The Big Picture Blog 2

The Big Picture Blog 2

Blog by Rev. Enno K. Limvere

I am going to be writing a series of blogs that is based upon a book, “Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice” by James Connelly and Graham Smith. This book was published in 1999 and in England so some of it doesn’t apply for us here in the U.S., however, it does a good job of outlining some of the issues that global climate change and how different groups are working to solve this challenge. I will be pulling quotes, definitions, categories, and paragraphs from this book liberally, I will try to reference page numbers and such and apologize right now for when I don’t.

2nd Chapter

Green Ideology

“This chapter turns to more political questions within contemporary environmental thinking. For example, what might a future sustainable society look like? Can we derive specifically green set of institutional arrangements? Who are the agents of green political change? If there a coherent green political ideology?” (p. 39) To see how this can be done, they look at justice, democracy, and equality which are the traditions of our society and see how green ideology and polity work within them. One of the biggest questions there is can there be sustainable development or have we developed our world too far and any further development will only further damage our world and our future.


From ethics to politics

How we view the world and our ethics to describe that relationship will then give us ‘duties and obligations.’ (p. 40) If we believe in the value of all non-human life, what shape would our government look like, for example.

“There are a number of skeptical points that need to made here which are crucial to the development of green politics. The first is as true for green politics as it is for environmental ethics, it is simply not possible to ‘read off’ ethical and political principles direct from scientific concepts such as diversity, symbiosis, or logical concepts.” (p. 40)

It is truly hard to say how our commitments to the world and non-human life should be lived out in society, much less than the type of government and political system which would best accomplish the goals of green ideology.

The limits to growth debate

“In 1972, the Club of Rome, a group of prominent scientists, educators, economists, humanists, industrialists, and national and international civil servants, published its report “The Limits to Growth”the repost was based on an investigation of the interconnected nature of five trends that the Club of Rom believe to be of global concern: “accelerating industrialization, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and a deteriorating environment.” This lead to the pessimistic conclusion… could not be sustained without widespread poverty and famine, exhaustion of global natural resources and irreparable environmental damage.” (p. 41) Not all of this came true to their predictions, but these factors do threaten our world and its future.

“Decentralization is seen as a fundamental if society is to become more congenial and develop with ecological limits… There is no direct and necessary link between finite nature of Earth’s resources and the prescription of decentralization.” (p. 42)


“From democratic to authoritarian regimes, centralized states to decentralized communities, planned to free-market economies, party politics to grassroots activism – all have found support at some time or another.” (p. 43)

“These preoccupations need to be recognized and each given due weight: but it is important to realize that they may be in tension with each other.” (p. 43) There is tension between the need to act decisively (authoritarian) to build into the system egalitarianism, which would benefit the long term sustainability of the planet and our society. Can green ideology create a new political system or does it need to work through the current systems in place? Which one has the better chance to succeed?

Authoritarianism and fascism

“If scarcity is not dead, if it is in fact with us in a seemingly much more intense form than ever before in human history, how we can avoid reaching the conclusion that Leviathan is inevitable? Given current levels of population and technology, I do not believe that we can. Hobbes shows why a spaceship earth must have a captain. Otherwise, the collective selfishness and irresponsibility produces by the tragedy of the commons will destroy the spaceship, and any sacrifice of freedom by the crew members is clearly the lesser of the two evils. (Ophuls, 1973, p. 22),,, Although few greens would espouse such political arrangements, they would do well to recognize that authoritarian solutions are often lurking in the background” (p. 45)


“Traditional conservative and ecological theorists often share an anti-capitalist stance and romantic vision of non-human nature. In recent defense of the deep affinity between ecological theory and conservative philosophy, John Gray adopts a common criticism of neo-liberalism maket philosophy, stressing the similarities of the two streams of thought… However, contemporary green analysis of social relations appears to part company with much conservative thought on various issues,… Where conservative thinking tends to emphasize order, tradition, and community over what is sees as abstract criteria such as social justice, and egalitarianism,…” (p. 46)


Economic liberalism gave us “Individualism, the pursuit of private gain, limited government, and market freedom” (p. 47) is at odds with green ideology and has harmed our planet. In other ways, “the invididualism which lies at the heart of liberalism, whether in its policital expression (the insistence on rights and liberties) or in its economic expressions (the insistence on markets) creates a problem for environmentalists who are attempting to develop new forms of community and political participation relevant to a sustainable society.” (p. 47)

Marxism and socialism

“As Jonathon Porritt argues: ‘Both [capitalism and socialism] are dedicated to industrial growth, to the expansion of the means of production, to the materialistic ethic as the best means of meeting people’s need, and to unimpeded technological development’ (Porritt, 1984, p. 44)” (p. 48)

“There are at least four areas where fruitful connections have been made and where the green analysis has been deepened by socialist reflections -…

First is the area of political economy, socialist thought exposes in some depth the destructive power of capitalist societies… Second area of interest is the question of agents of change. Although often providing clear prescriptions for a future sustainable society, green political thought has often been rigidly criticized for inadequately theorizing strategies for change… The third area of critical debate centers on the role of institutions, particularly the state, both in processes of change and in any future society… Finally, much has been written about the Marxist attitude to the non-human world. The early writings of Marx can be interpreted as showing awareness of the interconnectedness and dialectical relationship of humanity with the rest of nature and the alienation of both under the systems of capitalism.” (pp. 48-50)

Anarchism and decentralized communitarianism

“Anarchists arguments for decentralization of social and political institutions are taken to be absolutely necessary if sustainable society is to emerge. This vision can be contrasted with the authoritarian responses to The Limits of Growth report discussed earlier.” (p. 51)

As with any other political system, there are different, not a single, streams of thought. “The most influential social ecologist is undoubtably Murray Bookchin, who analysis of environmental problems is based upon the perceived connection between the exploitation of nature and the exploitation of human beings… Under the influence of deep ecological insights, bioregionalists, such as Kirkpatrick Sale, hold that communities must learn to live within the carrying capacity of their specific bioregion… However, for many critics, and particularly ecosocialists, the removal of the state and subsequent emergence of autonomous communities is viewed as overly idealistic and Utopian and fails to take account of fundamentally state functions.” (p. 52-53)


“’ Ecological feminism’ is an umbrella term which captures a variety of multicultural perspectives on the nature of the connections within social systems of domination between those humans in subordinate positions, particularly women, and the domination of non-human nature… Ecofeminist analyses of the twin dominations of women and nature include considerations of the domination of people of color, children, and the underclass. (Warren, 1994, p. 1)” (p. 53)

A new ideology?

“Should green political thought be understood as an ideology in its own right? It is common to find writers claiming that green thinking represents an overcoming of Right-Left distinctions and, on occasions, that it represents a complete break form traditional political thought; for others it is a new ideology that can take its place alongside the more established ideologies such as conservatism, socialism, liberalism, or anarchism. (p. 54)

“In this chapter, we have argued that at the core of green political thinking is the belief that our ethical relations with non-human nature and the finite character of resources need to be central in political reflections; beyond these two core ideas, green political thought must rely on insights from other traditions.” (p. 54)

“Might it not be better to understand green political thought as a critical perspective which has forced existing political traditions to undergo an internal analysis and re-think of their fundamental premises and concerns, as well as providing critical space for convergence and debate between traditions?” (p. 55)


“The manner in which these different themes and concepts are themselves understood and then balanced against one another leads to different conceptions of sustainable development. First, the recognition that social and economic practices are inseparable from the natural environment requires integration of economic development and environmental protection… Second, what is the nature of obligations to future generations and what do they entail practically?… Third, what is the meaning of ‘environmental protection?… Fourth, is a commitment to social justice based on desert, merit or needs and does it clash with inter-generational obligations? Fifth, what does quality of life entail? Is economic welfare an accurate indicator of well-being? If not, how it is to be measured? Finally, what sort of political institutions can support participation?” (p. 56-7)

Ecological modernization

“The report [Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, 1987] gave rise to the most quoted and widely accepted notion of sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need’ (WCED, 1987, p. 43)” (p. 57)

Critiques of ecological modernization

“Those vociferous rejection of the ecological modernization model of sustainable development trends come from campaigners whose work reflects the plight of the Southern nations…

This is the ultimate environmental and social tragedy of our age: the scientific knowledge that could be properly used to provide for every human being’s physical needs is being applied instead through industrial technology to take away resources from the Third World largely for the production of superfluous goods. Meanwhile, the majority of Third World peoples sink deeper in the margins of survival. (Khor, 1992. p. 38)

…From this position it is vital that an alternative vision of sustainable development is advanced, one that is sensitive to cultural differences, utilizes appropriate technology and recognizes the importance of traditional knowledge.” (p. 58)

Rethinking sustainable development

“Critics of the ecological modernization model are right to question its role in justifying the status quo and further Western-style industrialization… At a minimum, sustainable development calls for a reinterpretation of needs. Quality of life goes well beyond simple measures of economic wealth… Being concerned about sustainable development requires us to ask on whose behalf knowledge is being utilized. Particular groups within society use forms of ‘expertise’ to legitimate unreasonable and environmentally destructive practices. Political decision-making processes lack sensitivity to the plurality of values we associate with the non-human world.” (p. 59)

Extending democracy: a fundamental requirement of sustainble development?

“If we are to move towards a more sustainable and equitable future, social, political, and economic institutions will need to adapt to new ways of doing things… Institutions at all levels are implicated in the growing disparity of wealth withing and between societies, increased environmental degradation and the inability to act within the confines of the global capital system… It would seem, then, that the crisis to which contemporary green politics must respond can be best understood as a crisis of representation or, more accurately, a crisis of misrepresentation… Is it possible to design institutions which can guard against the manipulation of the political agenda by powerful elites?” (p. 60)

“The notion of a deliberative democracy is rooted in the intuitive ideal of a democratic association in which the justification of the terms and conditions of association proceeds through public argument and reasoning among equal citizens. Citizens in such an order share a commitment to the resolution of problems of collective choice through public reasoning, and regard their basic institutions as legitimate in so far as they establish the framework for free public deliberation. (Cohen, 1989, p. 21)” (p. 61)


“Green politics responds to the lack of attention given on the one hand to the ethical standing of non-human nature and on the other to the limits to growth implicit in the finite nature of the planet. As we have seen, recognition of these concerns is insufficient in itself to generate a comprehensive political doctrine in its own right. What is does do, however, is provide powerful critical ground from which to challenge existing and potential practices. We have shown that there is a variety of possible green positions emerging from critical engagement with pre-existing political traditions. We have tried to argue, particularly in relation to the contested nature of sustainable development, that greens need to concern themselves not simple with the more obviously environmental values, but also with related values such as justice and democracy.” (p.62)

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