‘Why I believe Brexit can boost sustainability’

A force for good: Young people can become stewards of their own country © PA
by Barry Lord

He is the author of Art & Energy: How Culture Changes (The AAM Press, 2014) and co-founder of a cultural planning agency that has worked with museums in 56 countries.

One of Canada’s top thinkers believes we can use increased democratic powers to transform our current culture of consumption into a conservationist society of stewardship and sustainability.

It is not surprising that London voted to remain. In London the price of the globalised trade and geopolitical agreements that come along with EU membership also offer many opportunities. In Scotland and Northern Ireland people understood that they had to express their determination to remain in the larger union of the EU, either within the UK or outside it on their own terms.

But throughout the other cities, towns and farmland of England and Wales live the people who have been most harshly affected by the global trade deals and the geopolitical agreements that have made it progressively harder to find and keep jobs.

The policies behind these economic and political measures are known as ‘neoliberal conservatism’, a seemingly self-contradictory phrase that gives priority to absorbing the impact of globalisation at the expense of working people, enabling corporations to move production to cheap labour markets, while bringing in lower-wage workers and products made elsewhere.

“Young people in post-Brexit Britain can determine what stewardship entails as the alternative to consumerism”

For the most part Leave voters are not opposed to immigration in principle. But in practice when immigration policies are combined with the trade and international political deals, the result is to worsen the situation for them. When they have voted in general elections for candidates or parties that they thought could change things, they have found that EU restrictions made it very difficult for their elected representatives in Parliament to achieve much progress on their behalf.

Both mainstream political parties, whose leadership supported the Remain campaign, have administered variations of these hardships. The referendum offered them an opportunity to mount an uprising against neoliberal conservatism and the mainstream parties that have imposed its impact on their lives. They refuse to continue being victims.

I believe that is what Leave voters mean by ‘taking their country back’. Most of them are not right-wing nationalists, and they are certainly not gripped by any xenophobic fervour. Leave campaign leaders have already indicated that the three million foreign workers now in Britain are welcome to stay.

What’s important now is the future. The Brexit vote offers two alternative directions ahead.

One would be a deplorable narrow nationalism and chauvinistic posturing of a supposedly superior British identity. Everyone should be on guard against mis-leaders who would turn this justified yearning for improved lives throughout England and Wales into a futile attempt to shutter the country against the world.

But a much more fruitful direction for the future is to use the greater control over Britain’s destiny that Brexit has made possible, to transform the present culture of consumption that oil and gas has facilitated, into the culture of stewardship and sustainability that accompanies renewable energy.

Achieving that energy transition – and even more important, the cultural change that goes with it – is the fundamental transformation that has to be accomplished over the lifetime of young people in this 21st century.

Young people in post-Brexit Britain have the opportunity to determine what the culture of stewardship entails as the alternative to the consumerism that otherwise continues to put the planet at risk.

They can become stewards of their own country, of the environment, of themselves and of each other. In this way Brexit can boost sustainability.

You Decide

  1. Do you feel that Britain has reached ‘peak consumerism’ and will gradually turn to a more sustainable lifestyle?


  1. Follow the links in Become An Expert on ‘art and energy’ and make a chart showing the six main energy transitions in human history and what they have meant to humanity.

Word Watch

Geopolitical agreements
The EU is keen to develop political agreements, in parallel with negotiations over free trade, with key global powers such as Brazil, India, Russia and the USA. Such agreements are referred to as strategic partnerships.
Another word for foreign relations among countries. One of the most famous geopolitical events of all time was the Cold War. International talks about how to reduce greenhouse gases are another example.
An unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers (or of things that are foreign or strange).
Often used to mean the belief that one sex is inferior to the other but here used in its other main meaning, applied to nationality, of zealous and aggressive patriotism or blind enthusiasm for national glory.