Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

The Greening of Democratic Politics

Readers interested in some of the big political ideas and trends of our time may like to listen to a recent talk on the greening of democratic politics. Hosted in Sydney by the newly-founded Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, it aimed to provoke discussion about the long-term, ‘deep’ effects of green politics on the language and institutions and ‘imaginary’ of democracy.

Listeners are reminded that in half a generation, green-minded intellectuals, movements and political parties have helped ensure that such matters as chemical pollutants, nuclear power, carbon emissions, climate change and species destruction are ‘in the air’ and firmly on the policy agenda of democratic politics. Public awareness that humans are the only biological species ever to have occupied the entire planet, with potentially catastrophic consequences, is growing. Green politics has helped popularise precautionary attitudes towards ‘progress’ and its blind embrace. It has also tabled vital tactical questions: for instance, should priority be given to civic initiatives and social movements or to the formation of political parties and alliances with mainstream parties? How can green parties best be kept ‘democratic’? Does their political success require broadening green politics to include themes such as immigration and gender discrimination?

Despite these notable achievements, or so runs the argument, the profoundly radical implications of green politics for the way people imagine and live democracy remain poorly understood. Levels of support for democratic principles certainly run high within green circles, as confirmed by the widespread uproar triggered by James Lovelock’s suggestion that it ‘may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while’. Yet why people with green sympathies should embrace democracy for more than tactical reasons, whether democratic principles themselves can be ‘greened’ and what that might imply for the way people imagine to be the essence or ‘spirit’ of democracy are matters that remain obscure within green circles and beyond – or so this talk on green politics and the future of democracy suggests.

Mount Erebus, an active volcano, in Antarctica James Gealy/flickr

Join the conversation

42 Comments sorted by

  1. Col Campey

    Doctor

    Dear John,

    What would it take for independent (non-partisan) politics to overtake the current (Australian) system, in order to unfetter the green impulse in most of us? Nothing holds politicians back from good management of the country as much as self interested efforts to gain (or regain) government.

    report
    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Col Campey

      Great comment, I believe we need to abolish the 2 party preferred system as it institutionalise 2 party's that over time will become more and more similar

      IE. the more the 2 party's have in common the less one party has to criticise the other, which allows them to be pretty much identical whilst blowing small differences out of proportion

      The greens are biting at the bit to plug the holes in the mining tax, the coalition are biting at the bit to scrap the mining tax, Labour are not scared of the greens and so the better compromise politically is to have a weak sauce mining tax

      If the coalition were keen to plug the holes in the mining tax you can bet your bottom dollar that labour would swiftly take charge

      Mixed member representation allows all voices to contribute, no one party is ever going to be able to represent all of society and so when we as a country make decisions it shouldnt be determined by who was slightly more popular at the last election

      report
    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Not such a great example there Michael for one hand you refer to the two part(ies) having commoness but give the example of the coalition wanting to scrap the MRRT whereas Labor clearly wanted it and obviously something more of it as the Greens do.

      With any new policy there does need to be a much broader assessment than the jingling of a cash register in the shorter term.
      " so when we as a country make decisions it shouldnt be determined by who was slightly more popular at the last election "
      We as a country do elect governments to make decisions Michael, just the way it is and will more than likely forever remain unless we get invaded.

      report
    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Greg North

      What is a straw man?

      "so when we as a country make decisions it shouldnt be determined by who was slightly more popular at the last election "
      We as a country do elect governments to make decisions " - My point was that we elect leaders not rulers, that is we elect one party as to lead the nation not to give eddicts

      "two part(ies) having commoness but give the example of the coalition wanting to scrap the MRRT whereas Labor clearly wanted it and obviously something more of it as the Greens…

      Read more
    4. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Greg North

      "We as a country do elect governments to make decisions" ... err, no we don't.

      We elect politicians, who then form governments to make decisions.

      The first decisions of elected politicians are to reward those who funded their campaigns - if they do a good enough job at that, they get funding for their re-election campaigns. And their campaigns? A balancing act about meeting the needs of their donors, while spinning it up to sound like the nation's interest as a whole after refraction through the lenses of the nation's media proprietry.

      report
    5. I am Cornholio

      None

      In reply to David Arthur

      Greater campaign funding transparency could help with the funding issue, but I must quote Winston Churchill on this one:

      "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

      Regarding the two-party system at the moment, I agree that it would be good to have more independents and minor parties. One solution, while maintaining democracy, could be to change the election system to be more proportional to the actual vote.

      report
    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      Thanks Damien. "One solution, while maintaining democracy, could be to change the election system to be more proportional to the actual vote."

      As it happens, I agree with this, and propose that the electoral system for the Senate be reformed, and that reformed Senate be made the house of government.

      The way to do this is to elect the entire Senate from a single national electorate instead of State and territory electorates. That makes it 100% proportional, with a Senate vote in NSW as…

      Read more
    7. I am Cornholio

      None

      In reply to David Arthur

      I have to disagree with one point you made. That is shrinking the size of the states. I prefer Competitive Federalism, where the states have the most power, and Federal Government is limited to things like defence and foreign policy.

      An example of the benefits Competitive Federalism is Colorado and Washington in the U.S. They are currently trialling the legalisation of marijuana. The idea is to use these two states as a bit of a social experiment, and if it works out, the other 48 states will follow suit. If Federal organisations such as the DEA come in and bust up the social experiment, no progress will be made. This is why the sovereignty of the states under a limited Federal government is so important, and is largely what the Australian Federation was based on, too.

      Hopefully you can see the merits of this.

      report
    8. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      Competitive Federalism between cities is fine, they don't need to have vast hinterlands about which they are ignorant and do not care in order to compete between themselves.

      As a resident of the rest of Australia, ie not in a capital city, I want those State governments to have absolutely no say over the standard of health care in my region, no authority to grant approval to some environmentally devastating idea that one of their White Shoe Brigade ma-ates has come up with.

      You remember when…

      Read more
    9. David Doe

      Videogame Producer

      In reply to Col Campey

      Multi-member electorates and proportional representation.

      Ta-dah!

      report
  2. Jeremy Tager

    Extispicist

    These are important questions...While a number of important environmental issues have been put on the table, we need to recognise that we have failed to ensure that ecological principles are internalised in either the workings of government or big business. We need to face this. Can democracy - or the corrupted democracies we have - work in the context of ecological imperatives; in a period where we must make decisions that are long term, non human centred and often not in the immediate interests of humans? Can we actually prevent the breakdown of the only life support systems we have without a much more radical approach - including a more radical narrative coming from the environment sector, which in Australia is generally and relentlessly incrementalist?

    report
    1. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Hi Felix
      totally agree that it is impossible to protect life support systems (I'm not a great fan of using 'sustainability' - become a functionally meaningless word) under current economic orthodoxies, but I'm not sure that democracy is capable either...Its short term horizons; its endorsement of ignorance as being as valid as knowledge and its strongly anthropocentric orientation - not to mention its failures thus far in ecological terms - doesn't make it a convincing approach to the types of ecological problems we face.

      report
    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Fair points, but I don't think it's necessarily inherent to democracy. Democracy depends critically on how well informed the voting public are and that, of course, is the big problem. But I think there's reasonable evidence - particularly from processes like deliberative democracy and citizen parliaments - to cause sane hope that, if properly and dispassionately informed of the facts (well, the best evidence available!) the vast majority of people can and will make sound decisions - including a preparedness…

      Read more
    3. Jeremy Tager

      Extispicist

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Hi Felix
      Whether the problems are inherent is only partially the point - we retain a faith in democratic systems despite pretty compelling evidence that they fail far more than they succeed. They become corrupted, become oligarchies, corporacracies, embedded in business systems etc. At what point do we say 'it's not working' (no matter how much we like the idea) - let's at least think about other ways of organising ourselves that will respect the ecological imperatives that we know.

      I know the Winston Churchill quote about democracy - but there's another one less known...All you need to do in order to know what's wrong with democracy is have a 5 minute conversation with the average vote.

      I agree that many democratic processes (deliberative and participatory models particularly) are capable of producing informed thoughtful voters - but these processes do not characterise the way any democracy works as far as I know..

      report
    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Jeremy Tager

      Jeremy, I think the key is to never expect that any system (no matter how much less awful than the alternatives!) will of itself guarantee good outcomes. Democracy is simply a kind of operating system - it still needs to be driven properly!

      A Volvo might be the safest car on the road, but I'd be pretty confident that it wouldn't do you much good if you fell asleep at the wheel. In fact, a Volvo is not so bad a metaphor for democracy, now I think about it (boxy but reliable?).

      Maybe we need…

      Read more
  3. Jonathan Rutherford

    Teacher

    Felix,

    Agree that the problem is not with democracy but 'our neoliberal/growth-based economics.' But I invite you to take the next courageous step. Growth/neo-liberalism are inevitable bi-products of the capitalist market system which absolutely requires growth. And given an ecological society requires vast reductions in output, the only viable solution for achieving viable/tolerable 'de-growth' is via (democratic) planning, and socialisation i.e eco-socialism. We could avoid the problem of the past, if systems were (eventually) localised, simplified and therefore survey-able, accountable, and able to be democratically run by ordinary people. See here

    http://www.oekosozialismus.net/en_oekosoz_en_rz.pdf

    and here

    http://socialsciences.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/

    Cheers

    report
    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jonathan Rutherford

      The Most Urgent Social Issue Johnathon
      Is that a bit like Kevin's Greatest Moral Challenge of our Time!

      I particularly love
      " That means that the ecological crisis is not limited to certain
      regions, but has a global dimension. The continuous degradation of the
      natural basis of life impairs the material basis of livelihood of a large part
      of humanity. A growing number of climate related catastrophes are generating frequent emergency situations. They negatively affect all spheres of
      politics…

      Read more
    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Jonathan Rutherford

      On a finite planet, in the long term, the only sustainable source of growth is technological progress.

      Also in the long term, technological progress is not possible in the absence of social progress.

      Defining human activity as tradeable "derivatives" is conducive to neither.

      report
  4. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Though decried as mere "slogans", mainly by single-issue conservationist extremists ( a description coined by former Democrats leader Natasha Stott-Despoja) the four decades-old, four principles of the global Greens parties have always operated thus: No planet without peace, no peace without justice and no justice without democracy; a natural hierarchy based on the foundation principle of grass-roots, participatory democracy.
    Not "pillars" standing apart, but principles dependent upon each other…

    Read more
    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to James Hill

      James, that squares pretty well with my 20 years of proud membership.

      report
  5. I am Cornholio

    None

    The Green movement have done more to harm the environment than any other political force by opposing nuclear power!

    To quote the prominent climatologist, Dr. James E. Hansen's five priorities in addition to a carbon tax to combat climate change, they are: (1) energy efficiency, (2) renewable energies, (3) electric grid improvements, (4) nuclear power, (5) carbon capture and sequestration. [Source: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20081229_Obama_revised.pdf]

    report
    1. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      CCS won't work.

      Anyway, all Dr Hansen's other priorities follow from a fossil fuel consumption tax.

      Mind you, you're right that the Cold war is over, and it's past time to abandon blanket opposition to nuclear power. What's required is that where nuclear power is used, that it be sensibly located.

      In Australia's case, with its dire shortage of fresh water, that means there should be NO nuclear power plants using fresh water for cooling - all cooling water should be sea water. For this…

      Read more
    2. I am Cornholio

      None

      In reply to David Arthur

      Hi David,

      Yes, good point, CCS is not actually a very viable solution at the moment, but there is a lot of research in this field.

      Regarding Port Augusta, it is actually a perfect location for a nuclear power plant! There was a report conducted by Decarbonise SA (decarbonisesa.com) that outlined (in great detail) a technical and economic plan for commissioning a CANDU pressurized heavy water reactor to replace the current coal-fired plant. Its energy output could also host a zero-carbon desalination plant as a bonus.

      report
    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      And as far as the most damaging political movement - surely its those that state that faith, belief without evidence, is a virtue that have done the most damage as it creates a society where anyone can believe anything and to criticise them is seen as unsociable. - this is why people can be against even Gen 4 nuclear - cos facts be damn, they just dont like nuclear

      I agree that most people that oppose Nuclear do so for bad reasons and whilst I can see good reasons to oppose Nuclear - now that we have viable Gen 4 and 5 reactors which cannot meltdown, which produce next to no waste and cannot be used to create weapons - I cant see any reason why you would oppose Gen 4 and 5 reactors, previous Generation reactors I am opposed to because of the waste, weapon potential, meltdown risk, etc

      report
    4. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      Thanks for the link, knowledge is power and we need to inform people that not all Nuclear Power generation is the same. This blanket opposition to Nuclear Power is unenlightened

      report
    5. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      Perhaps if one considers their binding committment to the principle of disarmament and non-violence (taken from the Society of Friends) then the blanket condemnation of The Greens for opposing nuclear technology is not quite so justifiable.
      Weapons of mass destruction anyone?
      Propose safe nuclear technology that that does to lead to bombs and widespread environmental damage in the case of war or accidents, then come at The Greens for standing by their principles.
      Otherwise the criticism is rather mindless, surely.

      report
    6. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      Damien, CCS is a failure before it even starts. How do I know this? Because the peoplke who have the most to gain of CCS proves viable, the mining companies, haven't bothered to support the research even one itoa.

      So why haven't mining companies bothered to fund research? Because they've got enough geological expertise to know that the idea of storing CO2 underground is ridiculous.

      Sure, there's oodles of very successful research in capturing CO2, that's great. But there's nothing reported about geosequestration of CO2. Why? Because it isn't ever going to happen. Too big, too expensive, too prone to failure.

      Regarding decarbonisesa, I don't give a rats' about their report, they somehow neglected to look at ecological impacts of warming Spencer Gulf waters, and hence on Spencer Gulf fisheries.

      The obvious location for nuclear and desalination plants in SA is the Nullarbor coast, to the west of Ceduna.

      report
    7. I am Cornholio

      None

      In reply to David Arthur

      > the idea of storing CO2 underground is ridiculous.

      There are other mediums of storage than just underground. That is where the research is focused, from what I have been told.

      > Regarding decarbonisesa, I don't give a rats' about their report, they somehow neglected to look at ecological impacts of warming Spencer Gulf waters, and hence on Spencer Gulf fisheries.

      Have you even read the report?

      Decarbonise SA put a lot of effort and scientific integrity into their report. If you have a problem with their, they deserve to hear from you. Contact them regarding your criticism. The primary author is Ben Heard. You can also contact him on Facebook via the Decarbonise SA web-site. He will be receptive to any evidence you have to offer him.

      report
    8. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to I am Cornholio

      "There are other mediums of storage than just underground. That is where the research is focused, from what I have been told." From what you've been told? Well, enlighten us, please; that sort of throwaway line is by no means sufficient.

      Carbon in fossil fuels originally came from underground, so I've no idea where else you can possibly store it. Grow trees? Thanks, but there's a hell of a lot of reafforestation required just to deal with the excess CO2 already in the atmosphere. There…

      Read more
  6. Pat Moore

    gardener

    Interesting occupation there Jeremy...notice that extispicy is about reading specifically the anomalies in the entrails of animals to predict the future. One would have to be well acquainted with the normal appearance of same then and alert to any differences and the reasons for them? The human animal's entrails must be seriously anomalous at this point in time?

    Whichever way you look at it we are a pathetic species, unable to overcome our many shortcomings despite a wealth of knowledge gleened…

    Read more
  7. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Every political philosophy has good and bad - whether it's social democracy, neo-liberalism or green politics.

    This would be a more compelling article if it addressed some of the criticisms of green politics, even if only to demolish them.

    But sadly it's a puff piece.

    report
    1. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to James Jenkin

      "This would be a more compelling article if it addressed some of the criticisms of green politics, even if only to demolish them"

      It would be more compelling if the article demolish green policies?

      Compelling - Adjective
      1.Evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.
      2.Not able to be refuted; inspiring conviction.

      I think you mean that YOU would find it more compelling not that it would be objectively more compelling

      report
    2. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Hi Michael

      Wouldn't most people would like to look at the complexities and contradictions in a political philosophy, rather than saying 'it's all grand'?

      I'm not suggesting the article should be at all anti-Green. Of course it can strongly advocate a cause. But it might be more 'compelling' - and convincing for non-converts - if it addressed some of the difficult questions.

      For example, a Green position would probably question growth for growth's sake. Many people might worry what this means for jobs and standard of living. So it'd be good to address the dilemma head on and say why the benefits outweigh the negative consequences.

      Cheers

      James

      report
    3. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Yes, your completely correct here - If i could remove my previous comment I would

      Thanks for the reply

      report
  8. David Pecotic

    Policy Officer

    Very provocative thoughts for a May Day born of the industrial revolution!

    John, at the end of your presentation where you reveal the trend of the democratisation of democracy beyond the anthropomorphism of the 'sovereignty of the people', you mentioned Latour's and the actor-network theory.

    This brought to mind the first few chapter of your history of democracy, where in Mesopotamia, India and Greece, the gods and other non-humans where also included in the assembly.

    I am loathe to think of history in cycles, but it does seem that green politics + monitory democracy = the return of the 'gods' to the assembly and our correspondent humbling.

    However, I've noticed that you haven't responded to any comments thus far, which is a little ironic given how monitory and democratising this kind of forum is: perhaps in relation to us commentators you are more of a representative?

    report
  9. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    I’d like to enter this discussion on two levels. Firstly, nuclear power.

    Setting aside the usual objections and possibility of accidents –very few but when they happen, boy do they cause chaos – I have two major problems with nuclear.

    Firstly, at a time when we really should be thinking small, nuclear is big. It makes more sense to de-centralise and downsize our power sources in an increasingly unstable world.

    Secondly and most importantly it is powered by a finite resource – between 80…

    Read more
  10. Lee Emmett

    Guest House Manager

    This week the people of Oklahoma experienced a twister with a huge front, and winds exceeding 320km/hr, some saying it was the worst on record. Yet today, when Ford declared they were closing their manufacturing operations in Australia, Tony Abbott couldn't stop himself from bringing up the carbon tax (despite the CEO's reasons being about scale, dollar, costs). It is almost unbelievable that the LNP can maintain this 'she'll be right, self-regulatory' approach towards climate change.

    report