A Popular Environmentalism – nature, place and climate in the Labour Policy Review

13th June, 2014 4:19 pm

The Fabians’ new report ‘Pride of Place’ presents a challenge to the environment movement – to spend less time lobbying and more organising, to attend to the local case for action, rather than assuming top-down consent, and to consider how a relationship with ‘place’ fits into a wider politics of the common good.

But it also sets a challenge for us in Labour to think differently about the land upon which we stand.

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We did some remarkable things in office – not least ensuring public access to huge areas of countryside, passing the Climate Change Act and kick-starting an industrial revival through the clean technology sector which, if nurtured, could help create thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs.

But we too often treated the environment as if it were the exclusive domain of a technocratic state – monetising, commodifying and managing – rather than supporting communities to protect something which is at the heart of our national life.

As we develop our new manifesto, we will remember that for people whose experience is one of neglected parks, littered streets, dog waste and sheer ugliness. The feeling of abandonment this embodies is felt acutely and deeply each day, in the journey to work or to school.

More widely we will think about people’s relationship with nature. To fishing families in our coastal towns, our seas are not merely a nice to have, or a fish-mine to exploit and leave for dead. They hold the story of a shared past, and should also contain real hope for the future. The right and duty to fish them sustainably cannot be reduced to a trade-able commodity – and nor should tending to their health be the exclusive concern of Whitehall or Brussels.

And on the same premise, the case for tackling climate change must surely rest firmly on the risks it poses to our common good, to our homes and health, to our infrastructure and our businesses, to our wildlife, woods, rivers and gardens, as well as to those affected across the wider world.

Putting people and the places they live first provides a leaping off point for some really exciting ideas.

First, I am looking forward to working closely with Caroline Flint’s team as she develops Labour’s proposals for extending democratic engagement in the energy system – building on Labour’s energy price freeze. New opportunities for cities to establish their own generation companies, start-ups looking to crowd-sourced funding for clean energy projects, and street – by -street energy efficiency programmes delivered alongside training for young people, can all help to increase our energy security, engage people in the effort to reduce climate pollution, and ensure that we benefit as a people from harnessing indigenous energy supplies.

Secondly, I’ve heard some brilliant ideas about how environmental partnerships can create value in the local economy. Farmers, retailers, conservationists, schools, hospitals, water companies – all have a huge shared interest in building markets for local food that is produced sustainably and gives a fair wage to employees and fair price to growers. But to make this a reality, central Government will need to let go of some its control of centralised budget streams.

Thirdly, we must pay more attention to our green space. There is no question that pressure on local authority budgets is going to hit our parks hard. And that whilst there is a real appetite among conservation groups to help protect them, building the capacity to do so will not be easy, or instant. Moreover, suspicion of David Cameron’s Big Society is a barrier to many who might otherwise have welcomed a plan for shared responsibility.

Our Policy Review’s has a strong focus on devolving and sharing power and we believe this will increase capacity within communities. This is one of the key challenges for our whole programme of sharing power and renewing civic life, not just our policies on the environment. Following the Fabians’ report and with an eye on the excellent work done by Ruth Davis at Greenpeace, I am looking forward to suggestions from green groups as to how we build this popular environmentalism.

Jon Cruddas MP is leading Labour’s policy review. You can read the Fabian “Pride of Place” report here.

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