This is a little rant. It’s about the accusation that ‘green’ or ‘the environment’ is just a single issue. It’s an issue that has been bubbling away for me for 20 years, since I first told my Liberal Democrat councillor father that I was voting Green. He said ‘It’s just a single issue. You can’t make a political party out of it’. I’ve heard it over and over again. I couldn’t fathom it the first time I heard it and I still can’t. The environment means something like ‘everything that surrounds us, the totality of our habitat’. Single issue parties campaign on things like migration or trade union rights. None of these mean everything in the way that the environment does (though they can mean the world to some narrow minded fanatics).
I may be biased because I’m Green but can you see the logic in what I’m saying? If environment is a single issue it’s the most encompassing issue that remains relevant to human thriving that I can conceive of. Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem groupthink (one group to think, not three) is abstracted, only focusing attention on the layer of the world that is about how industries extract value from the environment, and accumulate and/or distribute it between the human population. Yes, there are major differences between parties about the balance of accumulation and distribution but it is still a narrow view. The groupthink is currently obsessed with a single issue: How do we generate economic growth, and fast, for our nation?
Today it’s the Green Party conference and because there’s a new leader, Natalie Bennett, there’s been a bit of news coverage. It feels like the first time since Caroline Lucas was elected as the first MP that the Greens have had any coverage at all. I’ve heard or read four pieces of coverage about it today. All have focused on or referred to the ‘single issue issue’. The single issue myth seems to have evolved as a way to make Greens seem eccentric from everyday human concerns. As such they are diminished, as if viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. Because they are different in acknowledging the need to replenish and stabilise the environment, for the sake of human wellbeing, this difference is interpreted as antagonism to the other parties in their well-meaning wishes for human wellbeing.
Zoe Williams writes ‘what’s the Green Party got to say about abortion?’ as if abortion has nothing to do with a political viewpoint that deeply considers issues of population, parenting, gender, rights, secularism and religious ethics. A piece on BBC Look East spent 99% of the allotted time questioning the main party figures about how Greens could demonstrate that they can deal with other issues, not just the environment. Tony Juniper just fuelled the myth by saying that Greens deal with other issues too, as if environment is just one at the bottom of a priority list. When Natalie Bennett was asked the same this morning on the Today programme, after a comment that the name ‘Green’ was a problem, she did a little better by explaining that ‘you can do both’ – you can tackle the environmental problems in tandem with tackling poverty and ill health, for example by insulating houses. But still we can go further.
Can’t we reclaim the idea that the environment is underlying everything, that a Green way of thinking is one that goes to the underlying conditions and the material evidence to find the core problems. This is ultimately a much more scientific approach than that of the other parties. The Greens are accused of being anti-science, when what they are is cautious about the capitalist exploitation of scientific knowledge through technology. Can we get over the false idea that there is an opposition between environmental justice (as if it means justice only for other animals) and social justice? There’s no shame in this approach. Maybe just a difficulty in altering frames of reference.