Do We Need a Green Tea Party?

by Jonathan Mariano

The Tea Party is a growing force. Some say it is a grassroots movement, others say it is a front for the GOP. However, regardless of political affiliations, the core platform of the Tea Party attracts folks of various persuasions, namely conservative and libertarian, who believe in constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets. There is nothing inherently wrong with the core platform of the Tea Party, yet as the movement has grown, its core message of freedom has been lost amongst the banter and misrepresentations. The opposition of the Tea Party are of the liberal, progressive, Green, and Democrat ilk. Strangely enough, political division still falls within traditional boundaries.

But, what about folks like me, whose politics transcends traditional party lines and left-right distinctions? Folks whose thoughts do not fit neatly within the bounds of being a so-called a conservative or liberal. Folks that believe in a constitutionally limited federal government, yet have a passion for sustainability. Enter the GreenTea Party: fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and ecologically conscious.

What does GreenTea mean by fiscally conservative? I take my cues for fiscal conservatism from sustainability. If sustainability is defined by providing for the needs of the present without hindering the future to meet their own needs, being fiscally conservative fits in perfectly. We need to have a balanced federal budget, in other words, no deficit spending. The burden of fiscal debt cannot be handed off to the next generation. At this moment, we have a debt of over $13 trillion bestowed upon us by previous generations. We can stop this cycle of shackling the future.

Likewise, we need to cut back or ideally eliminate subsidies towards corporations. This elimination includes bailouts. If a corporation cannot stand on its own two feet, it should not stand at all. We can’t burden the taxpayer with the bad decisions of a corporation. Just like we need to conserve our natural resources, we need to conserve our financial resources. I think these fiscal points, balanced budget, no subsidies and bailouts, would be acceptable to both a Tea Party individual and a GreenTea person alike.

What does GreenTea mean by socially liberal? People ought to be at liberty to do as they wish, granted that their individual actions do not infringe on other persons liberty. The right to liberty is not granted by the Constitution, but is inscribed within this document based on Natural Law, in attempts to thwart infringement from the Federal Government. A timely example is the same-sex marriage debacle. It makes no sense to have one set of the population privy to the legal recognition of marriage, while another is not. To take it one step further, the government under the Constitution has no right to legislate who you can or can’t marry, let alone who you can and can’t love.

Another example is marijuana. Many States have legalized its use, yet the federal government says it is illegal. While I may have my personal opinion on using it (or lack of usage thereof), it’s up to the individual to decide what they put inside their body, not the government. We need to get back to the basics of the Constitution, which was written to restrain the government from infringing the liberties of the people, rather than how it stands today, restraining the liberties of the people from the infringing government.

What does GreenTea mean by ecologically conscious? Earth is a system. In this system, resources are scarce. Similar to how we have to be careful to spend only what we have, and not a penny more, as individuals and as a people, we have to use scarce resources wisely. And in the use of one’s resources, we cannot forcefully infringe on the resources of another individual. This includes forceful pollution and contamination of the ecosystem. Take for example BP. The BP oil spill caused damaged not only to the ecosystem, but to the livelihood of fisherman who relied on that ecosystem. With the spill, BP forcefully infringed on the resources of the fisherman. Hundreds of millions was lost, yet BP is only liable for up to $75 million. If one forcefully infringes upon the ecological resources of another, repercussions must be proportional.

Whether one is any blend of fiscally conservative, socially liberal, or ecologically conscious, I hope the ideas of the GreenTea Party can help cultivate a fruitful discussion amongst folks from the spectrum of left/right, up/down, forward/backward. A dialogue where we truly listen and engage each other as stakeholders, rather than adhere to the triviality of stereotypes. We may find that we have more in common than we once had thought.


Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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25 responses

  1. Great piece that illustrates so many parts of social activism, and how co-opting of existing frameworks can blur topics and substitute new interests. It would be fascinating to see how Tea Party folks would negotiate how to embed sustainability (BP plus recycling?) because sometimes movements are linked to– for instance, red/blue– as a priority more than topics. Thanks!

    1. I too am curious to see if and how Tea Party folk embrace and embed sustainability. I do know there is a contingent that does not believe in global warming. However, sustainability is about more than global warming. Perhaps GreenTea can help build that bridge.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Glad to see that there are more people who “blur the lines” of party partisanship in a time where even having one belief out of line with the party brands you a RINO, or whatever. Being fiscally conservative and socially liberal sounds to me like the principle’s that this country was founded on in the first place.

    One problem I have is the name, I don’t believe that “Green Tea Party” would be right, since that would be seen as something more akin to Sarah Palin than a Ron Paul and Ralph Nader hybrid which is what this basically is. Not that I can think of a better name at the moment, but the way the tea party has been hijacked I think another name is necessary.

    Paul/Nader 2012!!!

    1. The Tea Party most definitely has some negative connotations associated with it. It’s interesting to note that since the Tea Party is grassroots with no real central authority, there are various “factions”. Some of which follow Palin, yet others Paul. You can probably guess which one gets more press and has the negative stigma.

      Any recommendations for nomenclature?

  3. Tea Partiers, politicians, pundits, lobbyists, and corporate leaders don’t actually believe in Free Markets–no one does. People only think they want and believe in Free Markets. There has never been one and will likely never be one, other than the Jungle and no one wants to actually live and create in it.

    What those who profess to believe in “Free Markets” usually want is a market that allows them to act freely and do what they want while others are held accountable in ways they feel are fair. I’ve never seen or heard a corporate leader who espoused away about the glories of the “Free Market” who was also willing to give up the subsidies, tariffs, perks, and special conditions they and their industries benefited from.

    Quite frankly, anyone who talks about Free Markets doesn’t know what they’re actually talking about–it’s like demanding unicorns.

    1. I hear you. And I would argue that many folks think they believe in the free market, actually believe in something else that uses the name “free market”. I wish there were a term that would distinguish between the two notions, and this can be a source of much confusion.

      Anyone who promotes the use of “subsidies, tariffs, perks, and special conditions” is not a free marketer in my book, as a free market would not tolerate such atrocities.

  4. Very nice article – I have often wondered why some strands of climate/environmental thinking don’t resonate more with the conservative or libertarian-minded. Themes like local food (less reliant on big ag businesses), distributed and diversified (renewable) energy (less reliant on big power companies), adaptation to make individuals less vulnerable to changes in climate… etc., all have the potential to empower individual citizens and increase their freedom to act.

    Now, one question: what would a Green Tea Party say about constraints on the amount of CO2 the country as a whole, or individuals, can emit? Scientists tell us we need to cut those numbers down drastically – but this really does impact individual liberty… I suppose we can say that each individual emitting too much carbon infringes upon the health of the planet, and therefore everyone’s well-being. But that’s a rather long and indirect link…

    1. “I have often wondered why some strands of climate/environmental thinking don’t resonate more with the conservative or libertarian-minded.”

      I concur. I guess one could say the same about the inverse, why some strands of conservative or libertarian thinking don’t resonate more with the climate/environmental/eco-minded. IMHO, there is so much in common!

      You ask a thought provoking question on CO2. I would position GreenTea as big tent, welcoming folks who are eco-conscious. Some folks may be for legal restrictions, others may be for cultural change. The battle in the mainstream right now is that CO2 doesn’t even cause global warming as opposed to finding a solution.

      What matters most is that the connection is recognized and accepted.

      1. “I concur. I guess one could say the same about the inverse, why some strands of conservative or libertarian thinking don’t resonate more with the climate/environmental/eco-minded. IMHO, there is so much in common!”

        Absolutely. I think there are certain people who make the connections, but like you said they are not in the mainstream. I’m almost done reading Eric Pooley’s “Climate War”, and am very much struck by something both sides do: take the most extreme, unreasonable element of the other side, brand it as the other camp’s “middle”, and shoot it down. (I guess just like the rest of politics!)

        And I’m just as struck by the tendency of many green folks to brand anyone who opposes action as denialists, corporate hacks, selfish, unwilling to sacrifice for the planet, etc. – this de-legitimize anything the other person has to say, and preclude the finding of common ground.

  5. Great article!…it’s left me wondering what the Green Tea Party’s approach to international trade agreements would be; given the environmental and social damage that may be caused by global economies.

    1. In terms of international trade agreements, I will answer from a political standpoint and from a business standpoint.

      From the political standpoint, it is difficult to support any such international trade agreements such as NAFTA or the WTO, because 1) they do more economic harm than good 2) they do more environmental harm than good. NAFTA and the WTO use coercion to manipulate trade towards a corporations benefit rather to the benefit and desire of individuals.

      I guess you could say the agreement would be to have no agreement:).

      From a business standpoint, it’s all about using resources wisely. It would be great to have as much as possible created and crafted locally. By the same token, there are some geographic regions that are better suited to create and craft goods whilst conserving economic and environmental resources in sum.

  6. Jon my friend unfortunately we inhabit a center-right with two very entrenched parties who’s main supporters are not the people but mega corporations and special interests. I would like to hope your beliefs would be viable in the current political atmosphere but I just don’t see it happening in our lifetimes. There is just not enough accountability when it comes to the things politicians do to mess things up in my opinion. You know I lean more socialist than you fiscally but otherwise I pretty much agree with everything you said.

    1. I would argue that it is more center-left now a days;). I agree, parties are funded by special interests. Likewise special interest are funded by the parties, so to speak. It’s a vicious cycle.

      I am glad we can find common ground on many things. That’s what it’s all about.

      I am glad we can agree on some points.

  7. Green tea’s high level of anti-oxidants seems to be related to your ecological focus and the shorter processing time related in a similar fashion to libertarian values. These are are great ideas and having the accountability which those values require could be a very successful campaign strategy in 2010 and beyond.

  8. If I remember correctly, Edgar Schein, who researches intergroup competition at MIT, found empirically that diverse groups of people are most effectively united when focused on a common goal.

    Although the leaders of the tea party may not embrace green tea, by expanding the term “fiscally conservative” to embrace all forms of capital (environmental & social, not just financial), I have had the most open conversations with people who identify with support of the tea party.

    By making sustainability relevant to what people already measure their success by (conservative fiscal policy), and finding the right wording to unite everyone in common goals, I think we have the best shot at spreading the green gospel.

    1. Thanks for sharing the Schein reference. His research sounds quite fascinating. I think you are onto something: “By making sustainability relevant to what people already measure success…” It’s all about making it meaningful to folks, using inspiration and a nudge, rather than force and a punch.

  9. Jonathan my friend, this is a good piece and you raise some valid points and I like the outside of the box thinking. Two comments:

    – How do you propose to limit the federal government and solve ecological issues? Voluntary carbon emissions reductions has not worked very well so far, and it unlikely to get any better without some sort of regulation (i.e. government intervention). I don’t see how any kind of tea party platform, green or otherwise, can tackle global/national pollution issues without the government being regulatory enabled which would seem to contradict one of the general tenets of your platform.

    – Secondly, why would one want to associate any movement with “tea parties” at all? I guess “green tea” is kind of catchy, but for most of the population that is concerned with “green” matters, “tea party” conjures up a fairly negative image, often that of Sarah P.

    1. Hi Jeff, I appreciate your comments.

      1) This one may be a roundabout answer, but perhaps worthy of a fuller discussion. On a personal note, I am not to fond of Carbon trading or cap and tax schemes as they stand in legislation right now. IMHO, big corporations get away with much more than the intended benefit. (But I guess this is a tangential discussion).

      I think this is one of more challenging question to move eco issues forward while balancing between each core part of the platform. It is one a constantly battle, being an advocate for the free market, yet having a passion for sustainability.

      2) The Tea Party does have a negative image in some circles, yet a fairly positive one in others. While I am not too fond of Palin myself, I would challenge folks of both sides to look past the media hype and ad hominem attacks and at the core issues and platform to find common ground. Palin actually has some good stuff to say. Much of the negativity of the Tea Party are where periphery issues get center stage, and core issues get sidelined. It makes for good news, but not good understanding. I see GreenTea as a foot in the door on the basis of what folks do agree on in terms of fiscal conservative, socially liberal, and ecologically conscious, as oppose to what folks disagree on.

  10. I do wish there were more people who were actually fiscally conservative, socially liberal/libertarian, scientifically literate (in relation to the environment, science education, etc), and willing to consider pragmatic compromise. It would give Democrats somebody to actually negotiate with over our very serious policy problems.

    Unfortunately for you, I do not think there are enough people like you to form anything like a party or movement. Even your favorite politician, though I certainly like him better than the current mainstream of the GOP, is not actually a member of your camp — he’s a global warming denialist, and a hardcore anti-choicer.

    The reality is that the current state of politics is such that there are very few reasonable ideas being floated from anyone with political power outside the Democratic party — and many of the ideas that get floated by Democrats are actually cribbed from past Republicans and conservatives. The “public option” concept for healthcare was a conservative idea from the ’70s through the ’90s. The Earned Income Tax Credit, very popular with modern Dems but a bugaboo of modern Republicans, originally was a conservative idea — the point is to incentivize work, rather than giving people no-strings aid, as with AFDC, SNAP, UI, and so on. (Not that those programs, in reality, come free of strings.) Cap-and-trade was a conservative, market-based response to pollution, and was proposed as an alternative to command-and-control regulations that had originated with the EPA under Nixon — in other words, cap-and-trade was originally to the right of a Republican administration!

    Additionally, I think there are some areas where it’s hard to see where a compromise would lie. The “orthodox” Democratic / Keynesian position on the current state of the economy would be Krugman’s: we would’ve been worse off without the stimulus, but because it was too small, we’re not doing as well as we should, and the current lousy state of affairs has, unfortunately, made it hard to go back and get more. (His prediction from Feb ’09 looks awfully prescient.)

    Certainly Keynesians agree that in the long run, the structural deficit must be brought down to zero, or you will eventually have a currency crisis. (You may recall that we were quite close to achieving fiscal rectitude in 1999-2000.) But there is plenty of evidence that current efforts at austerity are failing, and extensive historical evidence that trying to balance the budget during a recession is self-defeating. (It extends the slump, driving tax revenues lower.)

    I’m really wishing this site had a “preview comment” button, so I could see whether my HTML markup is going to work…

    1. Hi Auros, Thanks for your thoughts. You are correct, my favorite congress person is not too fond of global warming. However, ecologically conscious goes beyond global warming, as global warming is a subset of ecological issues. IMHO, it would be apt to find the ecological issues that we can agree on, and from my understanding of his positions and philosophies, I think we will have much common ground.

      The nuances of his “anti-choice” position is actually consistent with the GreenTea fiscal and social postions in the context of the constitution. First, in the fiscal realm, the federal government needs to stop funding abortions, and likewise abstinence/pro-life programs. Second, in the social realm, part of being pro-choice is that one has a choice between being pro-abortion and pro-life, while still being pro-choice. Ultimately, IIRC, his position would leave the decision between the doctor and patient. In the past, he may* have supported for a constitutional amendment against abortion (*I could be in err of this statement), which I actually respect because he is following the rule of law of the constitution, while I disagree with the position.

      It would be great to focus on GreenTea as a strength and unity based grassroots organization, where we focus on the ideas we can push forth together, yet debate and dialogue over the ones we don’t. There are some shared threads in various camps, and it would be good to bring those to fruition, then work out the nitty gritty. Low hanging fruit.

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