Ecologism, Environmentalism and the Green Party        

                                                                                                        A book review by David Orton

Green Political Thought: An Introduction           
by Andrew Dobson, London: Harper Collins            
Academic, 1990, paperback.           

            This thoughtful and very interesting book can be recommended as the best introduction to green political
        thinking that I'm aware of. Author Andrew Dobson seeks to raise consciousness so that Green politics is not
        swallowed up and absorbed by that society which it opposes. While this is definitely a "British" book,
        Canadian "greens" or "environmentalists" - and readers of Canadian Dimension concerned to deepen their
        understanding of the theoretical foundations of Green thinking, should study Green Political Thought.

            Dobson is a British academic at the University of Keele. He is also the Reviews Editor, of the new journal
        Environmental Politics (first appeared in 1992). The analysis he presents is based on his understanding of the
        experience of the British Green Party, and green and environmental politics in England. Dobson has a critical
        perspective, is grounded in a left tradition, and is a supporter of deep ecology.

            The basic subject matter of this book is what Dobson calls "ecologism", which he sees as a new distinctive
        Green ideology. Ecologism accepts and propagates: limits to economic and population growth; limits to
        consumption; taking the natural world as a model for the social world with its equality and interdependence of
        all species - and the humility that this implies; limits of society, and the planet itself, to absorb pollution; and the
        necessity that any society be sustainable.

            Dobson contrasts ecologism to environmentalism, dark-Green to light-green, political ecologists to
        environmentalists. He also brings out what he calls the "tension" or discrepancy, between the goals of the
        dark-Greens and their reliance on traditional "liberal democratic means" to bring about such goals. Greens seem
        to have felt that the "message" only had to be given, and it would be acted upon.

            In Canada, negative sentiment towards environmentalism, is common among "party" greens. There is the
        belief that greens have a "higher" level of consciousness. Party membership somehow confers this. But there is
        often a deep-Green current (using Dobson's terminology), in many environmental struggles. Thus, the demand
        by some environmentalists for zero pesticide use in forestry and agriculture. Or in forestry struggles, the ending
        of capital intensive clear cutting, plus a basic shift in values from economic-anthropocentric to ecocentric in the
        use of forests, as shown in the epic Clayoquot Sound battle. While many environmentalists may work mentally
        within the system, they are usually involved on the front lines, in struggling around concrete environmental issues.
        It's often the absence of such involvement that causes many committed environmental activists in Canada to
        reject a green party.

            I believe in addition to the above, in Canada or elsewhere, any green party which is going to move forward
        and not remain a paper organization has to:
        - Lead theoretically, which means party members sharing, understanding, and expressing in their work a
        common deep Green philosophy. Party greens need to read Dobson's book and examine critically their
        understanding of what a Green world view is about.
        - Be practically involved in issues and sum up this experience in policies/programs, around which the public
        can be rallied.
        - Develop new structures, independent of the market and the state and of the parliamentary road, which are
        radically democratic, give a sense of the embryo of a Green society, and which are accountable to the alternative

            Dobson's discussion of philosophy in Green Political Thought, and of the red-green or green-red interface,
        is illuminating and provocative. The philosophy focus is deep ecology and its contradictions. The author sees a
        "failure" of deep ecology to make itself practical.

            The evocative slogan for revolutionary socialists, "workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but
        your chains and a world to win ", is anthropocentric, that is human (and class) centered. For deep ecology, the
        world view is non anthropocentric. Human interests are not necessarily dominant. Ethical boundaries encompass
        all of the natural world, not just human society. So old growth rainforest ecosystems are not subordinate to
        keeping workers employed. The natural world has intrinsic value, independent of its usefulness to human beings.
        A basic red/green fusion problem becomes immediately apparent, in this clash of contrasting ethics between
        socialist and deep Green positions.

            The relationship of Green thinking to socialism/communism is a matter of hot and ongoing debates. The
        traditional Left for Dobson, does not like the Green belief that "the similarities between communism and capitalism
        are greater than their differences." From a Canadian perspective, one can see similarities. For example, Romanov,
        Rae and Harcourt spend a lot of their time with the corporate class, trying to "stimulate" economic growth (if one
        wants to equate socialism with the NDP, an equation I do not accept). It is this growth which is the problem;
        undermining our planetary life support systems and disregarding the environment and its ecological constraints,
        as the foundation of human society.

            If economic growth and increasing consumerism are embraced by capitalists and socialists, is ownership of the
        means of production so crucial? Because of its origins in the industrial revolution, does the working class, as a
        class, have a commitment to the continuation of industrial society and the consumer life? Is it then part of the
        ecological problem?

            The ecofeminism discussion by Dobson is helpful. Even defining the dimensions of the debate in Green/green
        circles, can be extremely contentious. Some feminists oppose ecofeminism. This opposition is from the
        perspective that "nature" as a concept has historically been associated with conservative thinking, intent on
        keeping women in positions of inferiority.

            Dobson argues that there are three interwoven strands to ecofeminist thinking. One strand sees some values
        and behaviours as primarily female, either socially or biologically determined. These female values are
        undermined by patriarchy. The second sees the domination of nature related to the domination of women, and
        the structures and reasons for this being similar. The third sees women being closer to nature than men, and
        therefore in some kind of vanguard position.

            This is a thinking book which can generate a fundamental questioning of beliefs. The dualisms that permeate
        the book seem overstated and rooted in the shallow/deep distinction, first made by Arne Naess, the Norwegian
        founder of deep ecology philosophy. Yet these dualisms, e.g. ecologism and environmentalism, are illuminating
        and help explain the derailing of the green political agenda which has occurred in England, and elsewhere.
        However, I do believe that Dobson is wrong in his essentially negative evaluation of environmentalism and the
        denigrating contrast with ecologism. This negativity can be found also in the social ecology writings of Murray

            Dobson shows that pale green thinking or environmentalism can be absorbed by socialist, liberal, or
        conservative political ideologies. This is not the case for the radical vision of deep-Green thinking. This book
        forces us to face the basic question of whether light-green and dark-Green thinking are complementary to each
        other or in conflict? My sentiment goes to the conflict position, since light-green thinking has become a
        shoring-up of the existing ecologically destructive industrial system, not a step forward towards something

            Reviewed by environmentalilst David Orton, who is a frequent contributor to CD.

            This book review appeared in Canadian Dimension, May-June 1994, Vol. 28, No. 3.

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