'Do Good Lives have to Cost the Earth?' Earth Day with Caroline Lucas
It was her elegance, grace and poise that immediately charmed and impressed me. Her elegant long white linen coat, her fashionable hair-do, her easy smile, her sparkling eyes, her gentle but powerful presence as she spoke. This is a politician? I thought to myself. Wow, the Green Party of the European Parliament has really got something going for them! And as she spoke, I thought, why isn't she running for Prime Minister? Â Ah well. She spoke about - not her election campaign, I hasten to add -moving into a green fair socio-economy at Sussex University's Development Lectures this evening. What follows is my interpretation of what she said.
She started with that precious golden triangle of sustainable development: the challenge of equity (society), economicsÂ (profit etc) and climate change (environment). She suggested that this was fundamentally a political challenge. Thousands of people in the developing world are dying - right now - Â and with all that we already know, the gripping issue is not what to do but how to do it. While technology and efficiency plays a key role, this is not enough. We too easily shrink from the behavioural changes that are greatly needed. She turned, as people usually do, to China - not in criticism but to exemplify the challenge. China is already over consuming more than any other country in 4 out of 5 major commodities - and their continued growth is (as it is following a roughly similar structure as ours did) unsustainable.
From Karl Marx to Adam Smith, the bases of their models of development are based in a world of abundant resources, but we no longer live in such a world. Our space ship has reached its carrying capacity. She noted that over half of world trade are basically the same products passing each other. She follows Keynes' notion that while international trade is beneficial, Â 'whenever possible, clothes should be home-spun ... and finance should be national.'
For sustainable development, she suggested a reorientation of aid and trade. Her basic message is pro-localisation and self-sustainability, which includes international aid enabling countries to become self-sustaining. Â Thus, she recommends a strategy that uses aid as a transitional measure for the South to self-sufficiency and further South-south support, rather than prioritising ever more (often unneeded and excessive) exports to the never-satisfied North. She suggested that international trade is not necessarily the best way of getting resources to the poorest countries Â - much less the poorest people in the poorest countries. She differentiated aid and charity.Â Countries do not need charity, they need justice - justice for the decades (centuries?) of ecological and human debt that the North owes the South.
How do we enable other countries to Â not follow the same developmental model as we did? Â Traditional thinking has it that consumption is good as it increases GDP - but really, consumers are manipulated into the smoothest transition into endless products. as if we are consumers before we are citizens. Â Our solutions are causing the problem. Economic growth is not only environmentally impossible but socially unhealthy. Lower growth, less dependence on GDP, could mean a better uality of life. Â She admits that this is a difficult statement in the midst of a recession. Â We regard GDP as the be all and end all fo our economy.Â In the richer countries, once our basic needs are met, we do not become happy. Indeed, consumer-fueled growhÂ can only be sustained as long as consumers remain unhappy. Discontent must be continually fermented. Â (Hence the advertising industry.)
Her message is fundamentally positive - she seeks dreams and visions - not nightmares. Yet politicians often are based in fear - that if they did what needed to be done, they won't get re-elected. She reminded us that while politicians need to change, we can help them do so - not just by voting for the ones we like, but creating the policy space for them to feel they can do what they (sometimes) know needs to be done. Which is part of why she feels that the biggest issues of our times are political - and they really need the polis, not just the politicians, to help solve them.
While nothing she said was new to me, I was delighted to hear her say it with her own combination of intellect, gentleness, and the passion to fight for a world worth saving.