It is a troubling conclusion that the environmental movement has been unable to capitalise on overwhelming evidence in favour of dramatic co2 emissions reductions. In the same way that the financial crisis did not automatically improve the fortunes of the egalitarian movement, the increasingly urgent need to secure environmental stability has not been reflected in deeper support for the green movement. Greens remain, Will Hutton argued in a keynote speech to the Fabian Society Summer Conference this afternoon, decidedly on the back foot.
In a scenario that if anything has deteriorated since the Copenhagen conference in 2009, the green movement remains hamstrung by its image as a recipient of subsidies and special interests. Hutton suggested that the impasse out of this political discourse requires a more ambitious vision than the current silo mentality permits, one in which the environment represents a central guiding principle of a new political-economy.
Finding common ground with commentators such as Michael Jacobs, Hutton told delegates that it was vital for the impending crisis of climate is viewed alongside an ongoing crisis of capitalism. From this perspective the struggle to secure a sustainable climate future and that of fostering a model of capitalism based on stakeholding and stewardship share a vital feature: they can only be resolved through collective, social action.
Neither the traditions of scientific socialism nor a laissez-faire faith in the sovereign free market will deliver this. A more sophisticated and complex approach will be required founded on open innovation and guided by a philosophy of purpose and obligation. This is not the approach of the current government for whom it would appear that decarbonisation and economic recovery represent a zero-sum issue.
Locating these debates within a longer history of ideas, Hutton argued that they exemplified today’s need to defend key enlightenment values of truth and belief in public discourse in the face of particularistic and relativistic accounts of society. This means recognising that it is the public sphere through which we ultimately resolve societal, collective problems, whether building a political-economy of stewardship or becoming responsible guardians of the environment.