Friday 8 February 2019

The Incredible Lightness of Being Green.

Putting The Blue Into Green: The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, openly touts for the support of “green” capitalists: as if the profits to be extracted from re-branding corporate greed as an “ecologically sustainable business ethos” will somehow render its actual production less dependent on environmental despoliation and unrelenting human exploitation.

IF IT’S PERMISSABLE to talk about “Red-Greens”, then why not about “Blue-Greens”? Surely an abiding concern for the natural environment is something which transcends narrow ideological considerations? And, if that’s true, doesn’t it make perfect sense for an environmental party to position itself squarely in the middle of the political spectrum – from whence it can reach out to both the Left and the Right?

Certainly, that’s what Vernon Tava believes, and the former Green MP, Kennedy Graham, agrees with him. In fact, Graham goes further, arguing that contemporary politics is driven by the followers of three great quests. The quest for freedom; the quest for equality; and the quest for sustainability. Graham strongly implies that the greatest of these three is sustainability. Without a sustainable environment, the quests for freedom and equality cannot succeed. This was the sort of thinking that prompted the late Rod Donald to declare: “The Greens are not of the Left. The Greens are not of the Right. The Greens are out in front.”

A great soundbite – but is it true?

It all depends what you mean by “out in front”. If it is intended to describe the vanguard role played by environmental activists in the 1970s and 80s, then the quip has some merit. Up until then “development” was the dominant – and largely uncontested – paradigm, embraced alike by the Capitalist West and the Communist Bloc. The power of science and technology was being unleashed against an intransigent natural world. “Progress” was the word used by both the Left and the Right to describe humankind’s heroic mission to bend Nature to its will. Felling forests, damming rivers and levelling mountains were all achievements to celebrate. Humankind was winning!

It took the Astronaut’s photograph of “Spaceship Earth” to jolt humanity into the realisation that this bright blue planet is all we have – a dazzling repository of life and beauty in an otherwise barren universe. Not an enemy to be subdued, but our one and only home. If there was a foe to be fought, then surely it was rampant industrialism and the insatiable consumerist societies it was spawning? Whether these societies were ruled by Capitalists, or Communists, hardly seemed to matter. The damage inflicted on the planet’s fragile ecosystems by both ideologies was equally catastrophic.

So, yes. Those who grasped the full social, economic and ecological consequences of the development paradigm were, indeed, “out in front” politically.

With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is possible to view the Cold War stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union as a conflict driven less by ideology than straightforward geopolitical rivalry. The Russians’ state-capitalist system, at enormous cost, was able to maintain a rough military parity with its corporate-capitalist competitors, but was completely outclassed in virtually all other aspects of production. The Russians never mastered the problems of distribution, and, crucially, suffered from a crippling shortage of domestically generated investment capital. The wonder is not that the Soviet Union fell, but that it remained upright for so long!

With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (a.k.a Capitalism!) the Greens’ boast that they were “out in front” lost its sting. The imperatives of corporate capitalism were now driving economic activity across the entire planet. Industrialisation and consumerism were being supercharged – and so was their impact on global ecosystems. Those who stood for the planet were now obliged to stand against a capitalist system whose corporate masters refused to acknowledge (and were, in fact, operating beyond) the moral and political claims of the traditional nation state.

But, as more and more of Earth’s burgeoning human population were swallowed up in the capitalist machine, the amount of CO2 spewing forth from its smokestacks and exhaust pipes was increasing exponentially – soaring towards an atmospheric concentration incompatible with the long-term survival of industrial civilisation. Capitalism was facing its final and fatal contradiction: a negation which only its own negation could negate.

The colour of this capitalist death-machine is, and always has been, blue. Calling yourself a “Blue-Green” is, therefore, oxymoronic. You can no more be a “Blue-Green” than you can be a non-violent boxer or a chaste debauchee. Nor is it defensible to describe yourself as a “Green-Green” – as if rescuing the biosphere can be accomplished without confronting directly the economic system responsible for its devastation. In this regard, the subjective sincerity or insincerity of Vernon Tava and Kennedy Graham is completely irrelevant. Objectively, they are serving the interests of the planet’s enemies – not its friends.

The capitalists’ oft-repeated accusation that they are facing “Red-Greens” is, however, entirely justified. If by “red” is meant a force dedicated to overturning the prevailing capitalist system and replacing it with one in which the three great goals of freedom, equality and sustainability will each become the indispensable guarantor of the other.

From their first appearance in the 1980s, Green parties around the world have presented themselves as both the exemplars and advocates of four foundational principles: Ecological Wisdom; Social Justice; Participatory Democracy; and Nonviolence. Each of these principles is antithetical to the founding principles of Capitalism: The Subjugation of Nature; Human Exploitation; Plutocracy; and Coercive Violence. The dilemma confronting Green supporters in New Zealand in 2019 is just how far the Green Party has drifted from the global Green Movement’s original values. There is a widespread and growing feeling that the Greens’ parliamentary representatives are no longer Capitalism’s enemies, but its enablers.

The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, openly touts for the support of “green” capitalists: as if the profits to be extracted from re-branding corporate greed as an “ecologically sustainable business ethos” will somehow render its actual production less dependent on environmental despoliation and unrelenting human exploitation.

Only if Green voters are willing to subscribe to the fiction of “weightless” capitalist enterprises that leave no “carbon footprint”, can Shaw’s pitch be rendered credible. Except that, the cellphone in his pocket, the lap-top in his shoulder-bag, both argue against his proposition. If Shaw could only see the horrors attendant upon the extraction of the minerals that make them work; the super-exploitative megafactories in which they are assembled; then he would understand just how crushing the planetary burden off-loaded by his new-found “green” capitalist friends truly is.

As for the Greens’ female co-leader, Marama Davidson. Perhaps the best that can be said of her performance is that it has been distinguished by neither wisdom, nor justice. Nor even by a conspicuous quantum to democracy – participatory or otherwise. Most notably absent has been the founding Green principle of Nonviolence. On the contrary, Davidson’s “woke” faction of the party, caught up in the ever-tightening coils of identity politics, have unleashed a level of emotional violence upon those it deems ideological heretics that must surely make the party’s founders weep.

How different is today’s Green caucus from the “magnificent seven” Green MPs who entered the House of Representatives so triumphantly in 1999. The New Zealand establishment recognised those Greens for what they were: enemies of the status-quo and certainly not the sort of people this country’s capitalists (not even those in the Labour Party!) felt the least bit comfortable about doing business with. Red-Greens they were called: a label which MPs Sue Bradford and Keith Locke wore with pride. Today, to be branded a Red is simply embarrassing: proof only of outdated thinking.

Even so, the National Party leader, Simon Bridges’, enthusiasm for Vernon Tava’s “Blue-Green” initiative is misplaced. Such an obvious example of right-wing “astroturfing” would produce little of electoral value. Besides, all of the time, effort and resources required to draw off enough votes to tip the Greens out of Parliament would, ultimately, be politically counter-productive. New Zealand Capitalism is much better served by leaving the existing Green Party exactly where it is.

Sitting comfortably in the boardroom: sporting a pale-green silk tie and wearing a dark blue suit.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 February 2019.


greywarbler said...

What if Shaw and the people that put him in as leader of the Greens, thought that it was essential to get National out and businesses getting a clear steer at developing green technology. If they got in the Greens could work on sustainability, and to do that they had to show that they weren't just tree-huggers, that pejorative word loved by the sneering right-wing? And wasn't that just facing reality - realpolitik unvarnished.

It is great to think about the three legs that Graham stands on. But thundering theories don't put out fires. Here in Nelson we are using water which is real, and if Shaw can help us preserve our supply of that by making better deals than the National Party and all its ticket-clippers; well, good. Let's keep them on their Party bus fulminating while the present Government protects us from the white-hot heat of the neoliberal-capitalistic-freemarket political system. Let him be. Don't set him up for a witch-burning to help save his soul. Let's see what his potions will heal or conjure up. We live in interesting times and it is impossible to predict how the game will play out. Let's keep barracking for Shaw and the Greens, and maybe Marama can help and speak for all who deserve assistance in their struggles for a life that gets better.

Wayne Mapp said...

It is of course the conceit of the left that the only authentic green party can be a fed green anticapitalist party.

There is a realistic alternative view point. Dismissing Kennedy Graham as being disingenuous and not authentic is part of the left conceit.

What is the realistic view point?

In what way is that capitalism At least in a controlled version, green.

The starting point would be a comparison between east and west Europe. Without question all of western Europe has a fundamentally better environmental record than any part of eastern Europe prior to 1990. The main reason being that western Europe are democracies ad therefore free societies, to a greater or lesser extent. That means the economy as well as social and environmental issues.

What are they key issues?

Transport; electric rail and efficient cars, all the product of the west, not the east, including electric cars.

Energy; Wind, Nuclear and gas as opposed to the coal and lignite of the east

Food; Much more focus on sustainability in part due the CAP, compared to the gross exploitation of farmland in the collectives of the east;

Nature Reserves; much more in the west than in the east.

Water and Air pollution; vastly superior in Western Europe than in the east.

Any trip to Europe comparing the East to the West tells an immediate story. Free societies are vastly superior for the environment and sustainability than any state imposed socialism.

So yes a Blue Green Party is realistic, or at least a Green Party that isn't permanently wedded to the left.

The general attack that free societies (for which free markets are inherent part) are bad for the environment is a completely false premise. It comes entirely from the smug view of the left that they are better people than the fascists/racists/ misogynists/pillagers that the totality of the right.

Big Dog Talking said...

Capitalism is killing the earth, do I understand your general thrust correctly?
Sadly for your argument the facts say otherwise, The countries with the better environmental track record, say Germany do a damn sight better than say Eastern Europe under the Soviets. Third world countries also tend to have a limited interest in the environment until capitalism frees them from hunger. As for social justice, freedom from violence etc, where would you rather live the capitalist UK or Venezuela.

Jens Meder said...

But is not full Socialism - the social ownership of all the means of production - state monopoly capitalism ?
And would not mixed capitalist Social Democracy between the extremes of Socialism (on the "Left") and libertarian (feudalistic) elite capitalism (on the "Right") both be converted into a more egalitarian also 100% economically participatory democracy at the very center of the political spectrum - through moving towards at least a minimally meaningful level of personal capital (assets and means of production) ownership potential by all citizens eventually ?

It is fair and self-evident, that the effort towards a greener world requires co-operation (and some austerity?) by all, and beside perhaps a drastic reduction of population (growth) and living standards - does not cleaner production in a sustainable way require more, rather than less - capital investment ?

Thus, could not compulsory solar panels for all housing be an effective green policy that requires more capitalism, i.e. saving and investment ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"As for social justice, freedom from violence etc, where would you rather live the capitalist UK or Venezuela."

Dammit, isn't there always someone who mentions Venezuela. As if that's the ambition of every social Democrat – an authoritarian corrupt state? Why don't you people mention Norway... Or Sweden.. Or Finland ...or Denmark? Would you sooner live in the UK or in Denmark? Particularly as the Tories are in the process of making a proper dog's breakfast of Brexit. Get over bloody Venezuela for Christ's sake.

greywarbler said...

Wayne Mapp
You are smug, your comment reeks of it, and the particular observations you make about the advantages of western society over 'eastern' have limited credibility. You are like the Queen riding along the boulevard which has been painted for her benefit and screens put over the less salubrious sectors. And not everything is as good as it appears; lakes from a distance may look cool and healthy, but have higher levels of various chemicals that have a negative impact on living things etc.

But I guess there is a check list of quick answers with which RWs can bat any leftish comment aside. The left make plenty of mistakes, and those can be alluded to. And they may not achieve the high efficiency that reliance on chemicals and technology coupled with imported cheap labour can achieve to meet competition, hopefully fulfil contracts and bring in excellent profits. What else matters, at the end of the day.

pat said...

too little too late missed the bus by about a lifetime

Nick J said...

Actually Wayne, there's an enormous piece of intellectual dishonesty in your comment. Yes, socialism communist style was environmentally destructive, in the same manner generation one Western industrialisation was. In citing the better performance of Western capitalism you blithely ignore the export of these industries to third world locations.

Chris has got it correct the growth based capitalism destroys environments, but I disagree it does so any worse than socialism. The reality is that consumer based industrial economies will destroy environments, anybody from top to bottom plays a part.

Jens Meder said...

Without reference to ideological theories and speculation, Swedes in a "matter of fact" way state that their Social Democratic welfare state is kept going by capitalism.

So, to improve or maintain (sustainably) our material living standards in more effectively green and egalitarian ways than what we have now, should we have relatively more state or private capitalism ?

sumsuch said...

Certainly this is the moment for intense collectivism, 100 times 1939, though that is the model to do it -- crisis management. I can now see the type of authoritarian divide and rule Trump symbolises is the American plutocrats' endgame for addressing climate-change, creating a racial praetorian guard around themselves. The Left's trump is achieving a talking pulpit. When most of them no longer know how to talk to the people.

This industrial revolution is an accounting trick, it's all deferred payment for finite resources. Insects and below with their quick generations will beat us thinkers hands down in the race to the tape. Designoid will vanquish designer. From a gardener spraying 100s of litres of glyphosate a year and meeting increasing resistance. But let's not forget the brilliance of this moment of avoiding our creditors(270 years).

The best thing we ever did was put democracy ahead of capitalism.

Thanks for the overview.

Wayne Mapp said...

It was the "capitalist death machine" and following comments that motivated my post. The assumption that capitalism is irredeemably bad for the environment and that by extension anyone in a conservative party is indifferent environmental destruction.

So yes I did refer to the Soviet Union's much worse record.

However as Nick J has pointed out that is not really the issue for the present. The Soviet Union died 30 years ago.

Can a blue Green party be anything other than a spoiler for the current Green Party? Electoral history in New Zealand would indicate that there is unlikely to be 10% or more votes for two Green parties, one a red Green party, the other a blue Green party. It would be good if there were, but that will require taking some votes off the two major parties.

A blue Green party (compared the existing Green party), I would assume would put a lot more focus on the existing biodiversity of the conservation estate. Lets say a doubling or trebling of the conservation vote. I don't think farming could be left off the hook. Way too much of Fonterra's advertising in support of improved environmental farming practices is green washing. A lot more has to be done to protect water courses. A one metre planted strip is simply not enough. Presumably incentives for electric cars. And sustainable buildings.

A lot of this is in common with the existing Green party, but it is not associated with a "capitalism is bad message" which seemed to me to infuse Chris Trotter's item. Hence my response, which was probably overstated (and with no spell check - my apologies for that).

In the event two green parties could survive in our electoral system (unlikely. but possible), I imagine there would quickly be pressures for them to merge, because the survival of either would be electorally precarious.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Unregulated capitalism is definitely "irredeemably bad for the environment". Because the externalities are lumped on the back of the people. Sometimes these externalities are relatively minor – fixable by the people. Sometimes they are horrendously expensive and the damage is "irredeemable". That's the problem with unregulated capitalism, by the time the damage is done it's too bloody late, people are dead, cod is pretty much gone away, and rivers are ruined.

sumsuch said...

Really appreciate you, Wayne, as I've said plurally. Far better than the supposed 'Left' MPs who disappear after Parliament. Though David Farrar won't let me into his Blog with the hundreds of taxi-drivers/talkback listeners commenting, cliffing it over we lovers of proof and fairness (the NZ ideal?).

You know if as has happened right round the world the NZ Right takes the route of unscientific bullshit that will leave you out in the cold? The only thing that prevents that is the egalitarianism in all our blood, versus, close to home, the silliness of the Australian Right. Isn't it indicting of the Right that they take these divide and rule paths , Wayne? Though I recognise the Right has legitimate opinions about money -- just the means to conjure consent are frequently dire.

The Greens are inherently to the left of Labour. You've seen their incessant protests against business where it costs the environment and business is one long call on finite resources not logged in balance sheets. This brilliant solar explosion of human potential since 1750 has been magnificent but there's an end to it. And so to a capitalist view. Now to management, intelligence and 'rationing'. Any alternative is for the powerful, or plutocracy.

Nick J said...

Wayne, I think you should read this

There is a table that tells a sorry tale even for those Nordic EU paragons.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Wayne
Capitalism and socialism both sound fine as idealized systems. In practice they always depart from the ideal, and the degree of departure is proportionate to the distance by which they remove themselves from the more fundamental values of compassion, kindness, generosity, respect, tolerance, honesty and integrity.
The problem with fascism, Marxist socialism and neo-liberal capitalism is that they are secular and materialist systems in which qualities such as self denial and compassion have no integral role. This absence detrimentally affects their respective environmental and social impacts.
I guess the one thing that can be said in favour of socialism is that while the damages of neo-liberal capitalism result from the unrestrained expression of capitalism's core values, the many failures of socialism arise out of the perversion and abuse of true socialist values.
Yet at the end of the day, the nature of our struggle to save the land and its people is not very different under the government of Jacinda Ardern than it was under John Key.
The one thing that could make a difference is integrity. A leader who said the same thing in public as they would in private. A leader whose conversations with BusinessNZ or the US Ambassador would be effectively indistinguishable from their side of discussions on the marae or at the local school hall. If we got that much, it would not matter too much whether they wore red and green, blue and green or plain red, green or blue on their lapels.
For the moment, we have no reason to trust politicians. We look at the structures and outcomes of supposedly democratic political systems and realize that in their given form they cannot serve the true and long term needs of humanity.
So these two things go together. We need restoration of values, and renewal of institutions if we are to meet the challenges of this century. By simply opting for "free market capitalism" or "socialism" we fail to address the fundamental issues of the crisis of capitalist civilization.

sumsuch said...

Socialism, in its favour, places the economy second to the people. As democracy attempts to do notionally. I.e. Socialism right. By all the evidence. Nominal subordination at the least by socialist mode. Let us do as we let them. Is socialism the economic version of democracy? The last 35 years suggest so.

Not a good PM since working class Norm Kirk. Middle-classians...