Social justice and ecological disaster: Red Green Study Group comments

Integrated strategies to face the crisis in relations between society and nature – “essentially, the dynamics of capitalist economic relations” – have been proposed to Labour by the Red Green Study Group in the UK.

In a response to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum consultation, Environment, Energy and Culture: A Greener Britain, the group says a “combined approach” to tackling poverty, inequality and environmental degradation is vital.

The whole response is attached as a PDF here. Or you can read it on line on the Red Green Labour blog here. Or download it from the Labour party site here.

The group’s summary says:

This response is the result of prolonged discussion among members of the RED-GREEN STUDY GROUP, which has been working since 1992 on bringing together green, socialist and feminist thinking.

Contributors include trade unionists, members of the Labour Party, members of the Green Party and unaffiliated socialists. Our commitment to producing this response arose from the renewal of hope given by the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the new leadership of the Party.

Our response covers a wide range of topics, across transport, industrial production, farming and food, fishing, biodiversity, planning, energy production and conservation, climate change, health, education and others. Our key theme is that the issues of poverty and inequality and environmental degradation must be addressed together across the whole range of public policy.

Without that combined approach, there is the risk of introducing, e.g., environmental measures that unintentionally make life worse for the least well-off. Similarly, poverty alleviation should include as a key aspect, enhancing the environmental living conditions of the poorest.

We note there is a growing and many-dimensional crisis in the relationship between society – essentially, the dynamics of capitalist economic relations – and nature. This is most widely recognised in the form of climate change, but has many other dimensions, such as oceanic pollution, soil degradation, and, we wish to emphasise, loss of biodiversity.

These processes need to be addressed by an integrated framework of policy and will certainly require an extension of public ownership. However, though the state will play a leading role, this should not be a repeat of “classic” nationalisations. We suggest forms of democratic, social ownership, where all those affected by an industry or service (consumers, users, local residents, workers, etc., as appropriate) arrive at decisions through negotiated coordination.

A public body independent of government should be set up to monitor, evaluate and publicly comment on government progress toward achievement of its combined environmental and social

Demonstrators outside a court hearing on coal-fired power regulation in South Africa in 2017. Photo by James Oatway, Centre for Environmental Rights

justice objectives. This body should itself include representatives of civil society organisations and members of the general public as well as “experts”.

A key to achieving many of these goals is the ability to allocate land and resources at local levels.

Under the Tory government Local Authorities have lost many of their powers, been starved of resources, and faced with impossible “choices”. This has led to the growth of several sorts of corruption, and general public apathy.

We propose restoration of Local Authority powers and resources, combined with strict measures to ensure a revitalisation of local democratic culture and activism to ensure both transparency and participation. The aim will be to use planning to ensure sustainability and social justice at local levels.

The crisis of loss of wildlife and ecological degradation (“biodiversity”) has rarely been adequately recognised on the left, including even the current Labour leadership. This loss has huge resonance with the public (vis, e.g., current concern over plastics pollution), and Tories are cynically taking the lead on this, having devastated biodiversity protection in practise. We propose the restoration of full powers to a reconstituted Nature Conservancy Council.

We have a very detailed and thoroughly researched section on energy generation and conservation. To address climate change we need to use local planning for sustainable communities, new standards in manufacture and transport, and an urgent programme of refitting homes for energy conservation. We need a shift to renewable energy sources, and associated research, measures to reduce the need for motorised transport, and a modal shift away from meat and dairy consumption.

Finally, we emphasise that to achieve this transformation a Labour government will need to form alliances with sympathetic other groups and parties across civil society.

Let’s hope this serious contribution to political discussion gets the attention it deserves. GL, 28 June 2018.

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