In April of last year, George Monbiot went on Frankie Boyle’s show and gave a speech about what we need to do to halt and reverse climate change. There were several prescriptions, some of them sensible, like switching to plant based diets, several of them less sturdy. Amongst the ones that fit into the latter category are that we need to have a zero growth economy in order to keep the planet inhabitable for humans:
“Since when was GDP a sensible measure of human welfare? And yet everything that governments want to do is to try to boost GDP. Now, people like the OECD or the World Bank say ‘we aren’t asking for a lot of growth – just 3% a year’. That means doubling in 24 years… We’re bursting through all the environmental boundaries and screwing the planet already – you want to double it?… Double it again? Keep doubling it? It’s madness.”
George also stated that the only way to tackle climate change is to overthrow capitalism altogether:
“We can’t do it by just pissing around at the margins of the problem. We’ve gotta go straight to the heart of capitalism; and overthrow it.“
I’m bringing up a nine month old television interview here for two reasons: one, clips of it have been popping up in my social media timelines over the past week with alarming regularity, accompanied by comments from seemingly otherwise sensible people saying things like “Monbiot is spot on here”; two, because it perfectly encapsulates for me a huge problem that the green agenda faces, namely that it has been taken over by socialists/co-opted by socialists for a socialist agenda. And this causes major communication problems for the green agenda and thus for reversing climate change.
You see the desire for socialists to jump on the environmental bandwagon all over the place. Rebecca Long-Bailey and her New Green Deal, for instance. Leftists know that a lot of young people are left-leaning and care a great deal about the environment, so it makes political sense. But you don’t have to travel far to see where the two agendas clash. How about the fact that for a lot of working class people, low cost airlines have been a game changer, allowing them to holiday in places that would have been outside of their budgets a few decades ago. Monbiot says we should stop flying. Okay, do you want to be the one to say to a room full of working class people, “Look, I’m taking one less business class flight a year, instead taking the train. The least you lot can do is stop your holidays to Spain and hit Morecambe instead like the good old days”, because I wouldn’t. Monbiot also said we should have zero growth for the sake of the environment. Why would trade unions, who want more jobs because they want more members, and more money for those members, which equals economic growth, want zero growth? They wouldn’t and rightly so. Zero growth would also make everyone poorer, but proportionally. Again, this sounds a lot like champagne socialism at its worst: the upper middle classes forgo several thousand pounds a year they don’t really need, while several million people fall over the line into dire poverty.
Oh, but the overthrowing capitalism thing, that will solve all these problems, won’t it? This assumes that a state led economy would make better environmental choices than a free economy; the evidence on this being so is abysmal. In fact, all socialist countries that have ever existed have been obsessed with economic growth, for a start, and also have terrible track records with the environment. The Soviet Union was very likely the most horrible state in the history of humanity on environmental issues. When the Cold War ended, a lot of the old Eastern Bloc countries with suddenly much freer presses had to worry about how much environmental damage their socialist governments had created. So, at the very least, the evidence to tell us that socialism would equal better behaviour towards the environment does not exist.
I have a better idea. Why don’t we work to make environmental issue non-partisan and not force it into a left-wing political ghetto. Lots of people are making this happen already, which is one of the main reasons environmentalism has come so far in the past couple of decades, but it would help if the main spokespeople for the green agenda just dumped the whole socialist routine altogether. It sells the idea that the green agenda is analogous to other, shall we say, less than vital leftist agendas – which is stupid because the environment affects all of us. We should all care. You cannot make everyone left-wing. You will struggle to make even half the people in any one country left-wing. But you can make everyone get behind reversing climate change if you stop trying to making it synonymous with socialism.