Removing Politics From Environmental Governance

A number of years ago, when I was still an undergrad, there was a group of students whom worked together to produce and distribute fresh produce. It was a great and novel idea that provided cheap fruit and vegetables to a cluster of people notorious for a lifestyle of packet noodles, just to make ends meet on a student income.

Through a network of producers and workers, this little group had something special. Of course, part of the deal was to be actively involved with the labour; financial input was instead substituted by physical input.

I nearly got involved.

What stopped me was perhaps trivial, but is more common than many of us would like to admit.

The group was, from even a passing assessment, far more left than myself. I could provide to you now my own judgement of this group and of course face ridicule for it, but equally, I’m certain my clean-cut personality would have in turn caused judgement from the group as well. We’re only human; it’s what we do.

In short, we simply did not reflect the same ideologies, apart from this one activity and so my involvement was made difficult, if not impossible.

We humans naturally form clans and this group just wasn’t my clan.

From my observations of the various discussions regarding improving in the sustainability of our actions, I’ve witnessed the same thing stopping more mainstream acceptance of what is clearly in the best interest of us all.

The “already engaged” people are passionate, well meaning people. However, we have formed our own clans – even societies – which clearly are, more often than not, progressive.

It might initially seem that this makes sense; it is, after all, the progressive people whom change the world for the better and the conservatives whom hold us back. Such a conclusion is one that we progressive thinkers may tells ourselves to explain what we are witnessing or to justify some notion of moral superiority. However this simply isn’t the truth.

More importantly, anyone who has spent time researching on even one issue facing our future would be aware that the solutions are not only already at our hands, they require every last one of us. We are not out to save the biota, ocean and atmosphere of the progressive world, but the entire Earth – the only world we have.

While I believe it is important that we do build cultural identities around a new revolution in planetary governance, these identities need to be both right and left.

The conservatives, for instance, should be asking themselves what they are wish to conserve; a runaway churning of resources to fuel a short-lived boom, before the inevitable bust or a resource base in which we can continue to reap benefits from indefinitely? It’s not too hard to argue that environmentalism really should have been a conservative initiative to begin with.

I avoided cheap and highly nutritious food at my own expense entirely because I couldn’t mesh with a group behind a great idea. That only affected me in return; either in my coughing up extra money for the same food from a supermarket (albeit, probably less nutritious due to the general practices of storage and distribution of many supermarkets) or (more likely) turning instead to the cheaper alternatives, such as pre-packaged fast food.

On the other hand, in turning environmental governance and sustainability entirely into a progressive ideology, we are already witnessing a world of paralysis which affects us all. The longer we leave it, the bigger the clean up, the greater the expense and the more we would have lost forever.

Each one of us needs to remove this stigma from the culture of good environmental governance. We can’t make it a progressive or a conservative movement. Instead we need to be approachable with language that reflects left, right and central. There are many more with a conservative outlook whom would support positive action on environmental governance than currently are because of the cultural divide that we have created. Appealing to the obvious conservative arguments, such as the one I made above, and working positively with everyone who shares a joy for nature (I’d argue it’s instinctive and thus universal) will help bridge this divide and provide a more meaningful grounds for constructive debate; where we are arguing over solutions and not simply the confidence we have in scientific methodology or the perpetuation of an argument over right and left.

It would be like the group of students noticing my interest in their activity approaching me, making it clear that our obvious differences are irrelevant because what’s important is only what we’re both interested in (ie. the clan is based around the positives outcomes of the activity at hand and not also about other related lifestyle choices that would tend to refine the clan into greater specific attributes). Who knows, we may have even rubbed off on one another over time with the constructive basis created and found greater grounds of similarity.

This is exactly what we need in the face of climate change, growing oil, food and water insecurity and biodiversity degradation; constructive holistic activity aimed at protecting and invigorating the dynamic life support system on which we all depend.

On such topics, there just isn’t room for ownership by just one hemisphere of political ideology.


5 thoughts on “Removing Politics From Environmental Governance

  1. Great post. I really enjoyed your story and your honest and thoughtful reflections on exactly why you didn’t become involved. I can definitely relate to instances of identity trumping reason in my own life. It’s just so difficult to transcend the boundaries set up by society, to say nothing for the ones we set for ourselves.


  2. THIS! Moth, it’s been too long since I’ve read your stuff, but having just finished Heat by George Monbiot (a stimulating read – not too much new stuff but well laid out and a great basis for discussion) I am a bit fired up again. And you’re making a fantastic point here. I have been struggling to find any part of the environmental movement I truly identify with, but maybe that’s because I’m looking for too close a fit; or maybe the groups out there are, as you say, too uniform and appear, at least to outsiders, to require a ‘certain type of outlook’.

    Can you, as a progressive, make a conservative case for climate change? Some of the most interesting things I’ve heard on this issue are about the changing definition and role of ‘conservatives’, which seems now to mean defence of the free market and deregulation, which are anything but conservative in a social and environmental sense…


    1. I kind of hint at it in this post, but the terms “progressive” and “conservative” are, in this arena, opposite to what the groups stand for. Greenfyre has a post on the traditional conservatives who were deeply environmental – I wanted to link to it in this post, but I couldn’t find it. I think removing a political slant on environmentalism (because, ultimately, our environment supports us all), with assistance of the historical evidence as demonstrated by Greenfyre is what’s needed. It’s okay to be a “green” conservative, in fact, it makes sense to be.


  3. I really liked this. You’ve presented a unique twist on the discussion of the environment. It is natural for humans to become clannish but that usually translates also in to “closed for business.” I really appreciate your outlook, it’s very scientific. Yes you may have some conservative values but you apparently judge each issue on it’s own merits. Good Job. Thanks. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.


    1. Cheers. There are always two sides to the story and involving both sides productively leads to better solutions, I feel. In making sustainability / climate change a “progressive” goal has proven to be detrimental. Progressives need to hold out the olive leaf if we can move beyond this paralysis.


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