Jonathan Bartley has co-led the Green Party since 2016, initially with Caroline Lucas MP, and for the past year alongside London Assembly member Siân Berry. He was elected to Lambeth Borough Council in May 2018. Prior to joining the Green Party in 2010, Jonathan worked in Parliament on a cross-party basis as a researcher and has also served as vice chair of the Electoral Reform Society.
Do you think it’s important we respond to the climate emergency?
Tackling the climate crisis is the single most important thing that politicians need to do. Time is running out to take the necessary, radical steps to tackle the climate chaos and decarbonise our economy.
Why do you think we need green radicals at a time like this?
Politicians operate within parameters set largely by public opinion. Green radicals can change whole agendas – and so the options that politicians are willing to consider.
How would you define a green radical?
Someone who walks the talk; doesn’t just pay lip service to the emergency but acts like there is one. And that means recognising that everything needs to change. System change, with a new economic and social model, where every decision that the government makes has tackling carbon at the top of the agenda and the environment as the bottom line. All spending and decision-making needs to be determined by the health of our natural world and the wellbeing of people.
Do we need to redefine markets?
Yes. For many decades the blunt instrument of GDP has been used as the primary indicator to gauge wellbeing. But this has resulted in existence- threatening environmental destruction and rampant inequality. We need a new paradigm.
Do you regard your company as a green radical?
I think I’m the only party leader in the UK to have been dragged away by police during both the Occupy protests and protests against fracking. I believe the Green Party is on the right side of history, and we must stand up for what we believe in. I guess that makes me a green radical.
How has your organisation taken a radical approach to environmental action?
Where Greens have led, others have followed, from fracking bans to a Green New Deal. The Green Party has been at the forefront of radical environmental action and policy since its foundation, and we’ve pushed the boundaries of what has been deemed politically possible. With Carla Denyer in Bristol, we were the first party in the UK to propose climate emergency motions, and because of the Green Party, over half of local authorities have adopted them.
How do you build the business case for radical change?
Government must bring in changes that work for business. We saw how a thriving solar industry could be created by government, but then similarly scuppered by government. Simply put, if we want to see a business case for radical change government needs to subsidise and invest in the good, and tax and disincentivise the bad. That’s why we believe that fossil fuel subsidies need to go, a carbon tax needs to be introduced and a network of community banks set up along with the use of pension funds to provide new investment.
What’s the biggest barrier to engineering change?
Complacency. Denial used to be the threat, but complacency is every bit as dangerous. Other parties for example talk about the climate emergency, but then you look at their policies and you realise what they are proposing just doesn’t stack up. We are the only party saying we need to scrap the environmental vandalism of HS2 and invest the money instead in a local transport revolution. The only party saying we must end fossil fuel subsidies, new road building and airport expansion, and invest instead in green infrastructure. The only party pointing out that the reason we are entering into such a bad, expensive and dangerous deal over new nuclear at Hinkley is because it will subsidise renewal of nuclear weapons.
What’s the secret to taking a radical idea mainstream?
Show that it’s possible. Giving people vision and hope. It’s remarkable then how quickly so-called radicalism becomes common sense. So many of the rights and privileges which we take for granted today once seemed radical. Votes for women. A minimum (or Living) wage. Parental leave. Renewable energy. Having weekends off work. All of these things were once seen as impossibly idealistic. Now, you can’t imagine things being any other way.
Which area of the economy do you think is most in need of radical change?
You would perhaps expect me to say energy, or transport. But actually I think it is agriculture and the way we use land, as well as housing. People are starting to make the links between species extinction, biodiversity loss and global heating – particularly given the new landmark IPCC report that just came out in August – but not quickly enough. Nor are they recognising how much we urgently need to change the way we eat, how we farm, and how much forest we need to create right now. No politician from the other parties appears to want to go there. But it’s the climate elephant in the room. And we are the only party that appears to want to talk about it.
With housing, I think the government is fiddling while the planet burns. We have tackled some very low- hanging fruit, but we have a huge mountain to climb. We have to rethink completely how we power every home – stripping out gas boilers – and putting in alternatives. We also need to super-insulate our housing stock beyond anything we’ve seen before. It’s going to require massive investment. But of course, it’s also going to provide massive benefits in terms of lower energy bills and quality green jobs.
This interview forms part of a series of interviews that were published in a new report, New Green Radicals: The business leaders responding to the climate emergency. The report follows last year’s ‘Meet the Disruptors’ and 2017’s ‘Secrets of the Pioneers’ reports, and this year features interviews with entrepreneurs, leaders and creators who are providing radical solutions to the climate crisis.
The report is produced by Greenhouse PR in association with BusinessGreen and was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on October 23rd. Follow live on social media with #NewGreenRadicals.
At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering climate action. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, if you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, get in touch with the Greenhouse team on 0117 214 1250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.