Green Steve Interviews Green MEPs
During my short visit to the European Parliament a couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to interview the two Green Party MEPs and ask them some searching questions about climate change, public attitudes and real solutions.
I was given a warm welcome by both Keith Taylor MEP and Jean Lambert MEP and they seemed genuinely interested to meet me and speak to me. Here were two people, vastly more experienced and knowledgeable in green issues than I am, and yet an informal feel surrounded both interviews.
I didn’t get to ask all my questions to both of them but I found it hugely enjoyable and interesting nonetheless. I hope you too will find it interesting to get inside the mind of Green Party members and MEPs.
Their respective journeys into politics, and in particular green politics, are markedly different…
Keith first got involved in community activism against a new Sainsbury’s store being proposed in Brighton back in the mid 1990s before being approached by the Green Party after the subsequent success he had in blocking that new supermarket development.
The Green Party in Brighton had just one councillor when he joined but are now the largest party on the council with 23 councillors. He was also the chair of the Association of Green Councillors and one of the principal speakers of the Green Party between 2004 and 2006 alongside Caroline Lucas.
Jean got involved in the “green movement” more than 40 years ago and in her early years as a Green Party member she experienced the 1973/74 oil crisis and the miners strike and subsequent 3-day week – events that unsurprisingly put energy and energy security on the agenda.
She chose the path of systems and regulations that politics can bring about rather than the pressure group path but says that real change requires all the different dynamics of the various groups and stakeholders. When I asked her about being part of a system, and one which may prove ineffective on climate change, Jean replied:
“it’s a risk and chances are it may happen, in which case you have a more radical element out there who will eventually be ready to step up and take over.”
Like I said, I didn’t manage to ask all my questions to both interviewees so it might be a bit higgledy piggledy. The bits in quotation marks are direct quotes but I have also included other views that are not exactly what was said but rather a more succinct version.
GreenSteve: Who’s in the driving seat when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and other environmental issues?
“Business will make what money they can.”
But businesses want clarity on such things as a carbon tax so they can make plans and provisions for the future.
“[Businesses] will work within the regulations that the government lays down”
“You’ve got a combination of forces and sometimes it will be public pressure that will make politicians move and other times you’ve got politicians that will make moves that the public will end up following.”
Some decisions will be taken by politicians way ahead of what the public may want or think but if you’ve also got a degree of public acceptance then at least you don’t have to worry about them resisting.
Scientific research plays a part while business voices and trade unions are pushing to have their say too.
“Yes, [the public] would like things to be more environmentally friendly but if you can make it easy for [them], please make it easy.”
GreenSteve: Do you think green issues should be taught in school and, if so, should they be made compulsory?
“I do a lot of work in schools, talking to students and to schools and welcoming them [to the European Parliament] because they are receptive; they don’t come with their minds cluttered with the way the world is, [they] would like to be ecologically aware without being pious or overtly negative.”
“You need to look at how you do it, quite often when you put something in the curriculum and you make it compulsory, you’ve killed it [...] the science side of it is important [...] important that people really do have some understanding of it.”
“It is important to look at how you apply this information and this becomes quite difficult within the educational system where, in many respects, the practical, active side of it becomes more difficult to do because it’s costly, it’s time consuming and it takes a lot more organisation if you want to get people outside of a classroom than it does to sit people inside a classroom.”
“Many would have a view that it works better at primary level”
GreenSteve: Do you think that the current economic climate is helping people become greener for the sake of saving money?
“Maybe 2 or 3 years before people began to feel the austerity measures were coming in quite so strongly, actually what you had was the beginning of a rise in oil prices and rising fuel prices [....] I think then you got people beginning to think about ‘well actually, maybe I need to look at things which are more energy efficient, maybe I need to be driving differently’ and you saw more of that consciousness then, whereas now I think what a lot of people will feel is ‘what’s pushing me here is actually whatever I think will be the cheapest’ and that’s not necessarily the greenest option”
“At the point when the pressure is released, people may go back [to the way it was before]”
GreenSteve: Do you think the carrot or stick approach works best when trying to tackle peoples’/businesses’ attitudes?
“a little bit of stick, a little bit of carrot”
It has to be both. The whole point is not to tell people what to do but help them realise a vision.
“[we should] adopt regulatory frameworks that steer people in the right direction”
GreenSteve: Should governments be responsible for educating consumers on issues surrounding climate change?
“It’s difficult; you’re in a situation at the moment where there is quite a strong public distrust in government so it then becomes this thing about ‘who do people trust?’ and certainly for quite some time it would be some NGOs that would have a bigger credibility than government.”
“I think the government does have responsibility in terms of making sure that information is accurate.”
“Each time you get one of those campaigns [like Act On CO2], you are at least shifting some people and you never go back to quite where you were before so each time it’s incremental [...] it’s also one of those things that every so often you have to revisit it and find a new way of putting across the messages.”
GreenSteve: Do you think the mainstream press in the UK are doing their best in terms of giving people the facts and not spouting biased sensationalism?
“I think there are some elements of the press that are totally irresponsible in terms of issues around climate change and the energy choices that we face which I think are often wilfully misleading”
GreenSteve: Is it possible for an individual or a society to follow both a capitalist and environmentalist approach or are they mutually exclusive?
“If you are looking at it in terms of maximising profit, then no you can’t”
“There needs to be control over that financial side [talking about banks] and much more of an emphasis on looking at issues around the public good, the environmental dimension and the social dimension too.”
“Austerity by itself will not get you anywhere, you have to look at the social dimension and the environmental dimension and you can’t do that purely through straightforward free market capitalism”
Other Quotes & Views
While I was chatting to Keith and Jean respectively, I picked up a few other views and opinions which didn’t relate directly to any questions but that were very interesting.
“we ought to consider having a carbon account [...] all have a little card saying we’re allowed to use X amount of carbon and every time we do something, buy a service or a product we will actually get that card debited with the amount of carbon that was emitted in it’s production and sale [...] everybody has one of these cards and the amount of carbon reduces as the years go by [...] the purpose of the card is to make people aware and to encourage carbon frugality [...] and if you have carbon left over at the end of the year you can sell it, or if you’ve run out you’ll have to buy”
GreenSteve: I found this idea very interesting indeed. How realistic and achievable it is at this time I don’t know but it would certainly make people think more carefully about how they spend their money.
The main downside I see is that it allows the rich to continue to pollute as long as they can afford to do so, a sort of “rich man’s carbon” if you like where some things are out of the reach of ordinary people if they are very carbon heavy.
“Living a low carbon lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to get a bicycle and eat a diet of brown rice”
“I would like to be able to say [to my grandchildren] ‘what I tried to do to make your world better is this, this and that’ ”
GreenSteve: Keith raises a very interesting viewpoint – maybe this sort of message would be more powerful than your typical “recycle because it helps the planet” rhetoric.
“In 30 or 50 years when the temperature has gone up considerably [...] future generations will be entitled to ask ‘actually, if people knew what was happening, why didn’t they do anything’ ”
GreenSteve: Again I think Keith has hit the nail on the head – I think some of the older generations need to remember that when they are gone, there will still be people living on this planet and that it’s not theirs to spoil for future generations.
Keith Taylor on the Greens – European Free Alliance:
“We are in a position where we do have influence [...] emphasis is on finding what you can agree on [...]we’re winning some of the debates [...]we’re actually making progress”
“whether or not it does anything, there must be some good I would hope that accrues”
“I find it very useful [...] I offset on the basis that it’s some money going somewhere to do something for people that otherwise wouldn’t be happening”
After speaking with both MEPs, I was filled with a sense of renewed optimism. It is quite difficult to always remain positive when you are focusing on green issues because you read around and you learn about the many challenges we face, some of which seem very daunting. You just wonder how we’re ever going to be able to meet the demands of an ever growing population while greatly reducing the impact humankind has on the planet.
Now that I have seen the work that is constantly going on behind the scenes at European level and I have been inspired by the work that both Keith and Jean are doing at that and the local level, I do believe that there are many roads out of this mess.
If we just had more Keiths and more Jeans then we’d have no trouble whatsoever.
What do you think? Do you think politicians are the best placed to lead us to a greener future or are pressure groups, NGOs and the public voice going to push us where we want to go faster and with more conviction? Let me know in the comments below!
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