GreensCAN, but it ain't easy...

Rupert Read highlights what the group has achieved since its launch one year ago. He muses on what the future may hold for green politics, and how the group aims to move forward.

Climate protest
Rupert Read

It’s exactly a year since Greens C.A.N., the Greens’ Climate Activist Network, launched (here, at Green World).

It’s been a fascinating year for us. A lot of significant names have come on board – check out our site, here. We also had an impact on the debate around COP26, in part by demonstrating clearly how COP was failing us.

I think it is safe to say that, in the wake of COP’s having failed humanity and failed the future, we are more convinced than ever that the GreensCAN strategy is right. That is to say – 

The Green Party and the broader green movement can and must learn from the towering success of XR and Greta…That authentic truth-telling about the ecological and climate emergency is the key to making headway, at this vital, pivotal and terrible moment in history. The Green Party should come clean that the parliamentary road to ecologism is no longer viable on its own. We have to face our own failure, along with (and not apart from) the failure of the entire system with which we are entangled. Such an admission of failure is game-changing; it is the power of the powerless; it is immense. 

The politics of our time is a politics of paradox – if we admit openly that we are in grief and reassessment, due to our deepest hopes of a smooth transition having come to grief, then we suddenly have an audience, an authenticity; a chance. In admitting that it’s five past midnight, we can then pivot more to adaptation, and finally face the difficult future coming down the track at us. One mark of our seriousness in this switch will be a willingness, as per the Green Party Philosophical Basis, to engage in non-violent direct action, congruently with the scale of the crisis, in order to exert greater pressure to prevent, mitigate and adapt. Greens will no doubt only do this, as Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley and myself among others have sought to do, in a proportionate and wise way. We will thereby function as a moderate flank to the sometime-excesses of Extinction Rebellion (let alone of Insulate Britain).

We are more convinced than ever that roughly the path just outlined is the way to go. But what has become clear to us over the year since we launched is how it is very difficult for people to accept this, because accepting it requires a shocking grieving and mourning process.

It is very very hard for Greens, many of whom have spent (as I have) big chunks of our life seeking to be elected, in some cases being elected, doing what one can as an elected politician to make things better, etc., to face emotionally and intellectually the stark and bitter reality: that it is too late for Greens to come to power through election and save the world, in the way we used to dream of and plan toward doing. Greens can hope to influence things through being elected, as we already do in this country and are doing somewhat more so right now in Germany; but it is no longer credible to put all one’s eggs in this old basket.

But it is (also) simply hard to ride more than one horse at once. Hard, that is, to say, as we do say and need to say: it’s a time for standing for election AND engaging in non-violent direct action AND moving bottom-up to undertake adaptation. As Greens.

We are convinced the GreensCAN strategy is basically right… AND we have come reluctantly to the view that it is going to take quite a long time for most Greens to come to the point of being able to admit that this is true. It is gutting to have to accept that the hope that motivated one’s political life is not going to be realised sufficiently to avert horrors. And it is desperately difficult, downright painful, to face that 1.5 degrees is basically gone. BUT the longer we leave it before admitting all this, the longer we keep citizens stuck in a dead game, a hall of mirrors. You only get to escape the hall of mirrors into a land of greater truth, where there will be big new possibilities for action and movement-building, if you let go of the illusions that keep us stuck. Illusions such as – the Green Party will save the world through being elected soon. Or, we are going to achieve staying within 1.5 degrees of over-heat, because we have to.

The 2020s will see swathes of new converts to the climate cause, and almost certainly swathes of new Green voters. Do we meet them with the old, fake story of ‘Yes we can!’, and see them burn out after a year or two in bitter disappointment? Or do we dare to speak the truth to them: that we are in the age of consequences; that as a consequence (transformative and deep) adaptation is of equal importance to mitigation (i.e. to greenhouse gas emissions reduction); that everything is not going to be OK; that the eco-emergency is a permanent condition now; that damage-limitation is the order of the day; and that the only thing our kids will care about when they speak to us in 20 years time – the ONLY thing – is whether we faced the crisis resolutely and with determination to do all we possibly could when there was still time. That resolution does not come from a desperate fragile ‘Tell me how we fix this! Give me ‘hope’!’ mentality. It comes from a clear-eyed appraisal of what we have to let go of, what we can still seek realistically and with determination to save, and how we are not just going to talk, we are going to DO it.

We now think, sadly, that it will be a couple more years before the Party, the movement and the country are likely to be ready to really hear all this, take it in, and act accordingly.

But mark my words: the sooner they are heard, the better the future that remains to us all will be.

A final thought. Just as the GreensCAN message is hard to hear, and likely to be resisted, so is the ‘meta-message’ about it contained in this very piece. If YOU find yourself resisting what I have been seeking to say here, then do remember that. Reflect on it. 

Only the truth can set you free, but it can only set you free if you decide to actually let it in...