What follows is an assignment I submitted as part of the Solving Complex Problems Specialization I studied on Coursera and which resides within the Environmental Sustainability concentration of my MTA Portfolio.
This assignment is one of a number based around the concept of revamping the national education system to make it more beneficial for people and planet alike.
Aside from being a subject close to my heart, the practice of formulating a plan for revamping the education system was integral for defining my education philosophy, as it now exists within my I Built My Education final project.
This assignment was a briefing paper I researched and wrote in 2019 for a hypothetical scenario where I could present it to the UK’s Liberal Democrats political party and argue the case for making their party more radically greener through their overall political philosophy, economic policy and education policy.
This briefing paper was the end result of what I originally explored in the Complex Problem of the UK National Education System essay.
I selected the Liberal Democrats because they are a smaller party and I felt this gave me greater scope for arguing a more radical change in their overall political direction.
Radical Green Liberalism in the 21st Century
Reforming the Liberal Democrats into a Strategically Overt Centre-Left Green Liberal Movement for Empowering a Sustainable and Flourishing United Kingdom
The most critical problem challenging the Liberal Democrats is their tainted brand and lack of a relevant “angry voice” in UK politics. This is preventing them from capturing the public vote and from regaining a strong parliamentary presence. The solution – embrace a bold new governing philosophy with a re-branded image – Radical Green Liberalism.
Insights from Economics, Public Health and Environmental Science shows that unless the UK adopts a radical stance towards tackling climate change, over the next fifty years there will be a 25% decrease in economic growth and a higher rate of premature deaths as a result of severe heatwaves. Further statistical evidence shows that there is a clear appetite and majority among the UK population for climate action as a national priority.
If the Lib Dems want to break free of their irrelevant status quo, then the fight against climate change offers the Lib Dems an easily accessible approach for recapturing the public imagination. Tackling climate change is a current Lib Dem promise, but only as a subsidiary policy. The Labour and Conservative parties also only capitalise on tackling climate change as subsidiary policies. Therefore, by adopting a radical green liberal philosophy as their primary governing directive and brand image, the Lib Dems would possess a constructive angry voice for engaging voters and exploit a crucial competitive advantage against the other parties.
The Lib Dem’s Complex Problem
The Lib Dems are a UK political party that operates somewhere between social liberalism and economic liberalism, and are generally viewed as having a centre to centre-left anti-authoritarian leaning. Key issues the Lib Dems support are: civil liberties, reviewing the law on recreational drugs, anti-discrimination laws, same-sex marriages, abortion, genetic research, increased public service provision, progressive taxes, a social market economy, economic integration with the EU, multiculturalism, disestablishing the Church of England, UN backed interventions in other countries, increasing aid spending, fighting global warming and electoral and government reform.
The biggest immediate complex problem facing the Lib Dems is their tainted brand and unfocused irrelevance in a political system that is dominated by the extreme political agendas of the fanatical right-wing Conservative party and the radical left-wing Labour party. The Lib Dems have 11 MPs in parliament, three more than they had following the 2015 general election, but fourty-six less than they had following the 2010 general election! The Lib Dems lack a clearly defined and radically competitive advantage against the other parties, which is preventing them from rebuilding their support base and from gaining the necessary number of parliamentary seats needed to become the governing party of the UK, the UK’s main opposition party or even a prominent force in any future progressive political coalition or alliance.
The Lib Dem’s continuing unpopularity – which was greatly intensified by the Lib Dems forming a coalition government with the Conservative party following the 2010 general election – has ensured that the Labour and Conservative binary deadlock of the UK political system has not only persisted, but has strengthened, and prevented the Lib Dems in making any real progress since their monumental defeat in the 2015 general election.
The party has regained some advantage to attract pro-European-Union supporters by adopting an anti-Brexit stance as its headline policy, following the UK’s controversial decision to leave the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. While an anti-Brexit/pro-EU position is a strong policy to adopt for enticing the disillusioned remain voters of the Brexit endorsing Labour and Conservative parties, the Lib Dems need to think beyond Brexit to re-establish the party around a governing philosophy that will impact remain and leave voters on both the centre-left and centre-right.
The Lib Dem’s competitive advantage problem is complex because it resides in a political system that has become incredibly divided between left and right political ideologies; as well as between remain and leave voting ideologies that ultimately transcend and trangress across the left and right divisions.
Embracing a Larger Complex Problem to Solve the Lib Dem’s Complex Problem
In 2015 the UK signed the Paris Climate Agreement and became legally bound to innovate a national effort to ensure that global warming does not rise above 1.5°C (UNFCCC, 2015). A recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has further warned the devastating impacts of rising global temperatures and has stressed that there is only a twelve-year window to ensure that global warming does not rise beyond 1.5°C. The report emphasises that even an increase of a half degree will exasperate flooding, droughts, humidity, poverty and will act as a threat multiplier for the most vulnerable (IPCC, 2018).
Stanford University scientists have calculated that if global warming is kept at a maximum of 1.5°C, the economic impact of climate change would be minimal. However, if global temperatures climb above 1.5°C the economic damage grows increasingly worse. With an increase to 3°C, global GDP would decrease to 25 percent and with a runaway increase to 4°C by 2100 global GDP would decline to levels worse than the Great Depression (Burke, M. et al., 2018). Furthermore, estimates by the World Employment and Social Outlook 2018 indicate that 1.2 billion jobs will come under threat because of climate change (ILO, 2018).
These same climate disruptions will also have adverse effects on public health. As the increasing severity of the climate crisis will exasperate the spread of infectious diseases, endangers safe drinking water, clean air and food security. Europe and the eastern Mediterranean will experience a higher rate of premature deaths as a result of heatwaves due to the higher proportions of vulnerable and elderly people clustered together in cities. Health services will increasingly find themselves overburdened as they struggle to cope with increasingly levels of public health problems (Lancet Countdown, 2018).
In February, 2019, thousands of school children in the UK skipped school to take part in YouthStrike4Climate to protest the lack of global action on fighting climate change. The protest was inspired by a single 16-year-old, Greta Thunberg, a climate change activist from Sweden, who skips school every Friday since August 2018 to lobby the Swedish government to fight the climate crisis. There have also been similar mass school walkouts in Belgium and Australia. All these walkouts represent an increasing discontent among young people with the YouthStrike4Climate calling on the UK government to declare a state of climate emergency; as well as demanding that climate education to be included as a priority in the national curriculum. These protests were the first ever nationally co-ordinated strike by minors – and future voters – in the UK.
The Danger of Keeping the Lib Dems Moderate
Labour’s youth vote surge in the 2017 Snap General Election – that ultimately caused the Conservatives to lose their parliamentary majority – demonstrates the strategic advantage of adopting a radical approach to capture the imagination of young people (Hart, J. et al., 2017). Labour’s youth focused environmental Green Transformation policy shows they realise the passion that young people have for climate action by promising to be the greenest government ever (Labour, 2017). Likewise, the Conservative Party is increasingly being urged to go green if it wants to attract younger voters (Bright Blue, 2017).
However, it is not just the younger generations that think the UK should be doing more to tackle climate change. The law firm ClientEarth commissioned YouGov to survey more than 2,000 UK adults on attitudes across a spectrum of climate-related questions. The results show that 62% believe that the government is doing too little when preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change and 71% want to see greater investment in renewable energy (ClientEarth et al., 2018). There is a clear majority and appetite for tackling climate change in the UK.
When looking at the Lib Dem’s moderate environmental promises compared to Labour’s wide-ranging Green Transformation of the UK, the Lib Dem’s approach is lacking radical inspiration for voters to get onboard. If no major course corrections are undertaken by the Lib Dems to adopt a radical climate action stance, then the Lib Dem’s presence is likely to keep diminishing into ever greater irrelevance throughout the following decades.
Anti-Brexit/Pro-EU – the current flagship policy of the Lib Dems – is a strong policy for the party to support and it is certainly an angry voice, but, regardless whatever the ultimate outcome of Brexit proves to be, it is not one that a political party wants to stake its whole public relevance and political existence on, for the very simple reason that Brexit has become a toxic subject! Far from bringing the country together, Brexit continues to drive it further apart and its dominating presence in the UK political process has meant that many other pressing policies, such as climate action and social justice, are receiving less and less attention. The Labour and Conservative parties are currently consumed by petty squabbles over the direction of Brexit, and the Lib Dems need to be the party that brings the country together by focusing on constructive issues bigger than Brexit.
Furthermore, there are other minor progressive parties that increasingly stand ready to take the Lib Dem’s limelight. There is the Green Party and the post-Brexit created Renew Party. Most recently of all, rebel MPs, who were growing frustrated with the direction of the Labour and Conservative parties, have come together to form The Independent Group.
The Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable, knows the party needs to change and has introduced a reform package for opening-up the party’s outreach by creating a Liberal Democrat Movement, not too dissimilar to what the Canadian Liberal Party, Macron’s En Marche and Corbyn’s Labour have done to grow their membership and more directly engage with the policy desires of their supporters (Cable, 2018).
The Green Movement Innovation
Building on the Lib Dem’s recent reform development, this advice paper advocates that the Lib Dems need to become a movement of radical green liberalism for creating a sustainable and flourishing UK. To achieve this, a Green Movement Innovation (GMI) is the most important solution the Lib Dems can implement to counter their tainted brand and lack of a publicly inspiring angry voice.
There are three components to the GMI:
- Green Liberalism
- The Lib Dems need to shift their guiding philosophy to that of a radical focus on green liberalism and to rebrand the party identity accordingly.
- This rebranding would also make it clear that they are distinct from the more left-wing Green Party and are in a stronger position to implement their green vision because of the more expansive support base the Lib Dems already possess.
- The basic principles of green liberalism align very closely to the social liberal ones the Lib Dems already follow, but green liberalism does it within the unified and interrelated focus of environmental, economic, social and individual wellbeing.
- The point of adopting a radical green liberal approach is to publicly accept that green thinking needs to be present in every party policy in order to maintain a healthy environment that is essential for a prosperous UK.
- Climate action provides the Lib Dems with an immediately accessible issue (that is not the toxic subject of Brexit) to positively rally themselves behind.
- This direct and primary approach would competitively differentiate them from the subsidiary green plans of the Labour party and the even more reluctant green considerations of the Conservatives.
- Green Economics
- While most of the Lib Dems policies will remain intact within a green liberalist framework, the economic liberalist policy would need to be altered to bring it in line with the demands of a green economy.
- The Lib Dems should adopt a holistic green economic policy inspired by the Doughnut Economics model of: “a social foundation of well-being that no one should fall below and an ecological ceiling of planetary pressure that we should not go beyond” (Raworth, 2017).
- The Lib Dem’s must not alienate the party’s more centre-right/economic liberalist supporters by actively promoting all the green growth advantages a green economy creates (Scott, 2013).
- This new green economic policy should widely promote a UK equivalent Green New Deal to invest in clean energy jobs and green infrastructure focused on positively transforming not just the energy sector, but the economic wellbeing of everyone (Mazzucato et al., 2018).
- Green Education
- Green education would focus on reforming the Primary and Secondary education levels (Key Stages 1 – 4) and would make environmental sustainability, social wellbeing and big picture thinking core and distributive components of the national curriculum.
- A revised national curriculum would demonstrate the Lib Dems long-term commitment to cultivating a sustainable national wellbeing, as it offers a means of ecologically, socially and economically future-proofing the UK.
- Green education integrates green thinking into the Lib Dems current progressive education plans of a: “Personal, Social and Health Education: a ‘curriculum for life’ including financial literacy, first aid and emergency lifesaving skills, mental health education, citizenship, and age-appropriate Sex and Relationship Education” (Liberal Democrats, 2019).
- The major learning addition of a green education is its cultivation of an inherent appreciation of the natural environment and a wider understanding of how an individual is a part of that natural environment.
- Green education will empower the learner with the big picture thinking to enable them to see how environmental, social, economic and personal wellbeing are holistically interrelated, mutually reliant and overly beneficial.
- Children who are taught to understand and value big picture thinking, will become adults who utilise this mentality in their everyday economic and environmental actions, thereby future-proofing the green economics and environmental sustainability of the UK (Damerell, P. et al., 2013).
The Future is Radically Green
Ultimately, the implementation of the GMI would create a vibrant new presence for the Lib Dems and a long-term means of greening the UK in line with the targets of the Pairs Climate Agreement. The GMI would give them a radical angry voice to attract frustrated voters and, provided the green economics were positioned to further invigorate the economic promises already made, it would re-assure the supporters the Lib Dems already held. Most significantly, if the GMI was implemented and upheld with the reform package Vince Cable has already announced, the Lib Dems would become an easily accessible vehicle of political representation for the young people who are now skipping school to protest their future green voting preferences.
The Canadian Liberals transformed their party into a political movement and went from being the third biggest political party to the governing majority of Canada. Add to this, the divisive and disillusioning states of the Labour and Conservatives, which is only being further exasperated by the problems of Brexit and the prospect that Labour will lose their youth support if the party continues to support Brexit, the promise of a bold new party, with climate action as its guiding philosophy, being elected into a powerful parliamentary position, by a youth generation inspired by the urgent need for climate action, is a very real possibility.
For the the Lib Dems to become untainted and relevant again, they need to be the party that represents the radical alternative to the binary deadlock of the Conservatives and Labour. Crucially, they need to be more constructive than the toxicity of Brexit and, most importantly, they need to embrace the growing national discontent over climate inaction by offering an innovative plan for solving the complex problem of climate change. To survive and flourish in the twenty-first century, the Lib Dems need to become a movement of radical green liberalism.
Word count: 2,530
UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2015) Paris Climate Agreement. [Online] Available from: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) Global Warming of 1.5 °C. [Online] Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
Burke, M., Davis, W. M., Diffenbaugh N. S. (2018) Large potential reduction in economic damages under UN mitigation targets. [Online] Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0071-9
ILO – International Labour Organisation (2018) World Employment and Social Outlook 2018: ‘Environmental Sustainability and decent work’. [Online] Available from: https://www.ilo.org/weso-greening/#Chapter-1/1
Lancet Countdown (2018) 2018 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change. [Online] Available from: http://www.lancetcountdown.org/the-report
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Raworth, K. (2017) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. London: Random House Business Books.
Liberal Democrats (2019) Education and Young People: Curriculum and qualifications. [Online] Available from: https://www.libdems.org.uk/education
Scott, A., McFarland, W., Seth, P. (2013) ‘Research and Evidence on Green Growth’. Overseas Development Institute for Evidence on Demand., UK Department for International Development (DFID)., Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services. [Online] Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57a08a14ed915d622c000551/EoD_HD064_July2013_GreenGrowth_Final.pdf
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