Monday, February 13, 2006

Getting the Green back in the Green Party

I have used this forum to comment on the fact that the Green Party of California appears to have lost interest in Environmental Issues. This is especially true of issues that are evidenced in rural areas of the state. One person forwarded a notice about Global Warming to a GP email list today and added this comment. "Why isn't the GP organizing demonstrations and policy statements about this? We have lost our environmental focus."

It is not just because most members are from urban areas. Kevin McKeown responded to the elist with a reference to the Sustainable City Plan for the City of Santa Monica where he is a council member. I havn't made it all the way through that, but it seems to be right on track. It focuses on urban environmental issues. That is the right thing for local involvement and all Greens should be advocating for a local version of this.

Kevin went on to comment that "our California cities are where the MOST environmental work needs to be done." One way to look at this is to examine the fact that people cause environmental damage and most people live in Cities. It is, however, necessary to understand what rural and urban mean in a quantitative way. According to the California State Rural Health Association and the California Communities Program at UC Davis, California is highly urbanized.

  • California has 58 counties; only three are entirely urban. Fifty-five of California’s counties have substantial rural areas
  • Twenty-nine of California’s counties are considered totally rural.
  • 94% of the population live in urban areas, while just 6% of the population (1.8 million)live in rural areas
  • 32% of the rural population live in counties that are at least 91% urban.
I would disagree only somewhat with Kevin's conclusion. The biggest environmental challenges are coming at the intersection between urban and rural areas. This is where sprawl is happening. It is also where impact of the Endangered Species designation is getting it's focus, as developers fight all efforts that might constrain their right to build whatever will be most profitable in the locations that would be the most profitable, no matter what the impact might be on the rest of us. But that is only part of the problem.

The other thing is that most urban Greens will focus on the social justice issues that they hear about every day, to the extent that environmental issues never make it up to the level of getting excited, upset, pissed off enough to do something. To begin with, most environmental issues can not be really understood without some study. Who really knows what should be done to ensure that the environment of the California Delta is protected, that the agricultural grocery cart of the Central Valley gets enough irrigation water and the elite of suburbia can water their lawns and fill their pools? Who really knows what actions we, and collectively we through our government, should be taking concerning Global Warming?

So, we just argue about things that we can easily grasp, personalities, tactics, the keep score or settling scores of political life and meanwhile those who can claim to be stakeholders in the planning process will make all of the decisions. When it comes to water, we are all stakeholders. When it comes to clean air, we are ALL stakeholders.

It may be time to listen to Al Gore, if you don't fall asleep. Global Warming is real.


Lisa said...

Greens believe that the two party system is broken and provides us with inadequate representation, i.e. corporations rule at the expense of people's needs.

Greens are working to get people in office that will respond to global warming. Even if I'm a Green in a city, the work i'm doing building the party, hopefully will be of benefit to rural areas in CA.

I'm working/hoping for a tipping point in many areas. Until then, what do you propose Greens do that we aren't already doing? We are 1% of the registered votered in CA, and most of that 1% aren't activists. Yes, we like to argue and discuss the "big" issues, and even if we start discussing rural areas, we need a tipping point.


Los Angeles Greens Volunteer Coordinator

Lisa said...

P.S. I'll note that what brings most people into our local Green Party meetings are the BIG issues. that what infuriates and motivates them to act. Then if we can hang onto them long enough, we try to turn them into volunteers, then into GP activists.

Wes said...

Lisa, no one doubts your dedication to the cause and the hard work that you put in. But here are some other thoughts.

Greens have a hard time building a local organization because they are not deeply involved in local issues. Tip O'Neil said that All Politics is Local. When a group chooses to follow the latest big national issues as the basis for their existence, then they will live and die accorind to the swing of public opinion on those issues. If we were to invest the same energy into the building of a sustainable community in Pomona, for example, then there is a base for continued, ongoing action and a development incubator for the leaders of the future.

Lisa said...

It's not about me, there are dozens of "me's" throughout CA. That's just it though, just dozens, maybe hundreds of hardcore GP activists; not thousands.

And Greens *do* work on local issues. In Los Angeles, Greens have been working 14 years in coalitions to save the Ballona Wetlands and West Bluffs.

I only know intimately of Los Angeles City and County, because this is the only place I have lived once becoming Green. There are maybe 50 serious GP activists in the entire county (i probably know most of them), YES i said COUNTY with what 11 million people. People always say, oh the Greens should be doing this and where were the Greens?

2 Greens were at a protest against the developer to save the 14 acre South Central farm and someone said, there should be 200 of you here. Dream on. this is the scene, in this entertainment town--where maybe we can mobilize 2-5 people at a weekday event, when our activists are spread out over this huge county.

there is a perception that we are greater than our actual numbers, largely due to Nader's exposure. Sometimes that works for us, sometimes against.

Push for the GPCA to work on press releases about the Delta, that's great.

We are a nascent party, with no power and lesser still a blip in media, with only Greens on city councils/school boards/planning commissions and only 1 elected to the state assembly in the country.

The good news is that people vote in much greater numbers than are registered Green--Camejo for Governor as as example and Matt Gonzalez for SF Mayor.

But until we can break some barriers, get some decent media coverage and get Greens elected at state levels, we are a self-selected bunch, very small bunch, of volunteers, and volunteer energy is NOT FUNGIBLE. You can't say, why aren't all these people over here working on this issue when I want them to be doing this!

Linda Piera-Avila said...

Thanks, Wes, for bringing the focus home to the environment! Last year we LA Greens hosted one of the co-founders of Greenpeace International as our guest speaker for Earth Day, Rex Weyler. I was very active with efforts (failed, unfortunately) to pass the Heritage Tree Preservation Act. I remember, to my dismay, that when I announced that Julia Butterfly Hill was willing to come to our event, that most in the group at that time (this was not the LA Greesn!) were reluctant and said things like, "We don't want to be seen as just tree huggers!" IMO, that point of view is most unfortunate, If we lose the planet's viability to sustain life, through our destructive actions, then all other issues are moot. So, thank you for leading the call to get back on track! With the current news about global climate change and impending petrocollapse, it is more imperative than ever that we give environmental issues top priority!
Linda Piera-Avila
Santa Monica

Wes said...

I will continue research this question. It may be that the organization will become more sophisticated in it's appreciation of just what is an environmental issue. When we buy in to the "tree hugger" labeling ourselves, then the bad guys have already won.

I would suggest that all Greens who can find Bruce Babbitt's new book, Cities in the Wilderness, read the portions in chapter 2 that deal with sprawl in Tucson. It clearly tells you just how much water, development and property rights determine what happens. We Greens are so naive about our own issues.

Roger, Gone Green said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Roger, Gone Green said...

Wes: LA Greens do a pretty good job of balancing enviro and social issues. Although I had concerns about the event that proved relatively groundless, LA Greens focused a recent large public appearance on non-auto mobility -- an urban enviro issue that impacts Global Warming, and takes some pressure off of wild lands for oil and gas production.

Meanwhile, in LA County most Greens I know understand that environment and social issues are linked, like all other aspects of life. (I see you found the Grist article).