The cost of living crisis has worrying consequences which reach beyond finding enough money to put food on the table, pay energy bills, and keep up with the mortgage or rent. More seemingly remote political concerns such as environmentalism suffer when families are struggling to keep up with everyday necessities. I have to confess that when I ask my constituents in Huddersfield what their political priorities are, very few mention looking after the environment, and most of those that do are students. In more pessimistic moments, I worry that environmentalism belongs with ‘Making Poverty History’ as a policy only for the boom times.
This apparent lack of traction with voters explains why the Conservatives have quietly and cravenly dropped their attempts to ‘go green’, which now look as hollow as their ill-fated ‘big society’ project. It also explains why Labour has been emphasising its policy of freezing energy bills rather than its commitment to green policies.
However, I think all three political parties are missing an opportunity. As forthcoming Fabian Society research shows, people do care about the environment when they think locally and when they connect it to other important aspects of their lives, such as their friends and relatives, their house and home, the money in their wallet and their chances of getting a decent job or education.
My own experience as a social entrepreneur suggests that we are on the cusp of a whole new world of political activity made possible by social media and new digital technologies. Just last week I had 10 people at my constituency advice service urging me to oppose an aspect of the Lobbying Bill that touches on the charity sector. Before they entered my office they had never met, but were brought together by the online campaigning of 38 Degrees.
At a time when membership of political parties is so low, people are forming fresh communities and groups online, which can be very effective activist organisations. Twitter, Facebook and all the rest make it easier for people to get their views across and take action. From effectively opposing provisions of the Lobbying Bill to toppling corrupt governments in places like Egypt and Tunisia, we have seen the incredible effect that these new forms of communication can have. There is a real opportunity for the environmental movement to take.
After radically altering communication, retail, journalism and much else besides, I believe the next sector be overturned by the internet is finance. In a recent meeting with Ann-Marie Huby, the founder of Just Giving, she told me of the massive switch in charitable giving towards donations made through mobile phones. This makes it even easier to donate to important causes, including environmental causes.
I have become deeply involved in the crowdfunding movement, partly because crowdfunding is a brilliant and innovative way to support local and environmental projects. Crowdfunding platforms such as Crowdcube, Crowdpatch, Trillion Fund, and many more give us the opportunity to identify projects and organise effectively at the local level, and to raise considerable amounts though investments from ordinary people. Eventually crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending platforms should make it possible for every citizen to have a portfolio of investments, and because people are not only motivated by high financial returns and do care about their local environment, this could be an enormous boon to local green projects.
We are on the cusp of a new revolution in social and political communications and activity. And it gives every one of us in the environmental sector a great opportunity to support the causes we care about, even when political attention lies elsewhere.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of the Fabian Review.