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Drowning in a Wide Green Sea

We are all environmentalists now. And this is terrible news.

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 any more.

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 to them.

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 over homogeneity.
- 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.