Drowning in a Wide Green
We are all environmentalists now. And this is terrible
The Ecologist, July 2000
Hands up anyone who isn't green. There can't be many
of you around any more. The number of people professing
their commitment to 'sustainability' seems to be roaring
skywards every hour. Greens to the left of us, greens
to the right of us; it's like living on an allotment.
Anyone who's anyone these days - and quite a few who
are no-one at all - has apparently opened a six pack
of Care For The Planet and drunk deeply of its contents.
They're not even throwing the ringpulls into the bushes
Try a simple experiment: pay a visit to your local
pub (if you can find one that hasn't been converted
into an ersatz Oirish theme bar) and ask a random selection
of barflies if they care about 'the environment'. Oh
yes, they'll all say; of course. Then take it up a level:
can you find an 'opinion former', a newspaper editor,
a government minister, an opposition frontbencher or,
come to that, a corporate top dog who doesn't claim
to be at least a pale shade of green? You probably can,
but it would take far more time than you'd usefully
want to spend.
My laboured point is a simple one: we are all environmentalists
now. And this is terrible news.
Bear with me. It is terrible news for one simple reason:
we are in danger of being co-opted. By 'we', I mean
those hairy, eccentric eco-bores foolish enough to believe
that a genuinely green future will involve more than
recycling our mobile phone batteries or raising a glass
to Wal-Mart for selling organic vegetables..
In recent months, I have listened to London mayoral
candidates - most from political parties committed to
unlimited economic growth and a techno-dependent future
straight out of Brave New World - bidding to 'outgreen'
each other. I have listened to unreconstructed old lefties
talking about the environmental movement as if it were
socialism with a catalytic converter fitted. I have
listened to reactionary conservatives bleating about
how they thought of green politics before anyone else.
I have heard, in apparent seriousness, the head of BP-Amoco
giving a hugely prestigious BBC Reith lecture, on the
theme of 'Respect for the Earth'. I have watched liberals,
neoliberals, communists, anarchists, Tories, Stalinists
and think tank contrarians twisting in a green wind,
hoisted by their own sustainable petards.
And I've had more than enough of it.
Don't get me wrong: the more real greens out there
the better. What worries me is that we are danger of
confusing genuine green politics with a 'lifestyle environmentalism',
which is being pasted like wallpaper over the cracks
in our society. We - and I include some parts of the
environmental movement in this sweeping accusation -
are being led astray by our own mainstream acceptability.
We are heeding the siren song of a shallow, fashionable
and undefined 'sustainability', suddenly being parroted
from all sides by suited wonks, reformed politicos and
corporate main-chancers which, if we don't beware, will
lead to the genuinely radical message of green politics
being drowned in a puce sea of business-as-usual.
Those of us who call ourselves 'green' should welcome
with open arms anyone mad or persistent enough to want
to jump onto our train. But we should do it on our terms.
We should not let the right, the left, the centre or
anyone else drag us into their corner. The green movement
is a radical political movement; its purpose is to question
the very foundations of the modern world, and to change
that world for the better. It does not exist merely
to clean up the grubby bits and carry on as before.
The greens, like any other movement, share certain
core values. And I'd like to suggest, without being
too authoritarian about it (heaven forbid), that those
who seek to call themselves 'green' should subscribe
Here then, for the record, is my own highly subjective
list of six core green principles:
- Rejection of the Growth Economy - the meta-ideology
of Industrialism - based on endless production and consumption
and a skewed version of economic 'growth', which encompasses
both capitalism and communism, and which greens alone
seek to question.
- Bio-centrism: or, at least, a rejection of the overwhelming
paradigm that anything useful to humanity is justifiable,
and whatever is useless can be annihilated.
- Decentralisation: the democratic localisation of whatever
can be localised - politics, economics, culture.
- Diversity: biological, geographical, political and
cultural. The celebration and acceptance of difference
- Connection to the land: or 'bioregionalism' if you
want to be extreme. The importance of appreciating the
local landscape, and of nurturing a sense of place.
- Suspicion of technology: not, necessarily, rejection,
but suspicion. The willingness to ask what purpose any
new technology serves before blindly adopting it; the
application of the precautionary principle.
I'd say that anyone who subscribes to all of the above
can call themselves a deep (and possible deeply unrealistic)
green. Anyone who subscribes to three or four is welcome
aboard the train if they're not already on it. But if
none of them tickle your fancy - well, now you know.
'Sustainable' you may be, but green you ain't. Sorry.