Green politics is a political ideology which places a high importance on environmental goals, and on achieving these goals through broad-based, grassroots, participatory democracy. Green politics is advocated by supporters of the Green movement, which has been active through Green parties in many nations since the early 1980s.
The political term Green, a translation of the German Grün, was coined by die Grünen, the first successful Green party, formed in the late 1970s. The term political ecology is sometimes used in Europe and in academic circles.
Supporters of Green politics, called Greens, share many ideas with the ecology, conservation, environmental, feminist, and peace movements. In addition to democracy and ecological issues, green politics is concerned with civil liberties, social justice and nonviolence.
History and growth of green politics
Adherents to green politics tend to consider it to be part of a higher worldview and not simply a political ideology. Green politics draws its ethical stance from a variety of sources, from the values of indigenous peoples, to the ethics of Mohandas Gandhi, Spinoza and Uexküll. These people influenced green thought in their advocacy of long-term "seventh generation" foresight, and on the personal responsibility of every individual to make moral choices.
Unease about adverse consequences of human actions on nature predates the modern concept of “environmentalism". Social commentators as far apart as ancient Rome and China complained of air, water and noise pollution.
The philosophical roots of environmentalism can be traced back to enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau in France and, later, the author and naturalist Thoreau in America. Organised environmentalism began in late 19th Century Europe and the United States as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution with its emphasis on unbridled economic expansion.
In far-right and fascist parties, nationalism has demonstratedly been tied into a sort of green politics which promotes environmentalism as a form of pride in the "motherland". However, left-green platforms of the form that make up the green parties today draw terminology from the science of ecology, and policy from environmentalism, deep ecology, feminism, pacifism, anarchism, libertarian socialism, social democracy, eco-socialism, and social ecology. In the 1970s, as these movements grew in influence, green politics arose as a new philosophy which synthesized their goals.
The political beginning of greens
In March of 1972 the world's first green party, the United Tasmania Group, was formed at a public meeting in Hobart, Australia. In May 1972, a meeting at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, launched the Values Party, the world's first countrywide green party to contest Parliamentary seats nationally. A year later in 1973, Europe's first green party, the UK's Ecology Party, came into existence.
The German Green Party was not the first Green Party in Europe to have members elected nationally but the impression was created that they had been, because they attracted the most media attention: The German Greens, contended in their first national election in 1980. They started as a provisional coalition of civic groups and political campaigns which, together, felt their interests were not expressed by the conventional parties. After contesting the 1979 Euro elections they held a conference which identified Four Pillars of the Green Party which all groups in the original alliance could agree as the basis of a common Party platform: welding these groups together as a single Party. This statement of principles has since been utilised by many Green Parties around the world. It was this party that first coined the term "Green" ("Grün" in German) and adopted the sunflower symbol. In the 1983 federal election, the Greens won 27 seats in the Bundestag.
The first Canadian foray into green politics took place in the Maritimes when 11 independent candidates (including one in Montreal and one in Toronto) ran in the 1980 federal election under the banner of the Small Party. (Current Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May was the instigator and one of the candidates). Inspired by Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, the Small Party candidates ran for the expressed purpose of putting forward an anti-nuclear platform in that election. It was not registered as an official party, but some participants in that effort went on to form the Green Party of Canada in 1983 (the Ontario Greens and British Columbia Greens were also formed that year).
In Finland, in 1995, the Green League became the first European Green party to form part of a state-level Cabinet. The German Greens followed, forming a government with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (the "Red-Green Alliance") from 1998 to 2005. In 2001, they reached an agreement to end reliance on nuclear power in Germany, and agreed to remain in coalition and support the German government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the 2001 Afghan War. This put them at odds with many Greens worldwide but demonstrated also that they were capable of difficult political tradeoffs.
Principles of greens
Since green politics emerged as an ideology, it has been defined by a few key green principles. The German Greens drafted the earliest statement of this kind, called the Four Pillars of the Green Party. The Four Pillars have been repeated by many green parties worldwide as a foundational statement of the green ideology:
3. Post-patriarchal values (later translated to Feminism)
5. Global responsibility
6. Future focus
1. Ecological wisdom
2. Social justice
6. Respect for diversity
Greens and Local movements
Green ideology emphasizes participatory democracy and the principle of "thinking globally, acting locally." As such, the ideal Green Party is thought to grow from the bottom up, from neighborhood to municipal to (eco-)regional to national levels. The goal is rule by a consensus decision making process.
Strong local coalitions are considered a pre-requisite to higher-level electoral breakthroughs. Historically, the growth of Green parties has been sparked by a single issue where Greens can appeal to ordinary citizens' concerns. In Germany, for example, the Greens' early opposition to nuclear power won them their first successes in the federal elections.
Greens and Global movements
There is a growing level of global cooperation between Green parties. Global gatherings of Green Parties now happen. The first Planetary Meeting of Greens was held May 30-31st, in Rio de Janeiro, immediately preceding the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held there. More than 200 Greens from 28 nations attended. The first formal Global Greens Gathering took place in Canberra, in 2001, with more than 800 Greens from 72 countries in attendance. The second Global Green Congress was held in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in May 2008, when 75 parties were represented.
Global Green networking dates back to 1990. Following the Planetary Meeting of Greens in Rio de Janeiro, a Global Green Steering Committee was created, consisting of two seats for each continent. In 1993 this Global Steering Committee met in Mexico City and authorized the creation of a Global Green Network including a Global Green Calendar, Global Green Bulletin, and Global Green Directory. The Directory was issued in several editions in the next years. In 1996, 69 Green Parties from around the world signed a common declaration opposing French nuclear testing in the South Pacific, the first statement of global greens on a current issue. A second statement was issued in December 1997, concerning the Kyoto climate change treaty.
At the 2001 Canberra Global Gathering delegates for Green Parties from 72 countries decided upon a Global Greens Charter which proposes six key principles. Over time, each Green Party can discuss this and organize itself to approve it, some by using it in the local press, some by translating it for their web site, some by incorporating it into their manifesto, some by incorporating it into their constitution. This process is taking place gradually, with online dialogue enabling parties to say where they are up to with this process.
The Gatherings also agree on organizational matters. The first Gathering voted unanimously to set up the Global Green Network (GGN). The GGN is composed of three representatives from each Green Party. A companion organization was set up by the same resolution: Global Green Coordination (GGC). This is composed of three representatives from each Federation (Africa, Europe, The Americas, Asia/Pacific, see below). Discussion of the planned organization took place in several Green Parties prior to the Canberra meeting.The GGC communicates chiefly by email. Any agreement by it has to be by unanimity of its members. It may identify possible global campaigns to propose to Green Parties world wide. The GGC may endorse statements by individual Green Parties. For example, it endorsed a statement by the US Green Party on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Thirdly, Global Green Gatherings are an opportunity for informal networking, from which joint campaigning may arise. For example, a campaign to protect the New Caledonian coral reef, by getting it nominated for World Heritage Status: a joint campaign by the New Caledonia Green Party, New Caldonian indigenous leaders, the French Green Party, and the Australian Greens. Another example concerns Ingrid Betancourt, the leader of the Green Party in Colombia, the Green Oxygen Party (Partido Verde Oxigeno). Ingrid Betancourt and the party's Campaign Manager, Claire Rojas, were kidnapped by a hard-line faction of FARC on 7 March 2002, while travelling in FARC-controlled territory. Betancourt had spoken at the Canberra Gathering, making many friends. As a result, Green Parties all over the world have organized, pressing their governments to bring pressure to bear. For example, Green Parties in African countries, Austria, Canada, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, France, Scotland, Sweden and other countries have launched campaigns calling for Betancourt's release. Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens, went to Colombia, as did an envoy from the European Federation, Alain Lipietz, who issued a report.The four Federations of Green Parties issued a message to FARC. Ingrid Betancourt was rescued by the Colombian military in Operation Jaque in 2008. However, the efforts of the Green Parties show their potential to unite and campaign jointly.
Green political issues
Green economics focuses on the importance of the health of the biosphere to human well-being. Consequently, most Greens distrust conventional capitalism, as it tends to emphasize economic growth while ignoring ecological health; the "full cost" of economic growth often includes damage to the biosphere, which is unacceptable according to green politics. Green economics considers such growth to be "uneconomic growth"— material increase that nonetheless lowers overall quality of life.
Therefore, adherents to green politics advocate economic policies designed to safeguard the environment. Greens want governments to stop subsidizing companies that waste resources or pollute the natural world, subsidies that Greens refer to as "dirty subsidies". Some currents of green politics place automobile and agribusiness subsidies in this category, as they may harm human health. On the contrary, Greens look to a green tax shift that will encourage both producers and consumers to make ecologically friendly choices.
Green economics is on the whole anti-globalist. Economic globalization is considered a threat to well-being, which will replace natural environments and local cultures with a single trade economy, termed the global economic monoculture.
Since green economics emphasizes biospheric health, an issue outside the traditional left-right spectrum, different currents within green politics incorporate ideas from socialism and capitalism. Greens on the Left are often identified as Eco-socialists, who merge ecology and environmentalism with socialism and Marxism and blame the capitalist system for environmental degradation, social injustice, inequality and conflict. Eco-capitalists, on the other hand, believe that the free market system, with some modification, is capable of addressing ecological problems. This belief is documented in the business experiences of eco-capitalists in the book, The Gort Cloud that describes the gort cloud as the green community that supports eco-friendly businesses.
Since the beginning, green politics has emphasized local, grassroots-level political activity and decision-making. According to its adherents, it is crucial that citizens play a direct role in the decisions that influence their lives and their environment. Therefore, green politics seeks to increase the role of deliberative democracy, based on direct citizen involvement and consensus decision making, wherever it is feasible.
Green politics also encourages political action on the individual level, such as ethical consumerism, or buying things that are made according to environmentally ethical standards. Indeed, many green parties emphasize individual and grassroots action at the local and regional levels over electoral politics. Historically, green parties have grown at the local level, gradually gaining influence and spreading to regional or provincial politics, only entering the national arena when there is a strong network of local support.
In addition, many Greens believe that governments should not levy taxes against strictly local production and trade. Some Greens advocate new ways of organizing authority to increase local control, including urban secession and bioregional democracy.
Green politics on the whole is opposed to nuclear power and the buildup of persistent organic pollutants, supporting adherence to the precautionary principle, by which technologies are rejected unless they can be proven to not cause significant harm to the health of living things or the biosphere. In Germany and Sweden programs have been initiated to shut down all nuclear plants (known as nuclear power phase-out).
In the spirit of nonviolence, Green politics opposes the War on Terrorism and the curtailment of civil rights, focusing instead on nurturing deliberative democracy in war-torn regions and the construction of a civil society with an increased role for women.
Although Greens in the United States "call for an end to the 'War on Drugs'" and "for decriminalization of victimless crimes", they also call for developing "a firm approach to law enforcement that directly addresses violent crime, including trafficking in hard drugs" .
Green platforms generally favor tariffs on fossil fuels, restricting genetically modified organisms, and protections for ecoregions or communities. In keeping with their commitment to the preservation of diversity, greens are often committed to the maintenance and protection of indigenous communities, languages, and traditions. An example of this is the Irish Green Party's commitment to the preservation of the Irish Language.
Currents trends in greens
Green politics is usually said to include the green anarchism, eco-anarchism, anti-nuclear and peace movements - although these often claim not to be aligned with any party. Some claim it also includes feminism, pacifism and the animal rights movements. Most Greens support special policy measures to empower women, especially mothers; to oppose war and de-escalate conflicts and stop proliferating technologies useful in conflict or likely to lead to conflict, and such radical measures as Great Ape personhood.
Greens on the Left adhere to eco-socialism, an ideology that combines ecology, environmentalism, socialism and Marxism to criticise the capitalist system as the cause of ecological crises, social exclusion, inequality and conflict. Many Green Parties are not avowedly eco-socialist but most Green Parties around the world have or have had a large Eco-socialist membership. This has led some on the right to refer to Greens as "watermelons" – green on the outside, red in the middle.
Despite this stereotype, some centrist Greens follow more geo-libertarian views which emphasize natural capitalism – and shifting taxes away from value created by labor or service and charging instead for human consumption of the wealth created by the natural world. Greens may view the processes by which living beings compete for mates, homes, and food, ecology, and the cognitive and political sciences very differently. These differences tend to drive debate on ethics, formation of policy, and the public resolution of these differences in leadership races. There is no single Green Ethic.
Criticism of green politics
Critics sometimes claim that the universal and immersive nature of ecology, and the necessity of converting some of it to serve humanity, predisposes the movement towards authoritarian and intrusive policies, particularly with regard to the means of production, as these sustain human life.
Skeptics point out that industrial nations are in the best position to adopt state-of-the-art clean energy and corresponding high pollution standards, and that Green Parties advocate going against economic progress. However, Greens respond that industrial nations are still those which use the most resources, and contribute most to climate change, and that as the poor world develops, we must help it develop with renewable rather than finite/carbon-based energy sources.
A further criticism is that Green parties are strongest among the well educated in the developed world, while many policies could be seen as operating against the interests of the poor both in rich countries and globally. For example, some Greens support increases in the indirect taxation of goods ("ecotax") which they perceive to be polluting. This can result in the less well off paying a higher share of the tax burden because more of their income goes to purchasing essentials. Green defenders of the shift towards ecotaxes respond that the poor are often the first and greatest victims of environmental degradation and do not have the resources to adapt or move away. Protecting ecosystems therefore protects the poor even more than the rich who can better adapt or move. Furthermore, equity positive tax or refund adjustments can be made to the progressive income tax system to compensate for any socially regressive consequences of the green tax shift.
Globally, Green opposition to heavy industry is seen by critics as acting against the interests of rapidly industrializing poor countries such as China or Thailand. A counter view is that emerging nations from the South would benefit environmentally and economically given the rising cost of fossil fuels by leap-frogging the fossil-driven industrial stage and moving directly to the post-fossil powered stage of production.
Green participation in the anti-globalization movement, and the leading role taken by Green parties in countries such as the United States in opposing free trade agreements, also leads critics to argue that Greens are against opening up rich country markets to goods from the developing world, although many Greens would argue that they are in favour of trade justice - Fair trade over Free Trade. Contrary to the above view, Greens in Europe advocate the lowering of trade barriers and argue for the elimination of export subsidies for agricultural products in the industrialized nations.
Critics argue that Greens have a Luddite view of technology, opposing technologies such as genetic modification which their critics see as positive. Greens have often taken the lead in raising concerns about public health issues such as obesity which critics see as a modern form of moral panic. Whereas a technophobic point of view can be found in the early Green movement and parties, Greens today reject the accusation of Luddism, countering that their policies of sustainable growth encourage 'clean' technological innovation like renewable energy and anti-pollution technology.