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Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Books Which Inspired The Founding of The Green Party

What is now The Green Party of England and Wales was founded in 1973 as The PEOPLE Party. In the summer of 1972 Lesley Whittaker a surveyor and property agent bought a copy of Playboy magazine in which there was an interview with Dr Paul R. Ehrlich about overpopulation and how he and his wife were giving up two years of their lives to the cause. Erhlich had recently published a book about population growth entitled "The Population Bomb", which the article was about. This article inspired Whittaker and her husband Tony to form a small group of professional and business people 'Club of Thirteen', so named because it first met on 13 October 1972 in Daventry. In November 1972 the Whittaker's, Freda Sanders and Michael Benfield agreed to form 'PEOPLE' as a new political party to challenge the UK political establishment. Officially formed at the start of 1973, The PEOPLE Party produced a Manifesto for a Sustainable Society as a background statement of policies. This was directly  inspired by "A Blueprint for Survival" (published by The Ecologist magazine). The editor of "The Ecologist" magazine, Edward 'Teddy' Goldsmith, merged his 'Movement for Survival' with PEOPLE. Goldsmith became one of the leading members of the new party during the 1970s.
The third book which inspired the founders of PEOPLE was "The Limits to Growth". Commissioned by the Club of Rome, The Limits to Growth is a 1972 book about the computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.

Themes: Population and Economic Growth

The major theme of all of these books is the alarming rate of global environmental degradation resulting from human activity. They warn against the effects of unlimited economic growth and population growth on the world's resources, biodiversity and human well being. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to criticise these books, particularly The Population Bomb, for getting the timings wrong and predicting that utter disaster would happen before the end of the 20th century. However while the timescale may have been over the top, the essential warnings within these books remain starkly convincing. Moreover they show that ecological concerns were the main reason that what became The Green Party was founded in the first place. The key point stressed in The Population Bomb is that it took from the evolution of humanity until 1830 for the population to reach one billion. The next billion took only 100 years. The third billion took 37 years. The fourth billion took 13 years. And so on. The cause is not just too many births it is also the falling death rate. The world's population will continue to grow as long as the birth rate exceeds the death rate, it is as simple as that. When it stops growing or starts to shrink , it will mean either the birth rate has gone down or the death rate has gone up or a combination of the two.
My problem with those optimists who now criticise these books  is that they see the pattern in the West as a universal one (that increasing prosperity lowers the birthrate) regardless of cultural, religious or traditional factors. It also tends to fly in the face of the majority of the span of human history. Ehrlich says of the optimists in, The Population Bomb:

"They are a little like a person who, after a low temperature of five degrees of frost on December 21st, interprets a low of only three on December 22nd as a cheery sign of approaching spring."

It fails also to take into account that the death rate will continue to fall. Even the optimists accept that the population could be 11 billion by 2100. Given the likely increase in world consumption as consumerist lifestyles spread along with urbanisation, the result may well be that by 2100 the rain forests have gone, adding to global warming and we will have passed the point of no return. Also by then loss of habitat will have resulted in the mass extinction of tigers, elephants and a mass of other species, in the wild . The best hope is the reduction in world poverty, as economic security is the best chance for lowering the birthrate. Also the emancipation of women. However both need to be accompanied with an acceptance of the issue.

The Subsequent Development of The Green Party

In 1975, PEOPLE was renamed and relaunched as The Ecology Party. Then in 1985 it became The Green Party of Great Britain. In response to the rumours of a group of Liberal Party activists about to launch a UK Green Party, HELP (the Hackney Local Ecology Party) formally registered the name The Green Party, with a green circle as its logo. The first public meeting, chaired by David Fitzpatrick (then an Ecology Party speaker), was 13 June 1985 in Hackney Town Hall. Paul Ekins (then co-chair of the Ecology Party) spoke on the subject of Green politics and the inner city. Hackney Green Party put a formal proposal to the Ecology Party Autumn Conference in Dover that year to change to the Green Party, which was supported by the majority of attendees, including John Abineri, formerly an actor in the BBC series Survivors who supported adding Green to the name to fall in line with other environmental parties in Europe.

Finally The Green Party of England and Wales was created in 1990 when the former Green Party split into separate parties: Scottish Green Party, Green Party in Northern Ireland, and England & Wales.

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