Simply... The Green Agenda


new internationalist
issue 171 - May 1987

[image, unknown] the Green agenda

Green Political proposals are a combination of pragmatic steps
aimed at achieving idealistic long-term goals. Green means and ends
must complement each other. Here we sort out some of the main strands
of Green thinking and the objections to them as practical political proposals.

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The revolt against materialism is as old as materialism itself, so the Greens have a hard row to hoe in challenging the values of an acquisitive consumer society. The Greens view consumer culture and its ethos of 'trying to keep up with the Jones' as one of the main pistons that drives the environment - destroying economy of perpetual growth. In its place the Greens support 'life-centred' activities such as sports, crafts, neighbourhood projects, gardening, artistic creation, and a commitment to social services that meet the basic needs of the community. The Greens would slow down the waste of energy and resources built into planned obsolescence - and the idea that you can buy happiness 'off-the-rack'.

But those Greens will run headlong into those whose jobs and profits are dependent on this kind of wastefulness. The trick will be to give people a practical sense that a society that values usefulness and beauty and not just 'more, bigger, faster' is not only desirable but also possible.


The Greens believe that things will only improve if we do a lot more for ourselves. The cost of depending on corporations and government to deliver the goods - be it food on the table or looking after us when we are sick - is just too great. And it's not only money. Such dependence also involves giving up the right to take basic decisions over what we want to eat and how to care for the sick. Corporate experts turn farms into factories and lace our food with chemicals. Health professionals hand us high-tech medicine and a pill for every ill.

But we often prefer to abdicate to the experts so that we can watch Dallas or go and see the local team play. Going to community meetings takes time and having a garden takes energy. Transforming a society of spectators into a society of activists is perhaps the Green's greatest challenge

[image, unknown]

[image, unknown]

The Greens point out that when we dump radio-active waste, spray toxic chemicals or release sulphur dioxide or leaded gasoline fumes into the air, these return to us in the form of human cancers, poisoned water, acid rain and infertile soils. We can, they say, run the economy in a much less destructive fashion if we break our 'chemical and energy fix'. To do this they support a ecological approach to a revitalized family-farm sector, more renewable energy like solar and wind, and a shift in resources to the production of collective goods, such as public transport, rather than private motor cars.

More conventional politicians of Left and Right warn of a nightmare of higher taxes, job losses and a retreat into the low-tech dark ages if the Greens get their way.

The trick for the Greens will be to minimize the losses (in personal economic security) while maximizing the benefits (in free time in a convivial environment) that could result from an end to the 'domination of Nature'.

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Whether in politics or economics the Green rule-of-thumb is 'the more decentralization the better'. They hold the optimistic view that when people take decisions that effect their home-place the results are better for both the health of communities and that of the ecosystem. The Greens draw on a tradition of direct democracy inspired by everything from the Greek city-states to New England town-meetings and socialist workplace councils.

But Green tactics in Europe have involved participation at the national level of politics and the jury remains out as to whether the Greens will resist the seductive shortcut of centralized power in order to implement their own ideas.

Orthodox economists feel the needs of our society - running airlines for example - are just too complex to permit a reduction in the scale of our institutions. Greens respond by pointing to the wasteful diseconomies-of-scale in such institutions. But they will have to work hard to make their economic program of local production using local energy a credible alternative.


The Greens hold that our present preoccupation with short-term efficiency is leading to a dangerous standardization in Nature and in the way we live. Agribusiness uses chemical 'inputs' of fertilizer and insecticides to create a monoculture that may be ideal for high yields of cotton and tobacco this year - but it kills everything else in the field and destroys the soil and long-term agricultural potential. Similarly our 'Big Mac/Holiday Inn' consumer culture is destroying a variety of local goods and services that provide jobs and enrich life by quality and choice.

The Greens detractors raise the spectre of higher prices if Green plans for organic agriculture and the development of small-scale industry go ahead.

The Greens speak to a basic conflict in the modern soul - the security of packaged and cheap predictability versus the notion that communities and people should do things for themselves in their own ways. The single-mindedness of the American Dream or even True Islam - a belief in one true way - is not compatible with the Green belief in variety - whether of cultures, of products or of plant or animal species.

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[image, unknown]

The Greens share the goals of the peace movement; an end to the arms race and the division of the world into military blocs dominated by the US and the USSR. They feel that this is a pre-condition for an ecological society that does not squander vast amounts of raw material on the latest military gadget.

Here the Green view is close to that of socialists. But it runs up against the conservative arguments for strong national defence - to protect 'our way of life.' The Greens must also deal with the fact that many workers' jobs and shareholders' dividends depend on high levels of defence spending.

For most Greens non-violence goes beyond simply reducing the military budget; it also implies different ways of making decisions and of treating other people. Here they are closer to feminism and its criticisms of violence and coercion as being very male approaches to getting your own way.

But like any activist who is also a pacifist a Green must square their commitment to non-violence with that to social justice. No easy task in places like apartheid South Africa

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