If you ask what “being green” means, most people will first think of recycling, perhaps taking showers instead of baths, or maybe fitting some LED light-bulbs. Others might move onto promoting ‘FSC’ wood, ‘MSC’ fish and vegetarianism. These are noble goals. But the Green Party’s end goal is not to make environmentally friendly tweaks to the current neoliberal economic model. As a political party we recognize that climate change is not simply an individual or an environmental issue, climate change is being fueled by the rigid adherence to an economic and political model that values greed and growth more than anything else. This economic model is threatening our ability to sustain our standards of living through environmental damage, and is corrupting our relationship to our environment and each other, to one of exploitation and competition. The Green Party doesn’t want a more environmentally friendly version of the current system. The Green Party was borne out of a recognition that the system we work within is the root cause of many of our problems, and undermines our ability to tackle climate change.
The UK establishment is still stuck with its pernicious, blind faith in the market. Since Thatcher came to power the UK has been dominated by a vision of setting the market free, with the hope that the private sector would lift society as a whole. As we face record levels of inequality, systemic failures in our banking sector, and tax avoidance on a massive scale, it is time to question our faith in the free hand of neoliberal economics. The recent tax avoidance scandal at HSBC is a timely reminder that the supposed ‘free hand’ of the market is more likely to slap itself in the face, or pat itself on its back, than provide an effective means of organizing our economy.
The path away from climate change will require a different model for thinking about how we organize our society. We CAN act collectively to invest in a different future. We CAN have a New Green Deal to recharge the UK economy to create jobs and genuine wealth, while lowering the cost of living.
This new wave of Green investment will require a new vision for thinking about how money is created into the economy. Ben Dyson and Positive Money have been leading the way in raising awareness of the fact that the ability of banks to create money as debt is doing little except fuel a property bubble. Positive Money is calling for the money supply to be in public hands, such that the productivity of our society can be reinvested in the real economy rather than just servicing the debt of private banks.
Underlying this change in the way we create money is a more fundamental recognition that markets need to be more strongly shaped by government to ensure they work for the common good. Many citizens would prefer to make more rational long term choices within the market, for example, investing in a more efficient boiler, insulating their homes, or installing solar panels, but people have to pay banks so much in debt repayments that they simply don’t have the spare capital to be making these choices, even when these choices would pay off for everyone in the long term. Taking back control over the way in which banks create money as debt could help to ensure that we are structuring the market in a way that the wealth generated in our society goes back into the real economy.
In parallel to questioning our faith in the market, we also need to re-evaluate what market activity is actually for. For decades we have chased ever increasing GDP, but there is no evidence that increase in GDP in the developed world leads to an increase in overall levels of well being. The recent publication ‘The Spirit Level’ suggests that equality is actually a more important factor, such that in a more equal society, even the rich do better. Moreover it makes the case that equality between the rich and poor predicts better public health, mental health, and almost any other metric for well-being (in the developed world). In our hearts, we know that continual growth (or the accumulation of more money) is not what brings satisfaction to our lives. Rather we want to live in a positive relationship with our neighbours and our environment. We want to live in clean, green, safe environments. We want meaningful jobs where we feel we are genuinely contributing something. Rather than chasing endless growth for its own sake, we need to focus on the fact that we cannot divorce the economic system from human values and the health of the planet.
Ultimately we need to remember the current free market model of continual growth in GDP fueled by greed, has the potential to subject us to runaway climate change. If we don’t have the foresight to recognize it in advance, we will soon be confronted with a world in which failing crop harvests, water shortage and other resources scarcities, combined with violent and unpredictable weather will force us to realize that the environment was never a separate issue. By the time this happens however it will be 40 years too late.
[This is a reproduction of Darren’s first blog in the Huffington Post]