Should I renew my Green Party membership?

It’s due in a week’s time and, on balance, I’m probably not going to renew. I thought I’d say why.

I’m not annoyed or exasperated or anything, because I suspected this might be the result when I re-joined in 2015, (after a brief spell of membership in 2001). I wanted to give it a go, to show support and maye even see if I wanted deeper involvement. It seems that, even though I enjoy observing some aspects of the political game (yes, it is a game – it’s just that games aren’t always trivial), actual participation in it is not really for me.

Shortly after I joined in 2015 I blogged “what is the point of the Green Party?” After some general comments about the nature of the political process and the difficulty of achieving what you want within it, I answered my own question:

the point of having a Green Party … is educational. [in the broadest sense]

The point of the Green Party’s existence is to remind people of the wider environmental context of our actions. […] The mere presence of a Green party in boring old mainstream politics […] has the effect of making it feel legitimate to take the environmental context seriously. […] Green ideas will sound louder because some of their proponents are willing to play the game of mainstream politics.

That might sound an insubstantial gain but I don’t think it is. I talked about the difficulty of getting anything done in politics, about the multiple pressures on one’s actions. One of those pressures is the surrounding ‘talk’, the environment of ideas. More Green politicians around changes the air, makes certain actions more possible, others less, makes some things more sayable”

Is that enough?

I certainly didn’t join the GP thinking “one day we’ll have a green government, everything will be lovely and I can help it happen”. No, I (re) joined thinking that the party could play a dull but important part in changing the zeitgeist, so that the things that need doing about the multiple environmental crises stand more chance of getting done. Party political activity is most certainly not the only thing worth doing: NGOs matter, academic research matters, business matters, the arts matter, grassroots projects matter, personal choices matters. They all interact and it’s usually hard to see any one thing as the clear sole cause of something else – so they’re all worth doing and as a part of that there needs to be a green party, just as a presence in party politics, if nothing else.

This may be a viable argument, but it is hardly the motivation of a passionate party hack! I rejoined because I kind of thought it was patronising not to – kind of as if I would be saying “you lot of naive wonks over there can go and do boring old party politics and I’ll do something a bit sexier like working for an NGO”. I think I wanted to show to myself that I was willing to do things that I consider boring, which have no guarantee of success, but which still need to be done.

And also I do consider many GP members to be thoroughly admirable – and not just the old warhorses like Clive Lord, Jonathan Porritt and the late David Fleming (who I shall be writing about shortly).

A provocative thought

After a year or so of fairly regular reading of the party’s internal members forum, it obvious to me that, although it is definitely worth having green MPs, MSPs, AMs and – most importantly – councillors (localisation and resilience eh?), a lot of “what there is to do” in the Green Party is busywork. It gives the enlarged membership something to do. Back in the day when it had a membership of scarcely 5,000 it punched well above it’s weight. Now, with ten times that number, it punches slightly below it.

Not to mention the fact that some of the current membership aren’t particularly green. For them the environment is just one good cause along with all the others. Yeah, I understand the arguments: everything is connected, intersectionality, etc etc. But that’s ineffective as strategy: ‘we have to have utopia all at once, everything’. It’s like attempting to hitch-hike with twelve of your best mates. No one is going to pick you up, even though each of you might have easily got a lift on their own, from twelve different people. The green party has to be about the environment. That is because, in the sphere of mainstream politics, no-one else is saying what needs to be said. Unfortunately, in their attempt to secure a foothold in that very mainstream, the green party seems to have stopped saying it as well.

Of course I do recognise that that there is a bit of a conflict in what I think is the exemplary, leavening, educational role of the GP and the fact that it is a political party. As a political party it has to play the game of appearing to want to be just like all the others – it has to don the uniform so to speak. All the tedious administrative stuff has to be done to get people elected, it has to have a reasonable policy spread.

I don’t pretend to know the answer to this – as with most things in life, it’s a balancing act – but as it stands, I almost feel as if I don’t have enough opinions to be a member of the party in its current configuration. The whole conference-policy thing is an energy-sink. It spins on its own little axis and doesn’t have any impact on anything: the greens are never going to form a government (but that doesn’t matter) so why spend all this time arguing over fine detail of legislation which will never be enacted and which doesn’t have anything much to do with the environment anyway? And how did a party with a fair old squirt of anarchism in its mix end up sounding so bossy?

I did think (but I’ve sort of changed my mind on this), that one of the functions of the green party might be to act as a thinktank, to generate ideas – not necessarily ideas that become enacted but ideas that form part of the conversation, and maybe feed into other work. But the mechanisms of policy development seem to be too unfocused for this to happen usefully – and the connections – to academia, to NGOs, that I would have expected, don’t seem to be there either. But maybe there’s a reason for that – it is pretty much entirely self-funded and therefore maybe just a bit amateurish (which can be both good and bad). Dunno.

Might I renew despite all this?

Weeeeelllll possibly – though I wish I could remain as a local member only – I suppose that I don’t want to sever my connection entirely. I’ll slightly miss the …errr.. anthropological aspects of seeing inside green party culture (bit grand to call it ‘culture’ but you know what I mean). Dunno. Haven’t finally decided yet. Might be prepared to help out at next election. Genuinely undecided (that’s not an invitation to try and persuade me btw – in the unlikely event that anyone has read this far).

And yeah, I’ll still vote green. As Clive Lord put it, “Where Else Is there”?

Gardening #3 (why it can be ‘green’, sometimes)

In my previous post I pointed out that gardening is not necessarily a ‘green’ activity. It can be just as much a shopping opportunity as anything else, it can leave a wider footprint than you might expect.

A quick digression

For example, in my own efforts with the TSRB (tiny snail-ridden backyard), I’ve got to the point where I feel like I could just about imagine taking on an allotment (especially if I shared it). There are plenty of very local allotments – but with gigantic waiting lists. There are also plenty of immediately available allotments – but on the other side of the city. That makes a big difference: I could take on an allotment next season but it would have to be on an easy bus or cycle route and I’d need a regular, firm, block of time which would have to be reserved purely for work on it – no nipping out in the odd spare hour when I fancy it, no copping out when I don’t fancy it.

At this point all normal, right-thinking people will say “well silly you, just get a car, like everyone else! If it hurts your self-respect so much to buy one, then use a car club”. After all, my few years of driving, back in the last century, occurred because I was playing a lot of gigs, so I have in the past owned a car in order to facilitate engagement with a serious and noble activity and surely growing food is just as serious as music? Ah but the difference is that this time you are suggesting that in order to increase my personal sustainability in one area I should reduce it in another.

A not uncommon dilemma, btw. I’ve talked about another example in one of my interminable posts about flying (especially this one, from about halfway down and footnote 4).

(a digression from the digression

Not everyone even recognizes that extra car use reduces overall sustainability or is problematic. I once heard Lynn Sloman, author of car sick, make the comment that their car use is almost invisible to many greenies – almost as if it doesn’t count because it is the noble steed from which they conduct their activism (that last bit was not Lynn’s way of putting it btw). I was rather surprised to hear this, but this was probably because I didn’t know many enviros personally at that point. I’ve been watching carefully since, and you know, I think she’s right. Outside the specialised world of sustainable transport campaigners, it often doesn’t seem to register as a problem – well of course you need a car to facilitate your engagement with nature. Or rather, you need a car because you are special and ethical. But I’m not special and ethical so I’m not going to start driving in order to access an allotment and so, no, I probably won’t be getting one (well, ok, there are a few other reasons as well, but I am starting to wish I had a bit more garden to muck around with, and this is a real discussion I’m having with myself).

End of digressions!

Don’t give ”gardening”, without qualification, a free pass. But obviously, low-cost, thoughtful gardening is indeed a pretty “eco” thing to do and I’m glad that I’ve finally got to grips with it, even in a small way, even as a mere “garden-themed science project”. Here’s why I consider it worthwhile.

Any practical skill is worth having, for purely functional reasons.

You never know when it might come in handy. Self-sufficiency is completely out of the question, however you define it. It won’t save you money, at least not to begin with, and probably not much even once established. But … can I be entirely sure that the current situation, where there is food of any kind, at any season, from anywhere in the world, easily obtainable and affordable, will continue throughout the rest of my lifetime? This situation might well continue – I’m certainly not expecting the sky to fall in tomorrow, or next year, or ever, because that’s a silly image anyway. But I do think that the argument that we (and “we” means the whole world, with us anglophones in the lead) are well embarked on a gradual downward slide is not a foolish one and could well be, broadly, true . That discussion will eventually be the topic of a whole post to itself.

Any practical skill is worth having, for purely psychological reasons.

It makes you feel good to be able to do things. Real things – involving your body and mind (gardening involves not just digging, clipping and lugging but also considerable amounts of planning, deduction, and imagination), and, to get completely pompous about it, we are the kind of creature that needs to use both. This connects with the previous point. Sure, maybe there never will be any sort of food crisis in my lifetime or beyond, but knowing that if there were to be, I’m set to be a teeny part of the answer is a good feeling. If one feels helpless, then one is helpless.

Any practical skill is worth having, for purely social reasons.

You have something else to talk about. You have surplus to give people, which creates goodwill, and maybe they give you some of their surplus too, but it feels like more than mere exchange. Though it wasn’t quite how Ivan Illich meant the phrase, gardening is a tool for conviviality.

Those all sound pretty ‘green’ to me.

And then of course, there is what you actually learn from the attempt to grow edible stuff. Next time.

Gardening #2 (is it “green”?)

Is gardening a “green behaviour” anyway? Not necessarily!

I regard it as a recycling and repurposing opportunity (all sorts of throwaway items turn out to have potential garden uses, that’s part of the satisfaction) but buying a few things is unavoidable. So I’ve trotted along to my local garden centre and my local Wilkos. From this it is very clear that gardening can also function as a shopping opportunity.

For example it turns out you can buy specially made little plastic nubkins to pop on top of your canes so that you don’t accidentally poke your eye out when bending down to look at your plants. The principle is a good one but it takes no ingenuity whatsoever to make your canes safe with corks, or plastic bottle tops, or chunkettes of expanded polystyrene, or old drinks bottles or whatever. Plastic whatsits are also available to join canes (also available in plastic) together when constructing wigwams for climbing beans – but but but, you know … string for goodness sake. But not only are these gizmoids sold, but someone somewhere must have designed them, someone whose employer was trying to expand the number of things that could be sold to people.

Which is fine, I suppose, because that’s how the world now works – flogging stuff to people – and heaven forbid that anyone should call me “anti-business” (whatever that’s supposed to mean – like “luddite” and “anti-car” it’s just another meaningless boo-word), but these plastic fubbles do not add any real functionality above corks and string. Presumably some people do buy them, but why?

More money than time? So you think “I’ll get into gardening!” which is at root a wholly positive, wonderful, and green urge, and, as one does at the start of projects, one gathers together materials. The gathering together of equipment and materials feels like a part of project itself, feels like an active sort of doing something, making a start. But this can be deceptive because what can happen is that one’s enthusiasm becomes displaced onto shopping – especially as shopping is not a new activity but a wholly familiar one, and one which takes place in a familiar and predictable environment. And shopping is fun, yes I know that: it can create quite a gratifying sense of directedness and autonomy. Kind of: “Ok, got my list, got my shopping trolley, all set to go, I need these and these and better get more of these … and oh, look – those will be useful, and ooh, I like the look of that, and ummm maybe instead of bamboo canes I’ll get those plastic ones because they won’t splinter, and …”

So you feel like you’ve done something. But in fact, so far, you haven’t done anything at all except fulfil your social role as ‘consumer’. You have not moved one inch closer to the benefits that you can expect from a bit of gardening: no closer to perfectly fresh food, no time spent outside, no physical exertion, no social capital from being able to talk about gardening with other gardeners, and certainly no true feelings of greater connection with the natural world.

And when (or possibly if) you actually do get going, there will arise a further set of consumer opportunities in the purchase of overspecc’d tools and equipment (power tools make sense for professional gardeners, and so – perhaps – do heavyweight pesticides for farmers, but it doesn’t make you a better gardener to use the tools used by professionals because there are questions of appropriateness, of understanding).

Oh dear, this is going to be like the flying thing isn’t it? I start out with a plan of a couple of posts and it just drags on and on and on … and I also appear to be a darker shade of green than I wish. So anyway, why can “growing a few veg” be counted as “green behaviour”? I’ll do that one next time.

Gardening #1 (intro)

Back in November 2015, shortly after starting this blog (which in reality is no time at all, even though, in delusory internet-time, it is so long ago as to be not even worth mentioning), I laid out a list of my personal green behaviours. Not as a boast, (no really, not even a “humblebrag”) but as a starting point for further discussion on wider environmental issues. One of those green behaviours was “I’ve started growing a few veg”.

I have a tiny, snail-ridden backyard, half of which is paved (and paved over what I think must be a filled-in basement, because there is no depth of soil beneath), and half which is an – ahem – “wildlife garden” – that’s to say it’s covered in comfrey and comfrey-loving critters (bees!) I did make some early attempts to dig this over and plant stuff in it. ‘Stuff’ certainly germinated – the soil seems very fertile (you should see the size of the worms) – but was almost instantly devoured by snails. So I’ve mostly left the comfrey to get on with it, and am growing in containers on the paved bit, using my two small south-facing windowsills as the ‘greenhouse’.

Actually, I think what I’ve been doing for the last three years is not so much “gardening” more of a “garden-themed science project”. There’s so much basic stuff about the physical world that has demonstrated itself to me – including things I “knew” but didn’t really know. I’m going to spread my gardening discussion out into a number of posts and one of them will give a list of these “experimental findings” but before I get to that, I have to ask if “gardening” is necessarily a “green behaviour” at all …

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It is against the rules to write a blog post mentioning the word “garden” without a photo, so here you go:

Taken yesterday. Those tomatoes have *flowers* on them. Which means I could get fruit in *May*. Hah!

Taken yesterday. Those tomatoes have *flowers* on them. Which means I could get fruit in *May*. Hah!

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Individual and collective

As individual action, and why it’s worth doing, seems to be one of the themes of this blog, here are some apposite words from Kevin Anderson:

“I do not see the individual and collective (formal and informal institutions) as separate. They are unavoidably and intimately entwined, only drawn apart as a convenient reductionist tool of analysis to help make sense of complicated and complex issues. But we have to repeatedly remind ourselves that the separation is nothing but an epistemological construct – it is not ‘real’.[…]

When I focus on the individual, I’m seeing them, typically, as a symbolic but essential catalyst for collective (system) change.[…]

So individuals are solely an ignition source for the flames from which a Phoenix may arise – but only if others and ultimately institutions are mobilised.”

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Not talking about climate

From George Marshall on climate outreach (my bolding):

My view is that the climate change community (a deliberately all-embracing term that encompasses politicians, policy makers, scientists and  campaign organizations) have all underestimated the critical importance of social conversations in generating change. Peer-to-peer conversations provide a vital signal to us about the issues that are important and the opinions that are socially required for us to hold. And the conversation itself provides us with the forum within which we can then rehearse and negotiate our own views.

Such climate conversations are the essential underpinning for political change. If people do not mention climate change with friends, they do not mention it to pollsters either, which is why climate change never appears on the regular polls of key voter issues and is sidelined in elections. Politicians see it as a risky and divisive issue which will yield few votes so they too avoid mentioning climate change.

(The piece is about how little we talk about this – ‘stealth denial’ (“the fact that the majority of those who understand the problem intellectually don’t live as though they do“). Oh how true – I’ve talked a bit myself about how difficult it is to bring up such subjects in everyday life – relevant bit is halfway through, below the asterisks)

 

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Why is “less” so bad?

From Vaclav Smil (Energy at the Crossroads, 2003, MIT press) (emphases in bold are mine, those in italics are the author’s).

“what is called for is a moderation of demand so that the affluent western nations would reduce their extraordinarily high per capita energy consumption not just by 10% or 15% but by at least 24-35%. Such reductions would call for nothing more than a return to levels that prevailed just a decade or no more than generation ago. How could one even use the term sacrifice in this connection? Did we live so unbearably 10 or 30 years ago that the return to those consumption levels cannot be even contemplated by serious policymakers because they feel, I fear correctly, that the public would find such a suggestion unthinkable and utterly unacceptable?

[…]

“would the billions of today’s poor people be distressed when a generation from now they could experience the quality of life that was enjoyed by people in Lyon or Kyoto during the 1960’s?”

…I will ask any european reader … having a good recollection of the 1960’s, this simple question: what was so unbearable about life in that decade? What is so precious that we have gained since that time through our much increased energy use that we seem to be unwilling even to contemplate a return to those levels of fuel and electricity consumption?”

[from pages 338 and 353 of the 2005 edition]

The Green Party – further thoughts #2

How are the bees in my bonnet doing?

I’ve previously given the reasons I (re)joined the green party – basically:

“The mere presence of a Green party in boring old mainstream politics – having councillors, MPs, MEPs MSPs, Assembly Members, Lords – has the effect of making it feel legitimate to take the environmental context seriously. It gives salience to the wider physical context in which all the fun of finance and politics and business and trade and art and shopping and human life in general takes place. Green ideas will sound louder because some of their proponents are willing to play the game of mainstream politics.”

Tom Chance recently said something similar, and with the authority of actually having worked for elected green politicians in the London Assembly:

“It’s widely assumed that the Green Party isn’t needed now that other parties take ‘green’ issues seriously. It’s also often argued within the Green Party that we shouldn’t focus too much on ecological issues for fear of reinforcing the impression that we’re a single issue party.

But in my experience, it was all too often necessary to have a Green politician in the room to get ecological issues raised, and all too important for them to take those opportunities.”

It is because that particular bee is still buzzing that I chose to renew my membership.

The other “bee” is that, as I said in one of last years posts, the Green Party is not “left-wing”. Party luminary (I suspect he’d be amused by that description) Rupert Read seems to agree with me, though with rather more philosophical depth. Unfortunately we seem to be in a diminishing minority on that one.

The Clive Lord tendency

The Green Party had a leadership election recently. I gave my first preference vote to Clive Lord. He’s an elder of the party, almost a founder member, and I voted for him because he has rather similar bees in his bonnet. He stood for election, not with any serious hope of winning (he’s now in his eighties), but as an opportunity to send those bees out to forage.

His blog is worth reading and I have been gratefully enlightened by his arguments in favour of the Citizen’s Income (or something which amounts to it) as a means of creating the fairness which would be necessary for a steady-state economy to be acceptable. Here is his pitch to voters in a by-election (which he claims did actually work on well-off ‘natural’ conservative voters):

“The Green Party was formed to deal with things like climate change, but there are powerful vested interests delaying this. There will have to be a much fairer society if we live within the Earth’s limits, so the only thing we can be sure of is that people like you will pay more tax. But what you will get for your money is a planet fit for your grandchildren.”

He is also quite clear that the Green Party has “lost it’s way”, losing it’s specific environmental-limits-to-growth focus by opening its doors to any and every worthy liberal cause. It’s a toughie that one – worthy causes are of course worthy and who could refuse them a home? Except that … well, one thing that has become clear to me recently is that I am an anti-utopian and that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. In a practical Green Party context this means that it is important that the social justice tail does not wag the ecological dog. I do genuinely find this a difficult conclusion, and I have havered over it, but what decided me is the following thought.

Accepting quite how deep in the soup we are is difficult, painful really. A good life is still possible for everyone on earth, but it cannot be the same kind of good life that is now enjoyed by most in the developed countries. There is therefore, even in some people committed enough to go and join a political party which titles itself “green”, an unconscious tendency to shy away from how bad things really are, and a welcoming of displacement activity. And what better displacement activity than social justice causes? Particularly as, (see earlier) a sustainable society, to be even tolerable, let alone pleasurable, has to be above all fair and reasonably equal.

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Last word to Clive:

“I have often said I cannot leave the Green Party, I have nowhere else to go. That remains true, but it does need putting back on the rails.”

Oh dear.