by Claire Browning
Beyond Today: a values story is the Green party’s story. On the Greens’ fortieth birthday, it says Values is a history of which the party should be very proud, and values are the new politics
We need the quants, and the poets, both. We need the activists and the Members of Parliament, the individuals, and the collectivists.
We need Green values. We need us all.
Let us begin.
So ends Beyond Today: a values story, to be launched at the Greens’ AGM on June 1, 2012.
May 30 is the anniversary of the 1972 launch of the Values Party, and the whole day on June 1 will be about Values: a Values reunion, fortieth birthday celebration and book launch, co-located with the AGM.
Beyond Today: a values story is all about the Greens. It’s a book about the past, and a hopeful future. It’s taken me the best part of a year to write, in my moonlight hours; and it owes Pundit quite a lot, because the first drafts started here.
It’s prefaced by a quote from Paul Kingsnorth, who isn’t hopeful at all: he writes blogs with titles like “On the correct management of despair” and thinks that the best way to spend his time now is climbing The Dark Mountain. “Join us,” he writes “we leave at dawn”.
As Kingsnorth – environmentalist, recovering activist – tells it, the green movement has been taken over by “quants”, has lost its way in the corridors of business and power. He writes witheringly of eco-socialism: “a conflation of concepts that pretty much guarantees the instant hostility of 95% of the population”.
He dismisses sustainability, concurring with Alex Steffen, that for too many people it means trying to sustain the anthropocene, not the Holocene, in which we make and shape the world, and it’s all about what our species wants - not the climate in which we evolved, or the Nature of whom we are part.
He thinks green politics has lost sight of its roots and sold its soul:
I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming. … I am leaving. I am going to go out walking …
Beyond Today: a values story is my answer to Kingsnorth, because I think he and I are talking about the same things: ecocentrism, transformation not business as usual, but above all, the importance of a story, a clear and simple story about what it means to be green.
He thinks that the best we can do now is prepare for the worst – but to me, the story still matters.
The perspective is that we are headed, very fast, for a big cliff.
The Greens’ first principles in the charter are about ecological limits: ecological wisdom, and ecological sustainability, which “is paramount”.
Expressed as a policy, they’re about ecological economics: a different way of being, in which nature writes the rules, and growth can’t be the answer, because it’s the problem.
It’s this that defines the Greens – makes them not Labour, not left, but Green – along with values.
The Values philosophy is one that looks after the forgotten ones, that says enough: enough of the environment, enough to be happy, enough for you as well as for me.
“Enough” is one of the clues to Green policy. It is the thing that binds conservation and socialism and sustainable society, for all of these, simply expressed, are the same. I have enough now, they say. This part is yours.
And there you have it: a party that pursues, in equal parts, environmental, economic, and social reform.
Politics aside, I think the practical thing is this: how to tell people the Green story – the whole story, not just your favourite bit – when most party members have never heard it.
It’s 40 years since the Club of Rome published its book called The Limits to Growth, 40 years since Values campaigned on zero population and economic growth policies, to sustain quality of life in a finite world – and won 5.2% of the vote in 1975, the same percentage of the vote that in 1999 under MMP would bring the Greens to Parliament.
In the circle of life, or something, in 2012 the Club of Rome is now talking about values, and stories: how when you meet someone new, it’s not facts that you tell them, but stories; and it’s stories and values that make a religion, among the most transformational human forces.
In 1990, some Greens rejected Values. A whole lot more have probably never heard about it. The composition of the two parties is similar, so are the policies, and Values’ is a story of which the Greens ought to be very proud.
Values, the world’s first national-level Green party, 40 years too soon politically, was out in front.
We may now be 40 years too late to change the world in time, but in 2012 the Greens are once again talking Values’ language. Co-leader Russel Norman’s first speech after the 2011 general election was about the Christmas story. Mr Norman, an atheist, spent 20 minutes reminding Parliament of the Christian values of “love and compassion towards each other”, “truth and justice between one another”, and “awe and respect for the natural world”:
St Francis of Assisi wrote sermons for the birds and taught us to live simply and value nature for its own sake … Those values of love, generosity, and a reverence for nature should not sound so out of place in this Parliament. But the talk in here is dominated by a different kind of worship - one of economic growth, at all costs.
It’s those values that will define the politics, and in particular, opposition politics, for the next 40 years.
In its secret heart, Beyond Today: a values story is a think piece. It didn’t start life intending to be a book, and I am a bit shy about calling it one. I thought about it a lot; I hope it makes you do the same.
It doesn’t try to answer all of the questions, such as: how to be a radical party, and start a revolution voters don’t want; and how to reconcile the strengths, but also fatal flaws, in consensus decision-making.
Nor could it. The Greens themselves don’t yet know all of the answers.
It says one thing some members won’t like. The Greens are an ecological economic party, a party that puts the environment first, not a party of the Left – and a party that implicitly, in its first charter principle, stands for diversity and inclusion.
This is not about the Left. It is about all of us. All of us, being human differently – learning how to be different, and celebrating difference, but also learning how to live together. Learning how to live.
The Greens are the “voice of the voiceless” – but not exclusively so.
The quants and the poets are both needed, but I would argue that, right now, the poets ought to take the lead – if indeed that is ever something that poets are capable of. We have no shortage of arguments about numbers and machines, but we do have a great shortage of workable stories. That is to say: stories that don’t just have happy endings, but have convincing plots as well.
– Paul Kingsnorth “The Quants and the Poets” (April 2011)