Dirty Economy, Clean Environment?

Speech for ATUC May Day Rally, 5 May 2018. Video here.

Last year, a Tory MSP – the charming Murdo Fraser – called the Scottish Green Party a bunch of lentil-munching, sandal-wearing watermelons.

Well, it’s not quite warm enough for sandals today, and lentils give me gas. But he was spot-on about the watermelon thing. Green on the outside, red on the inside, with little pips of black here and there.

As far as I’m concerned, ecology and socialism go hand-in-hand. Our co-convenor, Maggie Chapman, said you can’t have a clean environment with a dirty economy.

Exploiting the planet and exploiting the workers are two sides of the same coin.

‘The environment’ is not an abstract concept. It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, our food and clothing and weather. It’s where our waste goes, and who owns the land. It’s borders and walls and the spaces between them. It’s where we live.

And it’s intimately tied up with power and privilege.

We all know this, intuitively. We know that wealthy people get to live in ‘nice’ neighbourhoods with plenty of space, with clean air and well-maintained parks, peace and quiet. Safe neighbourhoods. They live near boutique shops and craft studios.

Poor people get incinerators and sewage works. They live in neighbourhoods that are dirty, noisy, crowded. Draughty windows and broken street lamps. Dog shit on the pavements and shopping trolleys in the river. Neighbourhoods where you don’t go out after dark.

And those places are a paradise compared with the slums that are home to the global working class.

There’s a phrase for this: environmental injustice. And all the bike lanes and LED light bulbs in the world aren’t going to fix it.

You can’t have a clean environment with a dirty economy.

High inequality pressures people to consume more, with a nagging sense of inadequacy that capitalism leaps to soothe with gadgets and cars and clothes.

Meanwhile, austerity humiliates and starves those who were already consuming very little.

In developed countries, higher inequality goes hand-in-hand with higher carbon emissions per capita, higher amounts of waste, and lower rates of recycling. Not to mention longer working hours, worse mental and physical health, and higher rates of violent crime.

So many of the different problems we face, so much of the suffering we see, is rooted not in lifestyle choices or ‘human nature,’ but in the distribution of wealth and power.

For me, the answer is to be a watermelon: green and red at the same time. Fighting for environmental justice and social justice, because really, they’re the same fight.

And I’m proud to be fighting side by side with all of you.

Thank you.

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