Getting From Being Green to Voting Green
People sometimes assume that as someone so thoroughly entangled in the world of investment, stock markets, nanotechnology, graphene and big business the Green Party would be anathematic to me. But as the great American philosopher Bo Diddley pointed out, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.
Back in 2009 after speaking at the UK Aware Ideas for Greener Living exhibition I concluded:
But in the end, I think I’m a convert to the green cause. Not because of people who think that riding around on a funny bicycle for the rest of your life and eating roadside weeds will save the planet, because compared to a couple of new power stations in China it won’t make any difference at all. What did it for me was realising that the vast majority of perfectly normal people at this event just want to ensure a nice future for their children, who are worried about running out of resources with no alternatives in sight, and who are less interested in smashing the global financial system than having a system that ensures some kind of sustainable and prosperous future.
Since then almost every company I have been involved with has tried to use technology to address environmental issues (there is a list here).
My involvement deepened recently when a friend and neighbour, Andy Brown, was selected as the Green Party candidate for Ripon and Skipton. There is no hope of election in rural North Yorkshire where you could pin a Conservative Party rosette on a pig and it would still get over 50% of the vote, but it produced some interesting debates on what the Green Party should actually stand for. For the sake of balance I should mention that if the same pig stood for election in other areas on an anti austerity ticket it would produce a similar landslide. Andy wrote a well thought out and candid blog post about why the Green Party only got 4% of the vote. The part that caught my eye was this:
We could have done a lot better if the national campaign had helped instead of hindering. At one of the early hustings I put the case that we needed to invest in creating a sustainable low energy economy and that Britain could be at the forefront of the next wave of the industrial revolution. The argument went down really well. Then I came home turned on the radio and heard my leader trying to explain complex figures about how many houses we were going to build and at what cost. Not surprisingly she was tied up in knots and came across as yet another politician making promises that were so implausible that she couldn’t even answer the simplest of questions about them.
The bottom line in any election is the economy. While there is a minority who are rich enough not to care about the economy, and tragically a larger minority with no hope of economic advancement whatsoever, the middle ground cares most about supporting their families. When it comes to putting a cross in a box this will always take priority over ideals.
So how can the Green Party become more relevant to the rest of us? I have three suggestions:
Economic Growth is Good, Sustainable Growth Is Even Better
As Andy Brown point out, the development of sustainable technologies can put the UK at the forefront of the next industrial revolution. At the moment the UK is well placed in terms of basic science but there needs to be more government support. This isn’t just a question of bunging up wind farms and tidal barrages, but actively supporting a number of companies developing technologies to reduce energy use and make better use of resources. While reviewing Technology Pioneers for the World Economic Forum I have seen an increasing number of well funded US start ups trying to change the world for the better while the UK is still messing around promoting technology forms writing apps and software. The circular economy is more than an app and if the UK wants to catch that particular wave it needs to be a bit more nimble.
The good works of Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates were a result of making huge amounts of money in business. An anti business, anti capitalist agenda means we have to trust governments ti take the right decisions. And do they?
Ditch the Dogma and Study the Science
Over the years I haver had many conversations with senior figures in Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth who are remarkably pragmatic about technology. On the other hand I have many arguments with Green supporters who are convinced that the GM wheat that isn’t even grown in the UK is responsible for increases in childhood allergies / the decline of the bee population / mother’s rheumatism. As a rationalist I’m astounded how people can trot out the science to support climate change and then reject the last hundred years of medicine and biology. You can’t disagree with the science on GMO’s and then expect a doctor to use the same body of knowledge to fix an ailment. Science is not something you can select the bits you agree with and reject the bits that challenge your notions of the universe, it’s take it all or leave it all.
Forget Behaving Like The Other Parties
One of the most distributing aspects of the recent campaign was the Green Party struggling to have a policy on everything from heath to education. Why? For a party that will never gain more than a handful of seats there is no point squandering precious resources on housebuilding numbers. Once the party accepts that it will always function as an environmental conscience rater than a government we might get somewhere.