Taking a Big Step

For five years now I have been working in the Green Party of England and Wales for the following reasons:

  • I wanted to make my climate change activism central, because climate change is such an urgent threat.
  • I wanted to contradict my “stay on the margins” material [distress] by joining a party with mainstream ambitions. The Green Party puts up candidates at elections. It has a good number of councillors in local authorities. Though it has only one member of parliament, mainly because of the voting system, that single member has far more influence than you would expect one person to have.
  • The Green Party is not only an electoral party. It also runs campaigns and takes part [participates] in nonviolent direct action.
  • Many protest groups carry despairing material: “There’s no hope because those monsters are too powerful. But I will go on throwing myself against the wall if it kills me.” I wanted to be with people who had a strategy for success and who felt relatively hopeful and significant, even if their hopes and strategy were not always realistic.
  • In the past I had led small activist groups. We had done useful things. However, my early feelings of disappointment had gradually made it difficult to lead them. I decided to join a bigger group (the Green Party has forty thousand members) that already existed and had its own framework and history.
  • I believe we can do useful work in all sorts of places, including in the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. I am a socialist, and I am glad that the Labour Party is opposing austerity and encouraging many people to think about socialism. However, it is not leading strongly on climate change. It is still talking about “growth.”


At first I was disappointed that my local Green Party branch was not actively working on climate change. I led an evening on it, and the responses were, “This will never win elections,” “Working-class people are struggling too much to think about climate change,” “You must not frighten people or they will go numb or get scared and have even less interest,” “Let’s talk about the illegal levels of air pollution—that is something concrete [tangible] people can relate to.”

I then joined the national-level Policy Working Group on Climate Change. After a couple of years we managed to change the party’s target to net-zero carbon emissions, excluding imports, for the United Kingdom by 2030. (“Net” means that emissions add up to zero when you count “carbon sinks” that take carbon out of the atmosphere.) This target is roughly equivalent to that of the Paris agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. Our background paper gave details of how it could be reached. Government at all levels would have to go into “emergency mode.”

The policy was passed at a conference plenary session. However, it had no obvious effect on the party. Most people did not notice the policy change and still had no sense of the urgency of the climate crisis.


Meanwhile another activist, a single mother of young children, had been campaigning hard to get the Green Party to run a national climate change campaign. I had been supporting her—interrupting the sexism that often came at her and listening when she got upset. Finally the executive gave her permission to plan a campaign and submit her plan. She asked me to join her in doing this, and I agreed. At that moment my life changed. She and I were elected campaign coordinators for the Green Party of England and Wales.

Our core group has produced a plan for a members-up, low-cost campaign that we expect to be approved and officially launched next month. We have gathered a hundred supporters who are committed to helping us in practical ways.

Stage One: Members will make funny personal videos about climate change that will be spread via social media. The videos will be short, make people laugh, and end with a serious message: “Climate change is happening now. We need to go zero carbon. Now.”

At the same time, we will write letters about climate change to print media. We will also write to the regulators of television and radio, complain about the current coverage, and ask them to take seriously their responsibility for public safety. (The British Broadcasting Company has already changed its guidelines because a Green Party member refused to appear on a panel with a climate change denier who had been included in the name of “balance.”)

Stage Two: We will train our members to support Green councillors in cross-party actions to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions. We will also ask all local public bodies to publish “Climate Action Plans” or “Climate Action Policies,” a move that will bypass the central governments, which are refusing to act.


I have noticed that I am more confident. I have always talked to people at bus stops, in shops, and so on, but now I have more confidence that we like each other, and the conversations seem more real.

I am terrified and want to eat almost all the time. I wake up at four or five in the morning and read escapist novels! To discharge the terror, I need sessions with more than one person. In one-to-one sessions, I mostly think and plan.

I intend to do this work, as hard as I can, until something stops me (I am seventy-two). Other activities seem just as attractive as before, but I have decided to choose carefully what I do.

I’m having a good time! I like working with people who aren’t in RC—who sometimes shout at me, who try to get in my way, who play dirty tricks. It’s interesting to figure out how to deal with their patterns. I love and respect the activists I am working with, and we laugh a lot together.

Caroline New

Bristol, England

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for leaders of wide world change


Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:48:43+00