Over the last week, I have been to several talks at Bristol's Big Green Week. It has been good, listening to thinkers and do-ers in the field of bringing mankind to its ecological senses. In fact, yesterday, after listening to Fiona Reynolds and Dan Pearson talking about Nature Deficit Disorder - the malign effect of separating humans from nature, and the benign effect of re-connecting them with nature - I actually felt the stirrings of primary optimism in my chest.
Primary optimism is distinct from my chosen optimism. A few years ago, I was suffering one of those times when you wonder if it is all a waste of time, that our rulers are hell-bent on exhausting the planetary resources in the name of profit, and that there is nothing that we can say or do to affect this process. At that time, I decided to deliberately choose to be optimistic, to keep looking for solutions, because the alternative was not just pessimism and inactivity, but also personal depression.
But yesterday, I realised that there are many many people who are quietly and successfully beavering away at making a better world, in every aspect of life, and that this is cause for optimism. I also realised that we have moved on immensely since I began doing green politics. Of course, it is happening much too slowly, but it is happening. Peoples' minds are changing, and only the immutable ideologues and free market fundamentalists remain fixed in denial, as is demanded by their root belief.
So the Big Green Week was good. But it has one big flaw - its disconnectedness from the current political situation. Apart from one reference from Caroline Lucas, I heard nobody dealing with the economic crisis that is engulfing the UK, Europe and the world. At the same time, yesterday, in the session with Caroline Lucas Patrick Curry and Polly Higgins, chaired by Jonathon Porritt.
In this session, the question was raised, on the platform, of why these issues, so obvious and so important to us, the middle class intelligensia, are of so little interest to the mainstream? Why, knowing what we know, do we not act? How do we raise the popular energy to make the transition to a green, sustainable economy? How do we change the culture, generate a groundswell of opinion that supports a way of living that does not wreck the planet?
I believe that the answer lies in solving the problem of unemployment by creating good work in the green sector of the economy. Philosophically, this means understanding that true work means increasing the order in our surrounding world, applying ourselves to oppose entropy. In practice, it means facilitating work in these areas of the economy :
1 energy conservation
2 renewable energy technologies
3 energy efficient goods manufacture
4 pollution control technology
5 waste minimisation
8 water management
9 sustainable agriculture
10 forestry and timber use
11 countryside management
12 housing - new building and refurbishment
13 improvements to visual environment
14 public transport
15 education and training
16 counselling, caring and healing
17 community work
18 leisure and tourism
19 innovation, research and development
20 any business which passes a certain threshold in its environmental audit.
In political terms, it means changing the benefit system so that it behaves more like Citizen's Income.
I believe that these changes, as part of a broader anti-austerity package, an economic Plan B, This should be raised as a standard that everyone who disagrees with austerity can rally around.
By showing that ecology is about action, not just words, we can transform peoples' understanding of what Nature means for them. By showing that household incomes can rise, that people can actually create a happier world, and get paid real money for it, we can get a hearing.
I was unable to get this point across in the one brief question that I was able to put at the beginning of the week. At present, I am incubating a plan to actually create, with others, a pilot of the Green Wage Subsidy. This intent is again down to what I heard at a Schumacher lecture in the Big Green Week. Tim Smits said Just Do It. He also said that he is angered by negative people - the people who just love to say it cannot be done. In future, I am going simply to ignore these naysayers. They do not matter. What matters is that we should take practical, non-violent, action, to make the situation better.