Saturday, January 21, 2006

Greens need a heart.

The green political movement is fast finding its place as the third political force in Australia, and around the world, and realising the need to define itself into a field long dominated by a left vs. right, labour vs. capital debate. The thrust of an article by writer Hilary Burden in today's SMH is that the conservation vs. development debate is 30 years old and both sides have dug in, erected idiological walls and taken intractable positions where differences seem irreconcilable. And that the greens need to re-invent themselves to move to a more influential center much like Ariel Sharon abandoning Likud to form a new party at the center or the IRA disbanding to take an active role in democratic politics.

In a simplistic way, both greens and business alike may benefit from an intellectual de-clutter. The old wardrobe of thought edited, shaped to suit a fresh, more mature way of living in your skin; one that has the capacity to attract new, fresh responses.

What seems in the air more than ever now is that people like less being labelled green or right wing. Often their concerns meet over the fence, making the old labels seem wrong, or at least not completely right.

This strikes a cord with me as I dislike being labled either left or right wing because I can identify with aspects of both. I don't mind the green label but it would be more accurate to call me green-tinged; of course the economy is important but it exists within the environment. I am pro-business, yet abhor the corporate practice of externalising costs.

Hillary Burden argues for breaking out of old and inhibiting paridigms to see the way forward:

People need to be free to earn a living, and make money. These people may also be concerned about the environment. They are not two different breeds of people, though historically they are. All business people are not sharks, and all greens are not tree dwellers.

The debate may yet be won by people from both sides who can meet in the middle and make sense of it without calling each other names. Or using them. Start fresh and unvested.

Also in today's SMH, David McKnight makes a similar point:
But the Greens are not a rebirth of the left. In spite of their tough criticism of corporate power, they do not propose the abolition of capitalism. The clash between labour and capital is not fundamental to world view. Rather, it is about humanity's relationship with nature.

According to the Greens leader and author Drew Hutton, green politics are about "changing the nature of human relationships with the planet and other species on the planet".

The economic battle is not to redistribute wealth or abolish the market but to make the economy sustainable. Some greens have seized on the market mechanism as one way of allocating scarce resources, by attributing a much higher value to water, coal, oil and other finite resources. In its own way this is the direction of the Kyoto agreement.
He claims that the central idea of the Greens is a conservatism of a new kind, arguing that modern economics brings radical changes and political support for the Greens is the instinctive conservative reaction to this change.
An ever-expanding capitalism runs up against the environmental limits of the world and the freer play of markets and globalisation has the effect of making communal life less traditional. The security associated with regular jobs, stable community and family life and social solidarity is undermined by the spread of markets beyond the economy.

As a result of this radicalism, he argues, "what might be called philosophic conservatism - a philosophy of protection, conservation and solidarity - acquires a new relevance for political radicalism today".

The old paradigm of right, meaning conservative, and left, meaning radical, is eroding. A conservative frame of mind does not necessarily rely on the old verities of race, church and nation.
He develops his arguements well, to finish with a message to the Greens.
If the Greens are to consolidate their gains and expand, they need to recognise that part of their message is a conservative one. It is deeply attractive to certain conservative instincts and this should not be a matter for embarrassment but for celebration.

The image of green politics as left-wing and radical not only drives away potential supporters, it more importantly straitjackets new politics into old categories.
Coinciding with these articles is a release of the Australian Bureau of Statistcs (ABS) 2006 Year Book report that suggests the Greens might might find fertile ground from re-inventing, reinvigorating and re-engaging with what is the biggest block of voters:

Australians are becoming greener, older and stay married longer.

A snapshot of the nation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2006 Year Book released today, shows as the population ages, Aussies are also thinking more about the environment.

Almost three-quarters of Australians have installed dual-flush toilets, just under half of all households have water-saving showers and 16 per cent are recycling or reusing water.

Recycling has almost become universal with 98 per cent of people throwing bottles, tins and milk cartons in their coloured-lidded wheelie bins regularly.

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