October 23, 2017

Allez l’ecologie!

Edward Goldsmith finds the French municipal elections very encouraging

From Good Earth magazine


The ecological breakthrough we have all been waiting for has occurred in France.

Almost a thousand Ecology candidates presented themselves at the municipal elections on 13th March and they did unexpectedly well, obtaining between 8% and 14% of the votes, which is enormous in a country with a multi-party system. The fact is that in many cities the Ecologists have come out as arbiters between the two major political alliances, Gaullists-Giscardiens on the one hand and the Socialists and Communists on the other.

In the French electoral system there are two rounds of voting. In order to be able to participate in the second round a party must have 12% of the registered voters which normally means about 18% of the votes cast. Unfortunately no Ecology candidate obtained this. As a result one has witnessed an astonishing scene.

Vive L’ecologie

The major political leaders who had probably never heard of the word ecology before, let alone considered that it could provide a basis for a new political party, suddenly proclaimed themselves life-long ecologists and sought by every means to obtain the ecological vote. Giscard d’Estaing published a pamphlet with an oak tree on the cover vaunting the conservationist achievements of his government. Marchais, the Communist leader, tried to demonstrate, very unconvincingly, that only the Communists can implement a truly ecological policy.

Alliances were proposed with the leaders of the Ecology Parties in different cities, most of which were turned down. Paris Ecologie has sought to remain totally neutral in the irrelevant struggles between the right wing and the left wing. The Ecology Movement, they maintain quite rightly, cannot be classified in terms of these rudimentary and outdated classifications. As a result, they left their supporters quite free in the second round to vote for whomever they liked.

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Ecological Explosion

Particularly interesting has been the reaction of the Press. Up till now, as in Britain, it has systematically prevented the expression of the ecological point of view. Suddenly there has been an ecological explosion in the media. The papers talk of nothing else. Brice Lalonde, the glamorous and highly articulate leader of ‘Paris Ecologie’, seems to be on the television almost every night and is permanently followed by a horde of reporters and photographers. But the action is not all in Paris.

In Alsace, where it all started in France, quite a large number of candidates were put up in the main cities. One of the leaders of the political movement ‘Ecologie et Survie’ is Antoine Waechter. He got over 12% of the votes in his Mulhouse constituency. Waechter is a professional ecologist at the local university. It is interesting that in France many professional or academic ecologists dealing with ecology with a small ‘e’ have had the courage to join the Ecological Movement and hence become Ecologists with a big ‘E’.

Another example is Jean Marie Pelt, director of the very important Institut d’Ecologie in Metz. He is also vice-mayor of this city—the principal one of Lorraine, and is actively engaged in ecological politics, being a member of the committee of ‘Ecoropa’ (Action Ecologique Europeenne), set up in November in Paris to co-ordinate all the local ecological groups in Europe.

Solange Fernex, another of the leaders of the Alsatian Ecology Movement, did not take part in the municipal elections as, together with six other people, she was involved in a hunger strike which lasted 22 days in order to obtain the agreement of the EDF (the French equivalent of the CEGB) on the setting up of essential controls in the new nuclear power station at Fessenheim—whose construction the Ecology Movement has failed to prevent.

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Magical Change

What is astonishing is how the Ecology Movement in France seems to have spread as if by magic throughout the country. There is a strong Ecology Movement, for instance, in Lille, as well as in Lyons and in many other cities and small towns. What do they have in common?

Many of them are intimately linked with the ‘Friends of the Earth’, started in France some years ago by Alain Herve and Edwin Matthews and run today by Brice Lalonde. Many of them, too, were inspired by Rene Dumont’s Presidential campaign in 1974. Others have undoubtedly been converted by reading the ‘Sauvage’, a remarkable and highly professional ecological magazine published by the ‘Nouvel Observateur’ and edited by Alain Herve, also by ‘Ecologie’, the highly polemical ‘la Gueule Ouvert’ and ‘Cahiers de la Baleine’, the paper produced by Friends of the Earth.

What is going to happen to the French Ecology Movement after the election? It is too early to say. However, the signs are that it can only grow. The reason for this optimism is that the movement is obtaining its support principally among the young. Even in the Communist areas of Paris, where it proved very difficult to convert the hardened Communist Party members, many of their sons and daughters voted for the ‘green’ candidates. Why does it appeal to youth? The answer is that it provides a complete philosophy which no other political movement has done since Marxism.

The philosophy of Ecology, what is more, provides a rationale for the spreading gut-reaction to the ugliness, mediocrity and boredom of the industrial world and the intolerable social and ecological disruption that it must inevitably give rise to. One of the advantages of having the young on our side, too, is that they will outlive the old.

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