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Synthesis/Regeneration 36   (Winter 2005)

Statement of the Ecology Caucus

As members of the Ecology Caucus of the national Green Party of the U.S., we believe US Greens have grounds for optimism. Among the known particulars are:

These have the potential momentum we need to shed the tag of “third party” and encourage many to regard the Greens as the “second-party-in-waiting.” Our “outsider” status means we can promote policies without diluting our message or our principles.

However, we see a problem. The perception of many, and that of our caucus, is that the US Greens lack a central message that, by its vigorous content and persuasiveness, can help us move from a marginalized also-ran or gadfly to a major, viable and competitive American political party. Until this message is expressed clearly we will be showered with the “spoiler” epithet in every election campaign.

We believe that the original meaning of the word Green, pertaining to Nature, ecology and the environment, needs to be restored and the identification of our party with these concepts made unambiguous. It was for this reason that we formed the Ecology Caucus.

The word “Green” is perceived worldwide as synonymous with a commitment to protect and preserve the natural world, its resources, species, biotic communities and ecosystems. Certainly this is true regarding Green parties in other countries, where Greens are often the lone voice for the environment heard in foreign parliaments and the media. Since the 1980s in Western Europe and the 1970s in New Zealand, Greens have assumed the leadership on issues such as genetic engineering, Mad Cow Disease, nuclear power and climate change as well as on a wide range of social and economic themes, most of which derive their significance from the diverse ecological crises facing the planet.

Unless and until the US Green Party endorses Ecology as its central tenet and philosophy we will remain a small voice in a wilderness of political strife.

We of the Ecology Caucus recognize that this potent issue of environmental activism based on ecological principles rings a bell with a majority of Americans, especially those alienated by the two major parties and specifically by the Democratic Party, which has put a price ceiling on a safe and healthful environment and which essentially reflects the views of the Republican party.

Unless and until the US Green Party endorses Ecology as its central tenet and philosophy we will remain a small voice in a wilderness of political strife and a small movement that could well collapse due to stratification and division.

This in no way denies that other issues—those of economic and social justice, the communities and movements of color, union workers, gays and lesbians, the traditional liberals, the Left or peace activists—are important; indeed these lay the groundwork for a livable world. They form the social components of that broad ecological paradigm we call “Green.”

Ecology and the environment comprise the scientific foundations of the movements for social and economic justice. As such they are not only substitutes for abstract ideologies but provide what has been lacking in social activism: credibility, scientific evidence, and objective justification for the reconstruction of public policies and institutions.

These attributes have the greatest potential for recruiting a broad public constituency that renders divisive Identity Politics of class, gender, race, religion or ethnic origin unnecessary.

Social and economic justice is necessary but, alone, insufficient for attaining an ecological society. It is the responsibility of Greens to show how social and ecological concerns both have at their core the same vision: a world in ecological balance in which we can all safely live within the constraints of nature. Henry David Thoreau said, presciently: “Whatis the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Today we understand that without the preservation of earth’s natural systems, all our efforts for social and economic justice will be in vain.

We will never see support from the average voter, most of whom, all polls indicate, recognize the protection of our environment as the pervading issue of our times, until we make this our central tenet, overriding philosophy and core value. Only through ecological analysis can we give meaning, context and purpose to all struggles for social and economic justice. These all share common roots. Without this context the human struggle is merely one of self-interest in which the rest of nature is ignored. Ecological justice, properly defined, embraces all other issues. Environmentalism, ultimately, is a social justice movement.

While the Green Party has spent considerable time and effort developing a draft party platform, the platform lacks a strong and unequivocal central theme. We believe that that theme must be the overriding ecological crises facing the planet, especially loss of biodiversity and climate change. These make the health and survival of the human species itself extremely tenuous, even dubious.

The vast majority of credible scientists call the biodiversity crisis “The Sixth Extinction,” while asserting that unless global fossil fuel consumption is reduced by 50% to 70% in the next three decades the Earth will face unprecedented environmental, economic and social catastrophe by the year 2100. If and when this occurs, social and economic justice will be indefinitely sidelined, without policy or financial commitment, in order to deal with the cataclysmic impact of global-warming-induced natural disasters like floods, droughts, disease, crop failures, desiccation of freshwater supplies, and desertification.

Undoubtedly, the plight of the wealthy industrialized countries will take precedence over that of the less developed countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The gap between rich and poor that we see now will be widened beyond recognition and beyond recall, rendering calls for social justice inaudible and implausible.

…without the preservation of earth’s natural systems, all our efforts for social and economic justice will be in vain.

Unless our message and platform are commensurate with these imminent threats, we are merely, as the old parable tells us, plucking bodies out of the river instead of going upstream to find the root cause of the problem. This is obvious to most Greens but, crucially, is also recognized by the vast majority of Americans who will have good reason to rally to our cause and party if we assert this philosophy as our core value.

The Eco-Caucus finds many of the responses of the Green Party and the Green movement inadequate given the urgency and scope of the problems. While we recognize that Ralph Nader conducted a brilliant campaign, confounding the media with his knowledge and intellectual acuity, we noted only passing reference to genetic engineering and energy policy and, to our knowledge, no references to the biodiversity crisis at all.

His anti-corporate, anti-WTO message was impeccable and welcome. It was one of the first examples of unreserved public criticism of American corporate control and crime to creep onto the airwaves. But at least one critic, a British journalist for a London daily, was astounded to hear Nader speak in Washington DC and never mention global warming at all.

We believe that the GP and the state Green Parties need to confront and respond to the severity of the environmental crisis. There is as yet no central committee to speak out to the public on a regular basis on behalf of the environment in response to the misinformation and propaganda of the corporate-controlled mass media. Greens and Green Parties have no presence in the halls of congress nor have we made ourselves the public voice for the environment—the voice needed as a counterweight to disastrous government policies, corporations and despoilers of the earth.

While we recognize that the state-based structure of the GP presently makes a centralized presence difficult, we believe that extra effort should be devoted to establishing this presence speedily. This would bestow a public identity on the burgeoning Green Party as well as bring it credibility on environmental issues while demonstrating the existence of a decentralized collection of parties struggling to make themselves heard.

We ask, not rhetorically as it may seem: Do Greens really understand the urgency of the ecological crisis? Are we as powerless as we think? Are we so “decentralist” that we will not take any concerted measures at the national level to address ecological issues on a regular basis? Why aren’t we US Greens even “acting nationally” much less “globally?” Finally, is there fear of being judged “tree huggers” who “care more about the environment than people?”

What will Greens do to build our party? Who is our natural constituency? To whom should we do outreach? What will give our party the identity and consistent vision it needs to become a mature and professional player in the electoral field? What can we do so that our message and candidates will be taken as seriously as those who belabor the budget deficit or the so-called loss of “family values?” How can we get the terms “spoiler” and "left wing radicals" banished from public dialogue once and for all?

Moreover, many of the advocates of the issues we have referred to as the social components of that broad ecological paradigm we call “Green” are and will remain enrolled Democrats or even Socialists for the foreseeable future, and with good reason. They have yet to see what the Green party offers them philosophically or pragmatically. While some of these advocates berate Greens for supposedly ignoring their concerns, few of these show serious concern for environmental issues in turn. There is only one party dedicated to the survival of the Earth: the Green Party. We stand virtually alone; a sobering thought.

Bringing in new progressive supporters will take time but this doesn’t mean we must redirect our efforts or dilute our principles with the vague hope of attracting progressives to enroll as Greens. While Greens are committed to social justice issues, their articulation and implementation have been, rightly or wrongly, relegated to marginal and often unruly politics. We Greens cannot afford to be further marginalized and these groups must recognize that, just as we see their efforts as helping to lay the groundwork for ecologically-based policies, in the final analysis the survival of the planet is the fundamental precondition for any society. When social justice activists truly understand the political implications of ecology, they will join us.

Our perception is that, whether through negligence or intentional disregard, Greens are preaching to the converted. Their sermon, directed to perceived allies rather than to new constituencies that may not be “politically correct,” has effectively put ecology and environment into a back corner.

Greens make a serious misjudgment if they underestimate how much environmental issues mean to most Americans. National polls repeatedly show that the American public unreservedly supports strong environmental policies, laws and enforcement. Environmental concerns and commitment cut across all classes, income levels, professions and even political ideologies.

Notwithstanding the propaganda disseminated by corporate interests via the willing mass media or repeated attempts to discredit environmental activists and organizations, the American public at large has never wavered in its pro-environment stance.

When Americans are asked to list the leading environmental organizations in this country, groups like the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters are more likely to be named than the Green Party. We must remedy this by assuming our proper role as the public voice for the environment and, equally importantly, as advocates for ecological principles, especially because the established environmental groups show repeated willingness to support establishment views and candidates. We can no longer soft-pedal ecological principles or reduce them to individual environmental battles. We must place the ecological crisis at the philosophical and political center of our platform and message. The Green Party cannot and will not survive unless we assume this leadership.

While we Greens have a heavy responsibility to speak truth in our platform about the global ecological crisis, it is incumbent on us to offer positive, practical alternatives that are ecologically sound, sustainable and socially just, and which preserve the civil liberties we prize in a democracy. Accordingly, we urge the Green Party to:

This institution would be entrusted with preparing rebuttals to the media distortions and lies about the environment, influencing policy makers, developing liaison and coalitions with other groups and movements, conducting training seminars for environmental activists and Greens, and in general serving as the public voice and advocate for the environment, with special emphasis on global warming. This could be established as an independent tax-exempt educational organization capable of soliciting foundation grants and donations.

Unless and until we Greens adopt these principles as the centerpiece of our electoral and organizing campaigns, we undermine the whole purpose of our existence while ignoring the most effective tools available for attracting new constituencies. Pragmatism and idealism can go hand in hand for the benefit of the Green Party.

Lorna Salzman sent S/R the Statement of the Ecology Caucus.

[27 dec 04]

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