The next 50 years

At the Green Party’s 50th Anniversary celebrations in March, Dr K. Michael Benfield – one of the co-founders of the Green Party – was quoted by mainstream media as having said it is too late to ‘save the planet’. In this essay, he explains the reasoning behind his statement and provides recommendations on how the Green Party can adjust to the current challenges presented by the UK political system.

Michael Benfield on BBC 50 Anniversary
Michael Benfield on BBC 50 Anniversary

Dr K. Michael Benfield spoke to the BBC at the Green Party's 50th Anniversary celebration in March. 

Dr K. Michael Benfield

In the UK, the Green Party advocates for environmental protection, sustainability, and social justice. However, the current UK political system poses significant challenges for it in achieving governmental power. Furthermore, as evidenced by International, COP and NGO failures, I consider it now too late to ‘save the planet’ via conventional political routes and conventions. Accordingly, I advocate that the Party should (re)prioritise education, building consensus, and working collaboratively with other stakeholders to create petitions and increase the pressure for possibly unpopular policy changes and actions that may achieve some of the Party’s objectives. 

PEOPLE Logo provided by Dr K. Michael Benfield


The 1972 Club of Rome's ‘Limits to Growth’ report, which informed the Party founders, highlighted the dangers of unchecked population growth and resource depletion and called for urgent action to address these issues. Since then, global and UK populations have continued to grow, leading to increasing demands on natural resources, habitat destruction, and environmental degradation. To address these challenges, the Green Party needs to prioritise policies that promote sustainability and protect the planet for future generations. 

This essay outlines recommendations for the Green Party to promote sustainability, including policies that prioritise renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, low-carbon transportation, ecosystem restoration, and a circular economic model. Additionally, it discusses the economic, technological, and social challenges that the world is likely to face in the next 50 years, how these challenges will affect sustainability efforts and advocates a futurological approach to long-term policymaking. 

Recommendations for the Green Party to promote sustainability

Under the current UK political system, the Green Party is unlikely to become the government. As such, the party should prioritise education and building consensus to increase pressures for (potentially unpopular) policy changes and actions (Smith, 2019). The party should prioritise local elections and engage in grassroots campaigns to educate the public about the importance of environmental policies and their impact on society (Reeve, 2017). It can also work towards forming alliances with other environmental organizations and advocacy groups to amplify their message and create a unified front (Lee and Qiufan, 2021). 

In doing so, the party must be alert to the issue of corruption. This is a significant challenge facing political parties in the UK. The UK's party-political structures have been criticized for being prone to corruption due to their reliance on large donations from wealthy individuals and corporations (Marrs, 2017). 

For example, the Conservative Party, in particular, has faced accusations of being too cosy with big business and wealthy donors, with some arguing that this relationship has led to a culture of cronyism and a lack of accountability (Marrs, 2017; Garside, 2021). In addition, the lack of transparency around political donations and lobbying has raised concerns about the influence of money in politics and the potential for corruption (Transparency International UK, 2019).

The recent Greensill scandal, in which former Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied government officials on behalf of a finance company that employed him, highlights the potential for conflicts of interest and corruption within the UK's political system (Wintour et al., 2021). 

While reforms have been proposed to increase transparency and accountability, many argue that more fundamental changes are needed to address the underlying issues of money and influence in politics (Transparency International UK, 2019). 

Fortunately, the Green Party in the UK was designed by the founders to have a dual leadership and decentralized structure, which makes it less susceptible to corruption than other UK parties. The Party's internal democracy and emphasis on grassroots activism promote transparency and accountability (Green Party of England and Wales 2021). The Green Party also does not accept donations from corporations or individuals associated with them, which helps to reduce the influence of wealthy donors (Green Party of England and Wales 2021). However, like any political party, the Green Party is not immune to corruption, and continued vigilance and reform are necessary to maintain its integrity. 

Education and building consensus require a long-term approach, but it is crucial for shaping public opinion and creating a groundswell of support for environmental policies (Schneider, 2018). The Green Party can achieve this by developing educational programs and resources that emphasise the importance of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable living. These programs can be targeted towards schools, community groups, and the general public. By doing so, the Party can increase awareness and knowledge of environmental issues, which can lead to greater support for environmental policies (Curtin and Rutherford, 2020). 

In addition, the Green Party should prioritise community engagement and involvement in policymaking. The party should seek to establish additional channels of communication with local communities and involve them in the decision-making process (Gandhi and Kurien, 2018). By doing so, the party can increase transparency and accountability, which can help build trust with the public. Moreover, involving local communities can lead to policies that are better suited to the needs of the community and are more likely to be supported by the public (Shaw and Blumstein, 2020). 

The future is uncertain, and there are many potential challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. However, by prioritising education, building consensus, and collaborating with other stakeholders, the Green Party can promote sustainable policies and practices that benefit both people and the planet. By working together, we can create a more equitable, sustainable, and just future for all. (CBD, 2010; Costanza et al., 1997; Daly, 2013) 

It is crucial that the Party prioritises education and awareness-raising to promote sustainable behaviours and lifestyles. This can be achieved through a range of strategies, such as developing educational programs and resources that emphasize the importance of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable living. These programs can be targeted towards schools, community groups, and the general public. (Curtin and Rutherford, 2020). It could usefully resurrect the aborted ‘Jigsaw’ conference of 1974. 

When the Party has achieved this, then – effectively as an unelected ‘master mind’ member of Parliament – it will be able to influence the national government via the UK’s Government and Parliament Petitions System. This is an avenue for citizens to create and sign petitions on a range of issues. As per the system's guidelines, any petition that garners 10,000 signatures or more must receive a response from the government. Petitions that cross the threshold of 100,000 signatures or more are eligible to be debated in Parliament. This system serves as a means for citizens to engage with the government and bring important issues to the attention of policymakers (UK Government, 2021). The Party should become national leaders and masters in the use of this facility to achieve its ends. 


Overpopulation is a significant global challenge due to the finite nature of the Earth's resources and continued population growth (Club of Rome, 1972; World Bank, 2021). The current ecological footprint of humanity is 1.7 times larger than what the Earth can sustainably provide in a year, resulting in the degradation of natural systems that impact human well-being and economic prosperity (Global Footprint Network, 2021). The UK population has also grown significantly, causing strain on national resources, infrastructure, and contributing to environmental degradation and climate change (ONS, 2021). 

As indicated below, behavioural economics and ecological economics offer more evidence-based solutions to address the root causes of overpopulation such as poverty, lack of access to education and healthcare, and societal norms (Global Footprint Network, 2021). 

A holistic and multidisciplinary approach that accounts for economic, social, environmental, and ethical dimensions of sustainability can create a sustainable and equitable future for all. The Green Party in the UK can play a significant role in environmental protection and sustainability by prioritising education, building consensus, and working collaboratively with other stakeholders. 


Critics argue that ‘growth’ orientated economics has misled politicians and policymakers (Rees, 2019). 

Marxist and Classical economics are both critiqued by Rees for their focus on economic growth and profit maximization which, he argues, ignore ecological limits and social well-being. Instead, he advocates for an eco-socialist approach that prioritises ecological sustainability and social justice. 

Ecological economics offers a framework for understanding the complex interconnections between economic and ecological systems (Daly, 2013). This can inform policies that promote sustainability and environmental protection while also ensuring economic growth and social welfare. For example, ecological economics emphasizes the importance of pricing environmental externalities, such as carbon emissions, to incentivise individuals and businesses to reduce their environmental impact (Costanza et al., 1997). This approach can help to internalise environmental costs and promote more sustainable economic activity. 

Behavioural economics emphasises the importance of framing and messaging in influencing behaviour (Thøgersen, 2012). By presenting information in certain ways, policymakers and organizations can nudge individuals towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly choices. For example, by highlighting the social and community benefits of sustainable behaviour, such as reducing air pollution or preserving natural habitats, individuals may be more motivated to act in environmentally responsible ways. 

Green economics is a holistic approach to economics that prioritises environmental sustainability and social justice (Daly, 1999). It differs from traditional economics and other approaches, such as environmental and ecological economics, in its broader focus on the social and political dimensions of sustainability. The Green Economics Institute advocates for this approach to economics, defining it as ‘a sustainable and ethical economics which is visionary, inclusive, and which works for the common good’ (What is Green Economics?, 2022). 

One of the key tenets of green economics is the idea that economic growth should not come at the expense of social and environmental well-being (Jackson, 2009). Instead, the focus is on promoting sustainable development and reducing inequality, while ensuring that natural resources are used in a way that preserves their integrity and availability for future generations (Martinez-Alier, 1987). 

It is incumbent on the UK Green Party in the UK to recognise the limitations of existing economic models and assumptions and continue to develop and support new approaches that are more attuned to the real-world complexities of economic systems. 

For example: 

Promote Circular Economy Models:

The Green Party could re-double promotion of the circular economy model, which aims to eliminate waste and promote the reuse and recycling of materials. This can be achieved through policies such as extended producer responsibility, green public procurement, and taxes on single-use products (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015). The Party could also prioritise policies that support circular economy infrastructure, such as recycling facilities, waste-to-energy plants, and composting facilities. 

Promote Renewable Energy: 

To transition towards a low-carbon economy, the Green Party could continue to prioritise policies that promote renewable energy sources and advocate for their prioritisation by governments and corporations. This can be achieved through policies such as carbon pricing, investment in research and development of new technologies, and regulations to phase out fossil fuels (Markandya et al., 2016). The Party could also promote the transition to renewable energy by continuing to advocate for policies that encourage the use of renewable energy sources, such as net metering, feed-in tariffs, and energy storage incentives. However, it should also continue its advocacy of measures to reduce energy consumption, e.g. insulation, and extend these into new areas. 

Encourage Sustainable Agriculture: 

The Green Party can further encourage local and sustainable agriculture by promoting small-scale farming and community-supported agriculture. This can be done through policies such as tax incentives, subsidies, and regulations to protect farmers and promote sustainable land use (FAO, 2018). The Party can also promote new technologies like vertical farming and containerised hydroponic vegetable production and prioritise sustainable agriculture to address food security and nutrition, promote sustainable land use practices, support biodiversity conservation, and ecosystem restoration (FAO, 2021). 

Promote Low-Carbon Transportation: 

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, the Green Party can continue to promote low-carbon transportation by advocating for policies that prioritise walking and cycling infrastructure, expand public transportation systems, and incentivise the use of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles (World Bank, 2019), or hydrogen-powered vehicles and equipment (JCB, 2021). The Party can also prioritise policies that reduce travelling distances and support sustainable transportation infrastructure, such as bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and electric vehicle charging stations. It should also consider restrictions on air travel to reduce the carbon footprint associated with air travel. 

Protect and Restore Natural Ecosystems: 

The Green Party should continue to advocate for policies that protect and restore natural ecosystems, such as reforestation, wetland restoration, and marine conservation. It should also prioritise policies that promote ecosystem services, such as nature-based solutions for flood control, water purification, and climate change adaptation (CBD, 2010) and advocate policies for building developments to include areas of community gardens. In doing this, the Party should seek to collaborate with local communities, corporations, and governments to promote these policies (CBD, 2010). 

Furthermore, policymakers and organizations must be encouraged to prioritise the protection of natural ecosystems, which are essential for mitigating the impacts of climate change and preserving biodiversity. This can be achieved through policies such as protected areas, ecological restoration, and sustainable land use practices. For example, the restoration of degraded ecosystems can provide a range of ecological, economic, and social benefits, including carbon sequestration, water conservation, and the provision of ecosystem services (Brancalion et al., 2019). 

The next 50 years

It is clear that the Green Party in the UK faces significant challenges in achieving governmental power under the current political system (other than via petitions), especially if it is to develop and promote the kind of potentially unpopular policies that may be required. However, the Party can still promote sustainability by prioritising education, building consensus, and working collaboratively with other stakeholders to build coalitions and partnerships that prioritise sustainability and the protection of the planet – causing Government to properly consider these. 

The Green Party can prioritise policies that promote renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, low-carbon transportation, ecosystem restoration, and circular economy models. Additionally, it is essential to address the economic, technological, and social challenges that the world is likely to face in the next 50 years and how these challenges will affect sustainability efforts. 

As such, the Party should recognise the limitations of existing economic models and assumptions and develop new approaches that are more attuned to the real-world complexities of economic systems. Alternative approaches, such as behavioural economics and ecological economics, may offer more nuanced and evidence-based solutions to these challenges. 

To achieve any of this, the Green Party is encouraged to draw on insights from experts in fields such as ecology, economics, and social science to inform their understanding of future trends and possibilities. By working with experts, the Green Party can develop evidence-based policies that are grounded in a deep understanding of the complex and interconnected systems that shape our world (Dryzek et al., 2013).

However, this paper is essentially concerned with our global future and the Green Party’s role in achieving desirable outcomes as well as its continued relevance to local, national and global society. Therefore we have … 

Futurology – as the last word!

Futurology involves using a systematic and interdisciplinary approach to identify and analyse future trends, scenarios, and possibilities (Gordon and Cairns, 2015). It can help the Green Party to anticipate and plan for future challenges and opportunities related to sustainability, such as climate change, energy security, and biodiversity loss. The Green Party can and should make use of futurology to envision the future in 50 years’ time and develop policies to achieve this. 

To apply futurology in policymaking, the Green Party can use tools such as scenario planning and visioning workshops to engage with stakeholders and develop a shared understanding of the future they want to create (Hajer and Driessen, 2019). This can help to inform policy development and identify areas where action is needed to achieve the desired future. 

If it does so, ‘Watch this Space’ in 2073! 

Professor Dr K Michael Benfield MA PhD FRSA CEnv, FCIOB FCMI MRICS MIEx FASI AWSc is one of the 4 co-founders of the global Green Party movement. He earned his doctorate from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in European Planning and Property Development. Formerly visiting professor of Civil & Construction Engineering research with the University of South Wales, he ran a Timber Engineering company manufacturing ‘green’ buildings, and is now a Mergers & Acquisitions specialist, board member of Innovation Council Wales and Wales Council for Voluntary Action.


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Researched with the aid of