Many on the Scottish left are avowed eco-socialists – but what does this mean? And to what extent do we factor in environmental concerns to our ideas and proposals? Aberdeen Greens co-convener Guy Ingerson offers a short, sharp shock...
Every day, the exploitation of people and ecosystems causes suffering and environmental destruction on a vast scale. We are living through – and responsible for – the sixth mass extinction event our world has seen. Species are falling like dominoes because of our careless consumer consumption. Eco-socialists argue these problems are fundamentally caused by our economic and political system: neoliberalism.
We seek to restore 'the commons', collective cultural, economic and environmental capital managed in a way that doesn’t eat our planet’s natural resources. We believe this restoration of the commons, through collective and common ownership, is how we can save species, and fundamentally ourselves, in Scotland and across the globe.
There's a perception that such an approach is only advocated by the left of the Green party, but it spans a variety of political movements. Greens co-convener Caroline Lucas, Dutch trade unionist Jesse Klaver and former French Presidential hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon, for example, are all politicians with different outlooks and different solutions, but they all share a commitment to both workers and the environment.
For eco-socialists, both are intimately linked in a way that many of our populist left movements fail to recognise. Ecological issues are too often dismissed as concerns of the middle class – we need to build solidarity by understanding how working class communities deal with environmental degradation first-hand.
My hometown of Aberdeen tends to be seen as a typical paradox: the high-polluting fossil fuel industry is perceived to have lifted working class people to relative prosperity. But when the oil price crashed, it shook the city to its core. Our 'security' was exposed as an illusion and workers were the ones who took the hit for the market's failures. Over 100,000 jobs were lost in the oil sector – suddenly the Scottish economy's North Eastern 'behemoth' is on its last legs.
Media coverage has been tepid: local businesses and politicians delude themselves that the oil price will 'bounce back' and all will be well. But unsustainable industries like this won't bring lasting prosperity. Aberdeen just risks becoming another coal town. I had been working in the oil industry for a decade when the price crash hit and finally opened my eyes. In 2015 I left the SNP and joined the Scottish Greens – the only party in Holyrood that had a plan for life after oil.
Workers all around the world are putting these issues back on the agenda and joining movements with an eco-socialist agenda But here, and further afield, the neo-liberal system is fighting back, and fighting hard. Environmental, social and economic empowerment is dangerous for powerful elites and their interests. And these individuals and groups aren't always recognisable to the naked eye: the actions they take are as multifarious as the faces they wear.
Murder, intimidation and corrupt legal systems are the weapons of an elite under threat. Just as workers are systemically oppressed and disincentivised from joining together to campaign for their rights, eco-socialists seeking to protect our environment are criminalised. There are many examples: Brazilian rubber tapper Chico Mendes (depicted in the header photo) was assassinated in 1988 for attempting to protect the Amazon rainforest. Elsewhere, Catalan Green Raul Romeva, and Turkish Green leftists Naci Sönmez and Eylem Tunceli have all been arrested for their activism over the past year.
Closer to home, Labour continues to support the renewal of Britain’s weapons of mass destruction, despite Trident’s outrageous cost diverting cash from much-needed public services. In Sheffield, Labour threatened a Green councillor with legal action for campaigning to save thousands of trees. In this context, Owen Jones’s call for Greens to affiliate with the Labour Party feels disingenuous.
And yes, the issue of Brexit is another area where eco-socialists are leading the fight. The European Union isn't perfect, but nature doesn't recognise borders. The raw facts are that the agreements that have been forged to protect our ecosystems are in jeopardy. Our Conservative government is anxious to shred regulations and worker protections, pursuing damaging trade deals and racing not just to the bottom, but through the floor.
There are still reasons for hope. Despite the divide-and-rule tactics used by neo-liberal politicians, more and more people are recognising the vital link between social and environmental issues.. Progress might be slow, patchy and hard fought but it's steady. From New Zealand to right here in Scotland, we're leading change in communities and bringing some light into the dark corridors of power. People are listening to the message of sustainability, job security and the need for communities to be invested in political decisions – a message at the heart of eco-socialism.
It's why I'm inspired by the likes of Susan Rae, the once homeless Edinburgh Greens councillor, who now speaks about influencing how our common wealth is managed from the city chambers. So while eco-socialism might be under attack, there are incremental changes being made all over the place. She firmly believes such a prospectus can save her city – and I believe the same for mine.