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How environmentalism is like a sonnet

Jonathon Porritt, what an interesting chap!

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!

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