Derek Wall Keynote Speech, Liverpool 07
18th Sep 2007
By: Dr. Derek Wall
The Green Party is a party that wants to change the world so we have a world, a party that must make the difference and have an effect if our children are to have a future, and if we are to slow, halt and reverse the forces of destruction, climate change, species loss, constant war.
There is a battle of ideas.
The political battle extends to the very meaning of a word. We have to win this battle and it comes down to individual words.
I am going to talk about two words today 'ecology' and 'power'.
We have to get to a society that works ecologically, where we are not hacking through the life support systems of our species and the rest of nature. The buck stops with ecology - without ecological thinking, the future is bleak.
We need a new ecological civilisation in this country and globally.
Ecology tells us that we are all linked, that when we violate nature we violate ourselves. This means we have to listen to the scientists. The Climate Camp protesters proclaimed "we are armed only with peer reviewed science"
James Hansen from NASA stated, "Recent greenhouse gas emissions place the Earth perilously close to dramatic climate change", creating the risk of a situation "out of humanity's control, such that devastating sea-level rise will inevitably occur".
Yet Oil demand will rise to 88.2 million barrels of oil a day in 2008. 80% of journeys in Britain are made by car. By 2021, we are told that car ownership will rise from 27.8 million to 33.5 million, enough to fill a 52 lane motorway from London to Edinburgh.
Ecological sanity demands that we move to a post-oil economy.
Carbon offset? I don't think so, let's keep the black stuff in the ground
But it isn't just the threat of climate change: all of the key biochemical cycles are now controlled by human action and all of them, not just the carbon cycle, risk being pushed in an unsustainable direction.
Ecology is about good housekeeping, but the words 'ecology', 'environmental' and 'green' risk being debased.
Look at food.
According to food researcher Rose Bridger, and despite all the greenwash, airfreight of food is expanding at a phenomenal rate.
British Airways owned Heathrow Perishables Handling Centre, which consolidates cargo trucked in from other airports, including Stansted and Gatwick, transports over 80,000 tonnes of fresh food a year, covering 160 cities in 86 countries.
At Humberside Airport, flights of Icelandic fish have grown from once a week to almost daily over the past six years.
Can you believe this? We actually fly fish to our supermarkets!
We need to support ethical, organic, local food to tackle our climate debt with real policy change.
The alternative to ecological politics is catastrophe.
We waste enough to fill the Albert Hall in hours, increasingly to be burnt in incinerators, creating miniscule mb10 particles - a major threat to health, creating dustbins in the skies.
We need zero waste. An increase in recycling, an end to over-packaging, designing products for disassembly and reuse: we need ecological policies for the whole product life cycle.
Food, transport, energy production - in fact, all areas of society need to be governed by ecological conditions, yet everything is going the wrong way in policy terms for planet Earth.
The current political spectrum heaps violence on nature.
Liberal Democrats have produced some fine words but lots of negative action. Leader Charles Kennedy contributed hundreds of tonnes of CO2 flying around Britain during the last election. Liberal Democrat MPs insisted on Newbury By-Pass and opposed congestion charging in Edinburgh - moderate centre ground motorway builders.
David Cameron's Tories may have a tree logo, but they are funded by corporations and buttressed by climate deniers like John Redwood. Think of the bus and rail privatisation that Thatcher and Major used to get millions more journeys taken by car. Nuclear weapons - hardly green - but a Tory policy through and through!
New Prime Minister Gordon Brown is spending £30bn on more roads a year and supports a new runway at Heathrow. He uses Thatcherite supply side economics as a justification for killing planning controls.
Oh, brave new world, with so many incinerators, nuclear power stations and motorways in it, courtesy of Gordon Brown.
A new ecological civilization must live with nature, not against it.
But we need power to make change so we can have our civilisation, the only civilisation possible, a new ecological civilisation.
To dream and imagine is part of the process, - but we need power to make it a reality!
William Morris dreamt and wrote beautiful accounts of ecotopia in his books, but he also got politically organised to make the vision true.
Politics is often called 'the art of the possible'. All parties seek power and, by some definitions, power equals politics. But if power politics is the game, then we Greens have known for decades that the stakes are immense.
Think of all the ecological science.
We cannot fail.
We have an obligation, a responsibility, to ruthlessly orientate to questions of power.
Everyday all of us need to think about strategy, change, and, above all, power. Every Green Party meeting should be a master class on power: if we don't make the changes we need, what of the small, beautiful but increasingly abused planet we live on?
But what is power? You can't touch it or taste it. Sometimes I think you can smell it, like wealth or sewage, and if it is piled up in one place it stinks like rotten cod. For it to smell sweet, we need to spread it around. For power to be creative, we need to spread it around.
Collecting power in one place is like collecting money in a mega billion bank account, the work of a miser, a misery, a self obsessed fanatic.
Green politics is about giving everyone power.
Today our political system seems closed to influence. Some people say you need a charismatic figure to shovel it up and redistribute. We will see how Chavez does in Caracas with this. I really hope he can achieve communal power but he will see. He knows the world is watching, hoping.
Economics is power. We live in a system where banks have more power than parliaments. Capitalism shapes and conditions every aspect of our lives.
Everywhere the subliminal messages beg us to spend more, work more and then waste more. See the $6 trillion annual spend on advertising as evidence.
The term rat race is an insult to rodents.
This power on earth is opposed to everything in our manifesto.
John Bellemy Foster says it all in the title of his book - 'Ecology against Capitalism'.
We have to be serious about economic power and economic change. We have a huge and scary economic system, so we must promote alternatives and show that a gentler world is possible.
From workers controlled factories in Latin America, to food localisation, to the free software on your computer, alternatives exist and we have to help them grow.
This is why the Green Party works to support trade unions like the RMT, PCS and CWU when they take action for a living wage and against the Private Finance Initiative.
Our inspirational MEPS, Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert, are internationally respected voices calling for social justice.
Caroline, voted ahead of Brown and Cameron as Politician of the Year in the Observer Ethical Awards, put proposals to the European Parliament calling on pharmaceutical giant Novartis to drop a court challenge to the Indian government that blocked the production of cheap, lifesaving medicines for the world's poorest.
Jean has successfully defended asylum and immigration rights in the EU, addressing the Strangers into Citizens rally in London and making it clear that refugees and asylum seekers contribute massively to this society and should be valued as human beings born equal in dignity and rights.
They both worked to defend free software in the European Parliament that could make technology accessible to millions of disenfranchised people.
Our local councillors are also changing the economic agenda up and down the country, like our 12-strong team on Brighton and Hove Council that opposes further privatisation of council housing, cuts and school closures.
And look at all the work done by Jenny Jones and Darren Johnson in the London Assembly to oppose and reverse tube privatisation, to support low paid cleaners, to support firemen and women, rail workers and others.
Economic democracy and economic justice is what Greens work for.
The principles are all in our splendid Manifesto for a Sustainable Society.
Power is about ideas. Greens will only succeed if people trust green ideas.
Canadian public relations expert James Hoggan has argued that, "Few PR offences have been so obvious, so successful and so despicable as the attack on the scientific certainty of climate change".
Millions has been poured into climate denial and the results are catastrophic. The post-modern modern world is one where spin is more important than science.
We must win the battle between truth and lies on climate change.
Think tanks for neo-liberal ideas of privatisation, greed and public sector cuts, like the Institute for Economic Ideas (funded incidentally from Anthony Fisher's Buxted chicken factory farming empire) and the Adam Smith Institute (who I'd like to say was funded by the Bernard Matthews' Turkey Twizzler empire, but I'm afraid I'd be lying), laid the ground for Thatcher and her legacy of destitution. They held conferences, primed prominent journalists, worked hard to place their ideas in newspapers and magazines and published academic work that went into universities.
Saying 'green is good' is not enough: we need to think deeply about our ideas and communicate them with clarity.
Infinite growth on a finite planet? We should say that growth for growth's sake is the philosophy of a cancer cell; we should say let's stop using this planet as our toilet.
We should say waste less.
Power is about movements demanding change now. We are the only political party to explicitly advocate non-violent direct action as a tactic to defend disenfranchised people and neglected issues.
The climate camp showed the way, generating huge publicity for the campaign against the new Heathrow Runway.
We were involved - Jenny Jones patient work in terms of police liaison was vital.
"What we do now decides what the future holds. Those who came before us didn't know the problems, those who come after us will have severely limited options. We have both the power and the responsibility to make a radically better world." So stated the Climate Camp.
The Climate Camp challenged the rest of the green movement to be effective, professional and empowering to make the links and get things done.
I have a message from them if you'd like to hear it? At this year's Camp, the Rising Tide UK network called a Day of Local Action.
October 15th day of action against Royal Bank of Scotland against RBS, a major funder of the Liquid Natural Gas pipeline currently tearing up the Welsh countryside, a major backer of the aviation industry, and the world's self-described 'Oil and Gas Bank'. RBS is the second-largest bank in Europe and has global assets of over $1120bn including high street brands NatWest, Direct Line and Churchill Insurance.
Despite creating a public image as a "good neighbour" through sponsorship of sports and the arts, RBS business activities have major destructive impacts on the environment and society.
For example, the thirty oil and gas project finance deals RBS signed between 2001 and 2006 locked us all in to future emissions of 655 million tonnes over the next 15 years, more than equivalent to the UK's entire annual emissions.
RBS provides oil corporations with the cash to build and operate drilling rigs, pipelines and oil tankers. From West Africa to the Ecuadorian rainforest, from the North Sea to the Middle East, RBS loans play a key role in forcing open the new carbon frontier, which contributes to environmental destruction, disruption of indigenous peoples and increased conflict across the planet.'
So please support this day of direct action!
Power can be power over others - we should never tell people what to do, to point fingers or give orders.
Power has to be creative.
Green electoral victories are above all about this creative power: we elect people to change the structures, to open up space so people can live sustainable, fulfilled lives.
Power is about space and structures, providing alternatives so people can be free and green. Renewable energy, organic farming, affordable efficient public transport we need to change the structures so our new ecological civilization is possible.
Power is not the man or women in the high castle. Power is everywhere and makes us what we are. Power is based on networks - which takes us back to ecology.
Power should be based on dialogue. If you talk to people and move towards consensus, then things happen.
Power can silence. Power, according to theorist Steven Lukes, has three faces:
Face one - you win the debate.
Face two - you set the agenda and make sure what you don't want to discuss does not even get on the agenda.
Face three - the most fundamental - you shape the agenda so people cannot even think of alternative.
Our power involves putting new vital ideas on the agenda, of making the impossible a policy choice - a new ecological civilization.
Now I can hear the voices: typical Derek Wall, he has named Bahktin, Marx, Stephen Lukes, Foucault and Italian Tony - I mean Tony Gramsci its all theoretical. I would have to agree. But, 'Philosophers hitherto have only described the world. The point is to change it.'