K. is between Bleugh and Cameron; and when italians vote for Berlusconi or affiliated parties...

And we're still struggling for decent cycle paths--the cost!--and people have to drive ("I wish I didn't have to, but...."); and everything has to be more or less like yesterday--

The problem isn't just emissions.  There's also world population, and bringing scientific knowledge to the public such that the public understands enough to make informed decisions.

I think we need to build an anti-squirrel movement, where the idea of "squirreling away enough for the winter" is given an exact highest figure, because humans are hoarders...


If the Greens could set up investment co-operatives, where the investment was in locally produced renewable energies, and there'd be investment in locally produced food, and these investments would be in companies (maybe state or council run) that would then build agreements with similar entities across political borders such that security of supply was guaranteed to, say, a ten year level--we know we're secure for the next ten years and counting....

Not based on money; based on supply.  And bad harvests etc. would mean the network should be as wide as possible, no need for national boundaries...

...and we have faith schools, and we have people who pretend to be christians to get their children (who pretend to be christians or play the game of christians) into christian schools, which are seen to be better (facilities!) for various reasons, one of which is that they are selective--and so those who create hassle are excluded--

Or: what structural changes would the writer like to see?  Less use of the car?  A living wage?  A 2010 refit of every house in the country to bring them all to a zero-emissions standard?

For now it seems that Civil Rights are at risk--and those with money don't seem (to my myopic eyes) to know what to do for the best--(Or don't care to think of such things--sniff sniff, bong gong)--

And yack yack!

Right now Habeus Corpus is under attack.  I heard this evening (you knew this, of course! I is slow ;) that the U.K. has an agreement with the U.S. that the U.S can extradite U.K. citizens/residents with NO EVIDENCE.

"That one."


No evidence needed.

Oil/Coal (carbon) is a huge dinosaur, still stomping on  the terra after all these years, and as it falls over it'll crush those beneath it--

But who wants to hear about that?  So "Global Warming."  What's the govt. to do?

Institute some five year plans!  Invest in renewables!  Have a five year rolling prize for the best ideas, from universities, turned into companies with govt. money, intellectual property rights to be shared using Creative Commons licences and the like...

I went searching for the degrees of national leaders the other day, to see how many were lawyers--how many had law degrees--and most are or do--Australia is different (Arts degree), as is George Bush (History---ha!); but of the others....even Berlusconi has a law degree....

Meaning (for me) that....that we're stuck in this world where people don't think; "What are the problems, and how should we be tackling them?"  Instead, they think: "What is the scariest thing I've been told about, and who is saying what about it?"

If people are really worried about climate change, a vote for the Green party (duh!) is obvious.  That people don't X the box means they don't really think it is problem number one (maybe Iran is problem number one, or street crime, or immigrants)....

If the Green party, its representatives and its voters, believe that The Crunch approacheth, the....human behaviour is what has brought The Crunch to pass....among other things...

Heh!  I have rambled!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 7th, 2008 at 08:12:59 PM EST
something about herding cats.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu May 8th, 2008 at 12:59:23 AM EST
Or, worse, has the framing been so successful that large-scale governmental intervention now seems impossible?  

Just for example:  When the US was a rising nation constructive action for social justice by the government was often possible.  Now that the US has entered rapid, terminal decline--with a national government devoted to helping corporate enterprises loot out the remaining pieces of the national infrastructure--expecting coherent, constructive government action on an intractable problem IS absurd.  

But it is worse than that.  

Ameliorating climate change would require that people quit driving around all the time.  And Americans are total addicts:  They will not willingly give that up.  

Dick Cheney, after all, said it right:  The American Way Of Life is non-negotiable.  Eventually, reality will negotiate unilaterally and America will be gone.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu May 8th, 2008 at 01:57:01 AM EST
This applies to the left in general, I think.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu May 8th, 2008 at 10:36:46 AM EST
It applies to any movement whose goal is to organize penury or, worse, create it.

People won't choose penury. Period.

They may have to suffer it if it is imposed by dictatorial fiat or by physical reality and the market - which is just a way to organize and arbitrate penury - but they will never choose it willingly.

So, if environmentalists want to meet success, they must start to think how to power and supply civilization and how to sustain more growth, far, far more growth. The problem is not growth by itself. The problem is footprint. How to do more, a lot more with less impact? That's the only question worth answering. How to plan for prosperity while stabilizing or reducing the footprint.

Btw, if penury is real, it will enforce itself. The shift in car buying patterns in the US is perfect illustration of that.

Even better, penury will enforce itself without the help of any political movement. Reality always asserts itself without any help. Reality is a big boy :)

by Francois in Paris on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 04:44:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Francois in Paris:
People won't choose penury. Period.

They may have to suffer it if it is imposed by dictatorial fiat or by physical reality and the market - which is just a way to organize and arbitrate penury - but they will never choose it willingly.


Btw, if penury is real, it will enforce itself. The shift in car buying patterns in the US is perfect illustration of that.

So the best we can hope for in political economy is to react to a crisis even if the crisis was predictable and could have been made more manageable by "organizing penury"?

You're probably right, but it is quite sad. It means the only regimes able to organize penury are authoritarian, but by their authoritarian nature they won't be responsive.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 16th, 2008 at 07:28:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Poor analogies. The civil rights movement and the abolition and suffragette movements only affected the pride and the feeling of superiority of those in a privileged position.

As subsequent events have shown the life and prosperity of the wealthy haven't suffered. Even the elimination of slavery turned out not to be as dire to plantation owners. It was just replaced by sharecropping and even the responsibility of providing food and shelter for workers was eliminated.

Changing from consumerism will have a direct affect on everyone. No one is willing to sacrifice. Changing a light bulb is not a sacrifice, you aren't now sitting in the dark.

Having people give up their cars or move into high density housing rather than a suburban single family home is something else.

Recycling is not the same thing as foregoing the purchase in the first place. Politicians can't get ahead of the public. The best they can do is try to change concept of what is acceptable. That's what the abolition movement did, but it took a war to turn it into policy.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu May 8th, 2008 at 06:32:31 PM EST
I think there is a belief that saving the planet is one of the big things that only the Government, working with the other governments around the world,  can do truly effectively.

Yes, we can do small things, but if govts continue to do big things wrong, then we're pissing into the wind. British government is a slanging match between two parties who argue over a fag paper thin difference of policy. FTFP prevents people who challenge the status quo, our media are disinterested in anybody who challenges the status quo.

You can vote green locally, but not nationally...it's pointless.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 10:09:14 AM EST
we've only ever had one green MP

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri May 16th, 2008 at 12:18:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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