The environment and citizenship programme is one that tries to grapple with what I think can be summed up by two central questions:
Firstly, how can we keep the environment on the agenda at a time of economic insecurity and uncertainty?
And secondly, how can we collapse forever the false choice that some of our political opponents set up between economic prosperity and the health of our environment?
This year the Fabian Society will be using its summer conference to debate the political issues of the day in a way that will hopefully help us in the task of addressing these two questions. With a keynote speech from Will Hutton in the morning to a range of sessions featuring shadow ministers such as Mary Creagh and Caroline Flint in the afternoon it is the chance to develop a distinctively Labour answer to those questions.
I am honoured and privileged to be leading this programme at the Fabian Society and I want to use the occasion of our summer conference this year to reflect a little on the journey that led me here. I want to do this because it’s a core part of my plea to the Labour party.
I first became conscious of the environmental challenges facing our planet when living in Beijing – the capital of China – the country that you have to see to believe the pace and scale of change that economic growth has brought. It was in China that I started to work for Greenpeace. Watching my Chinese colleagues trying to influence their government I realised how political the solutions to our environmental challenges were. So in 2009 I returned to the UK to take advantage of the opportunities presented by our open and democratic political system.
I stared looking for spaces in which I could pursue environmental activism. I spent some time with my local transition towns movement – a movement in which small groups of people would get together to debate how best to solve the local manifestations of environmental problems.
But it wasn’t until I joined the Labour party that I felt I’d found a natural home for what I felt environmentalism should be about. It was an environmentalism which understood that you could not and should not separate social problems from environmental ones; it was an environmentalism which also understood that you could not and should not separate environmental problems from economic ones.
And now, through the work the Fabians are undertaking on green grassroots – it can be an approach which understands that in order to meet our environmental challenges we must provide institutions through which people can reassert democratic control over their local and indeed global environments.
The ability to place the environment at the heart of a holistic approach to social justice and economic prosperity is what makes the Labour party the natural party of the green movement.
Our economic recovery will not be a recovery if it doesn’t prioritise the efficient use of resources. Ultimately all human activity is contingent on the health of our environmental systems. There is no economy if there is no planet earth. That’s why my plea to the Labour Party is this: Let us place the environment at the heart of everything that we do.