I don't follow the Green movement at all, but I read George Monbiot's blog, and recently he has been focussing on it. His recent post, Turning Together
, is an interesting snapshot of the tensions amongst Greens.
In his usual take-no-prisoners style, he starts
I challenge Jonathon Porritt to explain his contention that nuclear power and renewables are incompatible.
I know that others don’t share my puzzlement, but I don’t understand why the nuclear question needs to divide the environment movement. Our underlying aim is the same: we all want to reduce human impacts on the biosphere. We all agree that our consumption of resources must be reduced, as sharply as possible. We all question the model of endless economic growth.
Almost everyone in this movement also recognises that – even with the maximum possible conservation of resources and efficiency in the way they are used – we will not be able to bring our consumption down to zero. This is especially the case with electricity. Those who have been following the issue closely know that even with massive reductions in energy demand, electricity use will have to rise, in order to remove fossil fuels from both transport and heating.
The idea, on which there’s also wide agreement within this movement, is that the petrol and diesel used to power cars, buses and trains and the gas and oil used to heat our houses should be partly or mostly replaced by low-carbon electricity. That means an increase in electricity supply, even as, with sweeping efficiency measures in all sectors, our total energy consumption falls.
So the only question which divides us is how this low-carbon electricity should be produced. I don’t much care about which technology is used, as long as the other impacts are as small as possible, and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced quickly and efficiently. None of our options is easy and painless.
The discussion about renewables and carbon reduction are important, which is enough to make the topic more interesting. But what intrigues me about this debate is the case study that it's giving us in how movements change over time. For many years, being Green was very alternative, and you didn't have to mind being seen as "a bit odd". But gradually came more mainstream interest, and political backing, though more slowly in the UK than in some parts of Europe. And now we have laws telling companies and consumers to do the Green thing (WEEE for example), and councils nudging us in the right direction (making it easy to recycle and telling us its the new norm).
So have the Greens won their argument?
Yes. People will still grab one-use plastic bags, and not turn off appliances that don't need to be on. But these behaviours are on a downward curve now, and just like smoking, will become increasingly socially unacceptable. Hooray, then, battle is done.
But then again No. The plastic bags, the recycling, the energy conservation — these are only tinkering at the edges. These are the simple changes most people can make without much effort or cost. Now the hard work starts, as we need to tackle transport and (as George points out) find a strategy to transition to low carbon energy generation, and then stick to it. And this is where the Greens seem to be in disarray. Now that they have won an important, but small, battle, their generals have turned on themselves trying to work out how to win the overall war.
There aren't easy answers, though George's suggestions sound like they're a sensible pragmatic contribution. But as they now tackle the more fundamental questions about sustainability of the Western lifestyle, they need to be united more now than ever. At this turning point, will some be willing to jettison previous articles of faith — like nuclear power is an evil than needs to be phased out — in order to win the war? Or will it realise that shouldn't have been an "article of faith" at all, but a particular view that made sense in the context of its time … but now the context has changed? Or will it continue to bicker and fragment, and lose attention and credibility?
Why am I writing this? I care about strategy. But important as care for the environment is, the mission of the Church is more important. (Only because Jesus deliberately and clearly gave it "The Great Commission", which is, if you like, the first Mission statement. If it was just decided by men who like dressing up, I wouldn't care.) I think, in both cases, they need to "keep the main thing, the main thing". But re-discovering what the main thing is can be hard when there's decades (let alone centuries) of tradition and history to contend with. So, humbly listening to the movement's Founder is called for, and in the light of it, rebuilding the strategy. This is another reason the Greens are going to find it hard, without a single source or Founder. So, Christians, thank God for Jesus and His Spirit!
And, George, keep it up. Keep questioning the inherited strategies, until you have something that can really deal with the "main thing". And why not take a look at the Church's Founder, and what he did to equip his movement for change, long after he returned from whence he came …