Protecting the Planet (a WEA course)
Week 10: the environment movement.
1. The environment movement, controversies concerning its strategy and goals:
1.1 Theory of social movements #theory,
1.2 Is there an environmental social movement #social movement?
1.3 Brief history of the environment movement #history.
1.5 Greenpeace #Greenpeace.
1.6 Friends of the Earth #FoE.
2. Political parties #parties. The Green Party:
2.1 Beyond right and left:
2.3 The Four Pillars
2.4 Some specific policies
2.5 Current leadership etc
2.7 In Europe
3.The EU, and UK government policies (Brexit especially)
4. More recent organisations/campaigns
4.1 School strikes, Greta Thunberg etc
5. Remaining questions #questions:
5.1 science and technology #science & technology,
5.3 inequalities (underdevelopment) #inequalities: movements & philosophies in the developing world: (i) #via Campesina, (ii) ‘mother earth’ - #aboriginals, #Maya, (iii) Islamic #Tayyib (iv) Ideas in the native American and other indigenous traditions #indigenous
6. Philosophies that bring together different strands #unifying ideas:
6.1 #Vandana Shiva,
6.2 #Naomi Klein,
6.3 #Joanna Macy
6.4 #Timothy Morton,
6.5 Deep Time
6.6 #other recent works (Patrick Barkham): nature and psychology etc.
7. Short booklist. #booklist
The study of politics has many aspects and covers, for example, the study of institutions (governments, parliaments etc), concepts (democracy, totalitarianism etc), philosophy (what is a “just” regime? why should we obey the law? etc), and behaviour (how/why do people vote the way they do, what determines the behaviour of political representatives, etc).
When we study political behaviour, or action, we could focus on individuals, or on groups. With Social Movements we are dealing with political action by groups or collectives (rather than with individuals). It is worth noting that the concept of social movements was mainly developed in the 1960s an ‘70s, when the youth movement, anti-war movement, and feminism were flourishing. (Kate Stevens, NLR 102, reviewing ‘The Age of Ecology’ by Joachim Radkau, Cambridge 2014, and Environmentalism by Ramachandra Guha, 2000).
A social movement is a "collective endeavour to promote or resist change in the society of which it forms part" (Bottomore 1979).
However, it is clear that there are many ways in which groups act to get political change: people may protest, or riot, or carry out a rebellion or a revolution; they may form a pressure-group or a political party, and this definition does not distinguish a social movement from, say, a political party.
On the other hand, Heywood (1997) defines a social movement as: “A collective body distinguished by a high level of commitment and political activism, but often lacking a clear organisation”.
The key difference is that social movements are not organised in the way that parties or pressure groups are: they do not (usually) have “membership”, central staff, offices and suchlike. They act in a more diffuse, perhaps episodic, way than organised political formations – as Bottomore puts it. On the other hand, I would say that their actions are more deliberate than riots or mobs, since they usually have goals and carefully chosen methods of action. Some social movements may be revolutionary – others want less radical change.
Giddens (1989 ch 19) makes an important point when he says that they are "a collective attempt to further a common interest, or secure a common goal, through collective action outside the sphere of established institutions" (my emphasis).
Bottomore makes another significant point: social movements, if successful, "establish preconditions for changes of policy or regime, by bringing into question the legitimacy of the existing political system (in part or in whole), creating a different climate of opinion, and proposing alternatives."
Finally (Alain Touraine (e.g. 1977) says a social movement is a large number of people taking part in the construction and reconstruction of their society.
‘Yes’: the term ‘protest or social movement’ is appropriate, then, because (i) there are many different components, yet they are not bound together; and (ii) they all share the view that existing practices and institutions need to be altered, (though they disagree as to the degree of change that is needed); and (iii) they all say that we need a new philosophy, and/or set of new values (thus leading the way towards a fundamental change in society) – i.e. we must recognise the value of nature, and give it a higher priority.
One explanation as to why there is a ‘green movement’ (an explanation used by such as Rudolf Bahro, and derived from Marxism, and especially from the failure of the working class to take up Marxist ideas) - is that as the environment is increasingly damaged it will affect all of us, rich and poor, capitalists and workers, people from developed and from developing countries; consequently we are bound to see a growing and widespread movement to protect the environment.
‘No’: On the other hand, we could say that the ‘green movement’ is not a real united movement, and/or that it will not last (is it a passing fad?). For example:
(i) There is the argument (Barratt Brown, Michael, 1984,: Models in Political Economy, Penguin 1984) that the scientific accounts of damage to the environment are not in agreement with each other, and it is difficult for non-experts to be motivated by complex scientific arguments (just as it was difficult to stir the workers with the complex theory and the arcane disputes amongst Marxists);
(ii) Whilst many in the movement agree that it requires new forms of action, there are very different organisations within the movement, and they differ significantly on action and on philosophy (see Yearley, S. 1993 Social Movements and Environmental Change, in Redclift, M. and Benton, T. (eds): Social Theory and the Global Environment, Routledge), so perhaps the green movement is not a social movement. As Stevens says: ‘Is ‘movement’ even the right term for something so vast and shapeless as global environmentalism, often more a conviction than a practice, which encompasses not only widely divergent goals - wildlife conservation, cycle lanes, solar panels, - but seemingly incompatible agents [the people involved]: on the one hand, myriad local confrontations over toxic dumps or logging rights, and on the other, inter-governmental conferences, NGO lobbyists, carbon traders?’
In an analysis based on the USA, McCarthy and Zald (1987) look at the number of different groups concerned with the environment, comparing their different forms, their ability to organise, and their internal dynamics, etc. They conclude that there is a number of “Social Movement Organisations” (SMOs) which, although they might campaign together on some issues, also differ on other issues. For example, Greenpeace is not involved in the anti-roads movement, and opposes the Green Party on the question of law-breaking. These SMOs also compete for membership, backers, and coverage (as do businesses...) – so it is not correct to talk of a ‘social movement’.
(iii) From a ‘European’ point of view, Berger (1987 Berger, Peter: The Capitalist revolution, 1986, Basic Books) argues that what is happening is the rise of a new “knowledge class” rather than a social movement.
(iv) Finally, we can also see (and this may serve to underline several of the points just made) a growth in the voices of ‘sceptics’ – who could be right?! In which case the ‘movement’ will fizzle out... Though I would say that these sceptics are usually a small group, and in the case of climate sceptics a group of non-scientists, who – consciously or not – are actually speaking for the interests of industry.
(i) Goodin (Goodin, D. 1990: Green Political Theory, Polity) points out that the movement has been through several stages: first there was concern with issues such as pollution and pesticides (Rachel Carson) – but solutions were seen as local or national; nowadays there is more recognition of a global problem and a need for global action.
(ii) Ii is clear that industrialisation caused perhaps the first signs of serious environmental damage – and this arose from new technology of course, but also from a changed attitude to the relationship between man and nature (and I would argue that this is key, with the development of Francis Bacon’s attitude that nature is there to be conquered...). On the other hand Radkau (The Age of Ecology) argues that globalisation has caused the ‘deepest rupture’: as Stevens puts it: ‘glut has replaced scarcity as the main danger facing humanity. The insatiable exploitation of fossil-fuel and groundwater reserves, over-fertilisation of the soil, irreversible loss of land beneath asphalt and concrete, plastics clogging the oceans, mass tourism and air travel despoiling the shores and the skies – all this stems from a doomed attempt to generalize the expansionist American model, [which is] notoriously wasteful of space and resources...’
(ii) There have also been several changes in the broad theoretical justification for environmental protection: first there was a notion of ‘stewardship’ i.e. we were entrusted by the Creator to take care of his creation – and note the (to my mind) perversion of this in America, where ‘wild’ nature was to be protected from ‘sinful’ humankind – which meant that the first peoples had to be evicted from the ‘nature reserves’ (and put into their own ‘reserves’ of course...).
Later came an awareness that care for the environment was needed in order to protect ourselves – a utilitarian view. As suggested above, the damage to the environment is so widespread that it is affecting people. Everywhere – and this awareness is bringing about a movement.
Now, Goodin says, greens have a view involving a set of ecological values that are centred on nature for itself.
(iii) The movement is international: this is inevitable, it can be argued, because of the nature of the problem, especially of climate change/global warming - and because international organisations have now been involved (e.g. IPCC). Are international bodies such as the UN perhaps best able tackle the environmental crisis?
Some examples of the international dimension of the movement:
The first World Climate Conference was as long ago as 1979! (The functioning of greenhouse gases had been understood since 1896…). In 1990 the IPCC says climate change is a concern and human activities are likely to be involved. 1992 saw the Rio Earth Summit – The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is drawn up – the US, under Bush, refuses to sign. 1997: the Kyoto Protocol is signed by 141 countries, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (Bush Junior opposes it). In 2002 the Larsen B ice shelf breaks up, dropping a piece of ice a quarter of the size of Northern Ireland into the Antarctic sea. In 2007 the IPCC and Al Gore share the Nobel Peace prize, and Al Gore’s film wins an Oscar.
(ii) pressure groups,
A pressure group – obviously – acts to put pressure on responsible bodies (government, business/industry) for a specific goal. They are usually single-issue groups. Some may be based on self interest (though a green group is not likely to be, because its members don’t necessarily benefit – for instance, green policies may lead to cuts in the standard of living - cf. below under anthropocentrism), many are altruistic. A pressure-group is not a (political) party – it does not (usually!) seek to get someone elected, and it does not have a manifesto covering a variety of issues. On the other hand, of course a pressure-group may turn into a political party, as has happened with a number of ‘green’ groups (e.g. Die Grünen).
(iii) NGOs: Non-Governmental Organisations: a broad term, used by the United Nations (where NGOs have representatives and can influence discussions). The first of these date back to the 19th century, and they tend to be conservation-based, e.g.:
1865: the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society
1889: RSPB (now the largest conservation group in the UK – 400,000 members)
1892: Sierra Club (USA) to protect national parks...
1926: Council for the Protection of Rural England
WWF, WDCS – and many others.
More recently, more ‘specialized’ groups have been set up e.g. WDCS (whale and dolphin conservation), alliance to save the rainforests etc., as well as the (much) more militant Animal Liberation Front. The more extreme members of this group – and perhaps the movement as a whole – have been accused of putting animal lives before human lives.
There are divisions among these conservation groups, between radicals who take more drastic actions, and who usually have joint activities with other groups e.g. over the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, or even poverty and human rights; and more conservative groups, who are especially concerned with protecting the beauty of nature.
Dec. 2014. New Internationalist: A critique of NGOs comes from Arundhati Roy, who says they ‘turn people into dependent victims and blunt political resistance. NGOs form a buffer between the sarkar (government) and public. Between empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.’ Dionne Bunsha agrees that some corporate-funded NGOs use Corporate Social Responsibility to obscure dissent against their projects...
On a positive note, the former chief minister of Bihar praised Greenpeace’s renewable energy projects in Bihar. It was also an alliance of NGOs that led to the Right to Information Act 2005 – used to tackle corruption. And in Andra Pradesh NGOs helped farmers get away from dependence on pesticides and debt.
Book: NGOization: Complicity, contradictions and prospects, ed. Aziz Choudhry and Dip Kapoor, Zed Books 2013.
Update (April 2018): Mark Cocker has written a book that explores these issues – Our Place: Can we save Britain’s wildlife before it is too late? A review in New Statesman 6-12 April 2018 is interesting: Cocker criticises inequalities in land ownership, inefficiencies in land use, narrow agro-industrialism, and the divide between the preservation of beauty and the pursuit of sustainable co-existence with bio-diverse ecologies. The book also deals with the rise of the conservation movement, and covers topics such as subsidies (‘EC membership did not so much change overall policy as reinforce it’ – since agricultural subsidies existed before Britain joined the EC/EU). The causes of the ruin of the countryside are long-standing, structural and systemic.
This review mentions other authors in the field (excuse the pun!): Peter Marren on subsidies, Derek Radcliffe (1980) The Peregrine Falcon, which traced the role of DDT, and others.
Green groups may also have interesting relationships/overlaps with other old-established groups and movements: National Anti-Vivisection Society (1875), the BUAV (1898, also against vivisection), and the League Against Cruel Sports (1924).
An early example of environmental action, based on protecting the right to ramble, was the Kinder Scout Mass trespass, 1932 - 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the ‘illegal ramble’ on Kinder, an area of common land that had been taken over by wealthy landowners to cultivate grouse for shooting – the ‘trespassers’ were arrested and given jail sentences for riotous assembly!.
Worth mentioning as well are organisations such as Earth First (who have taken direct action to stop cutting down of trees and building of roads), Reclaim the Streets (formed out of the fight against the M11 extension and to defend Twyford Down). RTS has held ‘street parties’ to fight the ‘rule of the car’. FOE (see below) has got involved in these protests too.
Another significant movement is the Transition Movement – see Rob Hopkins: From What Is to What If – Hopkins founded the Transition Network and movement, in Totnes in 2006… and the article by Patrick Barkham https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/13/going-local-how-to-make-a-big-difference-in-small-ways Here there is information on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex which is restoring agricultural land. See the book by Isabella Tree: Wilding.
Recently-formed organisations that have hit the headlines include: Climate Camp, and Climate Rush (the latter based on a suffragette tactic of ‘rushing’ on Parliament). See below on XR…
July 2019. Citizen science. (Observer 28.07.19). Doing It Together Science (Dito) – an EU programme, including environmental monitoring. (Article is on a photographer Roland Ascroft, taking pictures in Deerness Woods). The programme has just finished after 3 years.See also MammalWeb, in the north-east.
Jan 2020: Citizens’ Assemblies links: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/27/first-uk-climate-assembly-birmingham-sir-david-attenborough
Two best-known organisations:
1.5 Greenpeace, formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1971. Its British branch was set up in 1978, and International Greenpeace in 1979. Its key aim is to ‘bear witness’ to environmental abuses through non-violent direct action interventions. Its membership grew in a dramatic way up to 1995 when it had 5 million members, spread around over 32 countries. It now has offices in over 40 countries. Current membership/supporters 2.9 million. There are some 15,000 volunteers globally.
Does not accept money from corporations or governments.
Campaigns on world-wide issues: climate change, deforestation, over-fishing, commercial whaling, genetic engineering, nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
In the late ‘60s the US wanted to test (underground) an atom bomb on a peninsula in Alaska (Amchitka) and there were fears of earthquakes and/or tsunamis. In 1969 7,000 people blockaded a border in protest. Two Quaker members of the Sierra Club of Canada were involved, but the latter didn’t like the publicity given to the direct action plans, and this led to meetings which eventually established Greenpeace. There was one more test, of a bigger bomb, and a lot of protests after which the US decided not to test any more at Amchitka.
Later, a ship Greenpeace III sailed into the exclusion zone round Moruroa, where the French were testing their bomb. A member of the crew was badly beaten, which was then publicised, and the French stopped testing in the atmosphere.
In the ‘70s they disrupted whaling by getting between the harpoons and the whales.
Greenpeace aims to affect the views of governments and multinational companies, and has therefore also been involved in lobbying (some critics say this is making it into a more traditional, bureaucratic organisation). Has general consultative status with ECOSOC.
There is (has to be?!) a division between its ‘front-line activists’ and its wider membership, and the operations it undertakes have to be planned with almost military precision (and secrecy). This is especially true since the attack by the French secret services, who put a bomb on the ship Rainbow Warrior, leading to a photographer being killed – this was an attempt to stop Greenpeace demonstrating against French nuclear tests.
Its methods, including breaking the law, have been criticised – as has its stance on GM (over 100 Nobel laureates wrote an open letter asking it to end its campaign on this).
Effective protests include the boarding of the Brent Spar oil rig, 1995, leading to Shell abandoning the plan to ‘dump’ the rig at sea. Direct action has also been taken against coal power plants and shipments, and oil sand operations.
In 2007, after direct action at Kingsnorth power station six protesters were taken to court. David Cameron, Zac Goldsmith and James Hanson were witnesses – along with an Intuit leader from Greenland – to argue that climate change was a serious threat and the actions of the demonstrators were justified, on the grounds that preventing climate change provides a ‘lawful excuse’ for breaking the law...
In campaigning against nuclear power – especially after Fukushima and Chernobyl – they argue that it would only provide marginal reductions in CO2: an IEA scenario said that an increase from 2,608 TWh in 2007 to 9,857 by 2050, requiring 32 nuclear reactors per year being built until 2050, would only reduce greenhouse gases by less than 5%.
The main question raised by this organisation’s activities is whether it is right to be so non-democratic – it doesn’t believe that the winning round of public opinion will prevent serious environmental damage, and that this approach is too slow, especially to stop specific incidents – and maybe even to stop global warming?.
Talk for U3a Upminster, on the origins, principles, campaigning methods, and issues addressed by this organisation in order to protect the natural environment, illustrated with examples of international, national and local campaigns.'
1. Origins and structure:
Friends of the Earth (FoE) was founded in San Fransisco in 1969 (one of its founders David Brower left the Sierra Club, a conservation organisation, which had been set up in 1892 to protect American national parks). FoE’s main focus at this stage was opposition to nuclear power.
The UK organisation was set up in 1970 – it is known as FoE EWNI (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), and there is a separate FoE Scotland group.
In 1971 an international network was set up: FoEI (FoE International). By the late 1990s it had organisations in 52 countries, (including in 1993, 226,000 members in Britain), and claims to be one of the largest environmental groups. Currently (2017) there are more than 70 national groups – and thousands of local activist groups.
FoE EWNI is registered as a charity, and must therefore follow charity rules in regard to funding etc. It acts as a pressure group – trying to persuade those with power (government, business etc) to adopt a particular way of acting (not to pollute, not to be wasteful, to develop more sustainable production methods etc).
However, as a charity it does not get involved in party politics, nor does it put up candidates for local council or parliament. In this it is distinct from the Green Party, even though the two organisations have quite a few common aims. The Green Party has a wider remit, with policies on such matters as housing, education, the economy etc whereas FoE is exclusively concerned with the natural environment – though we are also concerned about those aspects of the economy and politics that affect the natural environment (more below).
Its structure is decentralised, and non-hierarchical. In other words, a local group like ours in Havering is free to decide what to campaign on (or not!), and we will only turn to the national organisation for guidance or to draw on its expertise, not to be told what to do!
FoE aims to be professional in the sense of being well-informed about issues – so it carries out research, especially at the head office in London. It has produced alternative Bills and green papers to those promoted by government. And it has used the public enquiry system to oppose nuclear power stations, roads etc.
Here in Havering we have been involved in planning enquiries and appeals – especially when we feel the green belt has been threatened. We have spoken at public enquiries, which involves a lot of careful preparation, and an understanding of planning rules and procedures, which we are slowly building up. None of us are experts, or professionals in the field - we are all members of the public and local residents like yourselves.
2. Principles and strategy:
‘By 2030 the next generation will enjoy an environment that’s getting better: a safer climate, flourishing nature, and healthy air, water and food.’
In other words, ‘a new, positive relationship between people and the planet’ - a world where the earth’s population, its climate, fresh water, food supplies and natural world can thrive. One where everyone gets a fair share of nature’s benefits. And we all… take responsibility for protecting our environment.’
When we examine the causes of damage to the natural environment, then the part played by the economy, government decision-making, and by the activities of large corporations cannot be avoided, so FoE has strong views on government policies and the actions of large corporations.
FoE therefore believes that change must be both personal and political/societal. And we need to address both local and wider problems: ‘Think globally, act locally’
Although, as I described, it grew out of a conservation based organisation, FoE soon broadened its aims to go beyond conservation, and to campaign against pollution and waste. One of its most dramatic actions involved dumping hundreds of glass drinks bottles at the HQ of Cadbury Schweppes in 1971 to draw attention to the need for recycling.
3. Examples of campaigns:
Other early campaigns, from the FoE website: www.foe.co.uk
- to save the whale (since the 1970s)
- against a proposal to bury nuclear waste in Lincolnshire (1980s),
- on river pollution (e.g. Mersey 1991)
- mahogany is murder 1993 (Brazil’s exports of tropical wood fell by 40% in 1995)
- acid rain (award-winning poster 1994)
- against road-building (e.g. Twyford Down 1993… Newbury Bypass re-routed 1996)
- to have the South Downs designated a National Park, 2009
- for better home insulation (with Help the Aged) Energy Conservation Act 2000.
The Food Chain Campaign (2009) – as £700 million of
taxpayers’ money props up factory farming in the UK through the EU CAP…
- consuming less and reducing waste: Earth Overshoot Day marks the date each year when humanity has demanded more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. It's an initiative of the Global Footprint Network. This year Earth Overshoot Day falls on 1 August. That's 2 days earlier than last year. 30 years ago, it fell on 15 October. And in 1970, the first year it was tracked, the day fell on 29 December.
Tony Juniper identifies the main successes
as: Forest Stewardship Council labeling scheme, Countryside and Rights of Way
The Big Ask helped to lead to the Climate Change Act 2008.
The EU has agreed an historic commitment to reduce food waste across Europe, following campaigning by Friends of the Earth supporters and others. Members of the EU have formally pledged to try and cut their food waste by 50% by 2030, in line with global Sustainable Development Goals. There are about 55 million people in food poverty in Europe – and the food wasted throughout the continent could feed them over 9 times over. Food poverty means people are not able to afford healthy, nutritious food, or can’t get the food they would like to eat.
The EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives – known as the nature laws – need protecting. The nature laws protect some of our most precious natural places including Dartmoor, the North York Moors and Epping Forest. The same laws have led to the recovery of iconic British species such as the bittern and red kite. And some rare bee species are now dependent on nature sites protected by these laws.
4. The Big Picture
I will mention some other current campaigns when I tell you a bit more about Havering FoE, but
my point here is that FoE tries to show the links between environmental concerns and the economic and political decisions that lie behind them. You could call this a ‘holistic’ approach, and it is one that FoE adopted right from its early days..
To illustrate this, here is a brief account by Tony Juniper, who was executive director of FoE in the UK for 20 years. This is taken from an interview in a periodical called The Ecologist, April 2009. The account here also describes his ‘awakening’ to the need to protect the natural environment.
He says he ‘saw the light’ when tracking a rare parrot in Brazil: ‘I discovered the world population was one – it was effectively extinct in the wild. Finding it was an extraordinary moment. For me that was a metaphor for what was going on across the continent, and still is… I became very familiar with the bits of forest across the tropics that were about to be cleared away due to: logging concessions being handed out by governments, World Bank projects, pipelines, road-building schemes and the activities of western trans-nationals… we needed to take a holistic view about the failure of the economic and political circumstances that lay behind all of it.’
So he concludes: ‘Now, dealing with all the crunches – resource depletion, population growth, global warming and mass extinction of species – requires getting down into the fundamentals of the economy. It requires culture change… but it also needs political change.’
FoE also argues that industrialised countries are mainly to blame for environmental damage (for example, a US citizen is responsible for 16 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, which is 100 times that of a citizen of Mali), and it criticises large companies for their role. It maintains that there is an ecological debt owed by the rich countries to those they have exploited.
For example, I was astonished to see on a recent television programme about the days of the British Raj in India, how there were tiger-hunting expeditions that killed literally thousands of tigers – and there is no doubt in my mind that colonization led to the extraction of natural resources and to damage to the natural environment in the colonies.
Sadly, this exploitation by the wealthy of the rest of the world continues to this day: a recent report shows that illegal logging and the destruction of the rainforests is largely funded through tax havens: more than two-thirds of the money directed to Brazil’s soy and beef sectors was channeled through tax havens such as the Cayman Islands. That is, some $18.4bn. And this money is hidden, and difficult to trace, so this may be only a part of it.
As Elaine Gilligan of FoE International says: ‘This is dirty money, used for fuelling illegal activities that are driving the global environmental crisis….’ And: ‘Aggressive tax evasion deprives communities of funds needed for a range of measures, among them environmental protections…’
5. An explanation of two key, central ideas, two guiding principles:
When we think about what needs to be done in order to ensure that we live in ‘a world where people and nature can thrive’, very often we think first about our own safety and wellbeing. Hence the campaigns around pollution, especially air pollution. However, FoE and other environmental organisations have developed two key ideas which are guiding principles for the movement. They take us beyond our own wellbeing to that of future generations, as well as that of wildlife and the natural environment itself.
(i) Sustainability: that we should not do anything which leads to a world which is less safe, or poorer for future generations…. Sustainable activity can be carried on indefinitely – unsustainable activity will run out of some resource, or cause so much damage or pollution that it has to stop. Thus, generating electricity by means of solar panels, or wind power is sustainable – the sun and wind are limitless resources and there is no pollution; whereas coal, oil and gas will run out, and they cause atmospheric and other pollution. Some 40,000 people a year in the UK have their lives cut short because of air pollution.
(ii) Biodiversity: a natural environment that has a wide variety of life forms in it – such an environment is more sustainable. Every living thing is part of a complex web and interacts with every other living thing. Each living thing has its own function in the ‘ecosystem’. If one component is lost, then other parts of the system are harmed – unless something replaces the lost component. The more variety of living things there is, the more likelihood of the system being able to re-balance itself. A system with very few component parts is more vulnerable to collapse.
I recently came across a very vivid illustration of the danger of lack of biodiversity: there is a disease known as Panama disease, or fusarium wilt that is spreading and killing bananas. Now bananas are not only a pleasing part of our diets, but there are parts of the world where it is relied on as a staple food – in fact it is needed by hundreds of millions of people. There are also hundreds of thousands of people who earn their living from growing bananas.
Already one form of this fungal disease has wiped out a particular species of banana, the Gros Michel, which dominated the export market from Latin America. Economic losses were estimated at more than $2.3 billion.
In the 1960s the Cavendish banana, which is resistant to the first kind of disease, replaced the Gros Michel, and it now counts for 99% of exports. Note: one kind of banana – probably the only one most people in this country and America have ever tasted. However, a new variety of the fungus has arisen which threatens this species as well.
I will try to cut a long story short, but there is one important piece of background information to add to the picture: there are no seeds in bananas, as we have, over 7,000 years, bred the plants in such a way that they don’t produce seeds. To make new plants, cutting are taken from the stems – and the results are clones, genetically identical to the parent plant.
So, there are several possible solutions being proposed: one is to inoculate the bananas with bacteria that will fight the fungus, another is genetic modification to engineer a banana that is resistant to the new fungus (this would probably take at least 10 years to produce a commercially viable variety).
On the other hand Dr Angelina Sanderson, an ecologist, argues that the problem is ‘monocultures’ (i.e. a lack of biodiversity): ‘In nature, a pest is kept under control either through things that predate it or through limited availability of its food. On large banana plantations you have mile upon mile of food for pests, and the natural limits on their spread have been removed.’
Australian farmers have found that if you surround the bananas with other vegetation, they are 20% less likely to develop symptoms of disease. Other crops such as avocado, mango and corn could be grown around the bananas and ‘Greater diversity of plants and associated fungi and bacteria introduced new ecosystem dynamics, which could reduce the pressure of the disease.’
Some examples of campaigns that FoE has undertaken which illustrate these principles:
Perhaps the best-known campaign that FoE has been working on is to save the bees. FoE calls this the ‘Bee Cause.’
FoE points out that 75% of the food we eat needs to be pollinated, and bees (wild bees and honey bees) are major players in that. It would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate their crops artificially if there were no bees.
It’s important first to point out that we are talking about a number of different kinds of bee: apart from honey bees, which are managed (or tame if you like) and live in hives, there are about 250 species of wild bee. These include solitary bees (such as the leafcutter bee and the mason bee), and about 25 species of bumble bees (of which about 6 are common).
Unfortunately, tragically in fact, bees are dying out. First, the number of different species is in decline: there are around 250 different species of bee in Britain, but since 1900 we have lost 20 species, and a further 35 are at risk. Secondly, the number of bees has declined: it has halved in the last 50 years in the UK, and numbers are falling more rapidly as the years go by. Finally, bee-keepers have been hit by colony collapse disorder: whole hives would suddenly die, for no obvious reason. Managed honey bee colonies fell by over 50% between 1985 and 2000.
We believe that there are several factors causing this decline:
- changes in agricultural practice so that there is less land with wild flowers on it, (hedgerows and wild areas have been replaced by large areas sown with just one crop)
- the increasing use of pesticides – especially neonicotinoids
- climate change has played a part because if the timing of the seasons shifts, then flowers bloom at a different time, when bees are not ready A similar thing is happening with migrating birds: the birds arrive at the same time, but global warming means the caterpillars hatch earlier.
- and of course honey bees are vulnerable to illnesses and pests, especially the varroa mite; and it is quite likely that the bees we have now in our hives are weaker and less resistant to the varroa mite because of the other factors – especially pesticides.
In our view, the most significant damage, and the damage that is easiest to deal with, is caused by pesticides. The type of pesticide that most worries environmentalists is neonicotinoids. These are neurotoxins – they attack the nervous system of insects. They were designed to attack insect pests. However, FoE has long argued that they harm bees: as you probably know, bees have an incredible sense of direction and can show each other where nectar is to be found by performing a ‘waggle dance’. They can actually tell each other the direction and the distance by varying their posture in the dance! What FoE has argued is that neurotoxins interfere with the bees’ ability to convey the knowledge about the location of nectar. In fact, many bees have lost their ability to return to the hive.
What has made the situation even worse is that many farmers have sprayed their crops as a precaution – without evidence of the presence of any pests. The manufacturers have argued that neonics don’t get into the flowers, while scientists have countered that they do; and there have been arguments over ‘safe’ levels of the toxin, with some scientists saying there is no safe level as even a tiny amount will cause some harm. Farmers have argued that they would get poorer crops if they didn’t spray, but tests have shown this is not true.
After long-drawn out arguments between the neonicotinoid manufacturers and scientists and environmentalists, the main neonicotinoids were banned by the European Union. At first, in 2013 there was a temporary ban, affecting only some crops, and then in April this year a permanent ban was agreed, covering almost all outside use of the three main neonicotinoids. Previously the UK had not supported a ban, but Michael Gove changed the UK position last – despite opposition from the National Farmers’ Union – and this may have helped at the European level.
In Havering we felt we should try to raise public awareness about the plight of the bees, so we have given talks about bees to community groups, in libraries and at the WI. We also produced a leaflet: ‘How to get more bees buzzing about, in 3 easy steps.’ We called on people to (i) not use pesticides, (2) let some of your garden or allotment go wild, and (3) plant flowers that are attractive to bees. (Not all blossoms are designed such that the nectar is accessible to bees…). The leaflet has a long list of flowers suitable for spring, summer and autumn.
We also had a series of meetings with the officer responsible for the natural environment (Simon Parkinson at the time), and we contributed to an article published in Living in summer 2013: ‘Borough is buzzing with help for bees.’ This article pointed out that Havering has set aside areas in local parks for wild flowers, and was, I think, a bit over-optimistic about the situation in Havering. For example, we have also pointed out that the most commonly-used herbicide Roundup is a suspected carcinogen, and shouldn’t be used – after all, if it causes cancer in humans it must be damaging insects and invertebrates, and fish when it is washed into rivers. Yet Havering uses it to clear weeds from the roadsides… They argue that the public doesn’t like weeds. We argue that weeds and wild flowers are essential for bees and other pollinators. Do you want your road to look ‘tidy’ and manicured, or do you want to help wildlife?
Breaking News! A very recent court case in America has led to the manufacturers of Roundup being fined for causing cancer in a worker who used the product regularly:
In the first of many pending lawsuits (probably as many as 5,000 in the US alone!) to go to trial, a jury in San Francisco concluded on Aug. 10 that the plaintiff had developed cancer from exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used herbicide, and ordered the company to pay US$289 million in damages.
The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, had used Roundup in his job as groundskeeper in a California school district. He later developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (In 2017 his doctors gave him 6 months to live). The jury awarded Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages to cover pain, suffering and medical bills due to negligence by Monsanto, plus an additional $250 million in punitive damages.
This means the jury … believed the company deliberately withheld from the public scientific knowledge that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was a cancer danger. The size of the damages awarded indicates that the jury was not persuaded by Monsanto’s expert witnesses.
Monsanto – one of the largest manufacturers of pesticides and of GM seeds – was recently taken over by another huge company Bayer…
Other campaigns have been launched with similar aims: nationally FoE campaigned for a National Pollinator Strategy, and Defra published a document in November 2014, after a public consultation.
More recently, in November 2017, we asked our new MP Julia Lopez about progress on the Pollinator Strategy, and she put forward a question which led to a debate in parliament. We are following up on this, but the recent EU decision is a big step forward. What is crucial, of course, is that in the event of Brexit we retain the same high standards that have been agreed in Europe.
(ii) Pollution and waste - sustainability
I imagine we are all aware of the terrible problem caused by plastic waste at present. Every minute the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped in the ocean. 5 million plastics bags every year go into the ocean. Birds get entangled, and they feed plastic to their young, fish and whales eat micro-plastic, etc. Clearly nature cannot thrive in these conditions.
But this is just the latest in a series of concerns that FoE has had about the negative side-effects of our way of life, starting with air pollution and ‘smog’ in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are two things we would urge should happen: (i) we all should consume less – especially of the ‘throw-away’ products that are in vogue for a short while and then disappear. In other words we should Reduce wasteful consumption. (ii) We should Re-use and Re-cycle. This way we not only create less waste and pollution, but we also move towards a more sustainable lifestyle (some of the natural resources we use are disappearing).
There are regular workshops – described as parties! - held by Restart – which helps people to repair electrical goods rather than throw them away. https://therestartproject.org/ Their motto is: ‘Don’t despair, just repair’.
Recycling and Waste In Havering:
For some years now Havering FoE has been trying to get the council to do more in the way of recycling. When we meet with the officers responsible, however, (and the first time was over 5 years ago, the last time was in 2017) we are told that they are doing all they can, and that they are limited by a 15 year contract with a waste disposal company.
We are also alarmed to hear that the Green Points scheme is coming to an end this October. This rewards individuals with points in proportion to the amount of recycling carried out in their local area. We have been told that the scheme was originally government-funded, but now the funds have been withdrawn.
Havering FoE has written to a number of local supermarkets to ask what they are doing about reducing the amount of plastic in their packaging. We have to say that whilst there is a lot of awareness of this issue, local supermarkets are tied to the policies of their parent companies – we can only hope there is some movement nationally on this.
On the positive side, I recently met the team from Recycle Havering, who have lots of expertise and helpful advice. There is also information on the Havering website www.havering.gov.uk/recycling and there are some useful leaflets…
In Havering, FoE has been pressing for an Air Quality Action Plan for several years, and recently the council (finally!) published one. The borough has some ‘hot spots’ – especially near main roads – and we have the fourth highest number of early deaths from air pollution out of all London boroughs.
Again, this problem raises the question of social justice – since the most vulnerable people are those with pre-existing problems like asthma, and the elderly, and children. It is also well-known that low-income families are more likely to live near busy roads.
We found the AQAP frankly disappointing – good on saying that they would encourage people to avoid using their cars, but poor on saying what alternatives would be provided, and very poor indeed in the lack of any targets or timescales.
Recently we have taken up the issue of airport expansion. Already, local residents are subject to aircraft noise early in the morning. We are investigating who is responsible for this, and we recently met our MP Julia Lopez to express our opposition to the expansion of Heathrow. We believe this will cause more noise, and the extra flights will produce more greenhouse gases that will make it difficult for the UK to meet its commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately, Julia Lopez supports the expansion because she wants to see a ‘hub’ in Havering that would service the airport, and provide jobs locally. The question is, do we want to control global warming, or do we want yet more people travelling by air. Do we want more jobs at the expense of our natural environment?
To conclude: what are some of the things that we could do to protect the natural environment?
Reduce, re-use, recycle. Protect the green belt. Drive less. Plant bee-friendly flowers and shrubs.
Plant trees. Other?
Extra notes (not used in the U3a talk):
I have mentioned that protecting the green belt and its biodiversity is another of our local priorities, but it would be useful to mention some national campaigns which we support, and which some FoE groups actively campaign on:
(iv) Nuclear power.
It has to be said that not everyone who campaigns to protect the environment is opposed to nuclear power – some see it as a ‘carbon-free’ way of generating electricity and a key component of the fight against global warming. If I explain FoE’s position on nuclear power I hope it will illustrate some of FoE’s guiding principles.
There are a number of arguments against nuclear power on environmental grounds: it is risky, and when accidents occur (Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima…) then radiation is released which causes cancer, and which can kill. There is a huge problem with radioactive waste, which remains dangerous for thousands of years – and no-one has yet come up with a safe solution to this. Nuclear power is very expensive and complex, so power stations take many years to build – compared to windfarms or solar power which can be quickly installed and are easy to maintain. Nuclear power stations have to be shut down periodically for maintenance. When a nuclear power station reaches the end of its life it has to be ‘decommissioned’ which takes many years. Finally (though there are other points I could make!) most nations that choose to build nuclear power stations do so because they want to develop nuclear weapons – which was the case in Britain – and FoE supports the abolition of nuclear weapons.
So, FoE would emphasise that we need to use sources of electricity that are:
- safe (no one has had cancer or been killed by a windfarm or a solar array!), non-polluting (nuclear power stations produce waste that is radioactive, and they pump out warm water when it has been used for cooling, and when their life is finished they spend years being decommissioned to remove remaining radioactive materials);
- sustainable (the wind and the sun will last pretty much for ever, whereas the supply of uranium is limited), and good for biodiversity (you can fill a field with a solar array and then have sheep graze under the panels, as at Upminster Golf Course, off St Mary’s Lane – or wild flowers can be planted there). And although a windfarm uses a large amount of concrete underneath the generators(…), as I understand it, the ground can still be used for grass; the site of a nuclear power station is nothing but concrete and buildings, for example backup oil-powered generators that are needed when the nuclear plant shuts down…).
I think it is fair to say that one of FoE’s principles is to prefer the small-scale solution that is easily manageable over the highly technical large-scale approach of nuclear power (you don’t need security guards and secrecy for a solar array!).
Extra notes – FoE EWNI - Examples of campaigns:
- trying to get agreement to reduce forest loss from agricultural expansion;
- making sure healthy food is provided in schools, prisons etc;
- researching sustainable farming;
- make UK supermarkets etc accountable for their environmental impact;
- ensuring greater priority is given to the environmental impacts of global trade.
Current campaigns: clean air, protecting bees, opposing fracking.
It has led to:
- reform of the World Bank to address environmental and human rights concerns,
- stopping more than 150 destructive dams and water projects worldwide,
- getting regulations on strip mines and oil tankers
- banning international whaling.
Recent Successes (from www.foe.co.uk):
(ii) Nature laws that protect our most precious places and wildlife have been saved – thanks to record-breaking public support.
Conclusion: Byrne (1992) says that most environmentalists
vote for the Green Party, support Greenpeace, but join and participate in
Footnote: FoEI Policies:
It has policy position statements on:
- climate change adaptation
- cutting greenhouse gases
- democracy and devolution
- economic growth
- EU membership
- feeding the world
- GM crops
- Nuclear power
- Sustainable diets
Campaigns cover the following broad areas:
- climate change
- environmental justice (danger to farmers of rushed trade deal with US, refugees welcome, protesting murder of Honduran environmental activist, opposing plans to force fracking on communities, Nigerian farmers to sue Shell, danger of the privatisation of planning, Indonesian fires, human rights abuses, protesting open-cast mining in Wales)
- economics and resources (recycling coffee cups, renewable energy vs Hinkley, implications of leaving EU – beaches, wildlife and waste, for a ‘climate budget’, against solar cuts, TTIP
- nature (bees, leaking landfills danger if seas rise, Norway dumping toxic waste in its fjords
- land, food and water
(*) Tony Juniper supports the ‘Green New Deal’ (see later – notes to be completed)….
2.1 Beyond right and left:
The fact that ‘greens’ have set up their own parties shows that the green movement/green politics goes beyond traditional political parties/lines: why should environmentalism be seen as either right-wing or a left-wing ideology? Both right and left political positions can be environmentally concerned: members of the ‘old left’ oppose materialism and consumerism; and some on the right say ‘man’ is part of nature… However, (radical) greens criticise both socialism and capitalism for their similarities in practice in relation to the poor treatment of the environment: a planned economy is not by definition environmentally sound (and the Soviet Union and China have damaged the environment), and the free market has also been shown to be destructive. Perhaps the problem is development – whether done under capitalist or socialist methods... (see below)
But green parties’ policies include social justice and a concern for democracy, and the greens have taken up a stance on all sorts of issues (defence, NHS, housing, poverty etc). See below...
On the environment, some Green Parties have suffered from their success in getting the green message across, since other, mainstream (‘grey’) parties have adopted some green policies (or said they will)…
Membership: in UK is mostly comprised of professionals (50%) – especially from the caring professions, teaching etc; and many members are graduates.
From ‘What we stand for’: ‘a political system that puts the people first, an economy that gives everyone their fair share, a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs, a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come.’
2.3 The 4 pillars of green politics, which have been agreed by many green parties:
(a) ecological wisdom: to change our relationship to nature, to achieve a harmonious coexistence with other forms of life on Earth
(b) social justice: rejecting any form of discrimination (race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, sexual orientation) to ensure that all benefit from the way we relate to the environment, and that in particular the poor are not hurt by changes demanded by the rich,
(c) participatory grassroots democracy: as with (b) green parties are aware of the connection between our exploitation of each other and our exploitation of the natural environment. The slogan ‘think globally, act locally’ encapsulates this idea.
(d) non-violence: for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Violence goes along with exploitation, and with the unfair distribution of goods and power; violence is ultimately behind all positions of power; it would be inconsistent to use violence to bring about a more fair and sustainable world.
2.4 Some specific policies - 2017:
By means of: secure jobs for all by restoring the public sector and having a wealth tax on the top 1%, Living Wage of £10 an hour by 2020, public services in public hands, renewable energy, more social rented homes, no tuition fees, better public transport. The ‘Green New Deal’ is seen by many as the only way to tackle the financial crisis and the environmental crisis at the same time: we need to invest for energy security (renewables etc), in a way that leads to low-carbon development and kick-starts the economy (creating ‘green’ new jobs and reducing unemployment).
- (before the budget): the crisis in the NHS together with the effects of air pollution (40,000 early deaths a year) must be dealt with by (i) emergency aid package for health and social services (ii) tougher action on air pollution (iii) protection of small firms from business rates hike (iv) more tax should be paid by the richest and by the biggest corporations (v) reverse the tax on solar power
- (after): the 2017 budget fails to address the challenges of our time
- can the UK could revoke Article 50 after it has been triggered? ‘Taking back control’ should mean that the people have a say, by means of a ratification referendum, on the terms of the exit – the referendum was the start of a process, not the end.
Overview of policies:
- for voting reform (STV), Bill of Rights, Freedom of Info, devolution to the regions
- unilateral nuclear disarmament, leaving NATO,
- on the EU: to strengthen parliament and weaken Council of Ministers,
- to cancel third world debt, increase aid, spend more on sustainable agriculture
- opposing nuclear energy, for resource taxation rather than VAT/income tax
- no new roads – more canals, rail, buses; new planning regulations so no out-of-town shopping
- more local recycling etc
- a radical economic policy: no economic growth, restructuring
and reducing international trade; opposing WTO,
- on human rights: rights for women, gay, disabled, racial minorities etc
- for animal rights: no vivisection by students except for some medical research; ending factory
farming, and imports of rare animals, circus use of animals etc.
2.5 Current (2017) Co-leaders: Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas MP (for Brighton, since 2010).
Other key figures 2015:
Baroness Jenny Jones (Lords)
MEPs: Jean Lambert (London), Keith Taylor (South East) Molly Scott Cato (South West).
London Assembly: Sian Berry, Caroline Russell
More than 160 councillors across England and Wales
Jan 2014. Simon Jenkins was his old provocative self (it is nonsense to claim the Green Party is a ‘pawn of the tycoons of Big Renewables’) in an article on the council run by the Greens (in a minority) in Brighton.
The Greens are resisting the government’s attempt to keep local authorities in place and to cut their budgets mercilessly. Brighton intends to hold a referendum on increasing the council tax, rather than bringing in more cuts to services.
150,000 jobs have been taken out of local government in the past year alone.
It’s great that Jenkins notes how the council tax cap was brought in by Margaret Thatcher – opposed at the time by Labour, who then kept it when they got into power – at the time they were opposed by Cameron (‘capping, he said ‘takes the power of decision about local spending and local taxation out of the hands of local voters and hands it to remote central bureaucracies’!!) – and then Cameron kept it when the coalition took over!! What a joke.
Now councils can raise the tax by more than 2% provided they get a vote in favour from the public. Most councils have kept rises below 2% - except Brighton, who want to raise it further – hence the referendum.
Meanwhile Eric Pickles has managed to bribe Brighton council by offering them £2.4 million over two years if they don’t have a referendum! As Jenkins says: ‘Money being splurged by the centre just so Pickles can say he has held down council tax!!’
22nd Jan 2015 Guardian – John Harris on the Green Surge: https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/21/green-surge-party-that-will-decide-election
In England, the first environmental party was founded in 1972 by, among others, Tony Whittaker (Obituary Guardian10th May 2016): influenced by the writings of Paul Ehrlich (who predicted a collapse if population growth and pollution were not checked).
The party was called ‘People’ at first, then the Ecology Party (1975), then the Green Party (1984). Another influence was Edward Goldsmith’s Blueprint for Survival (1972), which was signed by more than 30 leading scientists. It grew quickly, with 40 groups in the early 1970s, and candidates standing in the election of 1974. Only after 1979 did it have enough candidates for a TV election broadcast time.
However, it usually only gets 1 – 3% of the vote in the UK (except when it got 15% in the 1989 Euro elections – perhaps a fluke?). German and French Greens routinely get 5 – 8% nationally and 10% + in European elections.
A factor in its lack of success is undoubtedly the First Past The Post electoral system... – but it is still a puzzle as to why it does not get more votes when so many ordinary people are involved (in pressure-groups etc) in protecting the environment?
Its weakness may be that it relies too heavily on the notion of personal transformation and lifestyle politics; this may lead to a limit on the number of people it will attract, and it won’t be, as a party, a strong enough agency for change... (Goodin 1992).
Further details of the UK Green Party can be found at: social movements - the environment movement
2.7 In Europe:
The greens were the first to form a political party at European level. 34 parties have joined. In the 2009 elections they won 4 seats. In alliance with European Free Alliance Group it has formed the Greens-European Free Alliance group (Greens/EFA). totals 51 MEPs (out of 751), and it is one of the largest groups in the European Parliament.
3. The EU, UK government policies etc:
NS 10-16 May 2019 editorial: UK government failings: fuel duty has been frozen for almost a decade, the Green Investment Bank has been sold, feed-in tariffs have been scrapped. The aviation industry, which burned 94 billion gallons of fuel in 2018, pays no fuel duty and no VAT on fuel.
Politicians may flaunt their green credentials but a number of key targets – on air quality, tree planting, waste – are being missed
Annabel Martin, Observer, Sun 5 Jan 2020
In 2020 the UK is set to achieve only three of the five targets for pollutant emissions set by the European Union, falling short on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the biggest threat to human health – and ammonia. Households are now the biggest contributors of PM2.5, with a resurgence of home wood-burning a major factor.
The UK failed to meet the legally binding targets for water pollution in 2015 and is not expected to achieve the extended target of 2021. According to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), only 35% of the UK’s surface water bodies are in good condition or better. In July last year, the Environment Agency pronounced the water companies’ efforts to protect the environment “simply unacceptable”.
2020 targets set in 2010 by the Convention on Global Diversity and the JNCC to protect species, curtail the degradation of land and reduce agricultural pollution are likely to be missed in 14 out of 19 cases. In addition, a 2016 RSPB report concluded that the UK was “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.
In the year to March 2019, only 1,420 hectares of trees were planted in England compared to the government target of 5,000. To meet our zero-carbon target, UK woodland cover will have to increase from 13% to 17%. This will require planting over 30,000 hectares of trees every year for the next three decades. During the election campaign, the Conservatives pledged to achieve that rate by 2025.
Despite a boom in recycling in the early 2000s, the UK is set to miss the EU target of 50% of household waste being recycled or reused by 2020. The East Riding of Yorkshire has the highest rate at 65%, with Newham in London the lowest at 17%. Nationally, the latest figures show recycling rates actually dropped between 2017 and 2018.
12th Feb 2020. (Fiona Harvey). Environmental laws and the Johnson government:
EU rules to protect wildlife, such as on hedge-cutting and field margins will be lost ‘amid the biggest shake-up of nature regulations in four decades. Three bills have been put before parliament: the environment bill, agriculture bill, fisheries bill – these will replace the EU’s comprehensive framework directives, common agricultural policy and common fisheries policy.
‘All three bills contain major flaws that undermine the government’s claims. They leave gaps, fail on enforcement and oversight, open loopholes for future ministers to quietly backslide from existing standards, and turn what is currently a coherent system of long-term, stable regulation into a patchwork of competing and sometimes contradictory proposals.’
The environment bill sets out four priority areas, some of them critical for human health: air quality, waste and resource efficiency, water and nature. But the targets for air pollution and other areas will not be set until Oct 2022.
Under the EU’s air quality directive, ministers were obliged not just to adhere to targets for air pollutants but to publish plans showing how the targets would be met, but The new environment bill dispenses with the need for detailed plans that can be weighed up by experts and used to hold government to account. Instead, ministers will be required only to set out the steps they intend to take, without accountability as to whether those measures are sufficient.
New powers have also been quietly inserted for the government to derogate from high standards at will. Clause 81 of the environment bill gives the secretary of state powers to weaken targets for the chemical status of our water, either by relaxing the targets or changing the rules by which they are measured.
To reassure the public – who will no longer be able to take the government to the European courts over any failures – there is to be a watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection. Will it have the same powers as the European courts? No. Will its judgments be binding? Not necessarily. Who will make up its board? Ministers will decide.
The agriculture bill and the fisheries bill, while containing some admirable aims, are also worrying. The EU’s common agricultural policy was often disastrous for wildlife and nature, and the government was rightly cheered when it proposed paying farmers for providing public goods – clean water, good soil, flood protection. But the new system of environmental land management contracts – to be phased in over seven years – will be voluntary and the measures farmers will be required to take will be decided at the level of individual farms. This leaves gaps.
Currently, there are specific protections for species and habitats that apply across the UK. Under environmental land management contracts, many of those protections – like the ones for nesting birds and hedgehogs – will become voluntary. Farmers could pick and choose what protections they sign up to, and those who do not want the public money could opt out altogether. And who will monitor the farmers who do? With ministers wanting to cut the number of farm inspections, enforcement looks hazy too.
Jettisoning the EU’s common fisheries policy also offered ministers a chance to stop rampant overfishing. They have not taken it. The bill retains a broad aim to restore stocks to “maximum sustainable yield” – the level, worked out by scientists, at which fishing does not harm the ability of the fish population to reproduce. But the fishing quotas each year are still to be set by ministers, with the power to depart from that scientific advice, and to choose which stocks will be fished sustainably and which will not.
12th April 2018. Risk Assessment by FoE:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/12/green-brexit-unlikely-despite-government-claims-report-concludes Main risk is a gap between policy statements and concrete regulations. A ‘non-regression clause’ which means that post-Brexit rules would not be weaker is asked for, along with a body to oversee environmental standards.
4th April 2018 Michael Jacobs, author of Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth – short piece 4th April warning of dangers if we do not replace existing EU legislation on the environment with something at least as good and preferably stronger. He suggests a new sustainable economy act, with a legal requirement on government to set environmental limits and to produce economic plans to achieve them. These should include: air pollution, soil degradation, resource depletion, plastics pollution and biodiversity loss. Each would need a long-term goal and shorter term targets and plans. These should be based on the advice of an independent expert sustainable economy commission, modelled on the climate change committee.
The Climate Change Act, he says, does impose limits etc, and in effect puts the UK under a sustainability constraint. Every five years the government must adopt a legally binding carbon target, and these must be set fifteen years ahead, and be on the trajectory to the goal of an 80% reduction by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels).
James Tapper, Observer 21st Jan 2018 quotes a coalition of green groups saying there is a significant risk that our environmental protections will be reduced after Bexit. Greener UK represents 13 groups including WWF, National Trust, RSPB, FoE, Green Alliance and the Wildlife Trusts. Chair Shaun Spiers says there is a lack of willpower to ensure high standards across the UK when we lose the common frameworks currently provided by the EU. MEP Julie Girling (who had the whip withdrawn when she supported an EU resolution saying the UK had not made sufficient progress in the talks) said the UK was no longer working effectively with the EU on environmental issues.
4. More recent organisations/campaigns:
4.1 Sep. 2019 Climate strikes: https://www.ecowatch.com/global-climate-strike-september-2640105909.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2
4.2 XR – Extinction Rebellion:
Jan. 2020. XR:
The Guardian has learned that] counter-terrorism police placed the non-violent group Extinction Rebellion (XR) on a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent [programme, which aims to catch those at risk of committing atrocities.
The climate emergency campaign group was included in a 12-page guide produced by counter-terrorism police in the south-east titled Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism, which is marked as “official”.
XR featured alongside threats to national security such as neo-Nazi terrorism and a pro-terrorist Islamist group. The guide, aimed at police officers, government organisations and teachers who by law have to report concerns about radicalisation, was dated last November.
Richard Murphy, in his Tax Research UK blog comments (and I agree):
I think there are three obvious things to note.
The first is the definition of an extremist used here. Seeking ‘system change’ is the crime. In other words, what we have is normal. Opposing it is a crime. And this is true even when, as is apparent from climate science, maintaining that so-called ‘normal’ has the likelihood of making human life on Earth very difficult, if not impossible because of the stresses it creates.
Second, there is the assumption that change must only take place through the process of asking nicely. If ‘please’ won’t do then the person asking is in the wrong, and so an extremist. And yet change has simply not happened in this way. Change either happens as a consequence of war, which I hope we would rather avoid, or as a result of the actions of those willing to violate existing norms. And since, as a matter of fact, those who created those norms tend to have considerable personal, intellectual and even financial capital invested in them, their reaction to a request to change them is exceptionally unlikely to be positive. Deviant behaviour of some form is, then, the invariable resort of those seeking change. And since change has actually been the norm throughout human history, it is the defenders of the status quo who should, in many cases, be defined the extremists: it is their behaviour that is usually anti-social. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of climate change.
Third, what I find quite astonishing is what this supposed mistake says about the mindset of those who wrote, authorised and circulated this document (and the fact that many would have been involved completely blows the cover of the ‘mistake’ claim). First they can label compassionate, informing, caring people whose concern is unselfishly focussed on the future of human and other life on our planet as extremists. Then they can claim this was a mistake, when glaringly obviously this description was approved. All that actually happened was that they were found out, so they changed their story, like a common criminal. And, with respect, no one is taken in. The police say that XR might mislead vulnerable people. I suggest it is the police who are deliberately seeking to mislead. And it really does not help their case that they do so. Finding out more about the processes that resulted in this claim being made, and requiring a consequent process of police re-education, might be the most useful outcome of this episode.
For me, there are three fundamental questions that the environment movement needs to face, that have not been confronted in these notes so far, and in this section I want to show how most environmental groups are based on – or at least recognise – a philosophy that (i) explains our relationship to the environment and (ii) guides us on how we need to behave if we are to go on surviving in the world.
5.1 first there is the question of the nature of science and technology – whether our obsession with finding new scientific discoveries and new technologies hasn’t blinded us to the damage we have been causing the environment. ‘Soft’ or ‘alternative’ technologies have been devised to deal with this.
5.2 next there is a political question, about the distribution of power in society, and how that might affect our relationship with the environment. This issue is addressed by philosophies such as eco-socialism, eco-feminism, social ecology and deep ecology
5.3 finally there is the fact of the huge gap that exists between the developed and the less-developed world – and this gap can be seen particularly clearly when we look at how the two groups of people interact with the environment. Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’ (Penguin 2014) argues powerfully that we need to learn from these ‘excluded’ and oppressed indigenous peoples, as many of them have lived with a philosophy that does enable us to live harmoniously with the Earth.
The key to understanding alternative (or “soft” or “appropriate”) technology is the realisation that technology is not neutral – it does not simply develop as we progress, but it is developed as a result of the way that certain problems are defined and certain kinds of solution are sought. In other words, technology varies with the kind of society in which it is found, and this is not simply a question of some societies being under-developed. ‘Progress’ is a dangerously empty word in the context of technology. There is nothing “inevitable” about the discovery of certain kinds of technology, or technological “advances”. What we define as an advance will depend on our social goals and values.
What has happened in the developed world is that we have developed technologies (and work processes) which:
put machines and production before people: the working conditions of most people in the early stages of industrialisation were appalling, (and the whole process was built on the proceeds of slavery anyway) – but the promise was held out of a better future, and workers were told that these sacrifices were worth making. But, whilst some people’s standard of living improved – especially the employers’ - the work process was alienating, industrial disease and injury has continued to scar large numbers of workers to this day, and workers mostly lived in slum conditions
centralise power and control: right from the earliest changes brought about by industrialisation, i.e. mechanisation, the ability of the worker to control his/her own work was taken away – no longer were most people self-employed peasants or craftsmen, working the hours they chose, with the tools and techniques they chose. Instead the managers and factory owners controlled the clock and the work process. The corollary of this was the growth of the “expert” who knew how to manage work and machinery – workers’ skills were no longer trusted (‘Taylorism’ – time and motion studies etc). Managers in the factory, and then managers and owners working together in their associations, replaced trade unions not only with their power to organise work, but with political power too (managerialism)
pollute the environment and consume energy wastefully: it was cheaper to run a machine by steam power than to use human strength, especially since coal seemed plentiful. The air, rivers and the sea were “free”, (‘externalities’), so there was no need to worry about running out of it, or about pollution causing real damage. Coal, oil and raw materials seemed to be plentiful, “God-given”. And of course the political power of the colonial countries that were the first to develop ensured that a “reasonable” price was maintained: and competing industry (e.g. cotton in India) was destroyed as soon as it became a threat to the UK economy.
More recently, India has given an example of how the developed world has taken advantage of farmers in the less developed world: during the ‘green revolution’ in 1965, after a serious drought, India was offered High Yield Seed varieties by the US as a condition of receiving food aid. These needed pesticides and fertilizers which, again, the US would provide. The country also had to comply with terms of trade and ‘market competition’ that the developed world was promoting. After an initial boost in food production, the long-term result has been dependency and debt: the fertilizers and seed are, naturally, costly. They were also encouraged to grow cotton as a cash-crop – again, the high-yield seeds etc were costly, but what could they do? When India tried to modernize further in the 1980s, it was subject to Structural Adjustment Programmes, whereby financial support from IMF and World Bank was only offered on condition of neo-liberal reforms. When India joined the WTO in 1994, its markets had to be opened to compete with subsidised imports from the US – cotton prices fell, and India became the third largest importer of cotton in the world!
The idea of soft/alternative/appropriate technology grew out of this analysis, and out of the needs of developing countries: rather than believing that our machines and factories and other forms of technology would be useful wherever they could be sent (or sold!), it is argued that each local community needs to decide what are its priorities for work, social life, environmental impact and economic growth. Then, appropriate technology can be developed to meet these needs.
Thus, in a society (e.g. China) where labour is plentiful and the standard of living does not require high wages, it is cheaper to use labour-intensive methods than capital-intensive ones. A “human chain” of people carrying rocks in baskets employs more people than one truck driver – moreover, should the truck go wrong, who would know how to repair it?
In case this is thought fanciful or simplistic, aid agencies at the United Nations learned the hard way, in the middle of the last century, that sending tractors out to developing countries to help with the ploughing was mostly a waste of time, since tractors can only run when there is available fuel, labour to maintain them, and available spare parts. (Of course, this might suit developed countries – since it sets up a relationship of dependency, as we saw in the section on the third world).
Other examples of “low level” appropriate technology include using reeds to make egg cartons (rather than paper or plastic), bicycle-power or wind-power to run pumps or to generate electricity – since all of these use locally available raw materials, are non-polluting, and can easily be maintained.
Update, April 2020: George Monbiot points out that our spending on defence is absurd – this is in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic... Those who support the arms industry are evoking unreal fears, while we are faced with a really frightening virus.
This article discusses how ordinary people can work together to fight the threat – it applies, I believe, to the environmental threat as well:
Monbiot talks about the collapse of neoliberalism – the market cannot deal with this crisis – and the state is not doing too well either! So:
Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.
The article has many examples from all over the world, but here is something about the UK:
‘In the UK, thousands of mutual aid groups have been picking up shopping and prescriptions, installing digital equipment for elderly people and setting up telephone friendship teams. A mothers’ running group in Bristol have restyled themselves “drug runners”, keeping fit by delivering medicines from chemists’ shops to people who can’t leave their homes.’
Interesting that the anarchist idea of mutual aid has come back. When teaching political philosophy, I was very impressed by Kropotkin’s ideas…
Eco-socialism blames the capitalist form of industrial and economic growth – and not industrialism as such – for environmental damage. That is, there is a profound imbalance of power between the capitalists (owners) and the workers (who can only sell their labour).
Eco-socialists also argue that poverty is the root cause of environmental destruction (for example the burning of dung as fuel for cooking in poor countries...), and if wealth were better distributed there would be less damage...
One variety of socialism argues for state or public control of the economy. However, the old Soviet Union and its East European partners did more damage to the environment than many capitalist countries. However, there is another socialist perspective, as Steven Rose (G 21.08.10) points out (reviewing Red Plenty by Francis Spufford). The Soviet Union tried to use the ‘science’ of Marxism combined with ‘cybernetics’ (how systems could exhibit apparently goal-directed behaviour without consciousness) and computerization, but didn’t realise that ‘systems work best when self-organised from below, not centrally planned from above in a command economy.’
Feminists, both radical and socialist, look at the possible links between the domination of women and of the environment: is nature – wrongly – ‘feminised’, and are women seen as more ‘natural’ or ‘closer to nature? [See my notes on The Enlightenment (enl9raceslaverywomen.htm) and on Feminism (pp21feminism.htm)]. If this is how nature is seen, no wonder it is dominated and exploited! One of my favourite ‘villains’ here is Francis Bacon, who was one of the first people to formulate the ‘scientific method’ and whose view of nature was that it was ‘a woman, reluctant to give up its secrets’ unless forced to do so...
Vandana Shiva – campaigner and author of 15 books, she started training as a nuclear physicist until she realised the effects of nuclear radiation on life forms - (see more below) points out: ‘You know, a lot of the power of the rulers comes from what Bacon said, the marriage of knowledge with power, a particular kind of knowledge, a very mechanistic knowledge that defined nature as dead—and, on the other side, women as passive. So, the exception to the rulers, in this case, is about resurrecting the knowledges that are about the living Earth and our tradition.’
Some feminists, then, (not all!) use the idea that women have special qualities as a way of developing an eco-feminist outlook.
Val Plumwood from Australia (who died in 2008) is one example, see: Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1992). See her story of how she survived being attacked by a crocodile – an experience that changed her view of our place in nature: see Val Plumwood. After being caught by a crocodile, and being subjected to the ‘death roll’ three times, she manages to escape. She realises she had intruded on the crocodile’s space, and rejects her friends’ idea of shooting it. Then she comes to a realisation:
‘It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain. This denial that we ourselves are food for others is reflected in many aspects of our death and burial practices. The strong coffin, conventionally buried well below the level of soil fauna activity, and the slab over the grave to prevent any other thing from digging us up, keeps the Western human body from becoming food for other species. Horror movies and stories also reflect this deep-seated dread of becoming food for other forms of life:
This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food. The outrage we experience at the idea of a human being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. The idea of human prey threatens the dualistic vision of human mastery in which we humans manipulate nature from outside, as predators but never prey. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, but we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles. This is one reason why we now treat so inhumanely the animals we make our food, for we can not imagine ourselves similarly positioned as food. We act as if we live in a separate realm of culture in which we are never food, while other animals inhabit a different world of nature in which they are no more than food, and their lives can be utterly distorted in the service of this end.
[After the encounter] I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, 'This can't be happening to me, I'm a human being, I am more than just food!' was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction, from a complex human being to a mere piece of meat. Reflection has persuaded me that not just humans but any creature can make the same claim to be more than just food. We are edible, but we are also much more than edible. Respectful, ecological eating must recognize both of these things. I was a vegetarian at the time of my encounter with the crocodile, and remain one today. This is not because I think predation itself is demonic and impure, but because I object to the reduction of animal lives in factory farming systems that treat them as living meat.
Thus the story of the crocodile encounter ... is a humbling and cautionary tale about our relationship with the earth, about the need to acknowledge our own animality and ecological vulnerability.’
More recently (From www.fusion.net – March 8th 2017: International Women’s Day) a Native American leader, Eryn Wise, who has been resisting the Dakota Access pipeline, when asked what is the connection between environmental activism and being a feminist, said: ‘I definitely think the Earth is female. Water is female. This Earth is a life-giver, and I am a life-giver... without these resources, without these delicate, fragile beautiful ecosystems, we wouldn’t exist. [My] ‘feminism side is for equality of the sexes while my environmental side is for equality for all those who cannot speak for themselves. The ones in the sky and the ones in Earth, and the ones walking beside us that we don’t see, and all the plants and everything that tries so hard to love us in the best way it knows how...
The trees, the water, the animals, the Earth...[have] nourished me so much. And I feel it’s my job now to give and nourish back.’
For Murray Bookchin, 1990, the source of problem is intra-human domination – an anarchist approach?
“The very concept of dominating nature stems from the domination of human by human, indeed of women by men, of the young by their elders, of one ethnic group by another, of society by the state, of the individual by bureaucracy, as well as of one economic class by another or a colonised people by a colonising power”
Social ecology doesn’t say that anthropocentrism is at the root of our exploitation of nature, rather: humans create value, and the issue is why some things and some people are under-valued… Social ecology raises crucial question about ‘domination’: how widespread is it? Why do some need to dominate others?
How intriguing to find (Weds 11 March 2015) a reference to the Kurds of the PKK following a political system similar to that recommended by Murray Bookchin:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/10/revolutionary-kurdish-isis-ivana-hoffman This is very much a women’s revolution as well: Mehmet Aksoy says: ‘the first revolution, the agricultural revolution, was instituted by women, and the first counter-revolution and the first negative hierarchies were created by men.’
(iv) Deep ecology – e.g. Fritjof Capra, 1982, Arne Naess 1984.
Environmental damage results from the human relationship with the environment, (not intra-human issues) – i.e. from anthropocentrism. If we see ourselves as the centre of the universe, or as the most important part of, then we de-value everything else, and then animals, plants, and the environment, only exist for us, and we only care about destruction because (and when) it affects us.
Here, nature is ‘intrinsically’ valuable – i.e. for itself, not for what it gives us.
The 3.5 million-strong CSUTC de Bolivia (Confederacion Sindical Unica de Trabajadores) helped to draft the law – the biggest social movement in the country.
Ecuador has also given rights to nature, giving it “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure and functions and its processes in evolution.”
However, the Amazon is still being destroyed by oil companies and others.
From Bolivia: “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”
[I return to other ‘indigenous’ views below.]
For an obituary and further information on Arne Naess see:
Naess argued for: limits to economic growth, i.e. cuts in consumption, a reassessment of the concept of human need, communal growth, and even restricting population growth...
Fritjof Capra tries to find links between the very latest scientific theories (20th century particle physics, complexity theory in maths) and mysticism, Taoism etc – see:
http://www.fritjofcapra.net/bibliography.html. (See also: Pepper 1986, and Dobson 1990).
Capra is also involved in the Shumacher Centre, which promotes ‘alternative [or ‘soft’] technology’ etc. Fritz Schumacher advocated ‘Buddhist economics’: suffering in the world is caused by ‘attachment’ (primarily but not only to things...) and as all humans find it difficult to be non-attached, so all suffer, and all deserve compassion. See also Resurgence magazine, edited by Satish Kumar, of the British Wheel of Yoga. I shall finish this section (below) with quotes from another Buddhist, Joanna Macy.
5.3 The gap between developed and less-developed countries, world-wide movements and indigenous peoples (the ‘excluded’) – and what we can learn from them
Most greens would agree that we need to base our society on other values (Goodin 1992) than those we have at present. These would include, I suggest, humility and compassion (the fundamental Buddhist value) for suffering animals, and, even, for plants and other living organisms – for the whole of the natural environment. It is striking to me how many indigenous peoples, together with the poor in less-developed countries (Malaysia, India, Brazil – see Yearley 1992) are defending this way of being in the world...
The Ecologist (April 2009) had an article on this: it is a grassroots organisation to defend the way of life of peasants in developing countries and to resist globalisation. Launched in 1993, it draws on supporters in more than 60 countries across five continents. The 5th International Conference was held in 2008 in Mozambique.
La Via Campesina does not simply ‘say no’ to global policies, it has developed an exchange programme to share skills (Campesino a Campesino). International campaigns now focus on ‘food sovereignty’… See www.viacampesina.org
India: a success story: in August 2010 the Vedanta company’s plans to mine for bauxite on a hill area in India were blocked by the government. The government cited potential violation of forest conservation, tribal rights and environmental protection laws in the state of Orissa. The Niyamgiri Hills are sacred to local tribal groups, and the campaign received widespread international support: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/aug/24/vedanta-mining-industry-india
(ii) Mother Earth:
In ‘My People’s Dreaming’ (Finch Publishing, Sydney), Max Dulumunmun Harrison says: ‘Begin with Mother Earth:
Mother Earth births everything for us. Father Sky carries the water and oxygen for us to breathe. Grandfather Sun warms the planet, warms our body, gives us light so we can see, raises the food that the Mother births and raises most of our relations, all our plants and trees. Grandmother Moon moves the water and gives us the woman-time and our birthing.’
Update May 2020. After the horrendous fires that swept Australia recently, there has been some acknowledgement that aboriginal peoples know how to deal with forest fires. More recently, there has been some publicity given to aboriginal knowledge about agriculture generally.
Bruce Pascoe is trying to make flour from ‘dancing grass’ - “That’s what this farm is all about – trying to make sure that Aboriginal people are part of the resurgence in these grains, rather than being on the periphery and being dispossessed again.” Pascoe had helped fight the fires, but As he battled the fires, Pascoe was under increasingly vitriolic attack over his 2014 book Dark Emu, which used historical sources, including the journals of explorers, to show that Aboriginal people engaged in complex agriculture and were not just hunter-gatherers… [there are a] number of Australians “who want their children to learn a better history, a more true history”. “It’s a wave that is washing over these dinosaurs,” he says. “There’s an extinction event happening, and the dinosaur, of course, is never aware of his demise.”
The dancing grass is only one of several perennials the team is working with, including kangaroo grass, warrigal greens, samphires and water ribbons.
“We cooked with murnong the other day in a recipe we hadn’t tried before and it was sensational,” Pascoe says. “Water ribbon tubers are absolutely delicious. We found a plant, we still don’t know what it is, which came back after the fires, a lovely little onion type thing, absolutely sensational.
“There’s nothing new about it at all, but we ignored it. We turned our back on anything of Aboriginal provenance, such was our sensitivity to the history of the country.
“It’s time to embrace the history of the country, and with that we will be able to embrace its food.” (From Lorena Allam and Isabella Moore).
Mayan and Toltec ideas are explained in the Ecologist magazine, Jan 2009, (article by Nicola Graydon – and see Don Miguel: The Four Agreements). ‘Toltec’ means ‘artist of the spirit’ – we are spirits with limitless creative imaginations. For the Toltec, humanity is one strand in the vast web of creation, and ‘all of humanity is just one organ of the earth. The atmosphere is another organ, so are the forests and the oceans. Each organ creates the equilibrium on earth that we call its metabolism. As an organ of the earth, we are part of that metabolism… One of our functions… is to transform energy. We do that through what we call ‘awareness’… the human mind is programmed to dream: to perceive, to create a symbology, to create a story – and give a sense to everything that exists.’
In Islam there is a concept of tayyab – roughly: ‘ethical and wholesome’ (linked to, but going beyond halal). As Shelina Janmohamed says in Generation M: ‘Resources must be properly respected, workers in primary industries must not be exploited. Sustainability and renewability are part of the Islamic idea of ‘stewardship of the Earth’ which generation M eco-Muslims are championing.’
Update: 8th May 2018: Indonesia is turning to the country’s two largest Islamic organisations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah to encourage people to reduce their use of plastic. (Together they have about 100 million followers). Indonesia is the second-largest contributor to marine plastic waste after China. It uses 9.8bn plastic bags a year, most of which ends up in rivers and oceans, says Indonesia’s environment ministry. Indonesia has pledged to cut its plastic waste by 70% by 2025. The NU has introduced Ngaji Sampah (sermons on waste), using Islamic principles to promote sustainable consumption and environmental awareness. (Kate Lamb, Guardian).
This idea is of course like the Christian notion of ‘stewardship’, deriving from the Creation story – I believe it was only after Adam and Eve sinned that the hostility to nature and animals began.
2. Kristina Douglas and Jago Cooper: https://www.ecowatch.com/indigenous-climate-change-2645942616.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2
Archeological records of indigenous people could hold solutions for climate change:
Indigenous peoples have long been labeled among the "most vulnerable" to climate impacts, but considering the local knowledge accumulated over millennia was another question, scientists and native groups have said.
Now, two archaeologists – a professor and museum curator — are urging policymakers to look to their field to determine the origins of vulnerability and uncover local solutions.
"There's plenty of opportunity to draw on a huge resource, which is centuries and, in many cases, thousands of years of strategizing and experimenting with what works and what doesn't work in a particular landscape to deal with climate change," Kristina Douglass, archaeologist at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview.
Unearthing oral histories and a rich archaeological record can lead to more accurate markers of vulnerability and may unlock more precise methods to address climate impacts, Douglass writes in a recent paper with Jago Cooper, curator of the Americas section at the British Museum…
In the IPCC's 2019 report on climate and land, the authors wrote that, "Agricultural practices that include indigenous and local knowledge can contribute to overcoming the combined challenges of climate change, food security, biodiversity conservation, and combating desertification and land degradation."
6.1 Vandana Shiva. (See also: notes on climate change - updates).
Dec. 2013: - from an interview with Amy Goodman on women and the environment/climate change etc (from Democracy Now!):
‘So it's a combination of major grassroots mobilization as well as dealing with the paradigm wars. And I think the challenge of this summit is to put forth another paradigm about how to live on the Earth—what the Earth is first, she’s not a—you know, she’s not there to be engineered, she’s not bits of dead rock; she is the living Earth that we were reminded about—and also, through that, bring forth another leadership for another world, because we don’t want leadership in that rotten world of destruction. It’s not worth it anyway. It’s not going to last too long.
[Emissions trading didn’t work]: ‘Arcelor—the Mittal family, which bought up all the steel plants, ... he made a billion a year just through these emissions trading.’ [Nor did funding for Clean Development Mechanisms]: ‘This year (2013) we had the most intensive rains, and a glacial lake burst, and flooding like I’ve never seen in my life took place. Twenty thousand people have died in my region [in India], the region where the Chipko movement started. The damage was accelerated by hydro projects, which were all getting Clean Development Mechanism money, in addition to all the benefits government gives.’
The Chipko movement resisted industrial forestry and logging in rural India – one of the most successful environmental struggles in the world. Local women put their bodies in the way to stop trees being cut down. Indira Gandhi the prime minister eventually declared a 15-year moratorium on logging in the Himalayan forests in Uttar Pradesh.
‘Agriculture, industrial globalized agriculture is 40 percent of the greenhouse gases. We can do something about it today... So, even though it might look a bit strange, but I think creating organic farms and organic gardens is the single biggest climate solution, but it’s also the single biggest food security solution. And given the economic crisis, [in America and in Europe] ... what I’m telling them all is go back to the land. You know, the banks messed up your lives. The governments have given up on you with their austerity programs. But the Earth will never abandon you. She is inviting you to be co-creators and co-producers so that we can solve all these multiple problems, which are interconnected.
And I think if there’s one thing women can bring to this discussion, ... [is] the capacity to have compassion [which] is the capacity to see connections. That’s the disease that the deeply patriarchal mindset has not been able to overcome, that they can’t transcend fragmentation and separation and thinking in silos, and, worse, thinking as if we are separate from the Earth, and therefore, as masters and conquerors, ... And I think we need to give a message saying, no, the Earth was not made by you, therefore you can’t fool around further. You’ve already messed up enough. Stop these geo-engineering experiments. ... We need to tell them this world is about life, not just about your profits and your bottom line, so don’t reduce everything to a commodity, and don’t financialize every function of the Earth and all her gifts.’
Some points from ‘This Changes Everything’ (Penguin 2014)
Renewable energy should be organised under the control of, and for the benefit of, local communities: ‘roughly half of Germany’s renewable energy facilities are in the hands of farmers, citizen groups, and almost 900 energy co-operatives.’ Roughly 85% of Danish wind turbines were (in 2000) owned by small farmers and co-ops.’
Renewables are available now, can be democratically controlled, and are far less risky than nuclear power – as comedian Bill Maher once observed, ‘You know what happens when windmills collapse into the sea? A splash.’
‘Proponents of research on geoengineering simply keep ignoring the fact that the biosphere is a player (not just a responder) in whatever we do, and its trajectory cannot be predicted. It is a living breathing collection of organisms (mostly microorganisms) that are evolving every second – a ‘self-organising, complex, adaptive system’... These types of systems have emergent properties that simply cannot be predicted.’
‘The fight against violent resource extraction and the fight for greater community control, democracy and sovereignty are two sides of the same coin’ – witness the struggle of the Ogoni against the rape of their land for oil.
‘The need to adapt to nature is what drives some people mad about renewables: even at a very large scale, they require a humility that is the antithesis of damming a river, blasting a bedrock for gas, or harnessing the power of the atom. They demand that we adapt ourselves to the rhythms of natural systems, as opposed to bending those systems to our will with brute force engineering... they require us to think closely about where we live, to pay attention to things like when the sun shines, and when the wind blows, where and when rivers are fierce and when they are weak... Renewables, at least the way Henry red Cloud sees them, require us to unlearn the myth that we are the masters of nature.’ [We need a ‘partnership ethic’].
She cites Transition Towns – which develop local democracy - as a way forward: started in Totnes in Devon in 2006, there are now more than 460 such locations in at least 43 countries world-wide. They undertake an ‘energy descent plan’ – a collectively drafted blueprint for lowering emissions and weaning itself off fossil fuels. The process opens up rare spaces for participatory democracy – sharing ideas about everything from how to increase their food security to building more efficient affordable housing.
However, she also argues that ‘only mass social movements can save us now’ – because only such movements can change the dominant culture. These are likely to include ‘environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by Indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.’
An interview from 2013 – the danger of ‘big green’ groups impeding the fight against climate change: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/10/naomi-klein-green-groups-climate-deniers
Notes on Learning to See in the Dark by Joanna Macy: Macey calls her practical work, often with people recovering from trauma: The Work that Reconnects... [In the Dark, the Eye Learns to See – the title of one of her workshops, is borrowed from Theodore Roethke’s ‘In a Dark Time’ and echoes Martin Luther King: ‘Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars’.]
Her work is done ‘using certain methods drawn from systems theory and spiritual teachings – from most traditions but primarily from Indigenous and Buddhist – to overcome the fragmenting of our culture through the hyper-individualism... that has produced, first unwittingly but then wittingly, a sense of isolation.’
She argues that if you have to spend all your time thinking about yourself, nurturing your separate ego, ‘that leaves you very little to fall back on if you have to confront something unpleasant...’ – be that the ‘criminal activities of your own government’ (Donald Trump has just been elected US president when this is written), the conflict in the world, the appalling inequality and suffering, or the wider environmental crisis.
People don’t respond if you keep telling them how awful something is – apathy grabs them, in the sense of wanting to be without passion i.e. without fear. Macy’s work with people is designed to get them to discover that ‘acceptance of that discomfort and pain actually reflected the depths of your caring and commitment to life.’ Goebbels and the Nazis knew that to control people you need to scare them.
Hannah Arendt says, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951): ‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.’ The American mind has been ‘shattered, fragmented’ - by the falsities of the media, its diet of ‘pap’ and entertainment, the poverty of the education system, the ‘culture bred on competition, command and control, power over – which we inherited from patriarchy...’
However, she begins the book with an epigram from her teacher Karl Jaspers: ‘Give in neither to the past nor the future. What matters is to be entirely present.’
She believes we are in the midst of a ‘great unraveling’ but at the same time we need to embark on ‘the great turning’ – away from ‘the industrial growth society’.
But this is not something we can do alone – ‘alone you get overwhelmed, and it becomes traumatising’. Once people overcome their ‘reluctance to suffer with our world... then they found their unity with our world.’ A sense of bondedness, of relief, of laughter and joking... of a shaking off of a kind of spell or curse.’ ‘People dare to be comfortable with uncertainty if they are in solidarity with one another.’
[Note: this relates to the Buddhist notion of compassion – we are bound to feel compassion, and solidarity, once we realise that we are all subject to the same anxieties and fears...]
What’s more, when you are less dependent on someone else to sort things out for you, you become stronger in yourself, have more self-respect.
She at first thought that she was doing the work as a way of making us more effective agents of change, but now she says ‘I’m doing this work so that when things fall apart we will not turn on each other.’ Totalitarian systems turn people against each other: we don’t need to see each other as enemies, because we all share a caring for living. And the economic system compels people to go on behaving the same way – we should feel compassion for people trapped in the system as well.
[Conflict can only be avoided by feelings of compassion and solidarity]
Links with sarvodaya – waking up together – and ‘there is almost no limit... to what we can do with the love and support of each other. There is almost no limit to what we can do for the sake of each other. .. That’s that hero figure of Mahayana Buddhism, ‘the one with the boundless heart’, the one who realises there is no private salvation.’
‘So it will be different for different individuals. But I think we should not make a move to do things alone. Find others. Even if it’s one other person to begin with. Then others will come. Because everybody is lonely. And everybody is ready to find out what they most want...
So: little study groups, and book groups, make a garden together. Keep your ear to the ground. Inform each other. We have to develop the skill of finding that it’s more fun to be waking up together, than a single lone star on the stage.’
(1) Being Ecological. Review by PD Smith:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/20/being-ecological-timothy-morton-review - calls for a paradigm shift in our relation to the world, saying it is counterproductive to deluge readers with scary facts about global warming – it’s ‘guilt-inducing’… Our scientific age is characterized by an epistemological gulf between objects and data. Critical of a scientistic approach - the world can be grasped only by moving to a viewpoint that is experiential and reflexive. ‘being ecological includes a sense of my weird inclusion in what I’m experiencing.’
(2) And from another book (Humankind) reviewed by Stuart Jeffries; our thinking became binary (especially when we developed agriculture) and this led to ‘a Severing.’ ‘Our task is to become haunted beings again, possessed by a spectral sense of our connectedness to everything on this planet.’ He adheres to ‘object-oriented ontology, the argument that nothing has privileged status’.(*) We must learn to have solidarity with non-humans – but how? One way, Morton suggests, is to abandon the anthropocentric idea that thinking is the leading communication mode. “Brushing against, licking or irradiating are access modes as valid (or as invalid) as thinking,” he writes. He draws on Buddhism, and anarchism (especially Kropotkin). He writes of the importance of ‘kindness’ (though it seems more like the co-operation of ants etc which is instinctive rather than an ethical position).
(*) object-oriented ontology, or OOO, which holds that every being, including humans, can only ever grasp the world in its own limited ways. (In other words, we will never know what flies know, and vice versa).
(3) An earlier book was ‘Dark Ecology’ and perhaps his ‘most discussed book’: ‘Ecology Without Nature’…
See an earlier article on Morton, dealing especially with anthropocentrism:
The Anthropocene idea is generally attributed to the Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and the biologist Eugene Stoermer, who started popularising the term in 2000. Crutzen set out the idea in Nature in 2002.
In the Anthropocene, Morton says, we must wake up to the fact that we never stood apart from or controlled the non-human things on the planet, but have always been thoroughly bound up with them. We can’t even burn, throw or flush things away without them coming back to us in some form, such as harmful pollution. Our most cherished ideas about nature and the environment – that they are separate from us, and relatively stable – have been destroyed.
The chief reason that we are waking up to our entanglement with the world we have been destroying, Morton says, is our encounter with the reality of hyperobjects – the term he coined to describe things such as ecosystems and black holes, which are “massively distributed in time and space” compared to individual humans. Hyperobjects might not seem to be objects in the way that, say, billiard balls are, but they are equally real, and we are now bumping up against them consciously for the first time. Global warming might have first appeared to us as a bit of funny local weather, then as a series of independent manifestations (an unusually torrential flood here, a deadly heatwave there), but now we see it as a unified phenomenon, of which extreme weather events and the disruption of the old seasons are only elements.
See another book of his: Hyperobjects… hyperobjects, in their unwieldy enormity, alert us to the absolute boundaries of science, and therefore the limits of human mastery. Science can only take us so far. This means changing our relationship with the other entities in the universe – whether animal, vegetable or mineral – from one of exploitation through science to one of solidarity in ignorance… we can’t transcend our limitations or our reliance on other beings. We can only live with them.
If we give up the delusion of controlling everything around us, we might refocus ourselves on the pleasure we take in other beings and life itself. Enjoyment, Morton believes, might be the thing that turns us on to a new kind of politics. “You think ecologically tuned life means being all efficient and pure,” the tweet pinned to the top of his Twitter timeline reads. “Wrong. It means you can have a disco in every room of your house.”
“Don’t hide under a rock, for heaven’s sake,” Morton had said to me at one point. “Go out in the street and start making any and as many kinds of political affiliations with as many kinds of beings, human or otherwise, that you possibly can, with a view to creating a more non-violent and just, for everybody, ecological world.”
Critics say he doesn’t understand contemporary science (and is mis-using ideas from quantum physics etc – not the only one?), that his philosophy wouldn’t be taken seriously in an academic context (is that a criticism?!), or from the left that he talks about ‘humans’ damaging the planet, while the main problem is with the wealthy white western capitalists (there’s a point!).
And: His PhD thesis, which is recognised as an important contribution to the study of Romanticism, showed that the vegetarianism of Percy and Mary Shelley was intimately entwined with their politics and art.
6.5 Deep time:
‘This is a phrase coined by John McPhee in 1981’ – deep time is measured in units of millennia, epochs and aeons, as with geology – deep time is kept by rock, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments and the drift of tectonic plates. It is ‘the catalysing context of intergenerational justice; it is what frames the inspiring activism of Greta Thunberg and the school climate-strikers, and the Sunrise campaigners pushing for a Green New Deal in America. [It] requires us to consider not only how we will imagine the future, but how the future will imagine us. It asks a version of Jons Slk’s arresting question: “Are we being good ancestors?”’
Other thoughts from this fantastic article:
(i) William Gibson: ‘the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed’ – because our toxic legacies are being imposed on some of today’s people already.. ‘the affluent experience the future in terms of technology, while the poor experience the future in terms of calamity’
(ii) the challenges of the anthropocene (from Ghosh: The Great Derangement):
- how to represent unfolding of actions and consequences in deep time
- how to recognise the aliveness of the more-than-human
- how to come to terms with the profound decentring of human presence
Note that Macarlane also refers to the Deepwater Horizon disaster (and the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, the entrapment of 33 Chilean miners and of the boy footballers in Thailand... These stories carry with them all sorts of resonance for us and always have – see Gilgamesh etc!).
On 20 April, 41 miles off the Louisiana coast, the borehole of a semi-submersible oil rig called Deepwater Horizon burst. The rig-level blowout killed 11 crewmen and ignited a fireball that could be seen on shore. The rig sank two days later, leaving oil gushing from the seabed at a water depth of around 1,500 metres. More than 200m gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, rising as a slick on the ocean that was visible from space. It would take until the autumn to cap and seal the well successfully so that it could be declared “effectively dead”. The consequences for the ecosystems and coastal communities of the gulf persist today.
June 2014: Caring for the environment:
George Monbiot hits the nail on the head again: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/16/saving-the-world-promise-not-fear-nature-environmentalism - and expresses ideas drawn (in part – I guess) from Graham Music’s book The Good Life. Insecurity breads materialism and self-centredness, whilst love and security help our altruistic and caring feelings.
Dec. 2018: An argument that links alienation from nature with other problematic aspects of modern society: Ghost Trees: nature and people in a London parish, by Bob Gilbert, Saraband. Reviewed by Jon Day, G New Review 8th Dec 2018:
‘It increasingly feels as if we are adrift in three directions: cut off from history and a sense of our own story; cut off from nature and a relationship with the species with which we share our space; and cut off from each other and a sense of local community.’
Dec. 2018 From The Ecologist: a series of articles about change:
Jan 2020. The Self Delusion by Tom Oliver has good sections on how we are a part of nature.
Review by Richard Kereridge: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/18/the-self-delusion-tom-oliver-review
and an article by Tom Oliver: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jan/16/the-age-of-the-individual-must-end-tom-oliver-the-self-delusion
14th March 2020: ‘Green Prozak’:
7. A short booklist on politics and philosophy for the environment:
Bahro, R. 1984: From Red to Green, Blackwell
1986: Building the Green Movement, New Society
Beck, U. 1992: Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage
Bookchin, M. (e.g.) 1997: The Politics of Social Ecology, Black Rose Books
Capra, F. 1982: The Turning Point, Simon & Schuster.
Capra, F. and Spretnak, C. 1984: Green Politics, Hutchinson
Chase, S. (ed) 1991: Defending the Earth: a dialogue between Dave Foreman and Murray Bookchin,
South End Press
Davis, J. and Foreman, D. 1991: The Earth First! Reader, Peregrine Smith
Dobson, A. 1991: The Green Reader, Andre Deutsch
1995: Green Political Thought, Routledge
Goodin, D. 1990: Green Political Theory, Polity
Gorz, A. (e.g.) 1979: Ecology as Politics, South End Press
Merchant, C. 1992: Radical Ecology, Routledge
Naess, A. 1989: Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, ed. Rothenberg, Cambridge Univ. Press.
Pepper, D. 1984: The Roots of Modern Environmentalism, Croom Helm
1993: Eco-socialism: Routledge
Porritt, J. 1984: Seeing Green, Blackwell.