What use are Green Parties? (Hurricanes)

A recent FT article  assumes that the German Greens have become irrelevant. Their once radical message has been taken on by the mainstream. Meanwhile a series of devastating climate events suggest otherwise. The FT article points out how far other German parties have indeed taken on board Green ideas, but meanwhile the moisture content and energy in the atmosphere continue to increase, slowly but inexorably. The original ‘Limits to Growth aims of the British Green Party are as far from being achieved as ever.

The UK Green Party was generally seen as irrelevant at the June 2017 General Election, but that was because their socialist message had become superfluous to Jeremy Corbyn’s new improved version, not because they had chickened out on their original purpose, though to be fair the global environment hardly figured in the election anyway.

However that reverse may not have been as compete a disaster as it seemed. The fringe programme, at the forthcoming Labour Conference does at least indicate that they feel it necessary to paint themselves as Green as possible without any horse-frightening new ideas.

It would be unfair to point out that Die Grunen was originally formed (10 y ears later than the Ecology, now Green Party) merely as a coalition against nuclear power, not to take on the shibboleth of continuous economic growth. They did burst on to the political scene with a radical new approach, and their electoral system gave them far more publicity than was possible in Britain.

But neither party dared grasp the nettle of questioning economic growth. To begin with the British Green Party did, but that was eventually dropped in favour of more achievable, mainly local goals. We early members were naïve. We underestimated the enormity of the task we had taken on. To be honest, I do not think it is widely understood even now.

Even leading Green advocates such as Kate Raworth and Naomi Klein seem to miss the full significance of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. It is not limited to over-exploitation of common resources. That is merely a major example of the rule that in a competitive situation, no player can afford to allow themselves to be put at a temporary disadvantage. Which steel, or car production plant should be the first to close, in the interests of preserving the ecosphere, climate change being the most serious threat?

When I joined what became the Green Party in 1973, it was simply a response to the 1972 MIT ‘Limits’ study. I envisaged what would at the outset be a ‘pretend’ political party. It would be a vehicle for a coherent set of policies which would allow whole populations to accept lower economic activity, what would in conventional terms feel like a recession.

If this seems naïve and unrealistic, doorstepping ‘Jehovah’s Witness’ style revealed that even in 1973, one in 10 took the MIT ‘Limits’ warning seriously enough to vote for such a party, on the understanding that all such a party could do was publicise that there were possible answers to a crisis which wold happen sooner or later if humans did nothing to avert it. The Party would become a ‘real’ party as the resulting publicity changed mainstream mind sets.

I think that the success of UKIP allows me to claim wisdom after the event. This strategy would have worked.

The Unconditional Basic (Citizens’) Income (UBI) will allow the necessary slackening of economic activity to be thinkable as a policy option by millions who would otherwise cling to economic growth as necessary. But that entails careful management of expectations among the better off. We must reassure them that the unavoidable drastic redistribution will be no more than is necessary to ensure basic needs for all, and it will be less than if we wait for the full impact of climate change. (And by the way, the UBI is start-up entrepreneur friendly).

But why should those still making profits from ‘business as usual’ change anything? Devastation in the Gulf of Mexico is slightly more worrying than in Bangladesh, but is it enough to seriously change strategy? After all, according to conventional thinking, Hurricane Harvey is a golden opportunity for economic growth!

If that logic is right, the sooner Trump attacks North Korea, the better.

Oddly enough, the worst offenders do realize what they are doing. They have even taken steps to pull back from the brink, in the shape of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Even now, it could work. But if the idiocy just pointed out is to be prevented, we do need the catalyst of a ‘pretend’ political party, though it may well be too late. Are ‘irrelevant’ Green Parties capable of grasping this opportunity?


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