Interviewing Tim Hollo: Taking Environmental Action
Maryam and Nivaal Rehman | Clarington, Canada
Unless we take tangible actions towards protecting our planet, many of the other causes that we are fighting for cannot be achieved. This is especially because the safety and health of Earth, our one planet, is vital for us to have the space to achieve gender equality, end poverty, and solve the numerous other issues threatening our planet. In light of this recognition, and The World With MNR's commitment to environmental action through means such as storytelling, we interviewed Tim Hollo, who is the Executive Director of the Green Institute. We discussed climate action, environmental justice, as well as the current work being done by the Green Institute to take action. Some of the solutions we discussed included recognizing the rights of nature, achieving universal basic income, and broad democratic reinvention: all goals that the Green Institute is working towards. This interview helped us reimagine climate action, and think about so many new areas which are related, and also important to ecological politics and achieving climate justice. Continue reading this article for highlights from our interview with Tim and listen the whole interview in the latest episode of our Podcast, "The Whole Wide World," by clicking on this link.
Tim Hollo is a highly respected environmentalist and musician, having worked for organisations including the Greens, Greenpeace, 350.org and others, as well as performing in venues from Woodford Folk Festival to New York’s Carnegie Hall. Tim is the founder and Executive Director of Green Music Australia, served as Communications Director for Christine Milne, has sat on the board of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and has been published in the Guardian, ABC, Griffith Review, Crikey and elsewhere. [Bio from The Green Institute]
Can you start by telling us more about the Green Institute and how it was founded?
So the green Institute is the official Think Tank of the Australian Greens party that was started in 2008 when the Australian Greens achieved what's known as official party status in the federal parliament in Australia, which means you know they achieved five elected representatives in the Parliament. And it was started really kind of as an internal capacity building organization mostly to help with Greens around the country to think about what green politics means to them and to us as a political environmental movement. What is environmental politics, was the conversation.
And, as I say, it was mostly internal until about five years ago, when I was brought in to lead it when the when the founder of the Institute was retiring. And they gave me the remit to take it much more forward facing and instead of talking to ourselves about what is green politics to start to talk to the rest of the Australian community about what is this political movement called the Greens, and what are we actually trying to achieve? There's been attention in green politics for a very, very long time since its founding really, which is a tension which is reflected in the environmental movement, more broadly, I think, very, very much. But it comes to the fore, very much in capital P politics. A tension between those who see environmental politics as a very left wing politics, a radical left wing politics, which is also environmental and those who see it as a kind of a mainstream reasonably liberal politics, which is also environmental.
And there's not that much space for people who are actually saying no hang on a second environmentalism actually means we need to think very, very deeply about our whole political system and re-evaluate our entire political system in terms of thinking ecologically thinking about interdependence and diversity and what it means to be ecological. And that actually means quite dramatic change to our political system, but it doesn't necessarily mean it in the way that you know the mainstream kind of fields of political thought think about it. So the really big obvious one to me is that there's the big tension in 20th
century 19th-20th century political thought between individualism and collectivism.
Ecological thinking doesn't have that division at all.
Ecological thinking basically says all individuals are part of a collective naturally. There's no way not to be part of a collective and all collectives are made up of individuals and that's crucial to how collectives actually operate.
And so, if you've got a politics, which highlights individualism at the expense of the collective that's not ecological. If you've got a politics, which highlights the collective at the expense of the individual that's not ecological either. So for me the Green Institute is about building these ideas of what it means to be ecological politically and how do we build a movement, a political movement on that basis.
How did you become involved with taking action for the environment?
I became an environmentalist as a kid really. Growing up in Sydney and in Canberra, Australia, lucky enough to be surrounded by the beautiful bush here in Australia, I grew up doing a lot of Bush walking and absolutely loving the natural world and also obsessively a fan of David Attenborough from a very early age.
And so I grew up with this deep kind of passion for nature it's always been very much part of my part of my being. But also very much growing up with a sense of the importance of social justice and social change. My parents both came to Australia as refugees and my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, so they came from my father from directly from Europe, my mother actually from China, where there was a large Jewish community in the north of China who had fled from Russia. And so I grew up with this deep sense of the need for interconnection amongst people, as well as the need to interconnect ourselves with nature and that when we disconnect ourselves as people we build the systems of hate basically which are deeply anti-ecological. And so kind of bringing those two together was always very, very important to me and that's what attracted me to some of the parts of the environmental movement very early on, I worked for Greenpeace for many years. As an organization which is committed both to green and peace, it's a pacifist organization as well, which means a lot to me.
And the other part of my life is I’m also a musician and so having been involved in Greenpeace and worked as a parliamentary staffer for the Greens for years I then actually set out to build a little organization called Green Music Australia, which works with the music scene to reduce its environmental impact as a cultural tool basically so really thinking about the role that music and musicians play in changing people's minds changing, people's hearts, opening people to new ideas. So yeah, kind of traversed a whole lot of different paths over the years and the Green Institute over the last five years has been a really wonderful space to kind of just open up these conversations in new ways.
What do you feel are like the most pressing environmental issues, right now?
Look, the climate is still absolutely number one. It's been my focus for some 20 years now, and it is extraordinarily urgent that we turn around our climate pollution as swiftly as possible. Yesterday. and Australia is still lagging on that so terribly. So we desperately need to move swiftly on that front, because it's the overarching thing. If we don't turn around the overheating, then everything else starts to fall apart.
The other space, which I think is so crucial and it's kind of where a lot of modern environmentalism started, and then it kind of slipped off the radar for a long time, is habitat destruction. And again in Australia that's a space where we are an absolute disaster, and I believe Canada to that the destruction of forests that's going on where you are and where I am.
It's devastating to kind of to watch in and of itself but it's also you know the point that I make about thinking ecologically is ecological health is absolutely dependent on interdependence and on interconnection and the way we're taking these vast areas of biodiverse habitat and cutting them into tiny little island remnants which simply can't survive on their own.
So to me they are the absolute most urgent specifically environmental issues. The way I look at it, more broadly, though, is that we desperately need at this point to be seeing everything as environmental and environmental as everything else. Our political systems and our economic systems which drive the way we operate are creating these problems. And they're not capable, in my opinion, of solving these problems.
And so, in fact, for me, as a committed environmentalist, the number one thing that I’m working on at the moment is democratic reform. Without democratic reform we're not going to get the action that we need, so I absolutely see that as a crucial environmental issue.
What are the types of initiatives that you all are running that are trying to tackle some of these issues?
So, we are a Think Tank but we try not to just kind of sit in a little room and think. The idea of a think tank is a slightly odd one, but it is an important one. Think Tanks have been incredibly important to the way political thinking has developed over the years. So we’re a think tank, which is obviously embedded within a political party is the other thing to say. So, we have an automatic path in to talk to the 10,000 or so members of the Australian Greens around the country as well as to our elected representatives on and to our voters and to the broader community. I really try to make sure that the Institute isn't just talking to capital G, Greens. So yeah, we do research reports, and we hold forums and online forums and in person forums, obviously, the last 12 months it's been almost entirely online. And yeah, discussion spaces and things like that. We've had a number of conferences over the last few years talking about these big issues but we're also trying to get into actually building spaces for participatory democracy and building experiences for people to get involved in participatory and deliberative democracy.
And one of the things that I think the Institute can do really effectively, is to give people involved in politics already an experience with a different way of doing politics. I think that's really, really important.
When you get embedded in a political system you, automatically start to act in a way that, that political system is designed to make you act. And our political system is designed as an adversarial system. It is designed for people fighting each other and the person who wins that fight to win, which is not a good way of decision-making.
Actually it's a really bad method of decision making and it's a way of decision making, that will inevitably lead us towards destruction of nature, frankly, and towards dividing the community in ways that are very unhealthy yes. And I think Greens in parliament have to work incredibly hard not to find themselves actually following that route. And so a crucial part of the democratic reform initiatives for the Institute for me is giving people in our party an experience of what it means to be part of deliberative and participatory democratic conversations and building that practice in our politics.
Some of the research that we do kind of takes that into other areas of reform that I think are really important for us to talk about. One of those being the rights of nature, which I think is a really fascinating area that’s being examined around the world now.
Changing the way we think about rights in general, from individual rights to actually systemic rights and that it's all about how we act together and a crucial piece of that puzzle is that the natural world has its own rights. And we need to respect those rights and unless and until we do as a community, and as a polity and as nations, start to respect the rights that the natural world has intrinsically, we're not going to really understand how to how to protect the natural world.
So I think that's a crucially important space that we need to work in. The other really important thing that we've been working on which is in some ways, very similar but in other ways kind of on the surface and very, very different, is the idea of a universal basic income.
UBI is not just a welfare policy. It's not just about enabling people who are forced into poverty to be able to live well. It's actually about reinventing our society, actually. It's about rethinking how we participate, how we contribute how we respect each other as fellow citizens.
The neoliberal capitalist world has constructed this idea that if you're poor it's your fault and if you're poor, the government's job is effectively to punish you until you somehow find your way out of poverty, which is basically impossible. And these punitive approaches to welfare actually embed poverty in our society and actually frankly use poverty as a warning sign to others, not to step out of line. Whereas the universal basic income completely flips that view of our society and says actually as a society, we need to be in each other's corner. We need to be saying everybody every member of our society is worthy of respect for who they are not for what they do and once we respect people and once we give people the basics that they need to survive, a roof over their heads the capacity to feed themselves and their families, people do amazing things. That's the thing that UBI shows, and all the trials of UBI have shown this so powerfully. When you give people the capacity, they do stuff. They might go back to university to learn a new a new skill, or to a college to learn a new skill. They might be freed up to take care of aging parents or young children, they might start a business and do some incredible things they might do amazing art, which gives people joy.
But they do stuff. They always do stuff when given the opportunity, and when you're forced into poverty you're not able to do anything. To the three spaces, that the Institute’s really focusing on, the rights of nature, the universal basic income and the broad democratic reinvention that ecological politics involves.
The bottom-up view of the economy from the UBI is exactly my view of democracy as well, actually and they very much together. And I’m trying to express that we need to flip out democratic systems too. This very top-down system of democracy that we have is fundamentally actually not very democratic because most people most of the time are excluded from decision making. And we're told, turn up to vote once every few years and then go away, thank you very much, we don't want to hear from you again. Protest is criminalized to an extraordinary extent in Australia and advocacy is frowned upon.
So it's really not very democratic and what we need to be doing is flipping that and building these systems where we in the community, from the bottom up are creating our democratic systems and participation and forcing those in power, demanding that they actually listen to us and overtime actually flipping the power, so that we in the grassroots have the power, and they need to follow us.
What are some ways that we as young people, for example, or even just in general, people can take action for the environment?