Last year, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, said that we had until the end of 2020 to get a plan underway to deal with the climate crisis, or there was no way we would hit the necessary targets for this coming decade.
2020 is at its end. It’s time for some clear vision, and some straight talking. Guterres has begun that straight talking by stating last week that we humans have broken our planet by way of unleashing a ‘suicidal war’ on nature.
The least Greens can now do is at least be as serious in our truth-telling and act accordingly. For the situation is indeed truly grisly.
We are on track to miss the (already grossly inadequate) Paris climate targets by a country mile. The world is heading for 3 to 4 degrees of global overheat, within the lifetimes of most of us. Therefore, this civilisation is in its end-game; it is coming to an end, one way or another. This does not mean it is game over for civilisation. It means it is game over for this civilisation. We transform, fast, or we go down.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which is itself a product of the eco-emergency and of the out-of-control neoliberal globalisation driving it, has, with all its lockdowns, put only a small dent into this dire prognosis. The reset from Covid will determine humanity’s path for this decade and therefore for this century. The signs are very poor that this reset will be anything like what we need. And much of that reset is already set.
The Glasgow climate COP, which was unfortunately delayed for a year (because, of course, of Covid), is going to fail. This means if it delivers an agreement, that agreement will be inadequate and will contain lots of dire stuff, including large-scale ecosystem-destructive biofuels, and IOUs written on the bodies of future generations, ‘promising’ to – in other words, promising that they will have to – remove lots of carbon from the atmosphere using unproven and frankly reckless technologies.
The dream that motivated the Green Party, the dream of achieving power by the electoral route in time to prevent eco-disasters... is dying. We now have only five to 10 years left in which to transform our entire system, or face nemesis. Is there anyone who seriously believes that the Green Party can take power in that time period and make the necessary changes? Essentially, that would mean the Green Party winning the 2024 general election. That is pure fantasy.
The Green Party needs a new dose of realism about the state of play in the 2020s and needs to go back to its roots. We need to double down on the real issue, the one issue that our children will ask us about and judge us on: the ecological emergency in general, and the climate crisis in particular.
If we back up such new realism with a new, deepened willingness to engage in targeted non-violent direct action, then the message will have extra credibility. We will be showing by our deeds that we mean what we say. We should be proud of that fact that we are the one Party to have such civil disobedience in our Philosophical Basis. The systems crisis we are living through needs combating by passionate commitment to life on Earth. That is shown by deeds meeting words.
The Green Party is not going to attain power in time through a conventional electoral route. This is the painful reality that life is calling upon us to acknowledge. Now, for the good news: there is one very real power that the Green Party has. In politics, we are the trusted messengers when it comes to climate. We ‘own’ the green area of the agenda. The real power we have is to call it. To name the truth: that the dream of arresting dangerous human-caused climate change is dead. That conventional politics has failed. That we have to turn more to people-power, and have to aim at adaptation and not just mitigation.
Our doing this will be all the more powerful and deeply authentic if it is accompanied by us being courageous enough to admit that there is not a Green Government-in-waiting for Number 10 Downing Street. People will really listen to us, if they hear us breaking the ‘rules’ of politics by not just saying something that talks up our own electoral prospects.
And citizens are hungrier than ever for that kind of honesty in politics.
So, here’s the beauty of this bold proposal. If we carry on doing what we are doing, attempting a long march through the electoral institutions, then we know in our hearts that it won’t be enough. But the proposal made here is the one that just might conceivably be enough!
For the one way we could conceivably set up the mother of all Green surges, the one way we could utterly transform politics, is if we break through into people’s consciousnesses with an unexpected (because no-one expects a politician to say: “We are not about to win at the ballot box”), stark, true, authentic message backed by action. Paradoxically, the one way we might unleash the Green Party with a new power at the ballot box is by saying that the ballot box is no longer enough!
We are the electoral wing of the broad green movement and should remain so. What my colleague Cllr Alison Teal has modelled in Sheffield by her willingness to be arrested defending the trees there, and this leading to her massive re-election, is that, contrary to some lazy thinking, non-violent direct action that is intelligent, targeted and makes sense to local people can be massively popular. If we come clean about our future electoral prospects and the impending failure of the UK-led COP, and start being leaders — in our own name — of the coming mobilisation to save our common future, then, ironically, that is the one way we might transform our electoral prospects.
It is clear now that representative democratic forms will not be enough to stop climate breakdown. There isn’t time. The Green Party is not going to come to power. We’re out of time. It’s time for an emergency mobilisation, led from the streets, and it’s time for ‘transformative adaptation’ to the emergency. And if we lead on all this, then that turns out to be the one way in which we transform our electoral prospects after all!
So, Greens should be undertaking electoral politics and carefully executed, mass-targeted non-violent direct action. We are the only ones placed to do this. We are the only force in politics set up to tell the truth and be heard, on this one seminal issue. If we do, it will be game-changing. (If we don’t, then we will be at best a minor footnote to, and more likely in the dustbin of, history.)
The matter is in your hands, Greens. If you agree with the diagnosis here, then join us. We are setting up a new network, the Green Party Climate Activists Network. Because we believe – even yet, even now – that the Green Party CAN.
Professor Rupert Read is a former Green Party Councillor, Green Party campaigner and a co-founder of GreensCAN