The Big Picture Blog: Chapter Three “The environmental movement”

The Bigger Picture Blog 3

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 presenting 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.

Chapter 3

The environmental movement

“There is a range of groups with a variety of people, interests and groups, which differ in the goals they seek and in the means they employ. It comprises green political parties, a vast array of pressure groups, activists in mainstream political parties, ‘green businesses and consumers, and those seeking alternative lifestyles… This chapter focuses on the nature of the environmental movement, how different sections of the movement aim to achieve their goals,and how they see themselves in relation to each other.” (p. 68)

An environmental movement?

“Is there an identifiable environmental movement? Is there a single unified movement working together harmoniously, with agreement on means and ends?… For example, recent attempts to site wind turbines have met with opposition not only on aesthetic grounds but also because they might affect bird sanctuaries and other habitats. There is a clash here between advocates of alternative energy and the advocates of wildlife. There is not necessarily any way of reconciling their differences, yet both sides claim the mantle of environmentalism. It would seem that is a mistake to think of environmental movement as a single actor (Yearly 1994. p. 156).” (p. 68-69)


Greening the established parties

This book is written in the United Kingdom for them so the examples in it are about Emgland politics and parties.

“In September 1988, Mrs. Thatcher surprised the political world by delivering a speech on the environment to the Royal Society. As an astute politician, she recognized that environmental concerns had caught the public imagination. In many ways the speech appeared to be a radical conversion, a recognition that the environment should be at the forefront of any government programme. As it turned out, this new-found environmentalism was more rhetoric than substance; none the less it propelled green considerations into the political mainstream and thereby created space for debate… A weak form of environmentalism predominates. As an example, responses to global warming and acid rain have been slow where problems result form existing industrial practices. When solutions have finally proposed and accepted, they have typically been technocentric: technical solutions tend to be sought. Radical social and economic change is not seen as a plausible political option.” (p. 20)

The green parties

“A comparison will be made between the UK and Germany. Both countries have a strong tradition of environmental activism, yet the electoral fortunes and influence of the green party in each case has been vastly different.” (p. 71)

Success of failure?

Both German and England have parliamentary systems. England has in its system to have a least 15 percent of vote to secure seats on the Parliament and in Germany you only have to get 5 percent of the national vote to get representation in Parliament. So Germany has been able to make better inroads in their government and they have been more successful in building coalitions. “It is paradoxical that the success of green parties may subvert their own principles and goals. As Dryzek remarks: ‘it would be ironic indeed if the major impact of the German Greens were to render German capitalism, and German economic growth, more ecologically sustainable – and less in need of green critique’ (Dryzek, 1995. p. 299). The possibility that the ideals of green parties might be neutralized and subverted by conventional political processes has been explicitly recognized by many activists, include Die Grunen’s Petra Kelly:

As Greens, it is not part of our understanding of politics to find a place in the sun alongside the established parties, nor to help maintain power and privilege in concert with them. Nor will we accept any alliances and coalitions. This is wishful thinking on the part of traditional parties, who seek to exploit the Greens to keep themselves in power. … We are, and I hope we will remain, half party and half local actions group – we shall go on being an anti-party party. (Kelly, in Dobson, 1991, pp. 193-4)” (p. 72)

Internal organization and factional conflict

“Crudely, it can be said that activists adopt one of two basic orientations: ideological fundamentalism or pragmatic realism. This is often referred to as the ‘fundi-realo’ split, a division that has plagued green parties everywhere. For many activists, commitment to the grassroots democracy is central, not only to their vision for society, but also to how green parties themselves ought to be organized. This commitment raises important questions concerning party organization and the nature of leadership. Their radical democratic commitment is at odds with the hierarchical structure of traditional parties and the ‘cult of leadership’ that this generates. However, pragmatic greens argue that success in electoral politics requires an identifiable leadership: figures that the public trust and recognize. Radicals believe, on the other hand, the structures should be open and non-hierarchical, that leadership and responsibility should be collective.” (pp. 72-73)

The future of green parties?

Unless they can put forth candidates and gain seats, they have very little power and only have influence as their key tool for change.


“Wyn Grants defines a pressure group as:

an organization which seeks as one of its functions to influence the formulation and implementation of public policy, public policy represeting a set of authoritative decisions taken by the executive, the legislature, and by local government and the European community. (Grant, 1989, p. 9)” (p. 75)

“An important distinction is frequently made between different types of groups in terms of who or what they represent. First, cause or promotion groups represent a belief or principle; they act to further that cause. Membership is not restricted: anyone who accepts the belief or principle can join… Second, by contrast, interest or sectional groups represents a particular section of the community, defending their common private interests. Membership tends to be restricted to that sectional interest…

A further distinction can be made between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ groups. Insider groups gained a degree of legitimacy and may be consulted by government departments and agencies on matters of policy… However, in itself insider status says nothing about the level of influence that these groups enjoy, rather it simply means that they can be considered part of the department’s policy community. Outsider groups do not have this access. For some, this is a problem as they seek to engage in a constructive relationship with officials but have been unable to gain recognition… First, some groups stand at the threshold of official recognition; their status is unclear and they stand in ambiguous relationships… Second, it is frequently the case that a group has insider status with one department or agency but not with others… This is further exacerbated by the fact that that well-resourced sectional interest groups, opposed to the environmental agenda, have insider status, even to the point of having their representatives appointed to (departments and agencies).

In response to the power of vested ‘anti-environmental’ interests, green groups have often mobilized themselves into coalitions… The formation of coalitions, at whatever level, be it policy or grassroots, is a positive step forward in two respects. First, combining resources, knowledge, and expertise enables groups to boost their impact and effectiveness. Second, and this is especially true where such coalitions cut across hitherto discreet campaigning areas, it gives the groups involved an opportunity to explore issues of mutual concern, it is a learning process for those participating.” (pp. 75-77)

Forms of action

Forms of Action

  • Informal contact and influence through discreet lobbying behind the scenes, often with transfer of personnel. For example, ex-ministers and civil servants from the former DoT often move to positions in the British Roads Federation (BRF).

  • Formal lobbying through governmental institutions and bodies. For example, FoE (Friends of Earth) makes submissions to standing committees (such as the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) as well as having a seat on the UK Round Table for Sustainable Development.

  • Letters and petitions to MP’s and ministers from group members and the general public organized in a concerted manner. For example, in their successful campaign against sow stalls, CIWF(Compassion In World Farming) inundated MAFF(Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food) with letters and petitions.

  • Scientific research and reports to establish the credibility of green concerns. For example, FoE has been responsible for breakthrough reports on the impact of acid rain, the global timber trade and nuclear power.

  • Consumer boycotts designed to highlight industrial malpractice. For example, a number of development groups have called for a boycott of Nestle products. The company has been accused of swamping Southern nations with baby milk powder, which people are unable to safely use because water supplies are contaminated.

  • Court action where it is believed that official procedures have not been adhered to. For example, protestors against the M3 extension through Twyford Down challenged the DoT for its failure to abide by the EC directive on environmental impact assessment.

  • Demonstration and marches, which provide obvious visible evidence of public support. For example, the massive numbers that turned out for a series of anti-nuclear demonstrations organized by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament(CND) in the 1980’s.

  • Media stunts to gain widespread public exposure. For example, Greenpeace has become famous for its skill in attracting media attention to issues such as whaling and nuclear testing.

  • Non-violent direct action, where activists engage in acts of civil disobedience and eco-sabotage. For example, EF! (Earth First) has been involved in monkey-wrenching, mass trespass, and ‘bulldozer diving’ on road construction sites.

  • Violent direct action, where the aim is to injure those directly involved in practices that are environmentally destructive or harmful to animals. For example, the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) has sent letter bombs to particularly prominent vivisectionists (the practice of performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research (used only by people who are opposed to such work).

(As seen on page 78)

Greenpeace and FoE: The price of success?

“Both Greenpeace and FoE (Friends of Earth) have their origins in a repudiation of the moderate conventional lobbying tactics of more traditional lobby groups. With the rise of environmental concern in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, many people saw the need for a new, more direct form of campaigning. The apparent urgency of the need for a new more direct for of campaigning. The apparent urgency of the environmental crisis was the spur to the creation of these groups. Ushering in a new style of environmental protest and a new breed of protester. Activists were committed to confrontational form of direct action, a style of campaigning that they quickly discovered to be of great interest to the media. This media exposure led to high levels of public supports. From radical beginnings both organizations have grown, achieving international standing with an active presence in all parts of the world.” (pg. 79)

Both have had successes and Greenpeace has focused more on what it is against and selecting high media events to get their points across. FoE has branched out and has found things to be for and has worked in the politics from local to state to national to international. Both have lost some of their early radical edge now that they have a larger by-in from people, corporations, and some nations and they don’t want to lose that influence.

The new wave of direct action and civil disobedience

“An act of civil disobedience is an act of illegal, public protest, nonviolent in character. That is to say: the civilly disobedient act must be a knowing violation of the law, else it would not be disobedient; the act must be performed openly, being done of general community concern of which the agent is not ashamed; and the act much be intented as an objection to some law or administrative policy or public act. (Cohen, 1970, p. 469)” (pg. 84)


“…, from green consumerism to DIY culture, can and do affect the formulation and implementation of public policy; however, the point is that for these areas of green action, influencing the policy process is not necessarily the prime concern. It is the alteration of the lifestyles, through changing existing everyday practices and patterns of behavior, that is central.” (p. 86)

Green consumerism

“Everyone is a consumer of one sort or another. The question that green politics poses is how and what should be consumed? The 1980’s saw a rise in what has been termed green consumerism, the easiest, most accessible and culturally acceptable form of green action…. There is no doubt that green consumerism can be powerful. Through the realization that their purchasing power can have an impact, people have come to believe that they can make a change for the better, to a certain extent greeen consumerism has empowered individuals. In principle, the aggregation of individual market transactions forces industry to change is practices, for example by encouraging it to switch from polluting and wasteful products to more environmentally friendly alternatives. (pg. 86-87)

Principles of green consumerism

The green consumer avoids products which are likely to:

  • Endanger the health of the consumer or of others.

  • Cause significant damage to the environment during manufacture, use, or disposal

  • Consume a disproportionate amount of energy during manufacture, use, or disposal

  • Cause unnecessary waste, either because of over-packaging or because of an unduly short useful life.

  • Use materials derived from threatened species or from threatened environments.

  • Involve unnecessary use of – or cruelty to – animals, whether this be for toxicity testing or for other purposes.

  • Adversely affect other countries, particularly the Third World. (Elkington and Hailes, 1988 p. 5)

This initial wave in the 1980’s was quickly stymied as there was an economic downturn and the causes were overwhelming and many companies started to claim they were green when they were not, casting suspicion on the whole thing.

“Perhaps the most fundamental criticisms, however, have emerged from the more radical elements of the environmental movement. The very idea and possibility of green consumerism itself has been challenged… Green consumerism does not attend to the demands of the sustainable development. It is no more than a first step and if seen as more, as a panacea, there is a real danger of complacency…” (p. 88)

Third-force organizations (TFOs)

“Around the country in many of Britian’s most deprived urban neighborhoods, in its rural areas, and even in its more affluent suburbs, tens of thousands of voluntary, community-based organizations enable local people to improve the conditions of their localities and take some control over their own lives… they come in a variety of forms and meet many different kinds of needs, identified by local people. They are already creating jobs, work and incomes. But their activities are barely recognized by mainstream political debate. (Jacob, 1996, pp. 96-7)” (p. 88)

“Why are TFOs emerged? Inaction on part of the government and industry has led to community action filling the vacuum… The majority of projects and initiatives are not completely independent: funding and expertise are frequently sought from public and private institutions. The difference is the TFOs are taking responsibility and developing the activities themselves. Many conservation and environmental improvement initiatives fit this pattern, as do wider enterprises such as housing cooperatives and health projects. But, as Michael Jacob argues: ‘Most of them suffer from a severe lack of resources. Given greater support, there is enormous scope for their expansion. (Jacobs, 1996, p. 97)” (p. 89)

Green communes and DIY culture

“Central to the critique is a recognition that the creation of a green society requires not only opposition to prevailing patterns of consumption and political values but also the generation of alternatives: alternative technologies, democratic institutions, forms of community, social relations, and conceptions of work… In many ways the more recent DIY culture can be seen as further expression of this impulse. Environmentally sensitive forms of social, political, and economic organization should be small-scale, self-reliant (or even self-sufficient) and autonomous.” (p. 90)

“Many experiments in alternative communities can be best understood in terms of survivalist views characteristic of the early 1970’s, as a response to the perceived imminence of ecological collapse. These communities saw themselves as separate from the doomed conventional system. In contrast, other green communes have been established as exemplars: demonstrations and visions of alternative possibilities.” (p. 90)

“DIY culture is a relatively recent phenomenon…. In contrast to green communes, activities tend to be city-based, dealing head-on with the adverse effects of contemporary society. Derelict and empty properties have been squatted and made available to activists, artists, and the community at large. In many cases those involved are committed to supporting people whom society has left behind or forgotten: the homeless, the elderly, and the mentally ill. The seeds of a new social relations are being sown withing some of the most deprived urban areas. Traditional pressure groups, notably Greenpeace, often neglect the complex interconnectedness of social, political, and environmental issues, focusing on what can be presented as distinct and easily identifiable problems. Environmental concerns become clear-cut, simplified for media and public consumption. DIY activists recognize that the separation of environmental from pressing social concerns is a nonsense and that the development of grassroots actions and coalitions is essential if we are to comprehend and respond to our present situation.” (pp. 90-92)


“This chapter has not sought to provide a compendium of environmental activity; its aim has been to show the range and forms that such activity can take. Although various terms and categories have been introduced to try to make sense of the diversity of groups, their ideals, and approaches, it needs to be recognized that in practice many transcend boundaries. However, the categories act as useful pointers enabling us to appreciate the tactics and choices open to the green movement.

What is striking is the range of tactics and forms of action deployed. This should not surprise us, given the diversity of ethical and political commitments represented within green thinking. This takes us back to the identity of the green movement as a ‘movement’. Its diversity allows the possibility of action in many different forms and at many different levels – from inside the legislature to grassroots community development, all political spaces are exploited. Although coalitions are increasingly being formed, action is not necessarily concerted. Many groups which are in principle campaigning against similar policies and developments would not wish to be seen in alliance….

To answer our original question, then with another: does the environmental movement need to be homogeneous? Diversity, which appeared at first to be a weakness, may turn out to be green movement’s strength.” (pp. 92-93)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *