A green by any other name...

What's in a name? Is the world suffering from Green fatigue and would we be more successful working for progressive values under a different moniker? Or is Green more important than ever in the face of climate emergency?

By Michael Kelly and Hall Greenland
Friday, August 8, 2014

Green pride

By Hall Greenland

Right now, at this historical moment, we are faced with the existential challenge of saving our living environment. The mission we started with three decades ago — and the reason we called ourselves Greens — is still with us. Even more so. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere  continue to rise and even the possibility of restraining the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius seems dangerously remote. 

This supreme environmental threat is rightly at the centre of our parliamentary work and our extra-parliamentary activity. Many Greens were involved in the Bentley Blockade against CSG mining and are supporting the direct action at the Leard forest to stop what is the largest coalmine presently under development in Australia.

All those other reasons why we called ourselves Greens also remain with us — pollution, resource depletion, wilderness destruction, urban blight and, let us not forget, the threat of nuclear war. On the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is as well to recall that the supreme issue facing us back in the 1980s, and what impelled first the Germans and then others around the globe to form the Greens, was the possibility of nuclear war and an unliveable world. That danger of a nuclear winter is still with us, and, arguably, it is more acute both because of nuclear proliferation and the widespread blithe smugness about the continuing danger that prevails today.

It is true that we have taken on other issues besides the environment — and that was true right from the launching of the Greens. But many of these issues are integrated with our concerns for a sustainable and liveable world. One of the reasons for championing grassroots democracy is because we know that once power is in the hands of citizens, rather than corporations, we have a much better chance of making the health of the environment the touchstone of decisions. Likewise, we can hope that people in a more egalitarian society, where domination in all its forms — patriarchy, elitism and class — are on the way out, will also be less disposed to try to dominate nature. Similarly, our emphasis on cooperation and democratic control of the economy is partly motivated by the belief that this will lead to a more sustainable economy.

Yes, it can be rather annoying to be called “greenies” with the implication that we are “just” about the environment, but it is something we need to embrace. We are more than a tinkering, status quo, regular political party. Saving our living environment is what we are about. If we don’t have a liveable planet, then all our other dreams of a peaceful world and a society of the free and equal will come to nought. And, despite occasional lip service to ecological sustainablity by Labor and Liberals, no one else puts this issue front and centre of their political platform. By necessity Green remains the colour of our politics and our mission.

Hall Greenland is the convenor of the Greens NSW and one of its founding members.

Green fatigue

By Michael Kelly

I want to start a crusade to change the name of the Party. I’d like members to start thinking and talking about it now, because no matter how much merit the argument has, it could take years for people to get used to the idea and implement a change. I know there are all kinds of good reasons to keep the name, but in my view they are going to be outweighed by reasons to change, if that hasn’t already happened.

This is my rationale: in its early years, the Party focused mainly on environmental issues. Obviously that changed as members watched the majors move more and more to the right. That shift is only going to accelerate under the new government and anyone who cares about honesty in government, fairness and social justice will be aching for an alternative party. We could be that party. But will disenchanted voters see The Greens as the answer? In my view, the answer is no, not in significant numbers. Most Australians still see The Greens as one-dimensional and many see us as naïve and anti-industry. There’s a lot of work to be done, changes to be made and time to elapse before those perceptions change enough to make us a real alternative.

But our policies now cover all of the important issues of our time and we should start to change our mentality of merely influencing governments. Imagine how much more good work we could do if we were the government or at least had strong numbers in both houses.

A name change would be only part of the strategy, but in my view, an essential part. We will never persuade voters that we could govern while we’re called The Greens.

I read somewhere that we’ve experienced an influx of new members since the election and I’m not surprised. But I’m sure their focus is broader than members who joined some years ago — probably more like mine. Of course the environment is important to us but it’s not the only thing we care about and we’ve seen that we can’t leave the other important issues in the hands of the major parties.

I’m writing this for the most open-minded political party members in Australia so I’m optimistic that you’ll give the idea some thought, even if you put it on the “back burner” for now and revisit now and then. I have no suggestions for a new name. Maybe it needs to be totally different or perhaps a name that includes the word “green” or “greens” but better reflects all of the things we stand for.

It’s important for the Party to attract the right members and candidates and of course votes. In my view, trying to change perceptions of the party without changing the name will be a very expensive and fruitless exercise and a waste of the opportunity to become a major force in Australian politics.