I have just read a draft of the Green Party Yorkshire & the Humber leaflet for the Euro elections in May. Here is what I think should be its basis. There is the permanent trilemma: 1 what the Green party is (was??) for; 2 what the media think will increase their sales, and 3 what the public preoccupations are likely to be. At the 1989 Euro election all three ‘winds’ were favourable to the Green Party. We caught the public imagination and gained 15%. That has not happened since, and if anything the winds this time are less favourable than ever.
I am not exactly giving secrets away to enemies when I reveal that the leaflet says: “We need to transform our economy so that we live within the physical limits of our one planet, not the three planet’s-worth of resources we’re now using every year”. That would be terrific if it linked up with anything else in the leaflet. Without any mention of the Green Party’s doubts about economic growth it is a platitude. As I shall explain, it could be linked powerfully with both fracking and the Citizens’ Basic Income, but neither is there. On 2, unless we come up with something more startling than I have read so far, a party normally identified by four capital letters will hog the limelight. Point 3 reinforces a vicious circle: that party decides the public agenda.
The Green Party was formed to offer an answer to Limits to Growth, the 1972 report which explored when human population times economic growth would be more than the planet could cope with. The current mainstream ‘wisdom’ is that the economy must be stimulated. The environment is not important just now. The first thing only the Green Party can or will say is
The Economy depends on the environment.
It very quickly became obvious in 1973 that managing population and economic activity within the Earth’s physical limits was interdependent with social justice. PEOPLE, now the Green Party, would have to be ‘left of centre’. The founding group, all well-heeled enough to be substantial taxpayers whenever the Citizens’ Basic Income is implemented, readily accepted it as a price well worth paying for a sustainable world. There have been election results down the years which suggest that that approached skilfully, large numbers of well-heeled voters will accept that view. The above average results in that 15% poll in 1989 were achieved in the Tory heartlands. But those responsible for trying to publicise the Green Party, have always kept the CBI hidden, on the grounds that it was too difficult to get across in the limited sound bites we would get. An election campaign is not the time for an in depth analysis, but our literature must at least reflect our perception of the underlying realities. On the cover of my book I quote Wolfgang Sachs:
“The World is no longer divided by the ideologies of ‘left’ and ‘right’, but by those who accept ecological limits and those who don’t.”
In my blog post last week I suggested that political conflict will in future be between those who say “Enough is enough”, and oppose economic growth on principle, and their opponents (enemies?) who will include for example Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator on the Financial Times. Mr. Wolf accepts the Earth’s physical limits, but he has confidence that human ingenuity will indefinitely find answers to whatever difficulties economic growth throws up. But that ‘debate’ cannot even begin as long as economic growth is an unquestioned necessity. The first step is something which allows whole populations, as indivdiuals, to contemplate zero economic growth – a recession – with equanimity, whether it is planned, accidental, temporary or long term. I hope that even Martin Wolf will concede that such a tool should be in the toolbox (note my non-violent imagery) of managing the resources and capacity of a finite planet.
I have to confess at this point that I have had a recent shock. It transpires that a number of individuals who I thought had grasped the need for this key prerequisite for a sustainable economy still do not think of it as a sine qua non first step.
The Citizen’s Basic Income is an idea whose time seems imminent anyway. There is to be a referendum in Switzerland, and 100,000 signatures have been collected for its implementation Europe-wide. There has been an international movement in Europe, BIEN, since 1986, now with groups active in several other parts of the world. Similar schemes already exist nationally in Iran, and state wide in Alaska, and Brazil has proposals on the statute book. But all these developments are exclusively concerned with its importance as a major step towards social justice. It seems rather more possible than it did a year ago that the Citizens’ Basic Income may burst on mainstream consciousness before the Euro election, but if this is accompanied by silence from the Green movement that will hinder its success, and it will not help the ecological perspective. I approve of the formerly poor spending money confiscated from the still wealthy, but that is not for me the main object of the exercise. The Citizens’ Income motion before conference relates to the 2015 General Election, but as explained, it should be part of this Euro campaign.
An aspect of the Citizens’ BI not strictly relevant to the European election, is Iain Duncan Smith’s demolition of the welfare state. I have in several blog posts pointed out how Dynamic Benefits, (published Sept 2009), IDS’s own publication, can be used to explain the CBI , and demolish his malevolent attack on the most vulnerable. The only reason to keep this out of the Green campaign is a cynical one: although it offers to release a whole section of society from malicious oppression, they are the least likely to vote. Just a thought. Obama did the impossible with the Alienated.
As I discussed this in my blog post on 14.10.2013, fracking may be rather more dangerous than is currently realized. According to a letter in the Financial Times, escape of shale gases is between 4% and 9% in various parts of the USA, whereas if it exceeds 2% it produces more greenhouse gases pro rata than coal. The frightening aspect is that there is no theoretical limit even at 100%. As desperation as to the need for resources intensifies, so less care will be taken, and leakage will increase. I could be dismissed as a scaremonger, but why take what could become an appalling risk when a way not to is available?. We may not have much time. Gas fracked in America or Australia will kill us as quickly as them.
As a community with an expansionist culture, in this case global, approaches the limits to expansion, the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ dictates that the worst behaviour is the best strategy. Such a society will have eroded whatever checks and balances may have inhibited egregious behaviour in the past, and it seems that a crisis is necessary before they are restored, because without such checks and balances no one can afford to place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. This why it is proving extraordinarily difficult to persuade governments and people generally to take any notice of scientific warnings, let alone for them to become the major issue politics should be about. But several European nations are shaping up to oppose fracking together. The Green Party can offer a different policy from the major British parties and the four-letter one.
So to combine the concept of questioning economic growth with a way to make it optional – the Citizens’ Basic Income, and a further incentive – fracking –as to why that might be a very good idea, in addition to the objections to it anyway, and the Green Party will have the makings of a distinctive policy to go into the European elections. Both issues will resonate within Europe, due to developments there. It is still going to be a tough call. Success may depend on one or two strokes of ‘luck’, if you can describe further extreme weather events in April and May in that way. The Swiss referendum will raise awareness, but the date may have a bearing on how much it influences the Euro elections, as will the actual result. But the literature as it stands is indistinguishable from any left of centre publication for whom not trashing the Earth sounds sensible. Let us at least go into the campaign with a bang, not a whimper.