Saturday, November 03, 2007

What did I mean by that...

In a post to the Green California Forum email list, my fellow blogger, Orval Osborne asked me to elaborate on a viewpoint that I had voiced in a previous post to that list. What I had actually said was...
If I were able to control the agenda for GIWG, [GP California Green Issues Working Group] I would do the following:
  • take a limited set of issues... probably only 2... Global Warming and Water.
  • I would begin to prepare position statements, focused on California, even more focused on community activism, and I would target them toward candidates: what should I say we should be doing locally, state-wide about this issue?. I would then target them toward press releases, actions and/or tabling material and event illustrating that the Green Party is the one telling the truth and showing how this will be good for the community... not just the sacrifice of a penitent.
I agree that this needs further explanation.

There are interesting parallels between the narrative of the state of modern man that is the basis of most environmental rhetoric and the biblical story of the Garden of Eden. The environmental rhetoric is that the world would be great is man stopped doing all of those awful things to it. We could then return to a state of harmony. In the religious narrative, the fall from grace was due to the knowledge of good and evil. In the environmental narrative the fall from grace is due to the pollution we push out into the world in the pursuit of economic advantage and a modern lifestyle.

I have problems with both in that they place man outside of nature. Until modern times, man's goal was to control nature and put it to work in the service of his needs. We are beginning to understand that the world does not work that way, but not many have yet put that understanding to work in the realm of politics. It is too frightening to think about because it mean that you have to rethink historical perceptions and that is never easy nor comfortable.

My transition from a conservative Republican dedicated to Conservation to a Green came from my own development of a viewpoint that I would best describe a that of deep ecology. In this, it was not the philosophy of Arne Naess nor the activism of Judi Bari that changed my thinking but rather the science of Frijtof Capra and the reading of his book The Web of Life. If you are a Green and have not read Capra, you should. He was also co-author (with Charlene Spretnak) of the 1984 book Green Politics.

I have, for a long time, been frustrated by some aspects of the environmental movement, in particular those whose thinking does not go beyond "stop" or "limit" to provide the alternatives. In too many cases, that becomes a task that we are all too willing to leave for someone else to do.
  • When you stop logging the Humboldt County redwoods, how do you build a new, local economy? It would have been more effective to work on providing the alternative from the beginning, in other words community based sustainable economics.
  • If you stop snowmobiles in Yellowstone, what do you do to replace that mode of tourist transportation during the winter months? Again it is a local economic issue. For a long time, there was no answer. At least, this year, the Sierra Club will have one winter trip to Yellowstone. Capacity 9.
Rather than viewing ourselves as outside of nature, we must think of ourselves as an integral part of the web of life. Instead of asking how we might return to whatever Eden we think existed in the past, we need to begin asking What kind of world might we create? Instead of asking Who am I? should we not ask Who am I becoming?

There are two fundamental concepts that are behind the Green Movement: an understanding of the truth of deep ecology and a strong sense of social justice. They should inform and guide all that we do. When we lose either we are no longer green.


Alex Walker said...

Dear Wes,

In your post you wrote:

take a limited set of issues... probably only 2... Global Warming and Water.

As a matter of practical politics, how can a Green Party candidate possibly win an election anywhere in California on just those two issues? If he/she is campaigning in the countryside the Republican agricultural interests will be gunning for him -- they'll say he's just a "tree hugger" from San Francisco. If he/she is campaigning in the city the Democratic labor interests will be gunning for him -- they'll say he's just a "tree hugger" from San Francisco.

Sooner or later you gotta confront the powers-that-be and to do that you gotta show how your issues connect to the daily lives of working families.

Alex Walker said...

Dear Wes,

in your post you wrote:

There are two fundamental concepts that are behind the Green Movement: an understanding of the truth of deep ecology and a strong sense of social justice.

What does "social justice" mean? in your long peroration you never mentioned it once.

This is not a trivial question. Some people say "deep ecology" and "social justice" are sometimes in conflict. If Americans say to poor people in the developing world: "For the sake of deep ecology, you cannot have the luxurious lifestyle that we Americans have enjoyed for half a century" that is going to be a problem.

Somehow it has to be shown that everybody has a "stake" in what we are trying to do and that the failure to implement a program based on deep ecology is, itself, an attack on justice. Thus, for example, it must be argued that the people who say environmental standards should be relaxed in poor countries so their economies can industrialize are the same people determined to exploit cheap labor in poor countries.

Again, it means that Greens have to "speak truth to power" and that ain't easy.

Wes said...

Pragmatism, Alex, pragmatism. There is only a certain human bandwidth available to define the message and only a certain media bandwidth available to carry that message. Those two are current, immediate and permeate everything that we do.

Do you want to lower the cost of health care for everyone in California? Do you want to improve education? Do you want to reduce the worst prospects of global warming? How about doing all of the above? Then fix the problems of air quality in the San Joaquin Valley.

A little over a year ago, I used this blog to provide a response to one of your emails. The point of that post was "relevance". That is exactly your point here and it is still an issue. The entire purpose of what I am talking about is to help candidates find the language that makes the connections to local issues, in fact, to demonstrate the relevance of Green Party solutions and their candidacy.

Wes said...

Alex, as to your second comment, I understand the way that you have framed the question. It is the way that environmentalists have framed the question for years. Man, standing outside of nature, living their lives outside the web of life that connects everything else. The idea that social justice (dealing only with the relationships of man) is somehow made up of only having a 21st Century, I-Phone delivered lifestyle appears very dangerous to those who hold both set of values.

I wrote here before about the Web of Values that connects everything. The context of that post was very different, but the interconnection of social values and environmental action was very clear.

I tend to over-emphasize the ecological aspect of being Green for the very reason that it has been ignored in this party for far too long. At one time, the GPCA had an Ecology Working Group. When that was broadened to become a "Green Issues Working Group" the essence of Deep Ecology thinking was lost. Finally, the entire Green Issues Working Group has fallen away to next to nothing.

Those who would frame deep ecology as being in opposition to ideas of social justice are doing so for their own reasons and truly do not understand the ideas behind deep ecology. Maybe it is only a way to grab more bandwidth. When we understanding that humankind is part of the web of life, we do not abandon the idea that all humankind is connected (demanding social justice) but rather re-inforce it.

I have written from this viewpoint for a long time. It is only recently that I begin to see people like yourself joining the discussion.

Alex Walker said...

What's So Bad About a Little Eco-Mythology?