Can conservatives be green?

Issue 

By Lisa Macdonald

"Nowadays, being green is seen as a core political value, even at the conservative end of politics", says the cover article in the July 25 issue of the Bulletin, titled "The Green Smokescreen". We are all green now, says the article: "... it is time for the green movement to stop crying wolf".

Leading the media barons' latest propaganda offensive against the green movement, Packer's Bulletin says, "Both in the public and private spheres, Australians have reacted rapidly to the signals the environment movement has sent out".

That same week, Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald pounced on a statement by former federal environment minister Ros Kelly, who told the July 20 Responsible Investment Association conference that her major mistake while minister was her "reluctance to ... trust industry on green-related issues".

In the same article, Greenpeace International's former chief executive in Australia, Paul Gilding, is quoted as saying that Australia is "now approaching the second stage of conservation", which is "cooperation between environmentalists and industry".

The big business media's message was also given weight by the political manoeuvring surrounding the Queensland election. Witness the claim, made with an absolutely straight face on ABC's Lateline by National Party leader Tim Fisher, that the Nationals are now "green" because the Queensland Greens directed preferences to the Coalition in five seats.

The peak environment bodies didn't do much better. Their claims that Queensland's environment would be the big winner under a Goss government gave the other party of big business, the ALP, more undeserved green cover.

The establishment doesn't allow facts to get in the way. There is no mention that nuclear bombs are still being exploded, that there is not one clean source of fresh water left in the USA, that the world's rainforests are still disappearing at a rate of one football field every three seconds, that there have been three major oil spills decimating large areas of shoreline in the last month, that the emission of ozone-depleting gases is still increasing globally — to mention just a few.

'Extremists'

The message that everyone is pro-environment now is accompanied by another, more dangerous ideological assault, one targeted at those of us who don't buy the line that all is now well.

According to the Bulletin: "Environmentalism is a triumphant movement, which has a thousand and one reasons to celebrate. And yet it resists doing so." Citing a US writer on the environment movement, Gregg Easterbrook, the Bulletin argues that the left is "afraid of the environmental good news because 'it undercuts stylish pessimism'".

The former president of Greenpeace Canada, Patrick Moore, who visited Australia in mid-July at the invitation of the Australian pro-logging lobby, provided the ideal mouthpiece for big business's anti-left campaign.

Moore, who now runs a centre in Vancouver which aims to "bridge gaps between environmental and industrial interests", differentiates between "eco-extremists", the "zero-tolerance" wing of the movement, which the Financial Review of July 14 describes as those who "take no prisoners and brook no compromise", and the "eco-realists".

Murdoch's Australian of July 21 also gives Moore plenty of space, quoting him that "many environmentalists have taken a sharp turn to the Ultra-Left, ushering in a mood of extremism and intolerance".

Moore argues that eco-extremists are "a new variant of the environment movement that is so extreme that many people, including myself, believe its agenda is a greater threat to the global environment than that posed by mainstream society". The challenge for the green movement, he said, is to rid itself of this wing.

The July 21 Australian editorial, using Moore as its mouthpiece, argues for a replacement of "the strident and often counter-productive environmental agenda of the 1980s" with "the combined and collaborative efforts of governments, environmentalists, institutions and industry".

In fact, as the July 14 Financial Review acknowledges, it is the status quo that confronts a challenge: "The political mainstream has its work cut out in keeping this debate under control. For the ALP, the Coalition, the Democrats and the Greens, policy attention will have to be given ... to sorting out the mainstream from the extremists."

Propaganda barrage

The green movement internationally has posed a significant threat to the status quo by mobilising large numbers of people against "business as usual", by raising mass consciousness about the ecological crisis and the need for urgent action and by its potential for uniting the struggles for environmental sustainability and social justice. The latest propaganda barrage is part of the capitalist class's ongoing efforts to divide, coopt and demobilise that threat.

They have had some success. The Green political parties around the world, for example, were formed on the basis of four principles: grassroots democracy, peace and non-violence, environmental sustainability and economic and social justice. Being green meant seeing the need to change society fundamentally.

A couple of decades later, most Green parties have shifted to the right, lapsing into parliamentarism and becoming distant from the activist base and/or narrowing their focus in a way that alienates them from the left and broader social movements. While the Bulletin claims that "ideas that even 10 years ago would have been considered extreme left-wing are now mainstream", the truth is that much of this radical movement has itself been mainstreamed.

Some things, however, haven't changed. Our planet is increasingly eroded and poisoned, and less bio-diverse, and an increasing majority of its human inhabitants are impoverished, starving, ill and alienated.

Neither has the root cause of the global environmental and social crises changed. The international capitalist system's pursuit of maximum profits in the shortest time is destroying everything in its path. The fact that the capitalist class is armed with the most powerful propaganda machine in history, which is used to try to convince us otherwise, does not alter the fact that "green capitalism" is a contradiction in terms.

The capitalist media machine will continue to try to redefine the nature, causes and solutions for the environment crisis. But people are not so easily conned, especially when the evidence of environmental deterioration, corporate culpability and government inaction or complicity is all around them.

If refusing to compromise on the question of human survival makes us eco-extremists, then that is what we need to be. It also happens to be the only "realistic" path.

Reading Green Left online is free but producing it isn't ...

Green Left aims to make all content available online, without paywalls, but we depend on your support to survive.