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.
Category Archives: green politics
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.
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).
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?
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.
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?
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.