22 Aug 2006

Seeing Green by Jonathon Porritt

I remember leafletting Kings Cross, which was near my student halls of residence for Jonathon Porrittfor the 1984 European elections, he was the Ecology Party candidate. Some time afterwards he mentioned he was a having a book published, I still think Seeing Green, which was the title, is worth looking at today.

There is a danger of Green Parties loosing their green credentials, I think political education and political debate is now a bit rare. In the 1970s and 1980s everything in the Party, seemed in a positive sense, much more ideological, green politics was seen as new (I think of course it is old but perceptions are another matter) and all sorts of concepts from 'limits to growth', to holism, to the distinction between 'ecology' and just environmentalism were being discussed. A lot of positive bits of 60s counter culture and the New Left were being integrated.

Seeing Green is still a good introduction by a green political activist to green politics 'the politics of ecology' as Porritt termed it. Topics like education, peace, energy and economics are introduced.

Porritt, impressed me, because he worked as comprehensive school head of English and spent all his spare time working hard for the Party, credit to him. Great communicator, inevitably as an articulate Eton boy, son of a lord, a lot of people wanted to create a leadership post and slot him in.

So where do I differ from the Porritt who wrote Seeing Green, well he is always been big on 'the neither left nor right', sceptical of socialism although to be fair, he flags up William Morris and I think he was a member of SERA the socialist environmental resources association when he wrote it. In his book list at the end of Seeing Green he lists Murray Bookchin and .Rudolf Bahro fiery red green radicals.

I think that green politics needs to draw on socialism, although I would agree with him, that most socialists have been very far from being green.

Porritt's distinguishing marks of political ecology are certainly worth of discussion:

Distinguishing features of a 'Green paradigm'
from Porritt, J. Seeing Green Oxford: Blackwell 1984
The politics of industrialism The politics of ecology .
A deterministic view of the future Flexibility and an emphasis on personal autonomy
An ethos of aggressive individualism
A co-operatively based, communitarian society
Materialism, pure and simple A move towards spiritual, non-material values
Divisive, reductionist analysis Holistic synthesis and integration
Anthropocentrism Biocentrism
Rationality and packaged knowledge Intuition and understanding
Outer-directed motivation Inner-directed motivation and personal growth
Patriarchal values Post-patriarchal, feminist values
Institutionalized violence Non-violence

Economic growth and GNP Sustainability and quality of life
Production for exchange and profit Production for use
High income differentials Low income differentials
A 'free-market' economy Local production for local need
Ever-expanding world trade Self-reliance
Demand stimulation Voluntary simplicity
Employment as a means to an end Work as an end in itself
Capital-intensive production Labour-intensive production
Unquestioning acceptance of the Discriminating use and development
technological fix of science and technology

Centralization, economies of scale Decentralization, human scale
Hierarchical structure Non-hierarchical structure
Dependence upon experts Participative involvement
Representative democracy Direct democracy
Emphasis on law and order Libertarianism
Sovereignty of nation state Internationalism and global solidarity

Domination over nature Harmony with nature
Environmentalism Ecology
Environment managed as a resource Resources regarded as strictly finite
Nuclear power Renewable sources of energy
High energy, high consumption Low energy, low consumption

Since 1984 Porritt has moved in a far from visionary direction. I think Porritt has tried to influence events and exploit networks, advising Prince Charles, serving on an advisory board for the New Labour government, working with industry, writing a book on sustainable capitalism, establishing Forum for the Future.

Often you have more influence on the system from the margins, especially if you use direct action, elections or culture. I think Porritt's big failing is inability to look imaginatively at how we get change, the danger is that when you team up with those who the system, they gain in pr terms which makes change less likely.

Forum for the Future has a pretty terrifying list of corporate partners including well known friends of the earth like Vodafone, Sainsbury and Unilever(see partners)

The wikipedia says Forum for the Future is a British sustainable development charity. It was founded in 1996 by Jonathon Porritt, Sara Parkin and Paul Ekins and produces a magazine called Green Futures. Its mission is to take a 'positive, solutions oriented approach' to sustainable development, and as such is a non-campaigning organisation. It works with business, government and the education sector to incororate the principles of sustainable development, and also runs a Masters course: 'Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development', which has been running since the inception of Forum for the Future 10 years ago.'

I can be glib, work the system you fail, work outside the system or try to and you have no influence. Yet for all its failings Seeing Green advances radical green politics, Forum for the Future by working with the great and the good, does not even seem to advance environmentalism.

Porritt provides a warning for all us middle (or in his case upper) class radicals...however if you want a quick primer on green politics Seeing Green is an excellent starting point.

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