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.
and very interesting book can be recommended as the best introduction to
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
Environmental Politics (first
appeared in 1992). The analysis he presents is based on his understanding
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
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;
necessity that any society be sustainable.
ecologism to environmentalism, dark-Green to light-green, political ecologists
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
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
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
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
and not remain a paper organization
- 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
of philosophy in Green Political Thought, and of the red-green or green-red
is illuminating and provocative. The
philosophy focus is deep ecology and its contradictions. The author sees a
"failure" of deep ecology to make
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,
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.
of Green thinking to socialism/communism is a matter of hot and ongoing debates.
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
discussion by Dobson is helpful. Even defining the dimensions of the debate
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
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
This is a thinking
book which can generate a fundamental questioning of beliefs. The dualisms
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,
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
environmentalilst David Orton, who is a frequent contributor to CD.
book review appeared in Canadian Dimension, May-June 1994, Vol. 28,
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