Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Looking for the New Environmentalism?

Mark Lynas argues that the green movement is dying and that it's time for a new kind of environmentalism. But perhaps he should stop revelling in opposition and catch himself on to the fact that this new movement is already under way...

Two articles in the Guardian this past week from former green poster boys Mark Lynas and George Monbiot, have apparently ruffled a few feathers due to their critical approach to the environmentalist movement. The continuing 'I was wrong' approach of Monbiot on the subject of nuclear power and yet another 'Green's have lost their way' j'accuse from Lynas via the pen of Susanna Rustin, strive to highlight perceived problems regarding the environmentalist lobby's attitude to particular issues, and have resulted in a wealth of comments from the congratulatory, to the eco-reactionary, and everything in between. 

Personally, I welcome these pieces as means of debate and growth. But when it comes to Lynas I can't help but think that he secretly wouldn't want my or anyone's approval if it meant facing up to the fact that his much publicized revolutionary take on the movement, isn't that revolutionary at all. 

Has the Green Movement Lost its Way? Anti-nuclear, anti-capitalist, anti-flying: the green movement may have alienated more people than it has won over, and there are now calls for a new kind of environmentalism
My biggest issue with this Rustin/Lynas article, aside from it being a shameless book plugging rehash of so many other Lynas pieces, is that Lynas appears to have appointed himself a lone Archimedes; the self proclaimed one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, the bastion of insight and foresight among us whimpering and confused greenies, whose blindness to the science of nuclear power and anti capitalist tendencies are simply keeping us in the dark. 

What he fails to mention or understand (not sure if it is an omission of intent or ignorance) is that for so many of us, the realisation that we couldn't live in the past and expect a Luddite-esque attitude to the future is something that we came to terms with a long time ago, while for others, it was wasn't even a case of 'realisation', with reasons for being or becoming green never really steeped in the same sort of fight the power (or in his case, fight the sweetcorn and sugarbeet crops) direct action that characterized the 1990s for Lynas. Instead, for us there already exists a new kind of environmentalism, one that if Lynas wasn't too pre-occupied with discovering, he would, well...discover.

The new green movement may not be as keen as Lynas to cast off it's traditionalist/purist/radical (call them what you will) roots, but instead views them as something to retain and continue to build upon, practising the very organic nature of progress that we preach. Still anti-capitalists? Well that was a far too simple an accusation to begin with. Instead how about capitalist critical with a strong sense of social justice and fairness to boot -  willing to work with industry rather than against it, and looking to improve rather than overthrow. And anti nuclear? Again, sweepingly general and ignores an openness to debate that you do find in the green movement. The anti nuclear lobby is of course is still in the majority, but that's not to say we don't want to be convinced. Only recently George Monbiot decided that he had been, and has since proceeded to write about his conversion with vigour, with the below article being a prime example:
The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power. The debate is skewed by distrust of big corporate interests. Under proper scrutiny, new plants can give safer, cleaner energy.

Now I won't be reaching for the stones and looking to condemn Monbiot for these views. I actually enjoy his articles. They are for the most part well written, well researched and presented, with a credible amount of frankness and even though I have certain issues with the particulars, I respect the views therein. However on one point I will call him out. Like Lynas, I think think he has a tendency to overstate the opposition to his views, and I'd be quick to advise any existing or would-be greens that resistance is not as fiery his Twitter feed would like you to think is the case. Yes, the practical nuclear argument might not win over the majority at the moment, but nor are those who present it hounded for their views, and this is perhaps where Monbiot the self promoter takes over:

"Calling all opponents of nuclear power: sharpen yr pitchforks for tmrrow's live online Guardian debate with me at 10am BST."

C'mon now George, I know you're plugging your latest gig, and I hope that your tongue is firmly in your cheek, but seriously pitch forks? That wouldn't be you trying to play the victim in an attempt to inspire a defiant underdog persona would it? Been watching a little bit too much Glenn Beck me thinks.

"Fascinating to see how few opponents of nuclear power are making specific rebuttals in comment thread"

There are plenty. But what you are failing to grasp/choosing to ignore is that with any debate regarding nuclear, the rebuttals will seldom be specific. People are more likely to respond with more questions and do so out of a concern for risk. Risk being the operative word. Risk perception, risk assessment, these will always dominate any discussion about nuclear power, and the very body of your article implies risk involved with poorly regulated nuclear companies and governing bodies. 

While I've no doubt both writers have experienced the head banging frustration of verbal conflict with more extremest factions of the movement, I think what they are ignoring is that across the board the revolution has already happened, the treehuggers they so readily fingered as holding us all back, have in fact, already moved on. And even those who haven't, needn't be seen as dragging the movement back, just there to lend a certain amount of perspective.

It may well suit Lynas and his publishers (and to a certain extent Monbiot's) agenda to present the idea of a failing and progress resistant green movement, but for many of us working from within, the move forward or die attitude has long since been taken on board. Preaching to the choir is one way of looking at this approach... failing to notice that the choir have gone on ahead, is perhaps more fitting.


  1. bravo, an open mind is what's needed whe`n it comes to future thinking. Too oftn we are pigeon holed into what is expected and assumed of us. I'm not pro nuclear, but I.m willing to listen.

  2. so are you pro nuclear yourself?

  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/05/nuclear-power-george-monbiot Ongoing debate.

  4. Aine, I'm planning a more in depth article on Nuclear Power in the next few weeks that should make my personal views a bit clearer.

  5. It's good to see someone else reads the comments under the articles so carefully. The comments really help inform opinion, don't they?