A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Why the green cause is a working-class cause

A couple of weeks ago there was an article in The Guardian titled "The climate crisis can be solved by courteous communication." Now, I'm all for good intentions but I'm fairly sure there's a limit to what decent manners can achieve. So while we wait for etiquette to work its planetary magic, it might be worth working on a plan B, just in case. As we see the first effects of climate change begin to kick in, there's a very clear and disturbing pattern. The front-line victims have all been the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. On the whole the countries most strongly affected are those which have contributed the least to creating the problem in the first place. Whether it's the flooding in Bangladesh, the drying in Africa or the heavy rainfalls in south America it is those who are least able to cope with disaster who have disasters visited upon them. Of course, as the fires in Australia or the disaster in New Orleans showed, even First World nations when confronted with extreme weather conditions find it profoundly difficult to cope.

That means there needs to be a twin-track approach on addressing climate change. First that we ensure that these poorer nations are given the assistance they need to cope with a changing climate and that we scrap the unjust international mechanisms that are keeping the poorest poor. That means addressing the climate crisis is also a question of addressing the havoc wreaked by the international economy. Far from lecturing those living in poverty to tighten their belts it has to be about putting their economies on a stronger footing so that these nations have a decent infrastructure, proper emergency services and economic justice - all things we should be fighting for even if these societies were not facing the brunt of global warming. The second issue is that we need to ensure the measures we take to reduce our carbon emissions at home simultaneously help to reduce other social problems. A recent edition of Radio Four's Woman's Hour discussed whether being green was anti-woman, although the discussion seemed, for whatever reason, to revolve around organic chickens; maybe they'd missed their breakfasts?

However, the key demands of the green movement are not about lifestyle but are about measures that would also help reduce inequality here in Britain. For example, Kirklees Council initiated a roll-out of free home insulation. Regardless of the effects on energy use, it has meant that those who could not afford to make their home a warm and comfortable place have benefited from a radical programme that shows efficiency is not the same thing as cuts. Taking a more general example, having a decent and cheap public transport system allows us to reduce car use, fuel use and increases air quality. However, on a day-to-day level improving our public transport has an immediate impact on everyone's quality of life, especially but not exclusively those on low incomes. Some demands can feel quite middle class, like protecting locally owned businesses over the encroachment from the likes of economic giants Tesco and Sainsbury's. This is an attempt to reduce the distances that our goods have to travel and reduce waste. However, this demand happens to be simultaneously an attack on the power of the largest capitalist enterprises.

The desire to live in a place with its own identity and where the local economy directly feeds into and is connected to the local community is one that is first and foremost about questioning what the economy is for, but it has also a profound impact on carbon emissions. The fight against climate change should also be a fight for fairness. And because of the nature of capitalism that means confronting the interests of capital and forcing it to do things it has no desire to do. When people talk about organic chickens, it's in the profoundly mistaken belief that the quality of the food we eat is not a working-class issue. The fact that the way our food industry is structured today means that eating healthy meals can be too expensive for many people is a disgrace. There's nothing noble in eating second-class, tasteless food. The focus on lifestyle by those who want to portray the green movement as anti-working-class also deliberately ignores the fact that greens call for political and economic change.

If we don't tackle how we produce energy, the inefficiency and priorities of our current economy, the inadequacies of our democracies and the social divisions in society then we won't be able to tackle the climate. That doesn't mean that there aren't a host of things individuals can do to help in that fight beyond using our votes wisely to send the clearest message that the main parties cannot just drop environmental issues. Household waste and energy use are responsible for a significant proportion of the country's emissions. There's no harm in remembering the things that were second nature to my grandparents. Turning off lights you're not using or recycling papers used to be the norm, but now some people seem to find the suggestion that making it easier to combat pointless waste is some kind of fundamental attack on their civil liberties.

If we're to create a mass movement that can truly reshape the economy and fights for climate justice, we'll need millions who are building these tiny daily routines into their lives, routines that help us live saner lives, not more difficult ones. When you're on a war footing it's what you have to do to bind people to the cause. Any movement that is made up of people who feel no personal commitment or responsibility for the future does not have the commitment to win its demands. The movement for a sustainable society is not about lifestyles and expensive chickens - it's about politics. It's about the economy. And it's about justice. It's a mistake to think that, just because many green activists are dedicated to local and personal change, that is at the expense of the bigger picture.

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