Is anti-science dogma damaging the Green Party? (asks Andy Chyba)

Alongside my involvement in the Green Party, I am also an active member of the British Humanist Association (BHA) http://www.humanism.org.uk/home and The Rationalist Association (RA) http://newhumanist.org.uk/ra/ .

Tha RA publishes a journal called NEW HUMANIST, to which I subscribe, and its most recent edition contains an comment piece by freelance writer, James Gray, that states that anti-science dogma is damaging the Greens. It is well worth a read.

It appears to have been prompted by Green Party London AM, Jenny Jones, endorsing the recent anti-GM protests in Hertfordshire. He quotes criticism of this by Nick Cohen, in The Spectator, who labelled the protest organisers a “quasi-religious movement”, and adherents of the “green faith”, harbouring “an almost pagan delusion that nature is pure and must be saved”. I am not sure that he intended the patent irony of such over-the-top dogmatic language, but I understand what he is getting at, don’t you?

Gray goes on to point us towards Mark Lynas’ The God Species, which opines that “There’s a sense that a substantial proportion of conventional eco-philosophy is not based on rational empirical evidence…… They claim to be comfortable with science on climate change, but show the reverse inclination when it comes to issues like GM and nuclear power.”

Gray further makes the point by highlighting some of the distinctly mystical language used (albeit occasionally only) in the seminal A Blueprint for Survival (1972) and Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (1973).

It is up to all of us within the Green Party today to reflect on these perceptions of our movement. I have spent enough time in the party now, and grown to know a wide cross-section of members from across the country, to recognise that these perceptions are a perfectly valid description of some elements within the party. But it is also my feeling that these elements are very much in a minority, although some are quite influential. We need to challenge them and, if they prove dogmatically intransigent, drive them away – as they do nothing but undermine our credibility.

Thankfully, Gray recognises that these elements within the Party are indeed being challenged by a new generation of resolutely pro-science activists. He quotes Bex Holmes, environmental scientist and Scottish Green Party activist: “If you’ve not been trained to use an evidence based approach to form your opinions then you will be likely swayed by emotional campaigns”. She urges rationalists within the party to get actively involved and insist on evidence-based policies.

I could not agree more. The key issue here is recognising and acknowledging good science and being able to discern bad science. Bex Holmes rightly stresses that this takes training – training that all-too-many would be politicians (in all parties) simply do not have. If we are to win the arguments and, even more importantly, present workable solutions in our policies, we have to guard against dogmatic knee-jerk reactions and build our manifesto on good science and rational thinking – even when it is not part of our utopian visions. We must not fall into the trap that always mires the other main parties, and pretend we know all the answers. Healthy scepticism while the jury is out is fine. The ‘precautionary approach’ is what we often call it these days. But we must not close our minds to sound evidence before us, or else those ‘quasi-religious’ jibes will have substance.

5 thoughts on “Is anti-science dogma damaging the Green Party? (asks Andy Chyba)

  1. David

    Hi Andy
    Good to read your piece. I read the piece in the New Humanist too and have been pondering a response. It would be better coming from a few Green Party members who are Rationalists and subscribe to both Humanist and Green ideas. Let me know if if you feel some sort of more organised response would be useful. David Ford, Bradford Green Party

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    1. swanseaandllanelligreenparty Post author

      I am not sure who you are proposing to address a response to, David. I have been wondreing about taking a motion to Conference on this issue, but I am not sure I hav ethe time or energy for this long-winded process right now. We are too late already for September’s Conference.
      I would happily support anything you cared to do with this though – please keep in the loop if so.

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  2. Pingback: Creationism – the thin end of a very dangerous Wedge Strategy. « Bridgend Green Party

  3. operacat

    Interesting – I think a lot of us don’t have a scientific background, but I’ve been at enough Green meetings and conferences where the scientists were in a majority, and I had to struggle to keep up…..

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