It is, of course, understandable that at times most of us are drawn into looking back on history and despair for the future. Humanity hasn't had a good track record of looking after the planet. In the Sahara desert you can find lively images drawn by early humans of them hunting amongst trees and even swimming in the pools and rivers. There is a strong school of thought that puts the change down to humans destroying the trees and drying out the climate.
We now seem determined to repeat the mistake on a global scale. Each year so much of the Indonesian rain forest is set alight that the smoke can be seen from space and it pollutes countries hundreds of miles away. Our oil companies seem hell bent on searching out and burning ever last fossil made of carbon without realising that the oxygen in the air that we breathe is also a fossil. Every time we wash off some sun cream we send trillions of plastic particles into the ocean with no way of getting them out and no real knowledge of the impact on plankton. Short sighted pursuit of profit for the company is not exactly the best way to protect the interests of the environment or the collective community. So I fully understand why we need to attack irresponsible capitalism and also irresponsible behaviour by the individual. But we also need to inject a healthy dose of can do optimism about change.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that we can achieve a huge transformation in the way the world works that will help make people better off, healthier, happier and safer at the same time as protecting the environment. They include:
1. The energy revolution.
We are moving rapidly away from an oil powered past into a future of lower energy consumption and renewable sources of energy. Once a technology starts to take off changes tend to happen with increasing speed. Sooner or later we are going to move beyond the era of fossil fuel and it looks like being sooner. A world which generates most of its energy locally isn't just a cleaner world it is one which is massively safer and more equal. Sending enormous quantities of money to the countries which happen to be sitting on fossil reserves creates a huge source of funding for nasty regimes and a powerful incentive for them to spend much of that money on military technology to defend the land that the oil sits on. The sun shines and the wind blows in a lot more places than oil can be found and the next phase of technology may turn out to be much more equal and peaceful. To paraphrase Marx: the windmill gives you feudalism, the steam engine gives you capitalism, fossil fuels give you rich Saudis funding terrorism and renewables give you local control.
2. We have in the past managed to take collective decisions about major pollution problems and succeeded in tackling them with urgency and determination across the whole planet. CFCs in aerosols are now a thing of the past and this required difficult messy global agreements. Those agreements have held up well and the ozone layer is slowly mending. The Paris accords may be riddled with faults and amount to little more than an agreement to do whatever you like in each individual country to tackle a massive global problem. Nevertheless they are a statement of serious intent from the vast majority of countries and this represents a huge change of direction which guarantees a wall of investment going into green technology.
3. The influential Chinese government has finally got it. Huge pollution in the air of their cities is now every bit as high a priority at the top level as economic growth. Investment in green energy in China is happening with great determination on a huge scale. A state guided and managed free market economy has given China over 30 years of successful economic growth. Now those same controls are being used to switch investment away from coal and into green energy. The influence of this decision on third world countries who wish to copy the Chinese model could be of enormous significance. It may well enable many of them to industrialise without taking on China's problems of horrific pollution.
4. Fossilised technology is becoming massively unpopular. In the UK there is a faction that is still hoping that fracking will provide the country with the solution to its energy and balance of payments problems. It won't. It will simply cause horrific on shore pollution and damage living conditions. Despite all the desperate promises of safety and cheap energy very few people are falling for it. There are a lot of people from all political perspectives who are actively determined that it won't be allowed to happen either in their own back yards or in anyone else's. The fossil industry isn't trusted any more. People are looking for an alternative and realising that there has to be a change in our technology and our attitude to waste.
5. The intellectual environment is changing. People no longer trust the old politicians and are looking for honest reliable people who are more interested in getting things done than in their own careers. In these circumstances anything is possible in terms of political change. Including an Austrian Green becoming President of the country or an avowed socialist winning millions of votes in a US primary election.
I therefore think that we are in a situation where there are many reasons to be positive as well as plenty of ones to be negative. It is easy to be naive on the upside but it is also all too easy to increase despair and inactivity by giving the impression that the problems are too big and intractable for any individual to be able to do anything to improve things. It seems to me that we are entering one of the most important ideological battles of my lifetime. Will the West look back with nostalgia to a past where it dominated the world and lived off fossil fuels? Or will we be able to encourage people to embrace new technology and live greener more peaceful more fulfilled lives? I think the Greens in the UK need to make sure our pitch is clear and strong. We are trying to lead the way towards a sustainable and successful future and the optimists, the scientists, and the forward looking business community should be firmly on our side. With a new leader and a positive message for the electorate there is every chance that the UK Green Party could play a really helpful role in helping the country and the planet make the changes that have to be made to secure the future.