It’s been quite an interesting few weeks in the world of comment for those of us who consider ourselves on the Green hue of the political spectrum. Of course the climate change deniers are always good for a few column inches, but there’s a more general sense of an anti-Green backlash, which seems to me to be linked to the growing crisis of free-market capitalism.
We’ve had former UK Government Chief Scientist Sir David King telling the Guardian that Greens are Luddites who want to roll back technological change; we’ve had the spat over the Channel 4 film The Great Global Warming Swindle, and the subsequent OFCOM ruling (more information on the complaint can be found here); and, lower down the food-chain, we’ve had this sort of fairly predictable rhetoric.
So what does this mean? A lot of ink and airtime and cyberspace are being spent, inveitably, on the current economic problems. A lot of this seems to me to be about denial – denying that there is something fundamentally wrong, or arguing that this is a blip. It seems to me that we are witnessing something much more fundamental than that. Over the past quarter of a century, controls on capital have systematically been relaxed, and economic activity has, in my view, become a form of speculation. It has less and less to do with serving people’s needs. And it seems to me that much of the current anti-Green rhetoric is about closing off the alternative – about attacking the view that there is something inherently wrong with the market capitalist idea, rather than something that can be fixed without going outside the value-structure of the market. It is in part about politicians, businessmen, media-owners and media-pundits not wanting to confront the question about whether their value-structure simply doesn’t measure up to reality.
Because the Green discourse attacks that value-structure, it is bound to be in the firing line. At its heart, it is saying that the psychological assumptions that underpin the market – that are presented as irrevocable fact – are wrong. It is about recognising that life may really be better lived if we have more fun and less stuff – and that we may be better-balanced and viable as a society as a result. And it may be about having the rationale for frivolous comfort consumption knocked away from underneath an economy and culture in which that consumption is the principal somatic. In an article on the Channel 4 film, George Monbiot makes the point with force and clarity:
So why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens? I am not sure, but it seems to me that much of its programming – whether it concerns property, celebrities or contestants seeking fame and money – is aspirational. Environmentalism is counter-aspirational. It suggests that the carefree world Channel 4 has created, the celebration of the self, cannot be sustained.
Misuse of the word aspirational is a common feature of market capitalism; to want to have a bigger house or car is aspirational, wanting better schools and health care isn’t, and there’s a vast industry based on that assumption. And it seems to me that this backlash is really about the challenge to the “me, me, me” assumptions that have allowed market economics to gain legitimacy, especially in the eyes of that minority who enjoy the wealth and prestige it has bought them.
So my suggestion is this: when you see a journalist denouncing Greens as Luddite, look for the screaming toddler who doesn’t want to put down his toys. At heart, it’s as simple as that.