Green Party says “consume less” not “nationalise energy”

Submitted by AWL on 5 May, 2015 - 6:22 Author: Todd Hamer

The Greens’ proposals on energy involve phasing out fossil fuel and nuclear power and promoting renewables through a number of changes to the subsidy and tax regime. There is no opposition to private ownership of energy production.

It is odd given their opposition to privatisation of the NHS and railways. If they ever won political power, then the plan is for their government to act as green consumer par excellence, creating incentives to persuade private industry to go green while preaching frugality to the masses.

Given the amount of air time the Green Party had during the election period, it was surprising how little they mentioned imminent ecological catastrophe.

The Green's overriding environmentalism theme was a crude over-consumption theory. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett repeatedly said the earth is finite, therefore there need to be limits to economic growth. She told us that if everyone on the planet consumed at the rate of the average Brit, we would need three planets to sustain us. This is a striking image, but a moment's thought reveals it is nonsense. Worse, it's a political dead-end.

As far as I can tell, the evidence for this multiple planets theory comes from the World Wildlife Fund, who calculate the size of the our “Ecological Footprint” multiply it by the world population and then guilt trip us about being greedy: “The Ecological Footprint measures the amount of biologically productive land and water area required to produce the resources an individual, population, or activity consumes and to absorb the waste they generate, given prevailing technology and resource management.”

The first major flaw of this approach is that the productivity of a piece of land or sea is not fixed. For example, if the seas of the world were fished in a sustainable way (rather than with mega-trawlers receiving government subsidies to wreck marine ecosystems) then the seas would be vastly more productive in terms of the number and diversity of fish and as a carbon sink.

Developments in agriculture may increase crop yields (as they have ever since Marx and Malthus were having this same debate 200 years ago). In the small print WWF admits that the footprint is a snapshot of current resource consumption based on current technology. However, the Green Party use the footprint approach to paint a picture of greedy humanity gobbling up the planet.

The second flaw is the misleading claim that the world's resources are “finite”. Even under capitalism there are extensive recycling infrastructures, and a planned economy would build upon this. A few key resources cannot be recycled, or cannot be recycled in a useful timeframe. The most significant genuinely finite resource are fossil fuels, the energy source of almost all production and transportation for the last 200 years.

The WWF's calculations include a piece of woodland that would offset the carbon emissions. But nobody seriously suggests individually-sponsored tree planting is a solution to climate change.

The solution to the current ecological crisis is a rapid transition to renewable, and as a stopgap, nuclear, energy sources that can sustain current standards of living for the majority during a period of probable ecological flux.

A Green Party that held state power would be in a position to do this, yet they are reluctant to challenge private ownership of the energy companies.

The Green's respect for private property may lie behind the third flaw in their multiple worlds theory which obliterates class inequalities by focussing on the consumption of “the average citizen”. The richest one per cent in the USA — three million people — consume 70 times as much as the entire income (consumer spending, public services, investment) of 92 million people in Somalia and Ethiopia.

This section of society are also the most violent opponents of socialising the means of production so that we can make the planned transition from fossil fuel based energy to renewables. They insist that energy infrastructure, transport, factories and even the minds of inventors and scientists, should be their own private property to manipulate for their own self-enrichment.

The problem is not the volume of things consumed but the fact that almost all production involves burning fossil fuels. There is very little that individual consumers can do to influence the way capitalists organise production. But a government wielding state power can take control of production and kick the bosses out.

Marx once said “Life begins [when work ends] at the table, the tavern, in bed.” The Greens’ would add “at the shops”. The fact that the Green party has not had the imagination to propose an intervention into the workplace and use state power to disrupt the capitalists’ destruction of the planet, shows a lack of understanding about how capitalism works.

We know that the waste created by the fossil fuel energy has created a layer of greenhouse gas that is heating up the planet. This will result in extreme weather that could render useless much of the infrastructure that is necessary to sustain human life as we know it.

If the Greens offer no alternative to this future then they are an obstacle to building the working-class-led transition we need.