Protecting the Planet

(a WEA course)


Week 9 – the environment movement continued:

political parties, radical movements in developing countries, philosophies.



Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Weeks 6 & 7

Week 8

Imagining Other Index Page  




In this last session I want to show how most environmental groups are based on – or at least recognise – a philosophy that (i) explains our relationship to the environment and (ii) guides us on how we need to behave if we are to go on surviving in the world.


1. Political parties: the Green Party (England and Wales).


1.1 Beyond right and left:


The fact that ‘greens’ have set up their own parties shows that the green movement/green politics goes beyond traditional political parties/lines: why should environmentalism be seen as either right-wing or a left-wing ideology? Both right and left political positions can be environmentally concerned: members of the ‘old left’ oppose materialism and consumerism; and some on the right say ‘man’ is part of nature… However, (radical) greens criticise both socialism and capitalism for their similarities in practice in relation to the poor treatment of the environment: a planned economy is not by definition environmentally sound (and the Soviet Union and China have damaged the environment), and the free market has also been shown to be destructive. Perhaps the problem is development – whether done under capitalist or socialist methods... (see below)


But green parties’ policies include social justice and a concern for democracy, and the greens have taken up a stance on all sorts of issues (defence, NHS, housing, poverty etc). See below...


On the environment, some Green Parties have suffered from their success in getting the green message across, since other, mainstream (‘grey’) parties have adopted some green policies (or said they will)…


Membership: in UK is mostly comprised of professionals (50%) – especially from the caring professions, teaching etc; and many members are graduates.


1.2 Aims:


From ‘What we stand for’: ‘a political system that puts the people first, an economy that gives everyone their fair share, a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs, a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come.’


1.3 The 4 pillars of green politics, which have been agreed by many green parties:

(a) ecological wisdom: to change our relationship to nature, to achieve a harmonious coexistence with other forms of life on Earth


(b) social justice: rejecting any form of discrimination (race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, sexual orientation) to ensure that all benefit from the way we relate to the environment, and that in particular the poor are not hurt by changes demanded by the rich,


(c) participatory grassroots democracy: as with (b) green parties are aware of the connection between our exploitation of each other and our exploitation of the natural environment. The slogan ‘think globally, act locally’ encapsulates this idea.


(d) non-violence: for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Violence goes along with exploitation, and with the unfair distribution of goods and power; violence is ultimately behind all positions of power; it would be inconsistent to use violence to bring about a more fair and sustainable world.


1.4 Some specific policies - 2017:

By means of: secure jobs for all by restoring the public sector and having a wealth tax on the top 1%,  Living Wage of £10 an hour by 2020, public services in public hands, renewable energy, more social rented homes, no tuition fees, better public transport. The ‘Green New Deal’ is seen by many as the only way to tackle the financial crisis and the environmental crisis at the same time: we need to invest for energy security (renewables etc), in a way that leads to low-carbon development and kick-starts the economy (creating ‘green’ new jobs and reducing unemployment).


Current issues:

-         (before the budget): the crisis in the NHS together with the effects of air pollution (40,000 early deaths a year) must be dealt with by (i) emergency aid package for health and social services (ii) tougher action on air pollution (iii) protection of small firms from business rates hike (iv) more tax should be paid by the richest and by the biggest corporations (v) reverse the tax on solar power

-         (after): the 2017 budget fails to address the challenges of our time

-         can the UK could revoke Article 50 after it has been triggered? ‘Taking back control’ should mean that the people have a say, by means of a ratification referendum, on the terms of the exit – the referendum was the start of a process, not the end.


Overview of policies:


-           for voting reform (STV), Bill of Rights, Freedom of Info, devolution to the regions

-           unilateral nuclear disarmament, leaving NATO,

-           on the EU: to strengthen parliament and weaken Council of Ministers,

-           to cancel third world debt, increase aid, spend more on sustainable agriculture

-           opposing nuclear energy, for resource taxation rather than VAT/income tax

-           no new roads – more canals, rail, buses; new planning regulations so no out-of-town shopping

-           more local recycling etc

-           a radical economic policy: no economic growth, restructuring and reducing international trade; opposing WTO, GATT; opposing multinational investment in Britain – rather: smaller companies producing for domestic market; local trade, barter, LETS, local banks...

-           on human rights: rights for women, gay, disabled, racial minorities etc

-           for animal rights: no vivisection by students except for some medical research; ending factory

            farming, and imports of rare animals, circus use of animals etc.


1.5 Current (2017) Co-leaders: Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas MP (for Brighton, since 2010).


Other key figures 2015:


Baroness Jenny Jones (Lords)

MEPs: Jean Lambert (London), Keith Taylor (South East) Molly Scott Cato (South West).

London Assembly: Sian Berry, Caroline Russell

More than 160 councillors across England and Wales



1.6 History:


In England, the first environmental party was founded in 1972 by, among others, Tony Whittaker (Obituary Guardian10th May 2016): influenced by the writings of Paul Ehrlich (who predicted a collapse if population growth and pollution were not checked).


The party was called ‘People’ at first, then the Ecology Party (1975), then the Green Party (1984). Another influence was Edward Goldsmith’s Blueprint for Survival (1972), which was signed by more than 30 leading scientists. It grew quickly, with 40 groups in the early 1970s, and candidates standing in the election of 1974. Only after 1979 did it have enough candidates for a TV election broadcast time.


However, it usually only gets 1 – 3% of the vote in the UK (except when it got 15% in the 1989 Euro elections – perhaps a fluke?). German and French Greens routinely get 5 – 8% nationally and 10% + in European elections.


A factor in its lack of success is undoubtedly the First Past The Post electoral system... – but it is still a puzzle as to why it does not get more votes when so many ordinary people are involved (in pressure-groups etc) in protecting the environment? 


Its weakness may be that it relies too heavily on the notion of personal transformation and lifestyle politics; this may lead to a limit on the number of people it will attract, and it won’t be, as a party, a strong enough agency for change... (Goodin 1992).


Further details of the UK Green Party can be found at: social movements - the environment movement


1.7 In Europe:


The greens were the first to form a political party at European level. 34 parties have joined. In the 2009 elections they won 4 seats. In alliance with European Free Alliance Group it has formed the Greens-European Free Alliance group (Greens/EFA). totals 51 MEPs (out of 751), and it is one of the largest groups in the European Parliament.


2. For me, there are three fundamental questions that the environment movement needs to face, that have not been confronted in these notes so far:


2.1 first there is the question of the nature of science and technology – whether our obsession with finding new scientific discoveries and new technologies hasn’t blinded us to the damage we have been causing the environment. ‘Soft’ or ‘alternative’ technologies have been devised to deal with this.


2.2 next there is a political question, about the distribution of power in society, and how that might affect our relationship with the environment. This issue is addressed by philosophies such as eco-socialism, eco-feminism, social ecology and deep ecology


2.3 finally there is the fact of the huge gap that exists between the developed and the less-developed world – and this gap can be seen particularly clearly when we look at how the two groups of people interact with the environment. Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’ (Penguin 2014) argues powerfully that we need to learn from these ‘excluded’ and oppressed indigenous peoples, as many of them have lived with a philosophy that does enable us to live harmoniously with the Earth.


2.1 Science and Technology – ‘soft’ or ‘alternative’ or ‘appropriate’ technology:


The key to understanding alternative (or “soft” or “appropriate”) technology is the realisation that technology is not neutral – it does not simply develop as we progress, but it is developed as a result of the way that certain problems are defined and certain kinds of solution are sought. In other words, technology varies with the kind of society in which it is found, and this is not simply a question of some societies being under-developed. ‘Progress’ is a dangerously empty word in the context of technology. There is nothing “inevitable” about the discovery of certain kinds of technology, or technological “advances”. What we define as an advance will depend on our social goals and values.

What has happened in the developed world is that we have developed technologies (and work processes) which:


put machines and production before people: the working conditions of most people in the early stages of industrialisation were appalling, (and the whole process was built on the proceeds of slavery anyway) – but the promise was held out of a better future, and workers were told that these sacrifices were worth making.  But, whilst some people’s standard of living improved – especially the employers’ - the work process was alienating, industrial disease and injury has continued to scar large numbers of workers to this day, and workers mostly lived in slum conditions


centralise power and control: right from the earliest changes brought about by industrialisation, i.e. mechanisation, the ability of the worker to control his/her own work was taken away – no longer were most people self-employed peasants or craftsmen, working the hours they chose, with the tools and techniques they chose. Instead the managers and factory owners controlled the clock and the work process. The corollary of this was the growth of the “expert” who knew how to manage work and machinery – workers’ skills were no longer trusted (‘Taylorism’ – time and motion studies etc). Managers in the factory, and then managers and owners working together in their associations, replaced trade unions not only with their power to organise work, but with political power too (managerialism)


pollute the environment and consume energy wastefully: it was cheaper to run a machine by steam power than to use human strength, especially since coal seemed plentiful. The air, rivers and the sea were “free”, (‘externalities’), so there was no need to worry about running out of it, or about pollution causing real damage. Coal, oil and raw materials seemed to be plentiful, “God-given”. And of course the political power of the colonial countries that were the first to develop ensured that a “reasonable” price was maintained: and competing industry (e.g. cotton in India) was destroyed as soon as it became a threat to the UK economy.


More recently, India has given an example of how the developed world has taken advantage of farmers in the less developed world: during the ‘green revolution’ in 1965, after a serious drought, India was offered High Yield Seed varieties by the US as a condition of receiving food aid. These needed pesticides and fertilizers which, again, the US would provide. The country also had to comply with terms of trade and ‘market competition’ that the developed world was promoting. After an initial boost in food production, the long-term result has been dependency and debt: the fertilizers and seed are, naturally, costly. They were also encouraged to grow cotton as a cash-crop – again, the high-yield seeds etc were costly, but what could they do? When India tried to modernize further in the 1980s, it was subject to Structural Adjustment Programmes, whereby financial support from IMF and World Bank was only offered on condition of neo-liberal reforms. When India joined the WTO in 1994, its markets had to be opened to compete with subsidised imports from the US – cotton prices fell, and India became the third largest importer of cotton in the world!


The idea of soft/alternative/appropriate technology grew out of this analysis, and out of the needs of developing countries: rather than believing that our machines and factories and other forms of technology would be useful wherever they could be sent (or sold!), it is argued that each local community needs to decide what are its priorities for work, social life, environmental impact and economic growth. Then, appropriate technology can be developed to meet these needs.


Thus, in a society (e.g. China) where labour is plentiful and the standard of living does not require high wages, it is cheaper to use labour-intensive methods than capital-intensive ones. A “human chain” of people carrying rocks in baskets employs more people than one truck driver – moreover, should the truck go wrong, who would know how to repair it? 


In case this is thought fanciful or simplistic, aid agencies at the United Nations learned the hard way, in the middle of the last century, that sending tractors out to developing countries to help with the ploughing was mostly a waste of time, since tractors can only run when there is available fuel, labour to maintain them, and available spare parts. (Of course, this might suit developed countries – since it sets up a relationship of dependency, as we saw in the section on the third world).


Other examples of “low level” appropriate technology include using reeds to make egg cartons (rather than paper or plastic), bicycle-power or wind-power to run pumps or to generate electricity – since all of these use locally available raw materials, are non-polluting, and can easily be maintained.


2.2 The real problem is Power:


(i) Eco-socialism

Eco-socialism blames the capitalist form of industrial and economic growth – and not industrialism as such – for environmental damage. That is, there is a profound imbalance of power between the capitalists (owners) and the workers (who can only sell their labour).


Eco-socialists also argue that poverty is the root cause of environmental destruction (for example the burning of dung as fuel for cooking in poor countries...), and if wealth were better distributed there would be less damage...


One variety of socialism argues for state or public control of the economy. However, the old Soviet Union and its East European partners did more damage to the environment than many capitalist countries. However, there is another socialist perspective, as Steven Rose (G 21.08.10) points out (reviewing Red Plenty by Francis Spufford). The Soviet Union tried to use the ‘science’ of Marxism combined with ‘cybernetics’ (how systems could exhibit apparently goal-directed behaviour without consciousness) and computerization, but didn’t realise that ‘systems work best when self-organised from below, not centrally planned from above in a command economy.’


(ii) Eco-feminism


Feminists, both radical and socialist, look at the possible links between the domination of women and of the environment: is nature – wrongly – ‘feminised’, and are women seen as more ‘natural’ or ‘closer to nature? [See my notes on The Enlightenment (enl9raceslaverywomen.htm) and on Feminism (pp21feminism.htm)]. If this is how nature is seen, no wonder it is dominated and exploited! One of my favourite ‘villains’ here is Francis Bacon, who was one of the first people to formulate the ‘scientific method’ and whose view of nature was that it was ‘a woman, reluctant to give up its secrets’ unless forced to do so...


Vandana Shiva – campaigner and author of 15 books, she started training as a nuclear physicist until she realised the effects of nuclear radiation on life forms - (see more below) points out: ‘You know, a lot of the power of the rulers comes from what Bacon said, the marriage of knowledge with power, a particular kind of knowledge, a very mechanistic knowledge that defined nature as dead—and, on the other side, women as passive. So, the exception to the rulers, in this case, is about resurrecting the knowledges that are about the living Earth and our tradition.’


Some feminists, then, (not all!) use the idea that women have special qualities as a way of developing an eco-feminist outlook.


Val Plumwood from Australia (who died in 2008) is one example, see: Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1992). See her story of how she survived being attacked by a crocodile – an experience that changed her view of our place in nature: see Val Plumwood. After being caught by a crocodile, and being subjected to the ‘death roll’ three times, she manages to escape. She realises she had intruded on the crocodile’s space, and rejects her friends’ idea of shooting it. Then she comes to a realisation:

‘It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain. This denial that we ourselves are food for others is reflected in many aspects of our death and burial practices. The strong coffin, conventionally buried well below the level of soil fauna activity, and the slab over the grave to prevent any other thing from digging us up, keeps the Western human body from becoming food for other species. Horror movies and stories also reflect this deep-seated dread of becoming food for other forms of life:

This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food. The outrage we experience at the idea of a human being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. The idea of human prey threatens the dualistic vision of human mastery in which we humans manipulate nature from outside, as predators but never prey. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, but we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles. This is one reason why we now treat so inhumanely the animals we make our food, for we can not imagine ourselves similarly positioned as food. We act as if we live in a separate realm of culture in which we are never food, while other animals inhabit a different world of nature in which they are no more than food, and their lives can be utterly distorted in the service of this end.

[After the encounter] I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, 'This can't be happening to me, I'm a human being, I am more than just food!' was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction, from a complex human being to a mere piece of meat.  Reflection has persuaded me that not just humans but any creature can make the same claim to be more than just food. We are edible, but we are also much more than edible. Respectful, ecological eating must recognize both of these things. I was a vegetarian at the time of my encounter with the crocodile, and remain one today. This is not because I think predation itself is demonic and impure, but because I object to the reduction of animal lives in factory farming systems that treat them as living meat.

Thus the story of the crocodile encounter ... is a humbling and cautionary tale about our relationship with the earth, about the need to acknowledge our own animality and ecological vulnerability.’

More recently (From www.fusion.net – March 8th 2017: International Women’s Day) a Native American leader, Eryn Wise, who has been resisting the Dakota Access pipeline, when asked what is the connection between environmental activism and being a feminist, said: ‘I definitely think the Earth is female. Water is female. This Earth is a life-giver, and I am a life-giver... without these resources, without these delicate, fragile beautiful ecosystems, we wouldn’t exist. [My] ‘feminism side is for equality of the sexes while my environmental side is for equality for all those who cannot speak for themselves. The ones in the sky and the ones in Earth, and the ones walking beside us that we don’t see, and all the plants and everything that tries so hard to love us in the best way it knows how...


The trees, the water, the animals, the Earth...[have] nourished me so much. And I feel it’s my job now to give and nourish back.’


(iii) Social ecology

For Murray Bookchin, 1990, the source of problem is intra-human domination – an anarchist approach?


“The very concept of dominating nature stems from the domination of human by human, indeed of women by men, of the young by their elders, of one ethnic group by another, of society by the state, of the individual by bureaucracy, as well as of one economic class by another or a colonised people by a colonising power”


Social ecology doesn’t say that anthropocentrism is at the root of our exploitation of nature, rather: humans create value, and the issue is why some things and some people are under-valued… Social ecology raises crucial question about ‘domination’: how widespread is it? Why do some need to dominate others?



How intriguing to find (Weds 11 March 2015) a reference to the Kurds of the PKK following a political system similar to that recommended by Murray Bookchin:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/10/revolutionary-kurdish-isis-ivana-hoffman This is very much a women’s revolution as well: Mehmet Aksoy says: ‘the first revolution, the agricultural revolution, was instituted by women, and the first counter-revolution and the first negative hierarchies were created by men.’


(iv) Deep ecology – e.g. Fritjof Capra, 1982, Arne Naess 1984.


Environmental damage results from the human relationship with the environment, (not intra-human issues) – i.e. from anthropocentrism. If we see ourselves as the centre of the universe, or as the most important part of, then we de-value everything else, and then animals, plants, and the environment, only exist for us, and we only care about destruction because (and when) it affects us.


Here, nature is ‘intrinsically’ valuable – i.e. for itself, not for what it gives us.


Update: Recently Bolivia, influenced by indigenous peoples, has legislated to give rights to the natural environment. 11th April from the Guardian – by John Vidal:



The 3.5 million-strong CSUTC de Bolivia (Confederacion Sindical Unica de Trabajadores) helped to draft the law – the biggest social movement in the country.


Ecuador has also given rights to nature, giving it “the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure and functions and its processes in evolution.” 


However, the Amazon is still being destroyed by oil companies and others.


From Bolivia: “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organisation.”


[I return to other ‘indigenous’ views below.]


Arne Naess:

For an obituary and further information on Arne Naess see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/15/obituary-arne-naess  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arne_N%C3%A6ss


Naess argued for: limits to economic growth, i.e. cuts in consumption, a reassessment of the concept of human need, communal growth, and even restricting population growth...


Fritjof Capra tries to find links between the very latest scientific theories (20th century particle physics, complexity theory in maths) and mysticism, Taoism etc – see:

http://www.fritjofcapra.net/bibliography.html. (See also: Pepper 1986, and Dobson 1990).


Capra is also involved in the Shumacher Centre, which promotes ‘alternative [or ‘soft’] technology’ etc. Fritz Schumacher advocated ‘Buddhist economics’: suffering in the world is caused by ‘attachment’ (primarily but not only to things...) and as all humans find it difficult to be non-attached, so all suffer, and all deserve compassion. See also Resurgence magazine, edited by Satish Kumar, of the British Wheel of Yoga. I shall finish this section (below) with quotes from another Buddhist, Joanna Macy.


2.3 The gap between developed and less-developed countries, world-wide movements and indigenous peoples (the ‘excluded’) – and what we can learn from them


Most greens would agree that we need to base our society on other values (Goodin 1992) than those we have at present. These would include, I suggest, humility and compassion (the fundamental Buddhist value) for suffering animals, and, even, for plants and other living organisms – for the whole of the natural environment. It is striking to me how many indigenous peoples, together with the poor in less-developed countries (Malaysia, India, Brazil – see Yearley 1992) are defending this way of being in the world...


(i) La Via Campesina (The Peasants’ Way)


The Ecologist (April 2009) had an article on this: it is a grassroots organisation to defend the way of life of peasants in developing countries and to resist globalisation. Launched in 1993, it draws on supporters in more than 60 countries across five continents. The 5th International Conference was held in 2008 in Mozambique.


La Via Campesina does not simply ‘say no’ to global policies, it has developed an exchange programme to share skills (Campesino a Campesino). International campaigns now focus on ‘food sovereignty’… See www.viacampesina.org


India: a success story: in August 2010 the Vedanta company’s plans to mine for bauxite on a hill area in India were blocked by the government. The government cited potential violation of forest conservation, tribal rights and environmental protection laws in the state of Orissa. The Niyamgiri Hills are sacred to local tribal groups, and the campaign received widespread international support: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/aug/24/vedanta-mining-industry-india


(ii) Mother Earth:

The indigenous Andean spiritual view is that Pachamama (Earth Mother) is at the centre of all life, and for Australian aborigines the relationship is with mother/father/grandmother etc... In ‘My People’s Dreaming’ (Finch Publishing, Sydney), Max Dulumunmun Harrison says:


‘Begin with Mother Earth:


Mother Earth births everything for us. Father Sky carries the water and oxygen for us to breathe. Grandfather Sun warms the planet, warms our body, gives us light so we can see, raises the food that the Mother births and raises most of our relations, all our plants and trees. Grandmother Moon moves the water and gives us the woman-time and our birthing.’


Mayan and Toltec ideas are explained in the Ecologist magazine, Jan 2009, (article by Nicola Graydon – and see Don Miguel: The Four Agreements). ‘Toltec’ means ‘artist of the spirit’ – we are spirits with limitless creative imaginations. For the Toltec, humanity is one strand in the vast web of creation, and ‘all of humanity is just one organ of the earth. The atmosphere is another organ, so are the forests and the oceans. Each organ creates the equilibrium on earth that we call its metabolism. As an organ of the earth, we are part of that metabolism… One of our functions… is to transform energy. We do that through what we call ‘awareness’… the human mind is programmed to dream: to perceive, to create a symbology, to create a story – and give a sense to everything that exists.’


(iii) Tayyab:

In Islam there is a concept of tayyab – roughly: ‘ethical and wholesome’ (linked to, but going beyond halal). As Shelina Janmohamed says in Generation M: ‘Resources must be properly respected, workers in primary industries must not be exploited. Sustainability and renewability are part of the Islamic idea of ‘stewardship of the Earth’ which generation M eco-Muslims are championing.’

This idea is of course like the Christian notion of ‘stewardship’, deriving from the Creation story – I believe it was only after Adam and Eve sinned that the hostility to nature and animals began.


3. Ideas that bring together all the above: a critique of science and technology, the question of power, and the need to involve the ‘excluded’


3.1 Vandana Shiva. (See also: notes on climate change - updates).


Dec. 2013: - from an interview with Amy Goodman on women and the environment/climate change etc (from Democracy Now!):

‘So it's a combination of major grassroots mobilization as well as dealing with the paradigm wars. And I think the challenge of this summit is to put forth another paradigm about how to live on the Earth—what the Earth is first, she’s not a—you know, she’s not there to be engineered, she’s not bits of dead rock; she is the living Earth that we were reminded about—and also, through that, bring forth another leadership for another world, because we don’t want leadership in that rotten world of destruction. It’s not worth it anyway. It’s not going to last too long.

[Emissions trading didn’t work]: ‘Arcelor—the Mittal family, which bought up all the steel plants, ... he made a billion a year just through these emissions trading.’ [Nor did funding for Clean Development Mechanisms]: ‘This year (2013) we had the most intensive rains, and a glacial lake burst, and flooding like I’ve never seen in my life took place. Twenty thousand people have died in my region [in India], the region where the Chipko movement started. The damage was accelerated by hydro projects, which were all getting Clean Development Mechanism money, in addition to all the benefits government gives.’

The Chipko movement resisted industrial forestry and logging in rural India – one of the most successful environmental struggles in the world. Local women put their bodies in the way to stop trees being cut down. Indira Gandhi the prime minister eventually declared a 15-year moratorium on logging in the Himalayan forests in Uttar Pradesh.

‘Agriculture, industrial globalized agriculture is 40 percent of the greenhouse gases. We can do something about it today... So, even though it might look a bit strange, but I think creating organic farms and organic gardens is the single biggest climate solution, but it’s also the single biggest food security solution. And given the economic crisis, [in America and in Europe] ...  what I’m telling them all is go back to the land. You know, the banks messed up your lives. The governments have given up on you with their austerity programs. But the Earth will never abandon you. She is inviting you to be co-creators and co-producers so that we can solve all these multiple problems, which are interconnected.

And I think if there’s one thing women can bring to this discussion, ... [is] the capacity to have compassion [which] is the capacity to see connections. That’s the disease that the deeply patriarchal mindset has not been able to overcome, that they can’t transcend fragmentation and separation and thinking in silos, and, worse, thinking as if we are separate from the Earth, and therefore, as masters and conquerors, ... And I think we need to give a message saying, no, the Earth was not made by you, therefore you can’t fool around further. You’ve already messed up enough. Stop these geo-engineering experiments. ... We need to tell them this world is about life, not just about your profits and your bottom line, so don’t reduce everything to a commodity, and don’t financialize every function of the Earth and all her gifts.’


3.2 Naomi Klein.

Some points from ‘This Changes Everything’ (Penguin 2014)

Renewable energy should be organised under the control of, and for the benefit of, local communities: ‘roughly half of Germany’s renewable energy facilities are in the hands of farmers, citizen groups, and almost 900 energy co-operatives.’ Roughly 85% of Danish wind turbines were (in 2000) owned by small farmers and co-ops.’

Renewables are available now, can be democratically controlled, and are far less risky than nuclear power – as comedian Bill Maher once observed, ‘You know what happens when windmills collapse into the sea? A splash.’


‘Proponents of research on geoengineering simply keep ignoring the fact that the biosphere is a player (not just a responder) in whatever we do, and its trajectory cannot be predicted. It is a living breathing collection of organisms (mostly microorganisms) that are evolving every second – a ‘self-organising, complex, adaptive system’... These types of systems have emergent properties that simply cannot be predicted.’


‘The fight against violent resource extraction and the fight for greater community control, democracy and sovereignty are two sides of the same coin’ – witness the struggle of the Ogoni against the rape of their land for oil.


‘The need to adapt to nature is what drives some people mad about renewables: even at a very large scale, they require a humility that is the antithesis of damming a river, blasting a bedrock for gas, or harnessing the power of the atom. They demand that we adapt ourselves to the rhythms of natural systems, as opposed to bending those systems to our will with brute force engineering... they require us to think closely about where we live, to pay attention to things like when the sun shines, and when the wind blows, where and when rivers are fierce and when they are weak... Renewables, at least the way Henry red Cloud sees them, require us to unlearn the myth that we are the masters of nature.’ [We need a ‘partnership ethic’].


She cites Transition Towns – which develop local democracy - as a way forward: started in Totnes in Devon in 2006, there are now more than 460 such locations in at least 43 countries world-wide. They undertake an ‘energy descent plan’ – a collectively drafted blueprint for lowering emissions and weaning itself off fossil fuels. The process opens up rare spaces for participatory democracy – sharing ideas about everything from how to increase their food security to building more efficient affordable housing.


However, she also argues that ‘only mass social movements can save us now’ – because only such movements can change the dominant culture. These are likely to include ‘environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by Indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.’


3.3 Joanna Macy: Indigenous ideas combined with Buddhism and psychotherapy:


Notes on Learning to See in the Dark by Joanna Macy: Macey calls her practical work, often with people recovering from trauma: The Work that Reconnects... [In the Dark, the Eye Learns to See – the title of one of her workshops, is borrowed from Theodore Roethke’s ‘In a Dark Time’ and echoes Martin Luther King: ‘Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars’.]


Her work is done ‘using certain methods drawn from systems theory and spiritual teachings – from most traditions but primarily from Indigenous and Buddhist – to overcome the fragmenting of our culture through the hyper-individualism... that has produced, first unwittingly but then wittingly, a sense of isolation.’


She argues that if you have to spend all your time thinking about yourself, nurturing your separate ego, ‘that leaves you very little to fall back on if you have to confront something unpleasant...’ – be that the ‘criminal activities of your own government’ (Donald Trump has just been elected US president when this is written), the conflict in the world, the appalling inequality and suffering, or the wider environmental crisis.


People don’t respond if you keep telling them how awful something is – apathy grabs them, in the sense of wanting to be without passion i.e. without fear. Macy’s work with people is designed to get them to discover that ‘acceptance of that discomfort and pain actually reflected the depths of your caring and commitment to life.’ Goebbels and the Nazis knew that to control people you need to scare them.


Hannah Arendt says, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951): ‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.’ The American mind has been ‘shattered, fragmented’ - by the falsities of the media, its diet of ‘pap’ and entertainment, the poverty of the education system, the ‘culture bred on competition, command and control, power over – which we inherited from patriarchy...’ 


However, she begins the book with an epigram from her teacher Karl Jaspers: ‘Give in neither to the past nor the future. What matters is to be entirely present.’


She believes we are in the midst of a ‘great unraveling’ but at the same time we need to embark on ‘the great turning’ – away from ‘the industrial growth society’.


But this is not something we can do alone – ‘alone you get overwhelmed, and it becomes traumatising’. Once people overcome their ‘reluctance to suffer with our world... then they found their unity with our world.’ A sense of bondedness, of relief, of laughter and joking... of a shaking off of a kind of spell or curse.’ ‘People dare to be comfortable with uncertainty if they are in solidarity with one another.’


[Note: this relates to the Buddhist notion of compassion – we are bound to feel compassion, and solidarity, once we realise that we are all subject to the same anxieties and fears...]


What’s more, when you are less dependent on someone else to sort things out for you, you become stronger in yourself, have more self-respect. 


She at first thought that she was doing the work as a way of making us more effective agents of change, but now she says ‘I’m doing this work so that when things fall apart we will not turn on each other.’  Totalitarian systems turn people against each other: we don’t need to see each other as enemies, because we all share a caring for living. And the economic system compels people to go on behaving the same way – we should feel compassion for people trapped in the system as well.


[Conflict can only be avoided by feelings of compassion and solidarity]


Links with sarvodaya – waking up together – and ‘there is almost no limit... to what we can do with the love and support of each other. There is almost no limit to what we can do for the sake of each other. .. That’s that hero figure of Mahayana Buddhism, ‘the one with the boundless heart’, the one who realises there is no private salvation.’ 


‘So it will be different for different individuals. But I think we should not make a move to do things alone. Find others. Even if it’s one other person to begin with. Then others will come. Because everybody is lonely. And everybody is ready to find out what they most want...

So: little study groups, and book groups, make a garden together. Keep your ear to the ground. Inform each other. We have to develop the skill of finding that it’s more fun to be waking up together, than a single lone star on the stage.’



A short booklist:

Bahro, R. 1984: From Red to Green, Blackwell

                  1986: Building the Green Movement, New Society

Beck, U. 1992: Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage

Bookchin, M. (e.g.) 1997: The Politics of Social Ecology, Black Rose Books   

Capra, F. 1982: The Turning Point, Simon & Schuster.

Capra, F. and Spretnak, C. 1984: Green Politics, Hutchinson

Chase, S. (ed) 1991: Defending the Earth: a dialogue between Dave Foreman and Murray Bookchin,

            South End Press

Davis, J. and Foreman, D. 1991: The Earth First! Reader, Peregrine Smith

Dobson, A. 1991: The Green Reader, Andre Deutsch

                   1995: Green Political Thought, Routledge

Goodin, D. 1990: Green Political Theory, Polity

Gorz, A. (e.g.) 1979: Ecology as Politics, South End Press

Merchant, C. 1992: Radical Ecology, Routledge

Naess, A. 1989: Ecology, Community and Lifestyle, ed. Rothenberg, Cambridge Univ. Press.

Pepper, D. 1984: The Roots of Modern Environmentalism, Croom Helm

                    1993: Eco-socialism: Routledge

Porritt, J. 1984: Seeing Green, Blackwell.