August 20, 2017

Ecology – the new political force

The extraordinary success of the Central Party in Sweden, which obtained 80 seats in the September election, and the nomination of its leader Mr. Thorbjörn Fälldin as Prime Minister of a new coalition government, is difficult to explain in terms of current political wisdom. The reason for its success appears to be its opposition to nuclear power installations. Yet, in Britain, simply to propose such a policy, compromising economic growth and reducing employment, would, in the eyes of most politicians be to commit political suicide.

Why then should anyone vote for a political party that does so? Before I try to answer this question I must point out that the Swedish phenomenon is by no means an isolated event but is part of a general trend that is clearly discernible in all the industrial nations of the West. This trend has simply progressed further in Sweden than elsewhere. Indeed the reaction against nuclear power has set in with a vengeance, and in many industrial countries, it is taking a political form.

In Germany in 1974, in Wyhl in Baden-Wurtenburg, 20,000 people sat in for almost a year to prevent work on a projected nuclear power station. In France, at Malville on the Rhone, a similar number have recently staged a sit-in though they were dispersed with considerable brutality by armed French police units. At Cattenom on the Moselle, the same scenario has been repeated. The French Government, which plans to build as many as fifty nuclear power stations dotted along the French coast, in its efforts to achieve independence from imported oil, is meeting opposition everywhere, and this opposition is getting stronger and more determined. It looks increasingly as though only totalitarian methods will enable the Government to implement its nuclear power programme.

Opposition to the building of nuclear installations, by citizen groups, has also been powerful in the United States and has contributed to the cancellation of a significant number of such projects. This has also been the case in Spain where, according to Nucleonics Weekly: “At least six reactors have been suspended to stem deepening opposition to nuclear energy, by community groups.” In the U.K. the opposition on a more modest scale, has been led by Friends of the Earth which has cooperated in particular with a local environmental group called Half Life, to oppose the extension of facilities for nuclear reprocessing at Windscale in Cumbria. Earlier this year a special train was chartered to take several hundred demonstrators to Windscale for a confrontation with British Nuclear Fuels.

To overcome all this growing opposition is going to be costly. Already for other reasons, the price of putting up nuclear power stations has increased dramatically. For instance in the U.S. in 1967, according to Denis Hayes of The Worldwatch Institute of Massachusetts,* the price of a kilowatt of installed capacity was about one hundred dollars. By 1972 it had risen to three hundred dollars; today it stands at about eight hundred dollars and is expected to reach 1130 dollars by 1985.

To anyone who takes the trouble to make the necessary calculation, it appears extremely unlikely that even the most prosperous countries will be able to afford their nuclear power programmes.

But what is the alternative? How are we to power our expanding industrial society? The answer is that there is no alternative. Oil, in the next decades will become increasingly expensive and ever less available—by the end of the century there will be very little left at all. To increase coal production on a sufficient scale for it to become the principal source of energy would, among other things, involve causing so much environmental disruption (in the U.S. for instance, it would mean strip-mining vast areas of Montana and Arkensas etc:) that it would encounter as much opposition as building nuclear power stations. Besides all countries do not have coal.

Solar collectors, windmills, water wheels, tidal mills etc: can be of use locally but are unlikely to make any significant contribution to the energy requirements of an expanding world industry in the next decades.

In other words: No nuclear power—no industrial society. This sounds like the most convincing argument of all for a massive nuclear power programme—but not in the eyes of its many opponents—and this brings us to one of the most important reasons for the opposition to nuclear power—the nuclear power station has become the symbol of the industrial Way of life—and it is against this that a vast number of people, especially young people, are now reacting.

This reaction has taken many forms. The most significant, however, is the appearance of new ecologically-orientated political parties that are committed to the abandonment of economic growth as the goal of economic policy, and its replacement by the achievement of a steady-state society.

One such party is Ecologie et Survie in Alsace. It put up one candidate for the French Legislative Elections in 1973, at Mulhouse, and obtained a little over one per cent of the votes cast, just as René Dumont did, shortly before, when he contested the Presidential election. At the beginning of this year the party contested the Cantonal elections fielding nine candidates in the Haut Rhin and one in the Bas Rhin, and obtained an average of 10 per cent of the votes.

In Britain, the Ecology Party was formed several years ago, under the name ‘People’. It first contested the February 1974 Parliamentary Election, putting up six candidates and obtaining an average of 1.3 per cent of the votes in the constituencies where they were standing. In the October 1974 election they only succeeded in putting up two candidates, mainly for want of funds, but in the local elections this year two members of the Ecology party were returned; one, John Luck, at Rye won a seat on the Rother District Council and their Campaign Secretary, John Davenport gained a seat on the Kempsey Worcestershire Parish Council. The new Chairman of the party, Jonathan Tyler, a lecturer at Birmingham University, is standing at the Walsall by-election on November 4th for the seat vacated by John Stonehouse.

In New Zealand the Values Party, with a programme very similar to that of Ecologie et Survie has now contested two general elections. It obtained about two per cent of the vote in the first, and at the last, in November 1975, obtained as much as six per cent of the total vote, thereby becoming the third biggest party in New Zealand. Ecological parties have also been formed in Australia (the Australia Party) and Tasmania (the United Tasmania Party).

Particularly impressive is the great similarity in the political programmes these various parties have drawn up. So much so, in fact, that they are all beginning to work together, the United Tasmania Party has already changed its name to the Values Party of Tasmania and the Australia Party is thinking of becoming the Values Party of Australia, while our own Ecology party is seriously considering adopting the New Zealand Values Party’s superb manifesto ‘Beyond Tomorrow’. What is more, a World Conference of ecologically orientated no-growth political parties is being organised for next year, which should set in motion more cooperation and more support.

Clearly the reason for the similarity in their party programmes is that they reflect the same basic ideology. The rationale for this ideology is briefly that industrial society is not only unsustainable, but it is not worth sustaining. The industrial way of life is squalid, mediocre and unfulfilling. Progress is an illusion.

It is not a new philosophy. Indeed it is basically that of Kropotkin, Tolstoy, William Morris and Mahatma Gandhi. The difference is that when these great teachers lived—either at the dawn of the industrial era or during its euphoric heyday, the vast mass of the people was totally blinded by the miracles of science, the wonders of technology and the might and opulence of industrial civilisation, and to suggest, as they did, that these benefits were largely illusory and that their costs, in the long term, would prove quite insupportable, could only fall on the deafest of ears. To oppose industrialism was indeed purposefully to swim against the flow of a mighty river. Today, however, the flow of that river has been reversed. Disillusionment has set in against the benefits of industrialism while the cost of obtaining them, in terms of biological, social and ecological disruption, is only too plain. Indeed it is no longer political suicide to oppose nuclear programmes, not even, in fact, to oppose the industrialisation process itself, even though we have for so long been led to identify it with ‘progress’.

Present political ideologies have worn a little thin. In this country the Conservatives and Socialists may make different noises, but once in power their behaviour is very similar. The reason is that their basic ideology is also the same. Implicit is the belief that the world is imperfect and that by means of science, technology and industry we can improve it, and create an earthly paradise from which all the problems that have afflicted man, during the course of his long tenancy of this planet, such as poverty, unemployment, homelessness, disease, ignorance and even war, will be eliminated once and for all.

All political parties, including the Communists are committed to moving towards this earthly paradise (that is what they mean by progress) regardless of the consequences that this might have on our health, on the fabric of our society, on our physical environment and in general on the quality of our lives. It is because they are committed to it, and because in conditions that are ever less favourable only one basic course of action appears to favour its achievement that their options have become so limited.

The Ecology Movement is the only one that rejects the philosophy of industrialism; and is thereby virtually free to apply a really different policy, the need for which must be increasingly apparent with the growing ineffectiveness of current ones to solve our worsening problems.

What is more, it is the only policy that, among other things, is not dependent for its success on:

  • the use of increasing quantities of energy and non-renewable resources, that will be ever less available to us
  • the associated generation of increasing quantities of pollutants, which our environment is ever less capable of absorbing
  • ever more massive and ever less feasible Government expenditure to maintain, in ever less propitious conditions, the already crumbling infrastructure of our industrial society.

On these grounds alone, it is the only policy that begins to face up to world realities—to provide us with temporary insulation from which, is still the only policy of our major political parties.

*See: Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman. Worldwatch Institute Papers No. 6.

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