Young Greens for the environment

I joked a couple of days ago that I should set-up a Young Greens for the Environment grouping in the Green Party. I wasn’t being facetious, because I think there is a lack of environmentalism (or perhaps even a current of anti-environment thought) within the Young Greens (the organisation, distinct from the many Greens who are under 30).

By all reports, Young Greens were out in force at this weekend’s party conference, along with older members who have joined in recent years in search of a left-of-Labour party with realistic electoral prospects. Their scalp was a change to the party’s philosophical basis, removing clauses like this:

Life on Earth is under immense pressure. It is human activity, more than anything else, which is threatening the well-being of the environment on which we depend. Conventional politics has failed us because its values are fundamentally flawed.

And replacing them with clauses like this:

A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism.

Leaving side various quibbles, the new clauses contain sentiments I broadly agree with. Green politics has, for a long time, had four basic principles: ecology, social justice, peace and democracy, all equally important goals.

What’s interesting is that the preamble to this policy motion went further than saying social justice is as important as ecology. It sought to “make social justice central“, asking that we “put our struggle for equality and democratic control of resources at the centre” of our politics (my emphasis).

Keeping the environment central

I am dismayed by this change.

I joined the Green Party because I think the environmental crises we are creating are the single biggest political problem we face. I want to distinguish between goals – the world we want to see – and struggles – the issues or problems we need to tackle. I think social justice, peace and democracy are equally important goals, but the raison d’être of the Green Party is surely that no other political party in England and Wales takes the struggle for the environment seriously?

If we don’t fix our environmental problems, the other concerns might as well not matter. Social justice issues like welfare reform will pale into insignificance as runaway climate change, the exhaustion of oceans and soils, the disruption of the nitrogen cycle and other growing crises all take their toll. Unlike most social justice issues, environmental crises are stuck in feedback loops that mean late or timid action fatally undermines our ability to tackle them later on; you can always build more homes in 2015 to make good on a few years of inaction, but we can’t, yet, take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere at a scale that could undo the damage of past years.

It is possible to conceive of an environmentally sound society that is socially unjust (such as many poor countries today) and of socially just societies that are environmentally unsound (such as many Latin American lefty countries, though they are of course undermining the foundations of their future prosperity). We are in politics to bring about a society that is environmentally sound, socially just, democratic and peaceful. But of all the struggles we face to achieve those goals, we must, I believe, give the environmental problems the highest priority because we live in a country in which they are the most severely neglected, and in which they pose by far the greatest threat.

One slogan I use with confidence is, “if there isn’t a Green in the room it won’t get discussed”. On occasion this is true of pay inequality, co-operative housing and alternatives to military intervention. But it is most often, and most starkly, true of environmental issues. We can and should work across a broad range of topics, but if we fail to work on environmental topics as a central concern then nobody will work on them in a serious way.

I also feel slightly queasy at the implication that the party is moving away from a deep green, ecological philosophy. The pale Green approach asks us to fix problems like pollution and resource depletion in order to build a socially just, peaceful and democratic society; the environment is important insofar as it underpins those things we really value. The deep Green approach asks that we adopt a wholly different framework, an ecological framework that sees humanity as part of nature and all of nature as inherently valuable. We struggle against pollution and resource depletion and other problems in order to realise a world with greater ecological well-being. Our understanding of social justice, democracy and peace flows from our ecological philosophy, which is central and formative. You can read more about this “ecological philosophy” here.

When we discuss policies that can be pursued by Green councillors, people without the power to overturn the basic values of the UK political system, we must be more pragmatic. For example, I don’t think it’s right to fight against housing development in regions of the UK that have severe shortages, on the grounds that we might – if in national government – begin to rebalance the UK’s economy to other regions with more empty homes and less housing stress (something I wrote about here).

But when we discuss our philosophical basis, we needn’t make this compromise.

To my mind, this new philosophical basis throws that out, and makes us a left wing party concerned with humankind that is fixing environmental problems for humankind’s benefit.

The Young Green element, or bloc

The motion vote came about in part through the emergence of something of a ‘bloc’ of Young Greens, self-identified as more left-wing, less hippyish and less deep Green than previous generations.

This first really came to my attention in a Guardian interview with Adam Ramsay[update: I should point out Adam isn't an officer or spokesperson for the Young Greens, I mention him as a prominent 'young' Green who talks up this idea of a new approach among younger members] Here is the full quote:

There are, he explains, three elements within British green politics: the kind of veteran “ecologist liberals” represented by the Greens’ London mayoral candidate Jenny Jones; more left-leaning people who joined the party towards the end of the 1980s, like their current leader Caroline Lucas; and Ramsay’s own lot: what he calls “the Iraq war generation, which blurs into the cuts generation: people who are students now”. The middle group, he says, tends to side with his faction, and the result is an increasing emphasis on such issues as inequality and the public/private balance, as well as the Green staples of sustainability and climate change. “There’s more of us now, so we win,” he says. “And in terms of ideas and energy – we run the party.”

I know Adam from our shared time as activists in People & Planet, a fantastic student campaigning organisation he now works for. I admire Adam’s energy for direct action politics, and respect his tireless work to further Green politics. Back in the day, when I was on People & Planet’s Management Committee (a kind of democratic board) we were both pushing for the organisation to campaign on workers’ rights and to take a harder, more political stance following years of slightly fuzzy trade justice work. But his interview made me think we have subsequently departed for different planets.

My first bone to pick was his description of Jenny Jones as an “ecologist liberal”, and by implication not a lefty who would pursue issues like inequality and privatisation. That is rubbish, but not a tangent I have space for here.

My second bone was the idea that there are delimited “elements” in the party. What made it even worse was that Adam was apparently suggesting some elements have taken control of the party!

I’m not in any element or faction, thank you. I’m a Green, I follow my values and the evidence to support any proposal that I think is right. Talk of factions encourages people to switch off their brains and vote en bloc, and even to start imagining that there are other factions they should oppose or undermine. This divisive attitude put me off Green Left, despite feeling I was on the left of the party when it launched.

At conferences I have voted to remove unscientific nonsense about homeopathy that was a relic of a new age form of deep Green thinking, and I have voted to strengthen private tenants’ rights in the face of concerns from older home-owning and landlord members, but I don’t identify with young or old exclusively. I would have voted against this motion.

The emergence of the pale Green bloc

Back to Adam’s quote.

Like him, I came to the Green Party following nine years of Labour’s work to wage foreign wars, privatise public services and maintain the global trade agreements that kept corporations in the business of exploiting people and planet. I came to the Greens out of admiration for our Living Wage policy, but also for our deep commitment to ecology and the recognition that pitting the environment against the economy or society is always a false choice, always an ignorance of environmental science and economics, always a mistake, and deeply out of kilter with my philosophy. I joined following years campaigning on climate change, trade justice and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and my early years coincided with the buildup to the Copenhagen conference, during which climate change was unambiguously one of the biggest campaigning issues of the day.

I can see that people five or ten years younger than me have had a different track record. I first noticed this when drawing up our manifesto for the London Mayoral and Assembly elections in May 2012. I had extended various invitations to the London Young Greens committee to meet and discuss what they would like to see, to host workshops with new young  members, and to consider whether we should write a youth section into the manifesto. My offer wasn’t taken up, and in good time I received a polished Young Green manifesto to consider. The document had lots of good ideas, but there was nothing – and I mean, nothing – about the environment. From the Young Greens!

I was pretty astonished, until I reflected on the main issues on campuses in the preceding years – student fees, cuts, anti-austerity, pay inequality. Like weather vanes, the Young Green committee in London had followed the political winds and dropped any interest in the single biggest intergenerational injustice we have to deal with – climate change – let alone other environmental issues affecting young people or the pressures on London’s environment.

This has been repeated with the national Young Green’s innovation of  their own policy platforms. The first two concern housing and economic democracy (see Google cache while their site is down). These contain lots of  great ideas, but again the environment is almost entirely absent. The one mention of environmental issues in in relation to housing and energy use, left as a single pale Green consideration, far from the deep Green heritage of the party.

Do we need Young Greens for the Environment?

I don’t really want to propose setting up another faction, a group-within-a-group. That would only add to the problems we face.

I’d prefer to believe that we are really all on the same page, and that we can find ways to bring ecology back to the fore in the coming years.

I would like to think there are fellow Greens aged 30 and under who still think that ecology is a central concern; who think that it is, of all our core values, the one we most urgently need to struggle for given that it is the only one comprehensively ignored by the other four national parties; and who are also concerned at these signs that their peers seem to be downgrading ecology, either deliberately or by omission. Fellow Greens who recognise the need at times to present ecology in terms of social justice, and to give social justice and democracy greater prominence in our day to day work, but who still feel that ecology is paramount.

Join me! Or tell me what I’m missing…

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42 thoughts on “Young Greens for the environment

  1. Nishma says:

    There are many points of contention here, but I’ll try to keep this simple.

    1. The environment cannot be divorced from society/humanity – over generations we have shaped our landscapes and they have shaped us. We have engaged with them to ascertain the things we need (food, water, shelter, etc) and in return our actions have shaped it.

    2. Therefore our actions do influence the environment, but those actions are a result of a social system – in that our actions are socially constructed. We therefore cannot divorce climate change from industrialisation, which cannot be divorced from Enlightenment thinking. This thinking has created modern day neoliberal capitalism – which attempts to expand industrialisation while externalising costs like the environment. This expansion leads to the need for economic growth which is ascertained through high consumerism.

    3. Consumerism is the core reason for our overuse of natural resources and our incapability to achieve a sense of sustainability. This is particularly driven by a desire to achieve economic equality (the working classes consume to be equal to the middle classes, as the middle classes strive to consume to be equal to the upper classes)…

    4. The globalisation of economic production and the international division of labour is how capitalism allows for that consumerism to carry on. Cheap labour in the Global South means that goods are shipped around and each separate area is given a separate outsourced contract. This increases carbon emissions and ensures that cheap goods are available to those who consume the most – the Global North. All environmental costs are externalised, directly impacting the local people. Companies responsible blame the govt for these crises while govts blame the companies. Local people get stuck in the middle.

    5. The inequality of power is the core reason for environmental crisis, and that is assured through capitalism. Until social justice is achieved, sustainability will never be possible.

    After all, Tom, who are we creating a stable community for? What is the point of being an environmentalist if you ignore the people who have done the least to create these issues?

    Social justice is tied into environmental justice – that’s why environmental organisations speak of climate justice not just climate change.

    Until we solve the actual cause of environmental disaster – capitalism – the chances of us succeeding are little to none.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Nishma, you lose me in your first point because I believe it is mistaken to even talk of “the environment” as something distinct from humankind, something that humankind resides in.

      On point 2, I love that you point the finger back to enlightenment thinking, I quite agree! But it also led to the development of socialist and communist doctrines that were equally damaging to the environment, and at the root of the problem with enlightenment thinking is the idea that humankind is a rational being separate from nature, aiming to rationally control it, and all too often completely ignoring it in the process.

      My political philosophy is based on the idea that we need to see ourselves as part and parcel of ecology, and ecological values as central. My political realism is that we need to do everything we can to persuade people of the value of the environment, whether that be inherent, economic, social or other kinds of value.

      On point 3, I think ‘consumerism’ is far too narrow. I didn’t go into this tangent in my blog, but our economic model was already hugely damaging and unsustainable long before consumerism took hold (post WW2 in the UK’s case). Industry, the development of infrastructure, the running of public services, these are all environmentally unsustainable in the way they are run at the moment, and have little to do with consumerism.

      I’d agree with point 4.

      On point 5, I think the achievement of both is desirable but isn’t logically necessary. Why not an environmentally conscious dictator?

      On your final point, my worry is that this argument has led us to almost not talk about climate change and other environmental problems and – as with this motion – to end up making social justice central. As I wrote at length in my original article, I feel we are losing something important in this process.

      • Nishma Doshi says:

        Firstly – I am neither a socialist or a communist. These are mere labels which don’t really match the global complexities of the current. I am a doubter, someone who gets that society is a little more complex. As someone who comes from a non-Western background I more than get that we can’t control the world in the same way that everyone thinks we can. That said, I am in no way an environmental determinist – and that is exactly what you seem to be constructing within your argument.

        Environmental crises are always narratives – climate change is a problem with the narrative we provide it. For many of us, we see that as underpinned in this society where everything is about selfishness, constructed out of capitalism. Remember that in Western society, capitalism has deeper routes than just industrialisation. It is connected to the construction of the nation-state in itself! But also remember that our understanding of history is coloured by our own social constructions and conceptual categories.

        Social justice and the environment are the same thing – not because of the rationality I presented to you – but because both are the things we actively engage in, and indeed what we are shaped by (and shape). That’s why equality of power matters.

        Currently that lies in the political economy. I don’t subscribe to many of the Green Party views on Keynesian economics, or somehow having a growth led economy. I believe in creating a sustainable and balanced economy where people contribute their skills to a greater whole. Things will always change – all is in flux – but we need to focus that change in a way that makes the world worth saving. That can only happen in an equal community.

        As for your response to point 5, as Rebecca MacKinnon has said, we can’t just hope for a benevolent dictator.

      • Tom Chance says:

        Nishma, thanks for the response, very interesting. To reassure you, I don’t intend to wait for a benevolent dictator! I agree with two thirds of what you say, but depart on your analysis of capitalism rooted in selfishness and the nation state. That’s really too long a debate to get into this evening!

        I’d just like to point out, by the way, that I didn’t say you were a socialist or a communist. I argued that enlightenment thinking underpinned socialism and communism. That you take it to be directed at you is typical of much of the reaction I’ve had from people involved in Young Greens.

  2. timystic says:

    Also – Adam Ramsay does not speak for the Young Greens. He is not an elected officer.

  3. Benali says:

    So a few points. I chaired the workshop debating the policy. In that there were a number of young greens who opposed the policy, and a number of non young greens who spoke passionately for the motion. The workshop was 26-2 for the motion. In plenary the motion passed with substantial non-YG support. YGs represented a quarter of attendees and not all supported, indeed some did speak against in plenary. 74 attendees were YG, yet the motion received I believe a substantial amount more votes. All considered I think it unwise to put the vote as solely YG factionalism.

    Equally I originally came to conference planning to oppose. I didn’t find the proposal perfect, but in the end I did support. Particularly the original statement which placed blame on enivronment on humans was something that had to be changed. Majority of people do live low carbon existence and should not be blamed for actions of majority.

  4. There is no need to set up a ‘Young Greens for the Environment’. Every Young Green I have met is deeply concerned with environmental issues. There is definitely no ‘anti-environment thought’.

    In fact, the new Philosophical Basis is a lot greener than the old one. It challenges the very system, capitalism, that is the root of the ecological crisis. The old version only stated ‘human activity’ which could mean capitalism but could also be interpreted as individual lifestyle choices. The new version makes it very clear that it is a structural problem and this is clearly true.

    You mention a ‘deep green’ approach, but it is the old Philosophical Basis that separates humans and the environment. The new version does not separate humans from nature and uses an inclusive ‘we’, which can include other, non-human, life.

    Ecology and social justice; green and red; are interdependent. Far from being ‘pale Green’ I have found the Young Greens to be deep green and deep red when compared to the rest of the party. While the politics of the YGs vary anywhere between anarchist, communist and social democrat – I think most hold an ecologically aware decentralist shade of socialism.

    I’d like to see your response and proposal for how we should save the environment while capitalism and all of its vastly unequal and hierarchical power structures remain.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Duncan,

      The word ‘capitalism’ is much over used and over simplified, and there really isn’t one ‘system’ at the root of our ecological crisis. There are many different economic, political, industrial, technological etc. models around the world that exhibit varying degrees of ecological destruction. Many include, to some extent, capitalist markets. Some don’t at all.

      At the root of all of these problematic models is the view that humankind is separate from and in control of nature, more important than that separate natural world.

      I certainly never proposed that ‘capitalism and all of its vastly unequal and hierarchical power structures remain’.

      • Howard Thorp says:

        Tom, ?? We live in a world economy which is capitalist with the possible exception of a couple of countries. It is the incredible productive power of capitalism which is driving climate change and environmental degradation. What are these other models?

      • Tom Chance says:

        How about variants of social democracy, Chinese state capitalism/communism, the many innovations in Latin America, and so on…

        I think if we just frame the whole thing as being about ‘capitalism’ we neutralise our ability t analyse the problems.

  5. Clive Lord says:

    This is worse than I realized. Adam Ramsay may ‘only’ be an individual, but there are too many straws in the wind. From the outset (1973) I have stressed that saving the planet for future generations and social justice are dependent on each other. I have also pointed out the mismatch up to and including the 1989 Euro election of a mainly passionate social justice activist base, and green votes being directly proportional to the conservative vote. That correlation ceased abruptly as a result of the publicity we gained then.
    Those lost conservatives didn’t understand the social justice implications of our message, and probably still don’t, but until they , and the intransigent young greens are disposed to start listening to each other, we are unlikely to achieve either social justice or saving the planet. Of course, I have for those same 40 years been pointing out the central relevance of the Citizens’ Income to all this. Are any of the Young Greens aware of the connection?
    It is especially sad because the Old Labour work-centric jobs at a living wage at all costs line plays straight into Iain Duncan Smith’s workfare agenda. My Green vision has part time flexible working with people working on low eco-footprint jobs they enjoy. See my blog
    http://www.clivelord.wordpress.com

    • I am a strong supporter of the Citizens’ Income and a Young Green. The citizens’ income is vital to transitioning to a society focussed on wellbeing not GDP. It is an excellent transitional demand (to borrow marxist terminology) because it undermines some key capitalist power structures. I find it strange, though, that you suggest working with conservatives whose capitalist dogma means we can’t work together towards a sustainable, post-capitalist, society.

  6. Clive Lord says:

    @duncanjdavis Capitalism is indeed the cause of much oppression and eco-damage, but it is robust. It has proved impervious to efforts to smash it which go back longer than even I can remember. More to the point, aggressive anti-capitalism ensures that the well-heeled who worry about future generations remain convinced that Green politics is not for them. The citizens’ Income offers the possibility of starving the beast.

    • Howard Thorp says:

      Clive, I don’t have time to debate this in detail here but suffice to say that capitalism is driven by capital accumulation, in brief that means compound growth, something which is no longer possible if we want society to survive an almighty crash. So, a green economy cannot be capitalist – end of story – it will be a post-capitalist economy, something which some party members need to come to terms with. If you are green, you are an anti-capitalist whether you like it or not.

      In addition, capitalism depends upon the commodification of labour, something which your Citizen’s income, which I support fully, will bring to an end, which is why it will be fought tooth and nail by capitalists.

      As for the change to the philosophical basis I’m completely relaxed about it. We can always argue about the exact choice of words but I don’t believe that the change undermines the commitment of our party to the environment and I believe young greens are just as concerned about that as the rest of us.

      • Tom Chance says:

        Howard, I think part of Clive’s point is that the term “anti-capitalism” is charged with such strong connotations of Militant and the like that it is unhelpful for the party to use it.

  7. adamaramsay says:

    Hi Tom,

    I just wrote a quite long response to this, but it seems to have been swallowed by the internet…

    so, just a couple of things.

    First, as it happens, you are wrong about me. I joined the (Scottish) party before Labour’s wars – in 2001. I did so because of a number of issues, but foremost among them was (and is) concern about climate change, biodiversity, and the plundering of the earth’s resources. It doesn’t really matter, other than because it perhaps explains something about how my politics have been shaped, and as you mention me in the blog, it’s worth being accurate.

    Second, on my comment that Jenny seems to have different priorities than me, I think you are trying to have it both ways. You seem to be saying both that there aren’t differences, and that there are. I think it’s fine that there are. I wouldn’t consider either ‘ecologist’ or ‘liberal’ to be offensive words, and they certainly weren’t intended as such. Let me put it in two really simple ways: first, Jenny was asked, after the election, on national telly, if she’s left wing. She said that she isn’t, she’s Green. Were I asked this, I would say that I am. I don’t think this has to be a huge disagreement, but it is one. If you prefer the term ‘deep green’ to ‘ecologist liberal’ then that’s fine.

    Thirdly, I think the points above are important. The disagreement isn’t about how important environmental issues are. The difference is that I think it’s crucial to see that these are problems created by a system, and that we must understand that system and all of its dangerous impacts, and we must work together with all of those who wish to overthrow it and replace it with more democratic systems. And I want the Green Party to be the party through which that happens.

    Thanks,

    Adam

    • Tom Chance says:

      Hi Adam,

      How annoying, I hate it when that happens. Thanks for your comments…

      I’m really not trying to have it both ways with respect to your comment on Jenny. I deleted a much longer discussion of that point because I thought it was tangential, but in brief I don’t think you can have made much of an effort to review her work in the party or get to know her if you think – which your quote implies – that she is a “liberal” of any sort and that she is less concerned about pay inequality and the public private balance.

      But it’s really not that germane to my argument how you or I or Jenny label ourselves. What I find really unhelpful is the suggestion that there are three distinct elements. It reminds me of the ‘waves’ theory of feminism, which, while superficially true, simplifies and undermines the diversity of thought among feminists right back to its earliest beginnings. Likewise there have been many very self-consciously left-wing people in the party for years – I work with one – while I know of people who have joined in recent years who are straight down the middle and concerned with the environment.

      On your final point, as I wrote in response to a comment above, I found the use of the word “system” really unhelpful as well. There are many different complex systems at play that are undermining our ecology and making life a misery for a great many species, and incidentally consumerism is just one part of that.

  8. Tara says:

    I have some concerns about this shift, really unless we remember we are part of the community of life and not above it we will never get the right sense of policy. I hope it does prove to be a good flux of social and ecological direction. It is so important that we don’t end up as a another labour or socialist party – they already exist. It seems there is great dismissal of homeopathy in the party at the moment – I’m no expert but it is worked incredibly for me and my children when alliopathic medicine has not and also for my Mum who used it for ten years and helped here to avoid what seemed inevitable operations. I have no idea of the science but it has sure worked better that the anti depressants and anti anxiety drugs I took for quite a while.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Tara, I was at some of the workshops and plenary votes removing mentions of homeopathy. If it worked for you it will have been as a placebo. There’s a big interesting debate about whether that is something we should do more of, but I’m glad our party policy now avoids discussing specific treatments and just says “we will pay for whatever works”.

      I also really agree that I don’t want to be in just another labour or socialist party!

  9. Peter McColl says:

    This is a bizarre blogpost. I have literally never met a Green Party member who isn’t an environmentalist or who doesn’t care deeply about climate change. None of the people who were at conference are, I believe, anything other than utterly committed to tackling the environmental crisis.

    What is telling about your post is the creation of a false opposition between caring about social justice and the environment. Yes there are many Greens who do care about the environment but don’t care about social justice. But that doesn’t mean that those who do care about social justice don’t care about the environment.

    This is a question of culture, of tactics and of belief. There are those who want to deal with the cause of the environmental crisis: a global economic system that wastes massive resources while impoverishing many and driving climate change. And there are those who want to deal with the symptoms caused by this system.

    I understand why people want to deal with symptoms. It seems easier, it takes us less out of our middle class comfort zones and it doesn’t draw ire from people who don’t like equality.

    But I believe that Greens should seek to deal with the cause not the symptoms. I believe that we can’t stop climate change until we stop a system that has the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of people at its heart.

    So we can stay in our comfort zone, we can talk to ourselves, or we can tackle the thing causing both the important crises facing our world.

  10. Seb says:

    Tom, I think the key issue here isn’t that some Greens are more concerned about the ecological environment than others. That simply isn’t the case at all. The disagreement is about what *causes* the environmental problems and therefore what strategies and solutions we need.

    So we need to carefully consider the key obstacles to resolving urgent environmental problems. They aren’t technical obstacles (all major engineering institutions agree we already have suitable technology), they’re not financial (e.g. Nicolas Stern and others agree its cheaper to deal with it now), so what exactly are the obstacles then? Well, the main opposition is from wealthy corporations and individuals who feel their monopoly of power/money is threatened (it is). A society which gives so few individuals so much power is evidently highly dangerous as well as unjust and unsustainable. Which is precisely why we need to change the structure of society if we are to address environmental problems.

    It is also worth asking why so few people apparently seem concerned about environmental and social justice. Again, the inequality of power in society has *huge* influence over people’s values. People don’t get their values independently, but from each other and society. If this society is controlled by a few, these few project their values on society.

    This is precisely why we need to urgently change the structure of society in order to urgently address ecological issues and social justice. This has absolutely nothing to do with downgrading the environment.

    • Tom Chance says:

      Seb, I think the debate about what causes environmental crises – whether social justice is the underlying, central concern that needs to be fixed to solve them – is an interesting one.

      But is it not striking that in the two instances I mention where Young Greens draw up policy documents, the environment is almost entirely missing?

      Benali gave a plausible explanation: they feel the rest of the party has got all the expertise it needs on environmental issues, whereas there is a gap around social issues so they are trying to work in that area. That seems fine, but I do worry that it leads to imbalanced thinking.

  11. Seb says:

    Also, to be clear, I lobbied and voted for the social justice amendment and I suppose I’m therefore one of the new bloc. You have really misrepresented my views in this blog post which I’m not at all happy with. Perhaps in future you could pay more attention to ‘our’ actual views i.e. the difference being what we see as the obstacles to sustainability, not that we don’t care as much about sustainability.

    Thanks.

  12. I think Tom makes some good points. Our philosophy stems from the realisation that we’re treating the planet in an unsustainable way. From that comes the understanding that if we’re to survive on the planet and if the planet is to survive then we must change the way we live. Then from that we reach the conclusion that if we’re to make do with less then we need to address social inequality in a radical way because if you live without very much already then you can’t be expected to make do with less – those with plenty have to bear the brunt.
    However some in the party – as illustrated quite starkly by the BG debate over Population Matters – start to get uncomfortable with population issues. Let’s accept that PM frame their argument in ways that aren’t green. That doesn’t alter the fact that population is a multiplier on all the problems the planet faces and that even if swathes of the world’s poor don’t consume resources or produce CO2 at the rate of those of us in developed countries (though their food requirements are much closer to those of people in developed countries for obvious reasons than say their demand for carbon based fuels) those billions will have more and more impact as they are able to reach what we’d see as a resonable standard of living let alone the consumerist lifestyles we’ve established in the developed world. No oone has produced a convincing model of sustainability that doesn’t encompass population as an issue.
    Then there are statements such as that attributed to Adam: ““There’s more of us now, so we win,” he says. “And in terms of ideas and energy – we run the party.”” I hope Adam didn’t really say that. It’s unacceptably arrogant particularly given the number of local parties, especially in rural areas, where there are no young greens at all. In London, Oxford and other student centres YGs may play an important role (though as I understand it in Oxford it’s not really the YGs but the 40+s who do the bulk of the nitty gritty), in places like rural Sussex, Suffolk, Norfolk etc they are almost entirely absent. It’s quite insulting to those of us who slog away, despite having to support families with all the additional demands on our time that involves, and get on with promoting a Green agenda in difficult areas. YGs only ‘run things’ where YGs actually turn up and even then they can hardly say they do all the work.
    The other thing that YGs seem not to have accepted is that traditionally the Green vote has come far more from across the scpectrum, from disillusioned Tories as well as those fed up with the Labour party. The more we simply try to position ourselves to appeal to those who want a Labour alternative as opposed to simply ‘an alternative’ the more we close off sources of suppport and reduce, rather than grow,, our vote.
    Lastly, having spent last weekend not at conference but in Brussels at a meeting of the Green European Foundation on the social dimension to Europe I was really struck by the issue that Greens across Europe face in terms of distinctiveness. There’s real worry that we don’t offer anything that the other parties don’t also offer. In that respect Tom makes a point worthy of serious consideration, our identity, our raison d’etre stems from our holistic view of the problems facing the future of the planet. Simply jettisoning the green party of the Green Party means we’re just ‘a’ party and will get us not very far at all.

    • Benali says:

      Jonathan I’d just say a few things. Is it not firstly of major concern that there are many areas without any Young Greens? Or if they are then they’re not as engaged as much as they could be? If that’s how it is to be than quite clearly we are a party without a future!!!

      On the spread of where Green votes come from actually what we see here is the rural/urban divide in my opinion. Green Parties in rural areas have been successful in winning over Conservative voters, especially because quite often they’re the main party to take votes off. Meanwhile in urban metropolises it’s often very difficult to find a Conservative voter! This difference of framing is very much down to the environments we find ourselves in, not the difference between YG and non-YG

      Next on population I’d say that when the third world approaches more acceptable living standards their birth rate will go down, as we’ve seen in every country. The key is making sure they achieve that growth in a green way, it is not about artificially focusing on the actual population change.

      Finally I don’t find it helpful to be casting doubts on the energy that Young Greens put in the party. As a YG who has spent the day canvassing in the cold, then running Green press all afternoon it’s rather disheartening to hear a member of my fellow party questioning mine and other’s contribution to the party. It’s not right for anyone to be questioning anyone’s contribution to the party, I am proud of however much energy or time each individual in this party can and does contribute.

  13. Seb says:

    Jonathan, to frame the environmental debate around population when we all know full well that the primary (by far) cause of environmental problems is Western consumerism by wealthy individuals and the disproportionate influence those individuals and the organisations they run have on society, is a very misguided focus.

    If the Green Party wants to get anywhere, we have to show people we care. Blaming poor people for the problems caused by rich people is unlikely to help.

    • I’m not saying that am I Seb. I’m saying that no one has framed a plan for a sustainable future that doesn’t encompass population as one factor. So I’m not saying it’s all about population. It’s not. I’m not blaming the poor. On the contrary I’m very aware that the poor are usually the first to pay the price for environmental degredation. I’m just pointing out that you can’t ignore the issue – which, and correct me if I’m wrong, is what you and others seem to be suggesting we do because if you aren’t you’re certainly doing a good job of avoiding saying anything useful about the issue. Moreover my reference to population is just one very salient example of how the current move to detatch the Green social agenda from its environmental agenda is booth misplaced and takes the ‘green’ out of the ‘Green Party’.
      Please don’t try to misrepresent what I’m saying. It cheapens any other contribution to the debate you might make and smacks of the bullying tactics I tend to associate with the far left and far right..

  14. Nishma Doshi says:

    Have any of you read the Global Greens charter? I suggest you glance over the social justice section, which reads:

    “We assert that the key to social justice is the equitable distribution of social and natural resources, both locally and globally, to meet basic human needs unconditionally, and to ensure that all citizens have full opportunities for personal and social development.

    We declare that there is no social justice without environmental justice, and no environmental justice without social justice.

    This requires

    – a just organization of the world and a stable world economy which will close the widening gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries; balance the flow of resources from South to North; and lift the burden of debt on poor countries which prevents their development.
    – the eradication of poverty, as an ethical, social, economic, and ecological imperative
    – the elimination of illiteracy
    – a new vision of citizenship built on equal rights for all individuals regardless of gender, race, age, religion, class, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, disability, wealth or health”

    Now, as they are the Greens’ primary identity, I don’t quite see what Tom’s issue is exactly.

    More info here: http://www.globalgreens.org/globalcharter-english

  15. Andrew Dobson says:

    I’m sure we’d all want to recall the section of the Global Greens’ charter that precedes the social justice one and which reads as follows:

    We acknowledge that human beings are part of the natural world and we respect the specific values of all forms of life, including non-human species.

    We acknowledge the wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the world, as custodians of the land and its resources.

    We acknowledge that human society depends on the ecological resources of the planet, and must ensure the integrity of ecosystems and preserve biodiversity and the resilience of life supporting systems.

    This requires

    that we learn to live within the ecological and resource limits of the planet
    that we protect animal and plant life, and life itself that is sustained by the natural elements: earth, water, air and sun
    where knowledge is limited, that we take the path of caution, in order to secure the continued abundance of the resources of the planet for present and future generations.

  16. Rachel Mary Fleming says:

    The point is if we decide to tackle the “system” first and dismantle capitalism (how? revolution?) there is a possibility we’ll all be waiting a long time!. If we don’t quickly decarbonise our infrastructure, housing and production systems CO2 will have reached record levels, the earth will have warmed by 4 degrees and most of the current population will be dead, never mind the destruction of other species and habitats. This is why environmentalism needs to come first. Urgently. The people in the poorest countries will be affected first and worst. Getting Greens in power (MPs) needs to happen quickly to raise the agenda of a low carbon economy, this should be all our priorities. This is the quickest way we can change our economy (whichever system) in time, otherwise it will be too late for all of us.

  17. Chris Padley says:

    The Global Green Charter reflects exactly the Green Party core principles before the recent change. Why did anyone want to change that, and why is the left so pleased with what on the surface seems such a small change? I have long been puzzled by its opposition to any addressing of population growth as an ecological and social concern, and the left’s reluctance to support family planning and education for women where this reduces population growth, on spurious grounds that this is population “control” and racist, or at best a “distraction” from “real” issues. Why so much trouble to invent objections to a perfect example of that very harmony of social and environmental good expressed in the charter? Perhaps the recent events in the Green Party, where opposition to population concern went hand in hand with leftward changes to the party principles, point to an answer. Does the left really believe its rhetoric on the environment, or does it in fact see the realism of environmentalism as in opposition to the idealism of socialism? Does the ecological approach speak too much of duty, with its prophecies of disaster if we do not answer its calls for responsibility, in contrast to the left’s emphasis on rights? Alternatively, does environmentalism appear to offer a rival panacea to that of socialism, and does an ecologically sustainable world risk too much room for inequality of wealth – a sustainable world where all have enough might turn out to be one where some have more. Does a world where there is only just enough for all present fewer problems for socialism? These are all real challenges to many socialists . How far do they go to explain those contradictions in the green-left’s positions? If we look at environmentalism as a problem for the left, then it would not be the often professed view that population is a distraction that drives their opposition, but the contrary – a shared realisation with environmentalists that this issue really is at the core of environmentalism and therefore this is where the blow must be struck hardest.

  18. James Abbott says:

    Tom

    A strong and thoughtful piece of writing which chimes well with what I have been thinking for some time.

    If the Green Party drifts ever further left, weakens its core Green principles and becomes a vehicle for narrow and exclusive “socialist” politics then it will decline.

    We must maintain a strong balance between our environmental and social policies, and be an inclusive and open party.

    The hard left has never understood, in common with the hard right, that to make real change in a democratic society you have to create a broad movement. There are miilions of people out there who could vote Green and we must keep them interested.

    Branding the Green Party on the Left is an instant turnoff for millions of potential voters.

    We used to say “not left, nor right but ahead” and I feel thats still a strong position – its saying that the core understanding of ecological limits transcends the outdated political spectrum and factional politics.

    Green Left says all it needs to in its name. They cannot just support the Green Party like the rest of us, they feel the need to be a faction, with its own membership system and manifesto. So what if a Green Right started up ? Or Green Centre ? All carping at each other. Actually groups like those did form in 1990 and it almost destroyed the party. It was all just navel gazing.

    To achieve real change we need to be getting out there is our communities and making our case in terms that make sense to the majority of people. Most voters care very little for in-depth political philosophy, they want to know what we can do for them on the local issues they care about, what our vision of the future is. We need to make that a positive alternative.

    • Benali says:

      I have to say on this topic that firstly it’s not right to portray the proposal as particularly of the “hard left”. Indeed it could be argued that in some ways the proposal is less left wing than even the amended Clause IV of Labour, that even then describes Labour as a democratic socialist party. This amendment does not go that far (and for the record I am not suggesting it does)

      Secondly I find it misguided to believe that voters are avowedly centrist, or scared off by a specific ideology. Most voters don’t have an ideology and are simply looking for a compelling narrative from people they trust. Before the last Greek election SYRIZA were portrayed as too left wing to do well, but yet if it weren’t for a corrupted PR system they could be in power now. Equally post world war II a much more left wing Labour were voted in at a time of crisis, promising a new Jerusalem. Do we believe that our Grandparents were less conservative than voters today? Voters want to know how we can make their lives better, irrespective of whether we are left, right, up or down wing.

      Next the principle of “not left, nor right but ahead” is based on the idea that perhaps one day, the status quo , that capitalism will deliver the environmental deliverance all Greens are looking for. Based on capitalism’s track record I find that optimistic in the extreme. All we have seen is corporate interests bathe in greenwash, making minor concessions to Green goals. Concessions which are not sufficient to save the planet or the people on it.

      Laissez-faire neoliberal economics is short termist and destructive, as we see from it’s constant cycle of boom and boost. It is patently clear that the economic system, as is , fuels both the environmental crisis and social crises we face. Fundamentally I cannot see any meaningful change unless we tackle both the social crises and the environmental crises we face. The only way to avert the looming climate crisis is more equitable distribution and management of resources, making the economic system we live in more accountable and basically removing the engine for such destruction. Environmental justice cannot be achieved without social justice

      Because the linking of the two actually is the only way we’re going to get the public to care about the environment. Recent polls have found concerns about air pollution, climate change etc at an all time low. The Green Movement has utterly failed to sustain the public outrage that we saw in the late 1980s, and indeed in some ways has driven weariness of the environmental message. We have to make the environmental agenda meaningful to people again, because when people are struggling to find work, to pay rent or feed their children climate change is a rather remote and esoteric concern.

      However talking to a voter about how insulating their home will save them money, reduce fuel poverty and meanwhile save the planet is meaningful. Talking to a person about how bringing down the levels of toxic particulates emitted by cars in their area will help their asthmatic child is meaningful. The only way to get more people interested in Green issues is to link environmental issues to the social justice agenda. Tell people how you will make their life better (which we can) and they will vote for you.

      Because ultimately averting climate change without challenging the atrocities of an unequal world is not worth it. Nor is addressing the systematic inequalities the world faces without addressing climate change. A world that only tackles climate change will see millions die daily in the third world from starvation, inequality and disease, whilst underclasses are neglected in every country. A world that only tackles systematic inequality will soon see the resources it has abused and exhausted run out and it will fall into waste and destruction. We can only succeed from a joint up holistic approach.

      (for the record I am actually a Social Democrat and I’m sure that much of the “hard left” would decry me as a revisionist liberal)

  19. James Abbott says:

    Hello Benali

    With respect you have trotted out the labels without looking at the mechanisms eg capitalism and laissez-faire neoliberal economics. Its a theoretical argument rather than a practicle one.

    If you are talking about multi-national corporations and the “race for the bottom” – then absolutely, you are correct. They are a massively destructive force in terms of both environmental and social impacts.

    But what about self employed people and SME’s working in their local economy ? More people in the UK work for themselves and SMEs than the corporations. The Green Party has always been supportive of small businesses and surely we should not condemn them just because they operate in a market economy ?

    Of course we need a framework of regulation to make sure that the economy is green, but I hope we are not going to go down the road of attacking people just for running their own businesses – which the hard left do. In a debate many years ago with the Socialist Party I was called a capitalist pig for running a local gardening business employing 2 people !!

    There is no doubt that there is a decline (but not a collapse) in concern for environmental issues. Thats to be expected in a long and deep recession. Exactly the same thing took place in the early 1990s. That does not mean we should swing in the wind and I don’t understand how our long term position of “not left, nor right but ahead” is a tacit endorsement of the capitalist system. Its clearly not.

    Anyway, I agree with everything you say in this below, its just a longer version of what I posted before:

    “However talking to a voter about how insulating their home will save them money, reduce fuel poverty and meanwhile save the planet is meaningful. Talking to a person about how bringing down the levels of toxic particulates emitted by cars in their area will help their asthmatic child is meaningful. The only way to get more people interested in Green issues is to link environmental issues to the social justice agenda. Tell people how you will make their life better (which we can) and they will vote for you.”

    • Benali says:

      Just to clarify I am absolutely not against SME and local economies, of course our ideal economy is local and green and not large scale. Equally it’s important to recognise that some SME are not particularly Green and do need support to be more. Moreover I would not condemn anyone for living and getting by. I personally work for a corporate! Damn the system, not the people.

      I’m happy to break down how the current economic system exacerbates climate crisis and is not compatible with a Greener economy. I think the horsemeat scandal is perfect example, where extremely long supply chains, heavy with carbon, are vulnerable to abuse and exist solely to maximise profit. These convoluted supply chains are not just restricted to the food industry, but are endemic. A greener economy would place value on environmental impact. This is clearly a massive change to an economy that only places worth on profit! Equally attempts to make environmental damage mitigation compatible with a profit motive have failed (like in ETS).

      I just fundamentally feel that without change of the economic system we will not resolve the environmental issues we face.

      • Rachel Fleming says:

        I’d be interested to know what model you would like small businesses to operate in. Sometimes even a social enterprise will need capital to expand – eg if you are a recycling company structured as a workers co-op, you may need to invest in a new electric truck for which you dont’ have the upfront costs. You could borrow this from an ethical bank. The workers coop will still need to turn a profit to repay the bank (and to give the workers a dividend). This could all take place in a capitalist market economy (my understanding of it). Local economies can be market driven.

        The examples you give of social justice aims are all used as marketing tactics for pushing environmentally sound products by businesses already. I worked with B&Q on the home energy retrofit package – they were pushing the comfort and cost saving benefits of the products. They have been trail blazers on environmental issues, being the first retailer to only stock FSC certified wood.

        There a loads of examples of green businesses that are succeeding. Look at the recycling industry, the success has been achieved through the correct incentives and legislation (eg landfill tax), support for green businesses, start up grants…

        I believe it is possible with political will to achieve radical reductions in carbon emissions. We don’t need to wait to overthrow the whole system to achieve this. I think environmental aims take precedence because of the urgency of the problem, if we leave it too late (ie until we overthrow capitalism) then with feedback loops the climate with change irrevocably and it no longer being possible to sustain life on earth.

        What is your alternative? A top down planned economy? Is this realistic given the urgency of the problem? Don’t we need to get MPs elected and work with everyone possible to kickstart a greener economy? Then we can fight for decent taxation system, a living wage, decent social housing….

        Is it not share-holder floated corporations that are the route the problems you are talking about rather than capitalism?

  20. Rustam Majainah says:

    A lot of what I think has already been said by people above, and much better than I could have said it, but I wanted to focus on one point made in the post.

    You mention the drafting of the London Assembly manifesto and how the Young Greens’ suggestions didn’t mention anything about the environment. As part of the LYGs committee at the time and one of the key drafters of the document, I though I’d let you in on our thought process behind why we didn’t include policy on the environment. It was an explicit decision (at least from myself) to not include anything on the environment because the AMs had been very good on the environment over their past term. Lots of work had been done on air pollution, among other things, and we didn’t think there was anything we could add to the already strong policy. We thought it would be better to push for more radical social policies that would resonate with students and young people (I can’t remember them off the top of my head). I know that some of them were rejected as we hadn’t costed them, but since then I have run some numbers and it appears more realistic than expected, so I’d be happy to discuss them again with you (or whoever is coordinating London Policy) at the next election.

  21. [...] note – there has been some conversation about the change to the Green Party’s philisophical basis at this year’s [...]

  22. […] my previous blog post about the Young Greens and lots of discussion with friends and fellow party members, I want to set out clearly why ecology […]

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