A Good Hard Look at the Greens?

‘Beneath all the politicking, there is one almighty driver for the Greens. It’s the climate stupid.’ (Paddy Manning, “A Good Hard Look at the Greens: What did the party deliver?The Monthly, August 2016, p. 40).

If anyone could have confidence that concern for climate change was an “almighty driver” of political process in Green parties, we would expect to see much more popular interest in Green parties and the conversion of that interest into votes at election times; and, critically, we might expect to see more support for The Greens NSW.

But reading Paddy Manning’s article, even handed as he attempts to be, is sufficient to make this author despair. My problem is less the inevitability of left-Labor analysis to grind on across the broad sweep of social justice and budget-balancing, as needs must in Australian politics, but the very long distance between that kind of political-economic analysis and the needs of a declining global ecology.

The quote from Paddy Manning’s article is the last paragraph and follows a longish analysis by him of Green policy on political economic concerns. This analysis proceeds without consideration of policies directly about environments and ecology and signals his intent to frame Australian Green parties as an adjunct to the Australian Labor Party, or at least to left-Labor values and priorities. These values and priorities have not so far done a great deal to address the real drivers of ecological decline: the combination of economic growth and population growth (locally and globally), and now of course, climate change.

The exclusion of “sustainable ecology” in Manning’s analysis also echoes the efforts of “hard left” advocates in Green parties to make sure ecological sustainability is the last consideration raised in the great conjunction of party policy represented by “the four pillars” of Green politics. Nowhere is this relegation clearer than in the daily grind of Green party politics NSW style.

Socialism and the best of broad left politics have never really embraced eco-centrism as a fundamental philosophical and political principle. This failure is easily understood as the inevitable consequence of prioritising the growth of economies and populations. It’s that simple. And further, given the decades long determination by major political parties everywhere to promote these priorities as the vote winners they continue to be, it seems inevitable that environments, habitats and ecologies will continue to decline despite the best efforts of Green parties everywhere. In other words, being human centred will remain the driving political principle well into the future.

Only a broader green movement can supply impetus for continuing development of the broader vision required to relativise human interests among the apparently competing needs of other life forms, their habitats, and a biosphere constituted from the complexity of all life. As Bob Brown is fond of pointing out, only the visible presence of oppositional groups fighting for ecological values wherever and whenever necessary will galvanise political interest, and optimistically, translate into popular concern.

One can say “only” even given the heroic and compelling political work of Bob Brown and others, including the new wave of Jan Barham, Jeremy Buckingham and Justin Field in New South Wales Green politics. Their work continues to be heroic in the face of concerted mainstream opposition, complacency and resignation to the apparent inevitability of growth of economies and populations.

It’s the failure of about 85% of the Australian voting population to care more about climate change than ”jobs and growth” that is the enduring problem. Economic growth and the continuing growth of human populations are understandably the core concerns of this 85% of not only the Australian human population, but of human populations, globally. Those issues appear to be about quality of human life and even more fundamentally, about human survival. That’s where most contemporary analysis goes pear shaped.

Paddy Manning’s analysis, typical of the best of broad left journalism goes nowhere near these basic issues. It’s the economy stupid.

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