The politics behind the Trump photo

This morning I posted a picture of Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden and co-spokesperson of the Swedish Greens, on the popular website twitter.com. In it Lövin and her staff posed in a parody of Donald Trump’s infamous photocall as he removed support for aid programs promoting women’s right to control their own bodies.

By the end of the day it had over 800,000 views and had been picked up and emotionally monetised by Buzzfeed, the Telegraph and others.

The picture was an unqualified PR success for the Swedish Greens, who’ve had a pretty tough time over the past few years, but who can be rightly proud of the climate deal that has just been announced.

Sweden has been a pioneer of what sociologists call ecological modernisation, and by international standards there has been relative consensus over the years about tackling big environmental questions. In 1968 it started the world’s first environmental protection agency, integrating environmental protection into its industrial policies.

Isabella Lövin’s party were late on the scene, not being founded until the mid eighties, and Lövin herself has taken a direct route to power, becoming an MEP off the back of a bestselling book on fisheries before being catapulted into the Deputy PM role when her predecessor Åsa Romson stepped aside.

The internal machinations of Swedish party politics are not all that important to the rest of the world, but Sweden’s climate policies are. Since 2014 the Greens have used their place in government to organise relatively unglamorous but quite significant changes behind the scenes. Unable to pass every bit of legislation they want, the law signed off by Lövin (the paper she has in her hand in the picture is not, unsurprisingly, the real thing) is the result of government leadership to engineer a cross-party agreement that will outlast the current coalition.

What Sweden has done is commit itself firmly to economic and environmental transition. Back in the 1970s environmentalists dreamed of post-industrial, post-modern societies in which the industrial-economy nation-state would be replaced by something entirely different. Sweden though has adopted what is known as a ‘green state’ strategy, a term invented by Australian political scientist Robyn Eckersley to describe a potentially sustainable version of the type of societies we already live in.

As well as signing new climate legislation, Sweden has poured significant investment into the bioeconomy, including renewables and the replacement of energy and resource intensive materials like cotton with alternatives obtainable through sustainable forestry. It is also a leader in resilience planning and research, based on an understanding that continued prosperity is based on building resilient economic and environmental systems.

Sweden on its own cannot compensate for all the emissions of a Trump-led US (though Johan Rockström, head of the world-leading Stockholm Resilience Centre has said the country could try and cancel out large chunks of US carbon for the good of the planet) but by providing a model of how high-performing industrialised states change their economies and political systems it is probably the best roadmap out there.

At the last count the one tweet had almost 1.2 million impressions, but there is far more to the story than a well posed photo.

If you want to know more about Sweden then this book is a great investment and helps fund independent journalism.

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