Category Archives: green politics

Organisation and action for social change

Political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote a brilliant commentary on a biography of Rosa Luxemburg, the Polish-German socialist revolutionary murdered in Berlin in 1919. I came across it recently in a collection of Arendt’s essays, and I just want to note a couple of points which really stand out for me.

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Questions for activists

I recently checked out the Thwink.org website again. Since David first wrote about their work, they have continued to develop their ideas. They have some good ones too. Sometimes I find the approach a bit too simplistically rationalist, but there’s no doubt they are thinking about social change, asking “why have we not achieved the changes we’ve been struggling for?”, and trying to come up with better methods.

Activists are usually busy people. The word itself is based on the root “action”. Gandhi, one of the world’s greatest non-violent activists, stressed the vital importance of action – even going so far as to argue that violent action is better than passivity. Yet Ghandi’s activism was never unthinking. It was based on serious efforts at self-understanding and self-control, and rooted in a deeply thought out theory of power, which lead logically to non-violent strategies for social change.
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Overcoming the growth mania through the social economy

In his splendidly provocative Tools for conviviality, Ivan Illich (1973) describes the pursuit of growth as a general affliction of industrial society. He writes that “While evidence shows that more of the same leads to utter defeat, nothing less than more and more seems worthwhile in a society infected by the growth mania” (p.8). His conclusion is that

society must be reconstructed to enlarge the contribution of autonomous individuals and primary groups to the total effectiveness of a new system of production designed to satisfy the human needs which it also determines. (p.10)

The analysis of the ‘growth mania’ is taken further by Herman Daly (1974) in “Steady-State Economics versus Growthmania” (pdf here). Daly decries the growth orthodoxy, the desire for “growth forever and the more the better,” calling it “a rigorous exercise in wishful thinking” (p.154).

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The Third Sector holds the key to successful action on climate change

Stephen Hale is a former environmental policy adviser to the UK government from 2002-2006 who now directs the think tank Green Alliance. In his 2010 paper on “The new politics of climate change”, Hale articulates the reasons for the present failure to take meaningful action on climate change. Based on that analysis of failure, he explains how a successful response climate change might still be achieved.

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Preparing for the future: civil society, adult education, and Transition Towns

The massive upheavals and traumas that befell the nations of the former Soviet-bloc following the collapse of the Communist regimes provided a kind of ‘natural experiment’ for social scientists: their different experiences and outcomes can be compared, contrasted, and lessons drawn.

One of those lessons is about the value of civil society – that is, that sphere of voluntary collective interaction not organised by the institutions of government or markets. From this, I’d also like to draw a bow to what I see as the key value of adult education/ life-long learning and the Transition Towns movement.

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The new republicanism, part 2: The green republic

As I described in my previous post, republicanism is founded on key concepts such as public politics and self-government. In an article published in The Good Society in 2008, John Barry notes that this “language of civic republicanism has been largely absent from debates within green politics” and from discussions of the politics of sustainability (p.5). In his article, Barry sets out to do something about that omission.

Drawing on ideas from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Barry notes that “humans’ relative weakness, our vulnerability to natural dangers, makes us not just dependent creatures, but interdependent.” The republic, he continues, is therefore founded on the desire to build “an enduring home for human lives in a world ruled by contingency and filled with potentially hostile agents, both human and non-human.” This is in stark contrast to the widely accepted individualistic and “optimistic view of humans’ ability to transcend their limits” (p.6).

Thus, in many respects, the republican understanding of the human condition is much the same as the green understanding. Republicanism has both a realistic understanding of “human’s complex relations of dependence on natural forces outside our control” and an appreciation of the importance of sustainable living (p.6).

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Deliberative democracy, green society

Over the past 30 years or so, green political thinkers have offered us a variety of approaches to dealing with the ecological crisis. These proposals range from a deeply unattractive authoritarianism (eg from Garrett Hardin) to an appealing but ultimately utopian anarchism (eg from Murray Bookchin). Both of these options reject the possibility of a liberal democratic state reorganising itself sufficiently in order to cope with the ecological crisis. Present circumstances might bear out that analysis.

But since authoritarianism and anarchism, for very different reasons, seem outrageous and/or impossible propositions to most of us, are we, therefore, forced to fall back on liberal democracy as the only possible framework for a green society? Or there are other green alternatives beyond authoritarianism and anarchism?

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Poles Apart

Frustrated by the polarised debate on human-caused climate change Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal set out to evaluate the evidence for themselves. On the basis of this book, they apear to have been relentlessly open-minded in this quest…and in the end, they conclude that yes, we do need to be concerned. It is totally against the spirit of the book to point this out – but Gareth Morgan is noted for coming to his views independently and skeptically, plus he is an economist and – all other things being equal 🙂 – reasonably fond of economic growth – so if he thinks human-caused climate change is an issue we need to take seriously, it really is most likely that we do. But read the book – it ought to be convincing for anyone with an open-mind.

Morgan and McCrystal also take some shots at greenies and environmentalists for taking an irresponsible role in this debate, muddying the science with their keen-ness to use it when it suits to butress attacks on consumerism and capitalism that are primarily ideological (don’t worry they also take aim at fossil-fuel industry-funded deniers).

I think this criticism raises some valuable points for the green/environmental movement.

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If not capitalism, then what?

We’ve done a fair bit of criticising contemporary capitalism in this blog. One of the follow-up questions we have been asking ourselves all along is: “if not capitalism, then what?’

Well yes. If not life as we know it, with all its enormous ‘reality’, complexity, and slow-turning, apparently unstoppable power and momentum – then what? And how do we get from here to there? It’s quite a topic for a couple of part-time bloggers to tackle. The hubris! But then we’re not tackling it on our own – human society is always and inescapably a collaborative venture – we’re hitching a ride with the thinkers whose work we’ve commented on, hopefully in return bringing it to some who would not otherwise have met it.

So where have we got to so far, in our hitching, in our answer to this big question?
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Challenging ecological doublethink

Ingolfur Bluhdorn’s ideas about the politics of unsustainability seem to paint an accurate picture of the state of mind of the developed world. We recognise the need for change but absolutely refuse to change. An ecological doublethink pervades our politics.

In attempting to make sense of the current condition of the world “in the areas of ecological politics, green politics, political economy, and social change,” it seems to me that challenging the ecological doublethink is what well sharp has been all about for these past two years.

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