An introduction to Green Politics

For the benefit of new members and re-invigoration of long-standing supporters, Peter Barnett offers an explanation of the essence of Green Politics and how it differs from all other ideologies

Peter Barnett

Originally published in Green World 87

The common misapprehension, still held by a large section of the population, is that Green Politics is about environmentalism – that the principal objective is to get more effective legislation in place to combat pollution, encourage recycling, protect the countryside from excessive development and so on: in effect, to achieve a more environmentally-friendly version of the current system.

This reformist approach is the remit of most environmental charities and campaigning groups, but not of the Green Party. From very early on, the Greens recognised that the system under which we live is the root cause of all the problems, and no amount of reforms could change that. The environmental movement has had, and continues to play, a valuable role in damage limitation, but it's fighting a losing battle.

For decades, the Green Party has been perceived by most people as a single-issue party. Whenever it was approached by the media for comment, it was always with respect to an environmental issue. Few people were aware that the party has a comprehensive set of detailed policies covering every aspect of life, a radical programme advocating a total transformation of the social, economic and political systems that currently prevail.

In a way, people are right – we are a single issue party – if that issue is to safeguard the environment to preserve a planet that continues to provide a decent home for the human race and the complex and amazing web of life of which it is a part. The first rule of Green Politics is that you cannot divorce the economic system and human values from the health of the planet.

Origin of GPEW

The Green Party of England & Wales was founded in 1973 by a group of people who were deeply concerned by the alarming rate of global environmental degradation resulting from human activity. A couple of major reports resulting from detailed studies of the situation particularly inspired them, namely The Limits to Growth (Club of Rome, 1972) and A Blueprint for Survival (The Ecologist, 1972).

From these, and from other scientific evidence of increasing ecological disruption, the interdependence of a wide range of problems became apparent. No longer can economics, military spending, inequality, agriculture, biodiversity loss, mental health, crime, poverty and so on be treated as separate, independent issues. If humanity is to survive, it must be guided by a philosophy based on the complex interaction between itself and its fellow creatures. This is the essence of the politics of ecology – Green Politics – and what distinguishes it from all other political ideologies, whether from the left, right or centre, whose belief in the possibility of infinite growth from finite resources is a principal driver of the environmental predicament.

Green Politics aims to reconstruct the patterns of human activities and relationships so that they come to respect and value the natural systems on which they depend. This goal is unachievable until equity and social justice are woven into the fabric of society. Equitable societies are healthier, happier and more likely to undertake the large-scale changes required to ensure sustainability. Why would someone on the minimum wage in a dead-end job worry about the social and environmental consequences of his mode of transport if there are no decent public services and he is being fed a doctrine that accumulation of sufficient wealth to buy the latest car is the measure of success?

Philosophical Basis of the Green Party

The Philosophical Basis (PB) of the Green Party of England & Wales sets down the aims and beliefs of the party, and is the basis on which all its policies are founded. All members should read this remarkable and inspiring document, which can be found at:

It outlines a radical Green agenda to achieve the changes in both values and lifestyles, as well as social, economic and political structures, that are required to create a fair and sustainable society, based on cooperation and democracy rather than inequality and exploitation.

It advocates:

  • diversity in the human and natural environment, where human activities contribute to, rather than destroy, the richness of life;
  • social change based on real democracy, equality (zero? discrimination whether based on race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, social origin or any other prejudice), human rights and freedom;
  • valuing real wealth - natural resources, clean air, rainfall, solar energy and the planet's biodiversity. Wealth should be shared so everyone has a guarantee of economic security;
  • conservation - recognising limits to growth; promoting land management combining sustainable human development with safeguarding biodiversity; prioritising technologies that promote reuse and recycling; ensuring the built environment maximises resource conservation and energy efficiency;
  • empowerment - participatory and democratic politics with accountable leadership that are consensus-driven and moral;
  • property - common goods accountably managed by community stakeholders;
  • work - access to creative, rewarding work as a fundamental human right;
  • strategy - work for change with the wider green movement through a variety of means including non-violent direct action.

Green Party Policy

Some other Green parties employ the Four Pillars of Green Politics to illustrate their platform. These are: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy and non-violence.

These cover essentially the same issues contained in our PB, and similarly form the basis on which Green policies are based. Unlike the policies of conventional parties, Green policies all interlink and complement one another, such that they all conform to the aims of the party arising from the PB.

For example, Green transport policy includes measures to reduce private car use and increase funding for public transport. This impacts on health policy, with a reduction in exhaust pollution that contributes to thousands of deaths a year and less traffic noise that affects stress and sleep quality, as well as a safer road environment leading to more people cycling and walking. This, in turn, means more people getting regular exercise, and so becoming less likely to be overweight and depressed, leading to a reduction in numerous associated healthcare problems, which will mean less stress on the NHS. A reduction in private car use also reduces carbon emissions, tackling the major concern of climate change, and offering further positive spin-offs like helping to wean the world off fossil fuels. It's a typical Green win-win situation where changes to dramatically cut emissions also materially benefit the quality of life for the majority of people.

In contrast to the Green Party's joined-up thinking, the headline policy of the three parties is more austerity - with a massive £55 billion more cuts announced in last year's Autumn Statement. These measures will deliver an endless stream of negative, counter-productive results, including increased levels of inequality, which exacerbate a whole range of problems from social mobility to mental health, drug use and dependency on food banks.

Green Politics is fundamentally different from other political ideologies because it is concerned with the relations between people and planet, as well as between people and people. Given the enormity of the planetary crisis, the effect of human activity on the planet should be the central political question today. However, in times of recession (or forced austerity), people's attention is more focused on their immediate problems. Fortunately, we have real, workable solutions. We just need to get out there and convince people that there is a positive way ahead.