On Thursday 4th March over 250 people packed Stroud Sub-rooms to listen to Johnathon Porritt talk on what a sustainable future would look like. I left feeling truly inspired after hearing speeches from Martin Whiteside (Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Stroud) and a young activist called Rhiannon. As you may have noticed, I have been a bit busy recently, so I will try and condense here into one blog entry an overview of some of the more interesting points to come out of the evening. I’ll start with why Jonathon Porritt thinks that environmentalism is a bit like a sonnet (after all that’s what I’ve put in the title).
Johnathon talked about how we need to re-open the language of limits in politics. This, he maintained, had slipped out of political discourse. For a happy, sustainable future there needs to be limits. Limits on how much banks should be able to speculatively lend, limits on how much of the worlds resources we should be able to use, and perhaps limits on the type of mass consumerism we all so love. We as humanity, think, believe, and want everything. This surely cannot be the case. We cannot grow our economies forever, nor can we all consume in the same way as the West currently does. He went on however, to challenge the very premise of opponents who see limits as something restrictive and bad. He argued that limits could be beautiful. A Sonnet is incredibly restricted in its structure and composition, but no one would maintain that different sonnets do not hold incredible beauty and insight because of this. Indeed, he painted a picture of a world, where limited creative energy could be very beautiful. He painted a picture of a world that is sometimes missing in green language – a positive future.
Martin Whiteside drew a second interesting point – focusing his speech on the central role of equality and fairness in a sustainable future. At the heart of this idea, is that a more equal society is one that is better and happier for all. Based on the recent publication “The spirit level”, Martin argued, with great oratory skill, that’s it is not just the poor that suffer from more unequal societies, but it is the population as a whole. Inequality causes shorter, unhealthily and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction. He argued, that the Greens are in a unique position to push our society towards a fairer future.
The Greens not only advocate a higher minimum wage, but also a maximum wage. Martin talked from personal experience from his time at Christian Aid that has a maximum differential of 4 between its entry-level staff and its director. The Greens also have a policy of increasing the national pension from 97 quid a week to 170 (inline with all major pressure groups). These fairer policies, he argued, would best prepare us for a future that is going to be characterised by the distribution of the worlds limited resources and wealth. Will we be the generation that holds onto disproportionate amount of the world’s resources and wealth while the rest suffer?
He went onto argue (and this is where it gets interesting), that a more equal society is not just better for the wider population, but also for the rich. In the book “Spirit level” they show that the top earners are happier in fairer societies. We could make bankers happier by taking their bonuses off them – a nice thought!
I left the evening excited, confused but most certainly motivated to do something! If there was one idea the evening cemented into me, was that the Green party are different. They are coming up with alternatives to the evidently crumbling system. I find it exciting and challenging.
If you fancy more of the same, Martin Whiteside is holding a Q and A session at the Prince Albert pub in Rodbourgh on 8th March at 7:30. A good excuse to have a beer and a debate! Hopefully see you there!
6 responses to “How environmentalism is like a sonnet”
Also, I’ve been trying to work out how to vote from abroad but it looks very complicated!!
In terms of voting abroad (because I used to live in Belgium)….you can set up a postal vote (not sure if this is different if you live outside the EU). Or you can register someone as your proxy to vote on your behalf. It was quite simple when I did it!
Good answer! Although it’s always going to be an uphill struggle with the country in the state it currently is. Obviously Greens are also going to be in favour of renewable energy and I was wondering if they have any definite plans to tackle the ridiculous planning regulations preventing (or at the very least making it very difficult for) a lot of home owners to implement micro-renewables in their own homes.
I know this concept doesn’t appeal to many people in high places as it means people can get energy for free, however a decentralised network of green energy produced by home-owners would greatly aid the emissions reductions sought after by the government. On the subject of planning regs I think the whole thing should be looked at because rules put in place in a hurry in the 50’s are now getting out of control and preventing people doing a whole range of projects at home for no real reason!
In short what I hope for the greens to be working towards is actually opting to remove or rework existing laws, rather than just building more on top of them. There are far too many laws and a lot of them are used in manners completely unrelated to the reason they were created in the first place, just for the sake of it.
Greens most certainly are in favour of renewables (they tend to put a lot of emphasis on wind and solar – both PV and thermal). Although I think, especially in the UK, its important not to rule out other forms (I am thinking of tidal).
I am not sure exactly where the greens stand on planning regulations per se. I do know however that they support local ownership of energy creation. An example would be a community owned wind turbine. There is however a play off here with the sort of money big business can pump into this compared to communities. Will the research get done if there is not the profit at the end of it for business?
My personal take on this dilema is that local communities should be supported and encouraged to take on community energy projects. However (and this is where some greens might disagree with me) I see big business as a valuable assest considering how short a time frame we have to work within. If we want these schemes to be taken up quickly then I think business involvment is important. I don’t mind people making money out of it if it helps curb CC.
Another however…. if renewable projects are supported by their community (or owned) then I think they will meet a lot less resistence. Part of the problem lots of people have with on-shore wind, is that it feels like it is being imposed on them. If these projects came more from a grass-roots angle, it would reduce local resistence – I think.
I agree with you re number of laws. If there has been one consistent charecterisitic with New Labour it has been their willingness to create new laws (for the good and the bad). What is needed now is time of reflection and amendmants. The time to take what we have and make it work.
If you are still reading this response I am very impressed and perhaps you should consider joining the Green Party 🙂
I think the concept of the community is really key to green politics. It plays in closely with the localization agenda of the greens (to produce and do everything on the most local level possible – see Collin Hines book “localization, a global manifesto”).
For example, in Stroud, the Greens are strongly supporting the community agriculture project (see http://www.stroudcommunityagriculture.org/)or the local micro brewery (see http://www.stroudbrewery.co.uk/).
I think if everyday life (like food shopping, car maintenance, schooling, pension collection etc) was done more a community level, then the “sense of community” would grow with that. What do you think?
Wow, sounds like a great evening, I wish I could be there for the Q&A but there’s a whole lot of world in the way. I was just wondering if the green party had any clear lines on promoting community life, which is what I feel is so lacking in current society, and if so what these might be?