18 Jun 2018

Vote No Heathrow

Just had this via Roger Hallam of Vote No Heathrow, please spread the word.

Things are rapidly taking off for the campaign now the hunger strikers are entering their 9th day and we get coverage from national press and TV. But we only have a little over a week to build up pressure on MPs to vote against the senseless expansion of Heathrow. Could you help out? These are some of the ways you could support us:

• Join us for a solidarity fast on Saturday, 23rd June, at 12pm in Parliament Square: https://www.facebook.com/events/1541652785938992/
• Write to your MP: https://www.writetothem.com/
• Help our online promotion team on social media!
• Donate to our crowdfund: https://www.gofundme.com/votenoheathrow/
• Invite all your friends to like our page: https://www.facebook.com/votenoheathro/

13 Jun 2018

Doug Ford Jr has a message for Elizabeth May, Caroline Lucas and all the Greens!

Sat at a computer in the library, I am aware that the woman looking at the screen next to me is becoming increasingly agitated.  She gasps and swears, as her annoyance grows; other library users are becoming alarmed.  I glance at her monitor, she is searching for news stories on the recent election in Ontario, Canada and is obviously upset by what she finds.  Last week, Canadians elected Doug Ford, of the Progressive Conservative Party, with a landslide, ending 15 years of Liberal rule.  Ford is the brother of disgraced Rob Ford, former mayor of Toronto, whose crack cocaine habit eventually saw him ousted.  Doug Ford is another right-wing populist, elected on promises to cut taxes, slash regulation and, above all, to end cap and trade policies aimed at reducing climate change.

It is no surprise that some people including the library user next to me have been dismayed, even devastated by Ford’s victory.  Doug Jr may be distasteful to many of us, but he is popular, and his victory should make those of us care about the environment, equality and diversity think deeply.  I would go as far as to say that Doug has a message for Greens.  From UK Green MP Caroline Lucas to Elizabeth May, leader of the party in Canada, Doug has something to say to green politicians.  They may not like his message but, I would argue, if they don’t listen they may be in trouble.

Doug Ford has declared that climate change is less importantthan ‘bread and butter’ issues and has declared that he will abolish theLiberals’ cap and trade scheme which aims to lower emissions.  As the news on climate change becomes more worrying by the day, politicians who either deny that climate change is occurring at all or say that it is a trivial issue that should be ignored, are coasting to victory.  Donald Trump is the most famous example, but mini Trumps are sprouting up like little mushrooms the world over.  In Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic have all seen Trump-like politicians voted into office in recent times. Indeed the recently re-elected climate denying Czech President Milos Zeman, responded to Friends of the Earth’s attempts to prevent the logging of a national park, by stating he would respond to them in a “good old medieval way: burn them, piss on them and salt them”

Environmental protection is being demolished by Trump. He is opening national parks to oil exploration, has put a climate denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and is making it legal to shoot hibernating grizzly bears.

 Ford seems less gung ho but is hostile to environmental regulation, seeing it as damaging to business.  In Australia, as temperature rises challenge farmers, the right-wing government are increasingly supportive of the coal lobby Right wing populists garner support through promoting conspiracies and demonising minorities.  As their efforts to outlaw climate policies accelerate, the damage from climate change will, via extreme weather and rising sea levels, generate more and more migration as communities flee disaster.  Fear of the other, converted into racism, will be used to gain more votes for right wingers.  The reality of climate change is leading to increasing denial by politicians who exploit its effects to gain higher votes.

The message of Ford, Trump and their ilk is that all of us who care about the environment, including Green Party politicians, need to get strategic.  Being for good things and against bad things is not enough, pointing to the absurdities and cruelties of the populist right, which is rising globally, is inadequate in combating their power.

Green politics is the politics of survival, climate change threatens humanity, so greens of all kinds need to think much more deeply.  Green politics has been based on key principles, most famously outlined in the German Green manifesto of 1983, in terms of ecological sustainability, nonviolence, grassroots democracy and social justice.  Principles in practice achieve nothing without strategy.

While Greens may be more focused on condemning Trump-like vandals than on seeking to understand where their power lies, universities abound with academics theorising about political change, for example, social movement scholars, political ecologists, environmental sociologists, radical geographers and others come to mind.  

Academic work is though too often hidden behind obtuse jargon and paywalls that make sure journals are protected from being read by those who might find them useful.  More on the paywall scandal here.

I am reminded when I think of the agitated woman scanning a lurid photo of the victorious Doug Ford Jr., of the words of the great philosopher Spinoza.  Writing in the 17th century, he argued that condemning tyranny and hatred doesn’t get us very far in combatting it, noting ‘Do not weep. Do not wax indignant. Understand’. 

Greens need to get better at understanding and analysing what stands in the way of protecting the planet.  Analysis is a first step to effective action, and action becomes more and more vital with each day as CO2 emissions rise.

Greens need to think deeply about how change can be achieved, how the right can be challenged and how green policies can be made real.  

Green politicians and green parties, indeed all of us who want an ecological future need to put energy into thinking about how to change society and using some strategic analysis to create practical action.  Morality is empty without means.

And academic work needs to be accessible, both intellectually and economically, the approach of open ecologically engaged researchers is vital, Elinor Ostrom comes to mind here.

Being right is no alternative to achieving political change, and for political change to occur some deep thinking, followed by precise action, is necessary.  

Indignation is not enough!

10 Jun 2018

Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization

Hasana Sharp's book 'Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization', examines the 17th century Dutch-Jewish philosopher's contribution to animal rights, ecology and practical politics.  Spinoza argued that human beings are part of nature, rejecting supernatural explanations, to point out that we are ruled by the same nature as everything else in the universe.  In turn, by identifying God with nature, he has been praised by deep ecologists, must notably Arne Naess.  Spinoza's radical materialism has also been source for Marx and Engels thought.  In this regard Antonio Negri, the autonomist Marxist, has suggested that he provides a non teleological Marxism, which can be contrasted with Hegal.  There is a large literature arguing that he was variously the first secular Jew, an advocate of religious pluralism and a foundational liberal thinker.  Equally he followed the Jewish theologian Maimonides and was fascinated by the political thought of Machiavelli.

Sharp's book is a well written introduction to all of this exploring the implications of Spinoza's approach both to Marxism, green politics, animal rights and feminism.  It is highly recommended.

As I write in June 2018, the broad political picture is clear.  Climate change is accelerating, other environmental problems are becoming severe and denial is everywhere.  The liberal economic and political consensus is under assault and right wing populism is growing.  Just a few days ago, Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives were elected in Ontario, Canada.  They defeated the governing Liberals, and the left wing NDP came second.  Ford will roll back policies designed to reduce climate change   The acceleration of climate change with the role back of policies to deal with it, will accelerate migration as communities flee rising sea levels, rising temperatures and extreme weather events.  The migration will be exploited by reactionary populists to cement their electoral support and the cycle will continue.

While the left is also rising, the question of how to effectively challenge capitalism that fuels environmental crisis, along with the populist racist right which is growing, is vital.  Spinoza is interesting for what he says about how we do politics, how ideas gain material forces and shape the future.

It is not as easy to see Spinoza as an advocate of animal rights and ecology as might first be thought.  He rejected the idea of outlawing the eating of meat, he condemned those who romanticised nature and when he speaks of nature, he means everything in the university, thus human beings, kittens, rocks and pieces of machinery all have the same nature.

In terms of understanding political change he might be condemned as a determinist who argues that human agency is a myth.  However in reminding us that we be less free that we might think, Spinoza to my mind is at his most significant.  By celebrating our power we forget our weakness.  By identifying our weakness, we might potentially have more influence over the real material world.

Spinoza, as Sharp reminds us, noted that ideas are not adopted simply because they are true.  Ideas have to gain a power if they are to have influence.  It is, thus, not enough to argue that climate change is a significant problem, instead we have to understand how ideas capture attention and convince, or fail to do so.

Thus Spinoza moves us from the politics of surface appearance and moralism, the politics of 'We are good' and 'You are evil', into both understanding that what we may dislike is a product of particular forces rather than ignorance and evil.  In turn, we understand that our powers are limited, that often we are effects rather than causes.  By understanding this we can begin to think carefully about how we might be freer.  The importance of making ecological politics into a real force, requires the Spinozian understanding that the power of ideas comes not simply from their truth but from how they are mobilised and how they sit within a system of other ideas and influences.

Spinoza thus opens the way for a practical politics of action, while suggesting this is difficult to achieve, rather than a superficial shallow politics of condemning what we dislike.

Thus when it comes to Ford, Trump, Erdogan and Victor Orban, understanding their appeal is a first step to countering it.  Spinoza observed '“I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” 

At best Spinoza does this indirectly, how ideas have material force and how action can be effective require more precise discussion.  Sharp's book, though, flags up the importance of Spinoza's work in a world where storms are rising and helps us to see that the seemingly irrational is driven by forces that we need to understand so that we can challenge them.  At the same time this involves challenging out own assumptions about our ability to do politics, which takes us back to the understanding that human beings are not, above nature, but shaped by material forces.

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