Jonathon Porritt: Where's the energy to keep fighting for the planet?

You won't find much poetry in today's environment movement. Some even argue that it has lost its soul

Share
Related Topics

There are many reasons why Rachel Carson remains such a powerful inspiration for the modern environment movement. No other writer during the 50 years since the publication of Silent Spring – the legacy of which The Independent has been marking this week – has more eloquently demonstrated that for environmental ideas to flourish they need to draw on a combination of science and soul. Commenting on her earlier work, The Sea Around Us, Carson herself said: "The winds, the sea and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry."

You won't find much poetry in today's environment movement. Some would even argue that it has lost its soul, or at least the intuitive understanding of the deep links between ourselves and the natural world. When the Coalition proposed selling off the whole of the public forest estate in England, early in 2011, our national environmental organisations sat on their hands and did absolutely nothing about it. They were astonished when hundreds of thousands of people and dozens of community groups rose up as one and forced the Government into a humiliating climbdown.

I argued at the time that the environmental NGOs had betrayed the many millions of people in the UK who see themselves as environmentalists, by not properly representing their passion for those woodlands and forests. It may be hard for today's environmental leaders to comprehend those feelings logically, but political movements are about a lot more than logic.

Two years into this Government, it's now clear that if the environment was any further down its list of priorities, it would have fallen off the bottom. Any thought on the part of our NGOs that "working the corridors of power" is still the best way of defending the environment is folly. Regrettable though it may be, it's hard to imagine that this Government is going to be influenced by anything other than unremitting, full-on confrontation. And one can't help but think that the NGOs may have lost their appetite for that.

So much for the soul. But we all know that anger alone will not suffice – not least because environmentalists need to reach out and work with much wider coalitions of people to secure the kind of lasting change that is needed. For instance, in these harsh economic conditions, the environment movement has to be able to prove its worth in terms of economic policy: what exactly should we be doing to help create jobs, rebuild prosperity and promote innovation?

As it happens, all the hard work has already been done on this – from Friends of the Earth to the New Economics Foundation through to the National Trust and the Town and Country Planning Association. "Greenprints" abound; policy prescriptions are already finely honed; and wonderful case studies are out there to be shared and inspire others. But there's no political momentum behind this persuasive body of work.

In Brazil next week at the Rio+20 Conference (so called to remind people just how little has happened since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992), UK ministers will no doubt proffer upbeat accounts of their Green Investment Bank (still just a "shadow bank" as far as any actual investment is concerned), their Green Deal proposals to retrofit existing housing (now diluted to homeopathically inadequate levels), and their policy on renewable energy – which is rapidly turning from customary incoherence into out-and-out omnishambles.

This represents two years of staggering failure. Labour appears to have lost interest in providing serious opposition on this theme. The Lib Dems are lost in the belly of the beast they helped to create, and the Green Party can only do so much.

So what might the environment movement be doing to transform that miserable outlook? Where is the coalition of interests (NGOs, businesses, trade unions, local authorities, venture capitalists, community groups and so on), all of whom have already enthusiastically bought into the idea of the green economy, but can do little on their own to make George Osborne's life the misery it should be – given his personal role in destroying any serious prospects for new jobs, new skills, new technologies, and new export opportunities from the green economy.

One of the most important developments since the Earth Summit 20 years ago is the step change we've seen in technological innovation – on energy, resource efficiency, transport, water, new materials, IT-enabled "smart systems" and so on. This promises not just a green economy, but a green revolution in the way we live.

It's a breathtakingly exciting and upbeat agenda – with jobs, skills and prosperity at its heart. But it's hard to detect much enthusiasm among the established environment NGOs for making the running on this, even though we all know that this is the only way to get environmentalism reconnected with the bigger economic agenda. Which, in turn, is the only way to get environmentalism reconnected with the economy. Which, in turn, is the only way to get the environment back up that agenda all over again.

Jonathon Porritt is Founder Director of Forum for the Future. www.jonathonporritt.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fund, London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fu...

Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Multicast, Low Latency

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Mul...

Network Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Infrastructure Engineer (...

Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Multicast)

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Mult...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition