This is it

29 April, 2012 Columns0

It is imperative that the Greens attempt to avert the global trainwreck by taking over the engine, not by gathering a few more numbers in the caboose to sing KumBayah. The party has to grapple with the mainstream or disappear.


Those who believe that it is too hard or too late might turn to the Lifeboats scenario in Richard Heinberg’s PowerDown. In that scenario, the environmentally aware attempt to salvage as much of civilisation as they can while the selfish, unresponsive mainstream head inevitably over the cliff like lemmings.

However realistic that scenario might be, it is not the role of political parties to save the few but to engineer a solution for the whole of society.

What is required is nothing less than proposing and implementing realistic global, national and regional economic plans.

Given the mess that has been made of the plans to reduce carbon emissions, despite the huge amount of science and political will that went into those plans, we are going to have to learn a great deal from the past and tackle these plans much more effectively in the future.

Difficult as this may seem, until there is a simple and believable economic plan, the middle ground, swinging voter is simply not going to budge. Building an alliance with rural voters might be a good way to lend credibility to such a project. It might also consume valuable time that we can ill afford.

Real world experience

Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, was fond of saying, “The future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.”

He had very early experience of the networked computer with a graphical user interface that is now transforming human communication and the political landscape in the way that it has already transformed manufacturing, commerce and finance. He had an early glimpse into that future because he invented the Ethernet at the Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC). PARC is also where the mouse and the point-and-click interface were invented.

The Green governments already in place provide us with a glimpse into the future outlined in this article. Two examples include the German state Burden-Wurttemberg and the Byron Shire Council in NSW.  As one would expect, the experience has involved a lot of learning and development along the way.

It is beyond of the scope of this already long essay to explore the history or experience of these two very different constituencies, what is important is to understand how they achieved power, and what they did with it.

The Burden-Wurttemberg Green-SPD government is less than a year old and follows decades of building an economically responsible and far-sighted Green party which has survived difficult alliances with mainstream parties.

The Byron Shire Council has had a Green Mayor and the largest block of councillors (four of nine) for over five years. This was built on grass roots activism in opposition to a rampantly pro-development council that threatened to damage the lifestyle choices of the majority of voters.

Vision leads action

The real world political experience is that without a clear vision that matters to the electorate there is no political future.

In Burden-Wurttemberg it was renewable energy, public transport and opposition to foreign policy that compromised voters sense of morality and self preservation.

The key building block of German Green thinking has been the creation of a world leading renewable energy industry. With comparatively little sunlight, Germany legislated long term subsidies for solar power and became the world leader in a technology that now contributes billions to the German economy. It has also cornered the market in bio-digesters that convert waste to energy and has planted huge crops of jojoba and Jatropha across North Africa.

In Byron Shire it was deforestation and coastal development that cut through community values and united a farming community and hippies against property developers.

The supporting of local business as opposed to corporations and of “green” business where-ever possible has created a unique, atypical environment that remains an international tourist destination and mecca for high nett worth individuals holding “green” values.

The art of compromise

Every Green party that has gained power as a minor coalition member or in the case of Byron and Burden’berg as a major player, confronts the reality of having to trade one principle against another, or principles against reality.

Environmentally sensitive development may be preferable to no-development at all, either because it meets community demands for housing, or because the alternative is unsustainable commercially or politically. To encourage economically aware industry, one may need to balance the needs of the local community, the existing ecology and the commercial well being of the broader community. Arguments about the use of toxins and machinery in weed control or low cost accommodation versus planning controls are fraught with competing interests that may all be well intentioned.

These are the real world decisions that politicians face every day. For the idealists and activists in the party with a passion about a particular issue, each of these issues can be portrayed as the betrayal of principle in the interest of power.

In reality, wise governments make pragmatic decisions based on common sense and humanity informed by number of core moral principles. The experience of both the party and the electorate with the benign and positive outcomes of Green governance will gradually convince the electorate that The Greens are not out to destroy society.

To accelerate this process, The Greens need to actively promote and build on past experience at every opportunity.

Repeatable messages

Simple, repeatable messages hammered out in the crucible of politics become the enduring legacy of political success. The mantra of localism is:

  • Grow it, bake it, make it
  • Fix it don’t replace it
  • Share generously

The first two support the principle of a more frugal, less materialistic lifestyle. The second takes that a step further and spreads the word, binding the community together through the economic imperative of giving.

Implicit in the sense of community is a subtext that by putting a price on everything and considering every transaction a commercial one, we have lost part of the benefit of gifting as the glue that binds community.

Every voter an advocate

The other characteristic of all successful political movements which develops as the party shifts from idealism to power is that the ideas shift from being intellectually exciting and challenging, through inspiring and adoptable, to obvious and passionately defended.

One of the principles of environmental activism is that there are so many causes to fight that each one of us should take one cause and make it our own. We can support each other as we see fit, but if we each own and lead on cause, we can make the greatest difference.

This sense of personal responsibility is powerful on a number of levels. It is also enhanced by networked communication technology. Through supporting and enhancing that infrastructure to support the individual activists that make up the green movement, The Greens, have a powerful grass roots movement supporting the political movement.

In principle

Taking the fundamental principles, the electorate’s suspicions and the urgent demands of a resource constrained world, The Greens need to move immediately to take leadership in the community. The principles required for that action are clear.

A Green future is a better future.

A Green economy creates growth through innovation not exploitation.

A Green economy improves the well being of the people and the land not the profits of the financial sector.

Green agriculture builds community, pays the producer fairly, protects the ecology and provides healthy food and fabric.

Green industry uses renewable energy, minimises resource construction and builds for the longest term possible.

Green buildings create livable, sociable spaces that are productive, robust and minimise resource consumption.

Green transport emphasises shipping and rail to minimise energy consumption and transport costs.

Green trade policy minimises the transport of resources and goods, while maximising the opportunity to use resources (human and natural) where they exist.

Green governments control corporate behaviour to ensure these policy outcomes are achieved.

Green activists work to rebuild and protect the ecology and human community.

Green activists work to support the members of the community who have been disadvantaged by industrial economics.

Green businesses work to provide an economic framework to support those activists

Green politicians work to provide a structural framework to support those activists

Green voters live their lives by Green principles sharing the bounty and benefit of the Green community to spread the positive message of Green life choices.

Green voters support Green activists, businesses and politicians with their labour, money and votes.

All Greens support the movement by standing up for it in discussions that raise the red-herrings that undermine the green message.

All Greens support the movement by presenting the clear advantages of a Green approach to government and the very real dangers of worshipping money, coveting and hoarding stuff and dismissing the needs and feelings of those without a voice or who are powerless.

This is the way that Greens will help steer society onto a reasonable and sane course that helps avoid the disasters our selfishness have already set in motion from getting worse.

In practice

All very well for the analysis and the rhetoric, what about a practical vision of a Green Australia?

Try this.

As an energy exporter Australia is in an excellent position to promote clean green energy. Stationary solar can replace other heat sources quickly and effectively. Hydrogen is a reasonable storage medium and allows us to export renewable energy to a hungry global market. We need to treat coal as a transition fuel, getting much smarter about how we process it so that we build energy infrastructure that can use replacement fuels as we phase coal out.

A national transport network based on rail and shipping needs to span the continent, linking Cairns and Normanton to Broome and Alice Springs. This provides ready access to our export markets and the new growth areas for both resources and agriculture. It can be built with local expertise and resources, expanding the economy, manufacturing infrastructure and rebuilding our resource-processing infrastructure that we have allowed to drift off-shore.

Infrastructure requires concrete and steel. Concrete and steel are carbon nightmares. Consequently, infrastructure needs to be built for the long term, measured in centuries not years. It also needs to be built using renewable energy as much as possible and minimising transport. That requires development of these technologies as part of developing the north and west. A Green government will guard environmental values and reduce global energy consumption by developing a sustainable steel industry close to the iron mines and producing less carbon intensive steel while building the Australian economy.

Population growth is the greatest threat to the environment. The only positive solution is the education and empowerment of women to reduce birth rates below death rates. The alternative is starvation, pestilence and plague. Australia has to do its part to help balance global poverty and suffering by welcoming climate. political and population refugees. One effective means to achieve this is to build new, robust, zero waste and zero emission cities in the north and west, built by Australia’s under employed and those newcomers seeking refuge.

Economic expansion naturally follows innovation, population growth and resource development. While Greens vigorously oppose growth for its own sake, the building of Green cities in Australia’s north and west resolves the huge geopolitical and socioeconomic imbalance of an empty continent on the doorstep of overcrowded South East Asia, establishes a centre of innovation for global low energy development and establishes a new benchmark for Australian economic standards. We move from being an extractive economy (a quarry) to a centre of innovation.

Ecological management of the vast areas of Australia outside the Brisbane line is required to address the millennia of firestick farming and centuries of mechanical deforestation. Funded by the economic expansion of the north and west, Australia’s vast spaces and varied landscape can become a permanent ark for thousands of species that are heading rapidly for expansion.

As a wealthy democracy, Australia has a unique opportunity to provide leadership in all these areas. The Greens are the political party best positioned to deliver this. A modern political party, free of the taint of corporate bribes and with a networked grass roots, The Greens can show real leadership.

Naturally, taking positive action will challenge some holy cows, but the proposal outlined above is in complete keeping with Green principles and is the fundamental requirement for a stable and robust future.

I look forward to walking with you on that journey.

This is part of a longer article  Green gold | Redneck Rage | Rusted on Reds | Clear directions | Sidebar – Red herrings | Greenslanders? Not!

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