My first encounter with green politics was
back in 1979 when I was 14. I was interested in
politics and the environment and it happened that my
next-door neighbors were hosting an Ecology Party
meeting – they were wardens of the Almshouse in
the small Wiltshire town of Corsham, where I lived.
I went along. It was heady stuff. The schoolroom of
the Almshouse contained a pulpit from which Patrick
rivers, a former civil servant who had dropped out
and embraced radical ecology, virtually delivered a
sermon. I guess if I had lived somewhere else I might
never have got involved.
1979 is a long time ago but rivers, a charismatic
figure, talked of environmental destruction, alienating
consumerism and the threat of nuclear war. I was
fascinated. I joined the Ecology Party, which went
through thin times during the early 1980s and nearly
disappeared before reinventing itself as the Green
Party in 1985. Today, green politics is a worldwide
phenomenon, Green parties have participated in
coalition government in many European countries,
and threats to the environment such as climate change
are always in the news.
At 14, I was interested in animal liberation issues
such as factory farming, fox hunting and the bloody
Japanese dolphin culls. I was skeptical that the economy
could keep on expanding, with more production,
consumption and waste, without wrecking the planet’s
ecosystems. I still am.
Every day, the issue of how we get to a green society
that works ecologically, is socially just and democratic,
haunts me. I have written more words than I like to
think of, delivered many leaflets, contested numerous
election campaigns, have taken part in nonviolent
direct action, have worked to get indigenous activists
out of prison and much else besides.
What could be more important than green
politics? Green politics is the politics of survival, yet
the way we live in a capitalist society that seemingly
can only dance to the drumbeat of profit, threatens
everything. Moving to a world where humanity can
prosper without wrecking the environment is a vital
necessity but sometimes seems impossibly difficult.
There are inevitably contradictions – green politics
has become more mainstream but as Greens have been
elected, they have risked having their radical edge
blunted by compromises with the powers-that-be. Green
parties have emerged, grown and influenced society
but the message of green politics has also been taken
forward by radical direct action campaigns such as the
climate camp, by indigenous social movements, and by
politicians such as Bolivia’s President Evo Morales.
Today I work with Green politicians like Caroline
Lucas here in Britain and indigenous leaders like
the legendary Hugo Blanco in Peru. I am both
pessimistic and optimistic. The more we learn about
climate change, the more urgent change seems, yet
the governments of the world seem unable to meet
the challenge. I am optimistic that an alternative is
possible, one led by people at the grassroots.
real economic development, political participation
and ecological sanity are all aspects of green politics
that are becoming a reality. Some 30 years after my
first encounter with green politics, I read the news that
Elinor Ostrom had won the Nobel Prize for Economics
by advocating an ecological economics based on the
commons. Perhaps her victory shows that what is
necessary is no longer impossible.
From 'Introduction' No-Nonsense Guide to Green Politics