Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

NIMBY but nice

Why the Greens are like this

Artillery Row

The politics of climate change is often framed as being rooted in the need to “make hard choices”. Hard choices between growth and conservation. Hard choices between individual and collective well-being. Hard choices over the cost of living. For Britain’s most ostentatiously and ostensibly committed political wing of the environmental movement — the Green Party — the ability to make hard choices is a very long way off indeed. The Green Party can’t, won’t, make even the easiest, most obvious choices available.

You’re outraged and threatened by solutions that might actually help

Take nuclear energy. No, really, take it — it’s good, reliable, safe and clean. The Green Party’s co-leader (why make the membership make hard choices between candidates, after all?) Adrian Ramsay reacted happily to the news that the Government was wavering on its commitment to Sizewell C, tweeting: “It would be a burden and a risk, not a solution: it would take 10-17 years to start producing energy”. Sizewell C is a new nuclear reactor that will power six million homes with low-carbon electricity, substantively reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lessen our exposure to demented fossil fuel producing regimes. It is an unequivocal, unarguable positive for the environment. It won’t solve all our environmental problems — of course it won’t — but nothing on its own will. If you’re going to call yourself a left-wing, pro-environment party then it is very difficult to understand why you would oppose the state investing £20 billion in long-term, clean energy infrastructure.

It’s not just nuclear. Take High Speed 2. No, really, take it — it opens up efficient, electrified travel to vast swathes of the country, increases public transport capacity and reduces our dependence on cars. Former Green party co-leader Jonathan Bartley described the new high-speed rail line as “an act of Ecocide” that “must be stopped”. In constituencies up and down the proposed route, Green Party candidates revel in their opposition to investment in critical public transport infrastructure and campaign vociferously against the project. Never mind that HS2 will run as a zero-carbon rail network from day one or that the project is planting hundreds of thousands of trees, conserving ancient woodlands and relocating animals impacted. The Green Party doesn’t want it.

“Why”, in the words of journalist and columnist Sarah Ditum, reacting to Ramsay’s screed, “are they like this?

Is it because, at its core, the Green Party is not interested in any solution to the climate emergency that rests on progress rather than reaction? In part, yes. There is certainly a strand of green thinking — present in both the Green Party and its outriders in Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and a plethora of other bourgeois paramilitaries — that instinctively opposes any environmental intervention that has the whiff of modernity about it. If you think environmental activism is primarily a wedge issue, a means of radicalising the wider population in service of your ultimate ends — the dismantling of capitalism, the return to an agrarian utopia, the reduction of population levels to “sustainable” levels etc — then of course you’re outraged and threatened by solutions that might actually help fix the issue and (worse) which depend on technology and the mobilisation of significant capital, made possible by our current economic system.

This is an insufficient explanation, however. Most people do not subscribe to the view that life would be better if we annihilated our economy, retrenched to subsistence farming and got used to mediaeval levels of life expectancy. This is not an electorally promising prospectus, as the Green Party knows — after all it doesn’t stick these messages on its leaflets or centre them in its wacky, off-beat party political broadcasts. It is hard to believe that even amongst the increasing numbers of Green members and voters, there is anything approaching a majority in favour of outright, proactive, misanthropic nihilism.

The Green Party exists to take on the mantle of the NIMBY without admitting it

Then why does the Green Party campaign against the things that might actually help to resolve the issue that it claims to care so supremely about? Because it’s easy. The Green Party is the ultimate personification of what Janan Ganesh and others describe as “vibes politics”.

This is the idea that, on the whole, our politics is much less rational than we like to imagine and is instead driven largely by our identities and by the identity-signals that we react to instinctively. Ganesh explains this phenomenon in the following terms: “Most people’s ideological commitments are extraordinarily soft. What they think of as a belief is often a post-hoc rationalisation of a group loyalty. Crucially, this is more true, not less, of degree-holding, ‘high-information’ voters.” This is how the Green Party gets away with — indeed, thrives on — its consistent hypocrisy on its central issue.

Imagine for a second (you read The Critic and so I am generously presuming that you will need to imagine this) that you are a middle class, public sector professional living in Suffolk near to the Sizewell site or somewhere adjacent to the HS2 route. You think of yourself as a good person. You love our NHS, you voted Remain, you admire Gareth Southgate despite having paid vanishingly little attention to football before he became England manager and you care about the environment. The trucks that will be bringing materials to that site down the road will be a nuisance, though. The noise and the disruption aren’t particularly attractive. You’ve heard that they might look to build more houses nearby once the project is finished and goodness only knows what that will mean for the value of your place. You don’t want to be the sort of person who opposes clean energy or public transport, but — deep down — you are that sort of person.

Cognitive dissonance is toxic for human beings. We hate it. It hurts us. You need a solution — something that allows you to retain your chosen identity whilst enabling your opposition to unequivocally good and pro-social things. You need someone or something to come along and enable you not to choose. This is where the Green Party fits it. It will absolve you. It will make it okay. It will prevent any dangerous fracturing in the identity that you have worked so hard to cultivate and to signal to the world. After all, it has got exactly the right vibe — I mean, it even has “green” in its name! — to allow you to campaign against good, necessary things without shame and with recourse to your customary, comfortable self-righteousness.

This is why the Green Party is the way it is. As swathes of the non-London south engage in their own “great replacement” — swapping outspoken, battle-axe church-goers for right-on refugees from the over-priced metropolis — the newcomers need a means of agreeing with the people they are replacing without assuming their identities. The Green Party exists to help them to do that, to take on the mantle of the NIMBY without admitting to it or suffering the status-impact of having done so. 

That is its purpose. It will bring the party much success in our era of vibes. Sure, it’s an outrage for the environment. For those in the party who really do subscribe to the neo-medievalism of environmentalism’s more extreme elements, that’s all to the good — the last thing they want or need is for us to actually fix anything. For the vibesters over at Green HQ, opposition to projects like Sizewell C or HS2 is a two-way bet. They simply don’t need to make any difficult choices.

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