Background information

The context of this survey is an attempt to provide space for those critically engaging within the ecological debate. There is a current movement (re)combining the red and the green, although maybe they've never really been apart.

Ecological divisions?

one side of austerityOn the one hand ecological activists have been accused of ignoring the structural basis of capitalism, of not recognising the class nature of society or the role of profit driven commodity production and hence not able to articulate solutions (or if that seems too proscriptive - try 'sites of struggle') to the eco-systemic crises that could transcend these divisions.

Because they don't recognise class divisions in society they tend to attribute equal responsibility, or agency for change to all sections of the population, equally. This means that the solutions for change are necessarily limited to calls for voluntary reductions in consumption, or for a moral or cultural change in our relationship to the environment - which if adopted society-wide would result in a better world for all. But this approach is also open to co-option, and even the more radical ecologists calls for a rethinking in consumption levels or for 'social change not lifestyle change' (without specifying the agency for this change), can easily be recycled into a State pressure for 'austerity measures'. These could be seen as a way to push the cost of the ecological crises back onto the working class, and not onto States and Capital. A related point is that of characterising the developed North as 'rich' and the global south as 'poor' which fails to recognise the class divisions within, rather than only in between both North and South. Obviously the Global South is poorer than most of developed North, but it could be argued that the injustice of the poverty there isn't directly related to the consumption levels of the average wage worker in the North, and that by linking this directly to the poverty of the South can leave the only logical route for change to be some sort of solidarity of poverty. In short a worse existence for the majority and still no solution to climate change. (This is a contentious point explored more in the article 'Why are many people in developing countries poor?' )

By not critically engaging with how capitalism has historically created, or at least benefited from 'scarcities' at the cost to both humans and the environment, the current environmental focus on 'the end of oil' and 'peak everything' could be seen as perfectly compatible with a malthusian view of the working class. In particular the school of thought where an economic crash is something to be embraced - 'i'm glad the price of fuel is going up - at least it will make people use their cars less' - without recognising that an economic crash tends to leave those with the 'most' untouched and disproportionately affects those in most need.
Further, this view can lead to unnecessary and unhelpful choices that need to be made ,for example between 'humans' and the 'planet', or between 'work' and the 'environment'.

There is a sense of 'inevitability' about the ecological rhetoric of 'limits to growth' and of 'carrying capacity' which renders invisible the actual economic forces behind this growth. It means that it can't ask the question 'limit to what sort of growth?' or 'what if carrying capacity means the ability of capitalism to be carried?', and can end up in calls (in the extreme cases) for a return to the paeolithic period, or for a glamorisation of the relocalised feudal systems, pre-technology , but still extremely value laden. (If all these terms like 'accumulation', 'Capital' ,'profit driven commodity production' and 'austerity' feel meaningless to you then the reading list located at http://www.stuffit.org/carbon/ecologyclass.html#readinglist may be of use. This also applies if concepts like 'class struggle' and 'working class' make you think of people in flat caps and northern accent)

Class war against the planet?

other side of austerityAlternatively those who focus purely on class struggle, on the importance of our labour in creating value and profits for capitalists have been accused of ignoring actually existing real ecological limits, and of the original source of all wealth - the soil. By focusing on the inequalities inherent within capitalism and how it affects the working class, those of red persuasion have been accused of encouraging yet more rampant consumption, a race to the bottom ecologically. They have been accused of being dogmatic in their dismissal of ecological concerns, of glorifying industrial agribusiness, and of ignoring the horror of 'actually existing' socialism/communism. They have been accused of ignoring the possibilities of culture and morality in driving social change and of being utopian in downplaying ecological issues until after 'the revolution' after which everything will magically work out fine. (Similarly if 'carrying capacity' and 'real ecological limits' make you feel queasy then http://www.stuffit.org/carbon/ecologyclass.html#readinglist may help.)

Transition Towns and Social Change

Both these views are obviously parodies, though they may contain some elements we recognise. Floating around the edges at the moment is a movement called Transition Towns. It seems to embrace certain elements of both views whilst simultaneously rejecting them. For example a focussing on re-localisation, and planning as a means of economic development, whilst simultaneously engaging with local businesses and market forces. there are calls to get off the treadmill of consumer society whilst less emphaisis on the current (worsening) conditions of work as part of this, or for 'collectively unleashing the genius of the community' without talking about unions, or even the concept of unions. In short there is a lot of talk of things being produced in common, without mentioning the processes of commoning, communalism,communism.

There is a desire to break away from the old paradigms of 'scarcity' to embrace new ones of 'abundance', whilst simultaneously organising specifically around 'peak oil' or 'the end of cheap oil'. There is a desire to be 'inclusive of everyone' whilst their own founder admits to be organising 'under the radar'. By this I don't mean that Rob Hopkins has ulterior motives, is a secret class war member, but like it or not, any movement that is calling for collective buying of alternative energy systems (essentially removing the source of profit from energy corporations) ,better public transport networks (removing the source of profit from car and fuel corporations), a different way to measure GDP (highlighting inequalities of wealth and the screwing of statistics from those that reflect profit, to some that reflect reality), that creates local currencies (specifically to prevent the free movement of capital) - and does this using grassroots democratic non heirachical networks - well all this is actually fairly confrontational , if not to the specific human members of elite classes, then certainly to their interests. By attacking Capital then those who have the most to lose will surely respond antagonisticaly situation. Capital has historically not accepted offers of ceasefire from any communities that obstruct profits and accumulation. And no declarations of 'open and inclusiveness' or 'no one is too blame, the rain falls on everyone' will change this.

Confused? So am I. So in an effort to clarify/add to this confusion I am interviewing a broad range of people with a diverse range of opinions, specifically to see what emerges from the overlapping areas of red and green.