Green Politics

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Green politics


Green Politics is a relatively recent political movement that places a concern for nature and its myriad species at the top of its agenda. New social and political movements arise in response to crises that are perceived to be both long-term and systemic . The crisis out of which the broadly based Green movement has emerged is the environmental crisis, which is actually a series of interconnected crises caused by population growth , air and water pollution , the destruction of the tropical and temperate rain forests, the rapid extinction of entire species of plants and animals, the greenhouse effect , acid rain , ozone layer depletion , and other now familiar instances of environmental degradation . Many are by-products of technological innovations, such as the internal combustion engine. But the causes of these environmental crises are not only technological but are also broadly cultural and political. They stem from beliefs and attitudes that place human beings above or apart from nature. Despite their differences, the major mainstream political perspectivesliberalism, socialism, and conservatismare alike in viewing nature as either a hostile force to be conquered or a resource base to be exploited for human purposes. All, in short, share an anthropocentric, or human-centered, bias.

Against these views, the modern environmental or Green movement counterpoises its own perspective. Many Greens prefer not to call their perspective a political ideology, but an environmental ethic. Earlier ecological thinkers, such as Aldo Leopold , spoke of a "land ethic." Others, such as Christopher stone, speak of an ethic with the earth itself at its center, while still others, such as Hans Jonas, speak of an emerging "planetary ethic." Despite differences of accent and emphasis, however, all are alike in several important respects. An environmental or Ecological ethics, they say, would include several key features. First, such an ethic would emphasize the web of interconnections and mutual dependence within which we and other species live. From the this recognition of interconnectedness a second feature follows: a respect for all life, however humble humans may believe it to be, because the fate of our species is tied in with theirs. And since life requires certain conditions to sustain it, the third feature follows: we have an obligation to respect and care for the conditions that nurture and sustain life in its myriad forms. Since nature nourishes her creatures within a complex web of interconnected conditions, to damage one part of this life-sustaining web is to damage the others, and to endanger the existence of the creatures that depend upon it.

Green thinkers hold that the enormous power that humans have over nature imposes on our species a special responsibility for restraining our reach and using our power wisely and well. Greens point out that the fate of the earth and all its creatures now depends, to an unprecedented degree, on human decisions and actions. For not only do we depend on nature, but nature depends on our care and restraint and forbearance. Humans have the nuclear means to destroy in mere minutes the earth's inhabitants and the ecosystems that sustain them. From this emerges a fourth feature of a "green" political perspective: Greens must oppose militarism and work for peace.

But the earth is in danger not only from global thermo-nuclear war but from the slower destruction of the natural environment . Such destruction is a consequence not only of large-scale policies but of small-scale, everyday acts. And each of us bears full responsibility for our actions and also, since we live in a democracy, some share of responsibility for cumulative effects and collective outcomes. Each of us has, or can have, a hand in making the laws under which we live. It is for this reason that Greens give equal emphasis to our collective and individual responsibility for protecting the environment that protects us. The fifth feature of the Green political perspective, then, is to emphasize the importance of informed and active democratic citizenship at the grass-roots level. Hence the Green adage, "Think globally and act locally."

On this much most Greens agree. But there are also a number of unresolved differences of approach, emphasis, and political strategy. The internal ideological spectrum ranges from "light green" conservationists to "dark green" radicals, and includes assorted anarchist beliefs, deep ecology , ecofeminism , social ecology , bioregionalism , New Age Gaia worship, and other groupings, each differing in various ways form the others. Among these are differences regarding the basic beliefs underlying and motivating the green movement. Some New Age Greens envision an environmental ethic grounded in spiritual or religious values. We should, they say, look upon the earth as a benevolent and kindly deitythe goddess Gaia (from the Greek word for "earth")to be worshiped in reverence and awe. In this way we can liberate ourselves from the restrictive rationalism that characterizes modern science. Other Greens disapprove of such a spiritual or religious orientation, contending that such beliefs are politically pernicious and inimical to the rational scientific thinking required to diagnose and solve environmental problems.

Other differences have to do with the political strategies and tactics to be employed by the environmental movement. Some say that Greens should take an active part in electoral politics, perhaps even following the lead of Greens in Germany and organizing a Green Party. Aware of the formidable obstacles facing minority third parties, most have favored other strategies, such as working within existing mainstream parties (especially the Democratic Party in the United States), or hiring lobbyists to influence legislation. Still other Greens favor working outside of traditional interest group politics, believing the earth and its inhabitants hardly constitute a special interest. Others, such as social ecologists, tend to favor local, grass-roots campaigns which involve neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens in efforts to protect the environment. Some social ecologists are anarchists who see the state and its pro-business and pro-growth policies as the problem, rather than the solution, and seek its eventual replacement by a decentralized system of communes and cooperatives. Greens of the "bioregionalist" persuasion add that such social and political organization ought to be based on biological or natural, rather than artificial or political, boundaries and regions.

Although all Greens agree on the importance of informing and educating the public, they disagree as to how this might best be done. Some groups, such as Greenpeace , favor dramatic direct action calculated to make headlines and capture public attention. Even more militant groups, such as the Sea Shepherd Society and Earth First! , have advocated monkey-wrenching as a morally justifiable means of publicizing and protesting practices destructive of the natural environment.

Such militant tactics are decried by moderate or mainstream groups, which tend to favor subtle, low-key efforts to influence legislation and inform the public on environmental matters. The Sierra Club , for example, lobbies Congress and state legislatures to pass environmental legislation. It also publishes books and produces films and videos about a wide variety of environmental issues. Similar strategies are followed by other groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund. Another group, The Nature Conservancy , solicits funds to buy land for nature preserves.

Differences over strategy and tactics are, however, differences about means and not necessarily about basic assumptions and ends. Despite their political differences, Greens are alike in assuming that all things are connectedecology is, after all, the study of interconnectionsand they agree that complex ecosystems and the myriad life-forms they sustain are valuable and worthy of protection by political and other means.

See also Abbey, Edward; Bioregional Project; Bookchin, Murray; Brower, David Ross; Environmental attitudes/values; Environmental Defense Fund; Foreman, Dave; Green advertising and marketing; Green products; Sea Shepherd Society; Sierra Club

[Terence Ball ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Bahro, R. Building the Green Movement. London: G.R.P., 1978.

Biehl, J. Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics. Boston: South End Press, 1991.

Bookchin, M. The Modern Crisis. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1986.

Capra, F., and C. Spritnak. Green Politics. New York: Dutton, 1984.

Foreman, D. Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

Jonas, H. The Imperative of Responsibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Leopold, A. The Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.

Manes, C. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. Boston: Little Brown, 1990.

Milbrath, L. W. Envisioning a Sustainable Society. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

Paehlke, R. Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.

Porritt, J. Seeing Green: The Politics of Ecology Explained. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.

Seed, J., et al. Thinking Like a Mountain. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1988.

Worster, D. Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.