General Election 2017: The Hard Politics
I argued in my previous post that our goal, humanity’s goal, should be to meet the needs of everyone whilst living within the means set by the planet. What does this mean in terms of hard, pragmatic politics? First and foremost, it means that we need to give a radical rethink to what we consider economics to be all about: we need to forget our obsession of measuring economic success in terms of growth; and we need to raise our environmental policies to the same level of importance as our economic ones. In fact, we need to see economic policy and environmental policy as two sides of the same coin!
The goal of our economic policy, therefore, should be to meet the needs of everyone. And its success will be the measure to which that has been achieved. What are our needs? The most obvious ones are: clean air, fresh uncontaminated water, healthy food, adequate housing, an opportunity to work and contribute to the economy, the access to education, the access to health care, the ability to take part in the community, the opportunity to freely express our thoughts and take a role in democratic politics. And none of these should in any measure be restricted according to our ability to pay, social class, sexuality, gender or ethnic origin. What I have listed is by no means a comprehensive list, I’m sure that you’ve already spotted some glaring omission – but you get the idea. Meeting these needs, and distributing our resources accordingly, should be the aim of our economic policy. Growth, as measured by GDP, may or may not accompany this activity, but whether it does or not is irrelevant.
But all of this has to be achieved whilst living within the means of the planet. If we don’t, if, in the process of meeting our needs, we pump so much carbon into the atmosphere that we render our climate hostile to human life, acidify our oceans to such an extent that marine life become untenable, pollute our environment to such an extent that our ecosystem collapses, render our soil unproductive by intensive farming and the overuse of chemical fertilisers, and destroy our forests to such an extent that natural carbon cycle is broken, what’s the point of meeting our needs? We will not have an environment capable of supporting human life! In fact, the ability to meet our needs will collapse. We really need to understand, and incorporate into our policies and practices, that we are not separate from the ecosystem in which human life is embedded. There is no way round this fact. The limits have been set by the evolutionary process. We cannot change them. We need to develop a symbiotic relationship with the planet, not a parasitic one.
Dare I suggest that only the Green Party takes both sides of this coin seriously. Labour Party policy has a great deal to say on meeting the needs of everyone, and should be commended for it. However, they only appear to pay lip service to the environmental side of the coin. I listened to both Jeremy Corbyn’s leader’s speech at last years Autumn conference, and his Westminster speech to launch their general election campaign. In both speeches he only referred to the environment once, that’s how important it is for him. And in the first of these it was to point out that if we had an exchange of nuclear weapons the environment would be damaged. I can’t fault his argument, but please – there really are other more urgent issues we need to tackle!
On the other side, the LibDems have proposed, over the years, an impressive range of environmental policies. And to be fair, they would support many of the policies designed to meet the needs of everyone. But, and this is a huge ‘but’, they are economically liberal as well as socially liberal. Tim Farron, in his leader’s speech at the LibDem Autumn conference, made a big point of claiming that the LibDems are the party of the free market. The free market, the belief that the market, free from restriction, can be the solution to our problems, is seriously misguided. The free market, certainly once outside the limits of the local economy, is the cause of our environmental problems, not the cure. It is the endless pursuit of wealth and profit, wealth that does not trickle down to everyone yet blinds those who chase it, that is destroying our ecosystem.
All the other main parties, the Conservative, Labour and LibDems, all talk about the need for economic growth. All are seriously deluded. And this is more serious than just having a political or economic disagreement with another party. The future sustainability and flourishing of human life on our only planet is at stake. What’s the use a large bank balance when sea levels rise and temperatures in many parts of the world are too high to sustain life other than to try and hold on to a privileged life style for as long as possible whilst people all around you are dying?