We recently attended a meeting at which the speaker represented what used to be the ecological or conservationist movement, now coming to be known as ‘the greens.’ For the readers of IC we need not recite what was said; it was all familiar. The interest begins when one asks why these calm, sensible propositions do not receive enthusiastic support from all who hear them. ‘The rate at which we are consuming non-renewable natural resources, and the consequent pollution, are damaging the environment on which we depend; we need to stop aiming at ever-higher standards of living and think instead of quality of life, to establish a steady- state system capable of continuing. indefinitely.’ Who can refuse to agree with that?
Few people do. The speaker claimed that when his movement put their arguments they usually met with approval, and we do not question this. But the agreement does not carry through into practice; these people who express agreement with the greens continue to press for higher standards of living and in doing so – although they do not intend this – cause industry to continue exhausting resources and producing pollution.
The first socialists – Fourier, Saint Simon and Robert Owen – also started out with the belief that putting forward a reasonable case would be enough. Each of them confidently approached the rulers of the time, certain of support for proposals so obviously sensible, only to be disappointed. Some of those concerned for the environment still attempt to use this method, expecting the government to control the farmers, protect sites of special scientific interest and prevent industry wrecking what remains of the British countryside. The greens have chosen a more radical approach, appealing to the electorate rather than the authorities, gathering at sensitive sites and, in France and Germany, resisting the police sent to disperse them.
In doing this they have begun to identify themselves with opposition to constituted authority. They have begun to traverse the path followed by the left wing as it developed from socialism to communism and on to anarchism, the failure of one method provoking a more radical and ambitious undertaking which turns out to enjoy even less support, and to have less chance of success, than the previous one.
from Ideological Commentary 33, May 1988.