Week 10: the environment movement.
2. Political parties #parties, radical movements in developing countries,
The study of politics has many aspects and covers, for example, the study of institutions (governments, parliaments etc), concepts (democracy, totalitarianism etc), philosophy (what is a “just” regime? why should we obey the law? etc), and behaviour (how/why do people vote the way they do, what determines the behaviour of political representatives, etc).
When we study political behaviour, or action, we could focus on individuals, or on groups. With Social Movements we are dealing with political action by groups or collectives (rather than with individuals). It is worth noting that the concept of social movements was mainly developed in the 1960s an ‘70s, when the youth movement, anti-war movement, and feminism were flourishing. (Kate Stevens, NLR 102, reviewing ‘The Age of Ecology’ by Joachim Radkau, Cambridge 2014, and Environmentalism by Ramachandra Guha, 2000).
A social movement is a "collective endeavour to promote or resist change in the society of which it forms part" (Bottomore 1979).
However, it is clear that there are many ways in which groups act to get political change: people may protest, or riot, or carry out a rebellion or a revolution; they may form a pressure-group or a political party, and this definition does not distinguish a social movement from, say, a political party.
On the other hand, Heywood (1997) defines a social movement as: “A collective body distinguished by a high level of commitment and political activism, but often lacking a clear organisation”.
The key difference is that social movements are not organised in the way that parties or pressure groups are: they do not (usually) have “membership”, central staff, offices and suchlike. They act in a more diffuse, perhaps episodic, way than organised political formations – as Bottomore puts it. On the other hand, I would say that their actions are more deliberate than riots or mobs, since they usually have goals and carefully chosen methods of action. Some social movements may be revolutionary – others want less radical change.
Giddens (1989 ch 19) makes an important point when he says that they are "a collective attempt to further a common interest, or secure a common goal, through collective action outside the sphere of established institutions" (my emphasis).
Bottomore makes another significant point: social movements, if successful, "establish preconditions for changes of policy or regime, by bringing into question the legitimacy of the existing political system (in part or in whole), creating a different climate of opinion, and proposing alternatives."
‘Yes’: the term ‘protest or social movement’ is appropriate, then, because (i) there are many different components, yet they are not bound together; and (ii) they all share the view that existing practices and institutions need to be altered, (though they disagree as to the degree of change that is needed); and (iii) they all say that we need a new philosophy, and/or set of new values (thus leading the way towards a fundamental change in society) – i.e. we must recognise the value of nature, and give it a higher priority.
One explanation as to why there is a ‘green movement’ (an explanation used by such as Rudolf Bahro, and derived from Marxism, and especially from the failure of the working class to take up Marxist ideas) - is that as the environment is increasingly damaged it will affect all of us, rich and poor, capitalists and workers, people from developed and from developing countries; consequently we are bound to see a growing and widespread movement to protect the environment.
‘No’: On the other hand, we could say that the ‘green movement’ is not a real united movement, and/or that it will not last (is it a passing fad?). For example:
(i) There is the argument (Barratt Brown, Michael, 1984,: Models in Political Economy, Penguin 1984) that the scientific accounts of damage to the environment are not in agreement with each other, and it is difficult for non-experts to be motivated by complex scientific arguments (just as it was difficult to stir the workers with the complex theory and the arcane disputes amongst Marxists);
(ii) Whilst many in the movement agree that it requires new forms of action, there are very different organisations within the movement, and they differ significantly on action and on philosophy (see Yearley, S. 1993 Social Movements and Environmental Change, in Redclift, M. and Benton, T. (eds): Social Theory and the Global Environment, Routledge), so perhaps the green movement is not a social movement. As Stevens says: ‘Is ‘movement’ even the right term for something so vast and shapeless as global environmentalism, often more a conviction than a practice, which encompasses not only widely divergent goals - wildlife conservation, cycle lanes, solar panels, - but seemingly incompatible agents [the people involved]: on the one hand, myriad local confrontations over toxic dumps or logging rights, and on the other, inter-governmental conferences, NGO lobbyists, carbon traders?’
In an analysis based on the USA, McCarthy and Zald (1987) look at the number of different groups concerned with the environment, comparing their different forms, their ability to organise, and their internal dynamics, etc. They conclude that there is a number of “Social Movement Organisations” (SMOs) which, although they might campaign together on some issues, also differ on other issues. For example, Greenpeace is not involved in the anti-roads movement, and opposes the Green Party on the question of law-breaking. These SMOs also compete for membership, backers, and coverage (as do businesses...) – so it is not correct to talk of a ‘social movement’.
(iii) From a ‘European’ point of view, Berger (1987 Berger, Peter: The Capitalist revolution, 1986, Basic Books) argues that what is happening is the rise of a new “knowledge class” rather than a social movement.
(iv) Finally, we can also see (and this may serve to underline several of the points just made) a growth in the voices of ‘sceptics’ – who could be right?! In which case the ‘movement’ will fizzle out... Though I would say that these sceptics are usually a small group, and in the case of climate sceptics a group of non-scientists, who – consciously or not – are actually speaking for the interests of industry.
(i) Goodin (Goodin, D. 1990: Green Political Theory, Polity) points out that the movement has been through several stages: first there was concern with issues such as pollution and pesticides (Rachel Carson) – but solutions were seen as local or national; nowadays there is more recognition of a global problem and a need for global action.
(ii) Ii is clear that industrialisation caused perhaps the first signs of serious environmental damage – and this arose from new technology of course, but also from a changed attitude to the relationship between man and nature (and I would argue that this is key, with the development of Francis Bacon’s attitude that nature is there to be conquered...). On the other hand Radkau (The Age of Ecology) argues that globalisation has caused the ‘deepest rupture’: as Stevens puts it: ‘glut has replaced scarcity as the main danger facing humanity. The insatiable exploitation of fossil-fuel and groundwater reserves, over-fertilisation of the soil, irreversible loss of land beneath asphalt and concrete, plastics clogging the oceans, mass tourism and air travel despoiling the shores and the skies – all this stems from a doomed attempt to generalize the expansionist American model, [which is] notoriously wasteful of space and resources...’
(ii) There have also been several changes in the broad theoretical justification for environmental protection: first there was a notion of ‘stewardship’ i.e. we were entrusted by the Creator to take care of his creation – and note the (to my mind) perversion of this in America, where ‘wild’ nature was to be protected from ‘sinful’ humankind – which meant that the first peoples had to be evicted from the ‘nature reserves’ (and put into their own ‘reserves’ of course...).
Later came an awareness that care for the environment was needed in order to protect ourselves – a utilitarian view. As suggested above, the damage to the environment is so widespread that it is affecting people. Everywhere – and this awareness is bringing about a movement.
Now, Goodin says, greens have a view involving a set of ecological values that are centred on nature for itself.
(iii) The movement is international: this is inevitable, it can be argued, because of the nature of the problem, especially of climate change/global warming - and because international organisations have now been involved (e.g. IPCC). Are international bodies such as the UN perhaps best able tackle the environmental crisis?
Some examples of the international dimension of the movement:
The first World Climate Conference was
as long ago as 1979! (The functioning of greenhouse gases had been understood
since 1896…). In 1990 the IPCC says climate change is a concern and human
activities are likely to be involved. 1992 saw the Rio Earth Summit – The UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change is drawn up – the
(ii) pressure groups,
A pressure group – obviously – acts to put pressure on responsible bodies (government, business/industry) for a specific goal. They are usually single-issue groups. Some may be based on self interest (though a green group is not likely to be, because its members don’t necessarily benefit – for instance, green policies may lead to cuts in the standard of living - cf. below under anthropocentrism), many are altruistic. A pressure-group is not a (political) party – it does not (usually!) seek to get someone elected, and it does not have a manifesto covering a variety of issues. On the other hand, of course a pressure-group may turn into a political party, as has happened with a number of ‘green’ groups (e.g. Die Grünen).
(iii) NGOs: Non-Governmental Organisations: a broad term, used by the United Nations (where NGOs have representatives and can influence discussions).
The first of these date back to the 19th century, and they tend to be conservation-based, e.g.:
1865: the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society
1889: RSPB (now the largest
conservation group in the
1892: Sierra Club (USA) to protect national parks...
1926: Council for the Protection of
WWF, WDCS – and many others.
More recently, more ‘specialized’ groups have been set up e.g. WDCS (whale and dolphin conservation), alliance to save the rainforests etc., as well as the (much) more militant Animal Liberation Front. The more extreme members of this group – and perhaps the movement as a whole – have been accused of putting animal lives before human lives.
The radical wing of the movement may
well have joint activities with other groups e.g. over the
Green groups may also have interesting relationships/overlaps with other old-established groups and movements: National Anti-Vivisection Society (1875), the BUAV (1898, also against vivisection), and the League Against Cruel Sports (1924).
An early example of environmental action, based on protecting the right to ramble, was the Kinder Scout Mass trespass, 1932 - 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the ‘illegal ramble’ on Kinder, an area of common land that had been taken over by wealthy landowners to cultivate grouse for shooting – the ‘trespassers’ were arrested and given jail sentences for riotous assembly!.
Worth mentioning as well are organisations such as Earth First (who have taken direct action to stop cutting down of trees and building of roads), Reclaim the Streets (formed out of the fight against the M11 extension and to defend Twyford Down). RTS has held ‘street parties’ to fight the ‘rule of the car’. FOE (see below) has got involved in these protests too.
Recently-formed organisations that have hit the headlines include: Climate Camp, and Climate Rush (the latter based on a suffragette tactic of ‘rushing’ on Parliament).
Two best-known organisations:
1.5 Greenpeace, formed in Vancouver, Canada, in 1971. Its British branch was set up in 1978, and International Greenpeace in 1979. Its key aim is to ‘bear witness’ to environmental abuses through non-violent direct action interventions. Its membership grew in a dramatic way up to 1995 when it had 5 million members, spread around over 32 countries. It now has offices in over 40 countries. Current membership/supporters 2.9 million. There are some 15,000 volunteers globally.
Does not accept money from corporations or governments.
Campaigns on world-wide issues: climate change, deforestation, over-fishing, commercial whaling, genetic engineering, nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
In the late ‘60s the
Later, a ship Greenpeace III sailed into the exclusion zone round Moruroa, where the French were testing their bomb. A member of the crew was badly beaten, which was then publicised, and the French stopped testing in the atmosphere.
In the ‘70s they disrupted whaling by getting between the harpoons and the whales.
Greenpeace aims to affect the views of governments and multinational companies, and has therefore also been involved in lobbying (some critics say this is making it into a more traditional, bureaucratic organisation). Has general consultative status with ECOSOC.
There is (has to be?!) a division between its ‘front-line activists’ and its wider membership, and the operations it undertakes have to be planned with almost military precision (and secrecy). This is especially true since the attack by the French secret services, who put a bomb on the ship Rainbow Warrior, leading to a photographer being killed – this was an attempt to stop Greenpeace demonstrating against French nuclear tests.
Its methods, including breaking the law, have been criticised – as has its stance on GM (over 100 Nobel laureates wrote an open letter asking it to end its campaign on this).
Effective protests include the boarding of the Brent Spar oil rig, 1995, leading to Shell abandoning the plan to ‘dump’ the rig at sea. Direct action has also been taken against coal power plants and shipments, and oil sand operations.
In 2007, after direct action at Kingsnorth power station six protesters were taken to court. David Cameron, Zac Goldsmith and James Hanson were witnesses – along with an Intuit leader from Greenland – to argue that climate change was a serious threat and the actions of the demonstrators were justified, on the grounds that preventing climate change provides a ‘lawful excuse’ for breaking the law...
In campaigning against nuclear power –
The main question raised by this organisation’s activities is whether it is right to be so non-democratic – it doesn’t believe that the winning round of public opinion will prevent serious environmental damage, and that this approach is too slow, especially to stop specific incidents – and maybe even to stop global warming?.
Tony Juniper was prominent in
It argues that there is an ecological debt owed by the rich countries to those they have exploited.
Its structure is decentralised, and non-hierarchical, but it aims to be professional in the sense of being well-informed about issues – so it carries out research, and has used the public enquiry system to oppose nuclear power stations, roads etc. It has produced alternative Bills and green papers to those promoted by government. Jonathan Porritt was director from 1984 – 1990, and at the same time advised Prince Charles on environmental issues.
Former director Tony Juniper (now senior associate at Cambridge University Programme for Industry - to improve sustainability - and works with the Prince’s Rainforest Project) has said: ‘Now, dealing with all the crunches – resource depletion, population growth, global warming and mass extinction of species – requires getting down into the fundamentals of the economy. It requires culture change… but it also needs political change.’ He supports the ‘Green New Deal’ (see later).
Policy: ‘Friends of the Earth exists to create a just world where people and nature thrive.’
It has policy position statements on:
- climate change adaptation
- cutting greenhouse gases
- democracy and devolution
- economic growth
- EU membership
- feeding the world
- GM crops
- Nuclear power
- Sustainable diets
Campaigns cover the following broad areas:
- climate change
- environmental justice (danger to farmers of rushed trade deal with US, refugees welcome, protesting murder of Honduran environmental activist, opposing plans to force fracking on communities, Nigerian farmers to sue Shell, danger of the privatisation of planning, Indonesian fires, human rights abuses, protesting open-cast mining in Wales)
- economics and resources (recycling coffee cups, renewable energy vs. Hinkley, implications of leaving EU – beaches, wildlife and waste, for a ‘climate budget’, against solar cuts, TTIP
(bees, leaking landfills danger if seas rise,
- land, food and water
Examples of campaigns:
The Food Chain Campaign (2009) – as £700
million of taxpayers’ money props up factory farming in the UK through the EU
- trying to get agreement to reduce forest loss from agricultural expansion;
- making sure healthy food is provided in schools, prisons etc;
- researching sustainable farming;
- ensuring greater priority is given to the environmental impacts of global trade.
Current campaigns: clean air, protecting bees, opposing fracking.
- reform of the World Bank to address environmental and human rights concerns,
- stopping more than 150 destructive dams and water projects worldwide,
- getting regulations on strip mines and oil tankers
- banning international whaling.
Tony Juniper identifies the main
successes as: Forest Stewardship Council labeling scheme, Countryside and
Rights of Way Act 2000.
The Big Ask helped to lead to the Climate Change Act 2008.
Recent Successes (from www.foe.co.uk):
(i) The EU has agreed an historic commitment to
halve food waste across
60,000 of you joined us and almost 50 other
organisations to demand that countries across
There are about 55 million people in food poverty in
(ii) Nature laws that protect our most precious places and wildlife have been saved – thanks to record-breaking public support.
The EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives – known as the nature laws – have been under close scrutiny, and under threat, for nearly two years. But now the European Commission has decided to keep the laws and set out an action plan to make sure they are used properly to protect and restore nature.
The nature laws protect some of our most precious natural
The same laws have led to the recovery of iconic British species such as the bittern and red kite. And some rare bee species are now dependent on nature sites protected by these laws.
Conclusion: Byrne (1992) says that most
environmentalists vote for the Green Party, support Greenpeace, but join and
2. Political parties: the Green Party (England and Wales).
2.1 Beyond right and left:
The fact that ‘greens’ have set up
their own parties shows that the green movement/green politics goes beyond traditional political
parties/lines: why should environmentalism be seen as either right-wing or a
left-wing ideology? Both right and left
political positions can be environmentally concerned: members of the ‘old
left’ oppose materialism and consumerism; and some on the right say ‘man’ is
part of nature… However, (radical) greens criticise both socialism and capitalism for their similarities in practice in relation to the poor treatment
of the environment: a planned economy is not by definition environmentally
sound (and the
But green parties’ policies include social justice and a concern for democracy, and the greens have taken up a stance on all sorts of issues (defence, NHS, housing, poverty etc). See below...
On the environment, some Green Parties have suffered from their success in getting the green message across, since other, mainstream (‘grey’) parties have adopted some green policies (or said they will)…
From ‘What we stand for’: ‘a political system that puts the people first, an economy that gives everyone their fair share, a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs, a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come.’
2.3 The 4 pillars of green politics, which have been agreed by many green parties:
(a) ecological wisdom: to change our relationship to nature, to achieve a harmonious coexistence with other forms of life on Earth
(b) social justice: rejecting any form of discrimination (race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, sexual orientation) to ensure that all benefit from the way we relate to the environment, and that in particular the poor are not hurt by changes demanded by the rich,
(c) participatory grassroots democracy: as with (b) green parties are aware of the connection between our exploitation of each other and our exploitation of the natural environment. The slogan ‘think globally, act locally’ encapsulates this idea.
(d) non-violence: for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Violence goes along with exploitation, and with the unfair distribution of goods and power; violence is ultimately behind all positions of power; it would be inconsistent to use violence to bring about a more fair and sustainable world.
2.4 Some specific policies - 2017:
By means of: secure jobs for all by restoring the public sector and having a wealth tax on the top 1%, Living Wage of £10 an hour by 2020, public services in public hands, renewable energy, more social rented homes, no tuition fees, better public transport. The ‘Green New Deal’ is seen by many as the only way to tackle the financial crisis and the environmental crisis at the same time: we need to invest for energy security (renewables etc), in a way that leads to low-carbon development and kick-starts the economy (creating ‘green’ new jobs and reducing unemployment).
- (before the budget): the crisis in the NHS together with the effects of air pollution (40,000 early deaths a year) must be dealt with by (i) emergency aid package for health and social services (ii) tougher action on air pollution (iii) protection of small firms from business rates hike (iv) more tax should be paid by the richest and by the biggest corporations (v) reverse the tax on solar power
- (after): the 2017 budget fails to address the challenges of our time
Overview of policies:
- for voting reform (STV), Bill of Rights, Freedom of Info, devolution to the regions
- unilateral nuclear disarmament, leaving NATO,
- on the EU: to strengthen parliament and weaken Council of Ministers,
- to cancel third world debt, increase aid, spend more on sustainable agriculture
- opposing nuclear energy, for resource taxation rather than VAT/income tax
- no new roads – more canals, rail, buses; new planning regulations so no out-of-town shopping
- more local recycling etc
- a radical economic
policy: no economic growth, restructuring and reducing international trade;
- on human rights: rights for women, gay, disabled, racial minorities etc
- for animal rights: no vivisection by students except for some medical research; ending factory
farming, and imports of rare animals, circus use of animals etc.
2.5 Current (2017) Co-leaders: Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas MP (for Brighton, since 2010).
Other key figures 2015:
Baroness Jenny Jones (Lords)
MEPs: Jean Lambert (
More than 160 councillors across
The party was called ‘People’ at first, then the Ecology Party (1975), then the Green Party (1984). Another influence was Edward Goldsmith’s Blueprint for Survival (1972), which was signed by more than 30 leading scientists. It grew quickly, with 40 groups in the early 1970s, and candidates standing in the election of 1974. Only after 1979 did it have enough candidates for a TV election broadcast time.
However, it usually only gets 1 – 3%
of the vote in the
A factor in its lack of success is undoubtedly the First Past The Post electoral system... – but it is still a puzzle as to why it does not get more votes when so many ordinary people are involved (in pressure-groups etc) in protecting the environment?
Its weakness may be that it relies too heavily on the notion of personal transformation and lifestyle politics; this may lead to a limit on the number of people it will attract, and it won’t be, as a party, a strong enough agency for change... (Goodin 1992).
Further details of the UK Green Party can be found at: social movements - the environment movement
2.7 In Europe:
The greens were the first to form a political party at European level. 34 parties have joined. In the 2009 elections they won 4 seats. In alliance with European Free Alliance Group it has formed the Greens-European Free Alliance group (Greens/EFA). totals 51 MEPs (out of 751), and it is one of the largest groups in the European Parliament.
3. For me, there are three fundamental questions that the environment movement needs to face, that have not been confronted in these notes so far, and in this section I want to show how most environmental groups are based on – or at least recognise – a philosophy that (i) explains our relationship to the environment and (ii) guides us on how we need to behave if we are to go on surviving in the world.
3.1 first there is the question of the nature of science and technology – whether our obsession with finding new scientific discoveries and new technologies hasn’t blinded us to the damage we have been causing the environment. ‘Soft’ or ‘alternative’ technologies have been devised to deal with this.
3.2 next there is a political question, about the distribution of power in society, and how that might affect our relationship with the environment. This issue is addressed by philosophies such as eco-socialism, eco-feminism, social ecology and deep ecology
3.3 finally there is the fact of the huge gap that exists between the developed and the less-developed world – and this gap can be seen particularly clearly when we look at how the two groups of people interact with the environment. Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’ (Penguin 2014) argues powerfully that we need to learn from these ‘excluded’ and oppressed indigenous peoples, as many of them have lived with a philosophy that does enable us to live harmoniously with the Earth.
The key to understanding alternative (or “soft” or “appropriate”) technology is the realisation that technology is not neutral – it does not simply develop as we progress, but it is developed as a result of the way that certain problems are defined and certain kinds of solution are sought. In other words, technology varies with the kind of society in which it is found, and this is not simply a question of some societies being under-developed. ‘Progress’ is a dangerously empty word in the context of technology. There is nothing “inevitable” about the discovery of certain kinds of technology, or technological “advances”. What we define as an advance will depend on our social goals and values.
What has happened in the developed world is that we have developed technologies (and work processes) which:
put machines and production before people: the working conditions of most people in the early stages of industrialisation were appalling, (and the whole process was built on the proceeds of slavery anyway) – but the promise was held out of a better future, and workers were told that these sacrifices were worth making. But, whilst some people’s standard of living improved – especially the employers’ - the work process was alienating, industrial disease and injury has continued to scar large numbers of workers to this day, and workers mostly lived in slum conditions
centralise power and control: right from the earliest changes brought about by industrialisation, i.e. mechanisation, the ability of the worker to control his/her own work was taken away – no longer were most people self-employed peasants or craftsmen, working the hours they chose, with the tools and techniques they chose. Instead the managers and factory owners controlled the clock and the work process. The corollary of this was the growth of the “expert” who knew how to manage work and machinery – workers’ skills were no longer trusted (‘Taylorism’ – time and motion studies etc). Managers in the factory, and then managers and owners working together in their associations, replaced trade unions not only with their power to organise work, but with political power too (managerialism)
pollute the environment and consume energy wastefully: it was cheaper to run a machine by steam power than
to use human strength, especially since coal seemed plentiful. The air, rivers
and the sea were “free”, (‘externalities’), so there was no need to worry about
running out of it, or about pollution causing real damage. Coal, oil and raw
materials seemed to be plentiful, “God-given”. And of course the political
power of the colonial countries that were the first to develop ensured that a
“reasonable” price was maintained: and competing industry (e.g. cotton in
The idea of soft/alternative/appropriate technology grew out of this analysis, and out of the needs of developing countries: rather than believing that our machines and factories and other forms of technology would be useful wherever they could be sent (or sold!), it is argued that each local community needs to decide what are its priorities for work, social life, environmental impact and economic growth. Then, appropriate technology can be developed to meet these needs.
Thus, in a society (e.g.
In case this is thought fanciful or simplistic, aid agencies at the United Nations learned the hard way, in the middle of the last century, that sending tractors out to developing countries to help with the ploughing was mostly a waste of time, since tractors can only run when there is available fuel, labour to maintain them, and available spare parts. (Of course, this might suit developed countries – since it sets up a relationship of dependency, as we saw in the section on the third world).
Other examples of “low level” appropriate technology include using reeds to make egg cartons (rather than paper or plastic), bicycle-power or wind-power to run pumps or to generate electricity – since all of these use locally available raw materials, are non-polluting, and can easily be maintained.
Eco-socialism blames the capitalist form of industrial and economic growth – and not industrialism as such – for environmental damage. That is, there is a profound imbalance of power between the capitalists (owners) and the workers (who can only sell their labour).
Eco-socialists also argue that poverty is the root cause of environmental destruction (for example the burning of dung as fuel for cooking in poor countries...), and if wealth were better distributed there would be less damage...
One variety of socialism argues for
state or public control of the economy. However, the old
Feminists, both radical and socialist, look at the possible links between the domination of women and of the environment: is nature – wrongly – ‘feminised’, and are women seen as more ‘natural’ or ‘closer to nature? [See my notes on The Enlightenment (enl9raceslaverywomen.htm) and on Feminism (pp21feminism.htm)]. If this is how nature is seen, no wonder it is dominated and exploited! One of my favourite ‘villains’ here is Francis Bacon, who was one of the first people to formulate the ‘scientific method’ and whose view of nature was that it was ‘a woman, reluctant to give up its secrets’ unless forced to do so...
Vandana Shiva – campaigner and author of 15 books, she started training as a nuclear physicist until she realised the effects of nuclear radiation on life forms - (see more below) points out: ‘You know, a lot of the power of the rulers comes from what Bacon said, the marriage of knowledge with power, a particular kind of knowledge, a very mechanistic knowledge that defined nature as dead—and, on the other side, women as passive. So, the exception to the rulers, in this case, is about resurrecting the knowledges that are about the living Earth and our tradition.’
Some feminists, then, (not all!) use the idea that women have special qualities as a way of developing an eco-feminist outlook.
Val Plumwood from
‘It seems to me that in the human supremacist culture of the West there is a strong effort to deny that we humans are also animals positioned in the food chain. This denial that we ourselves are food for others is reflected in many aspects of our death and burial practices. The strong coffin, conventionally buried well below the level of soil fauna activity, and the slab over the grave to prevent any other thing from digging us up, keeps the Western human body from becoming food for other species. Horror movies and stories also reflect this deep-seated dread of becoming food for other forms of life:
This concept of human identity positions humans outside and above the food chain, not as part of the feast in a chain of reciprocity but as external manipulators and masters of it: Animals can be our food, but we can never be their food. The outrage we experience at the idea of a human being eaten is certainly not what we experience at the idea of animals as food. The idea of human prey threatens the dualistic vision of human mastery in which we humans manipulate nature from outside, as predators but never prey. We may daily consume other animals by the billions, but we ourselves cannot be food for worms and certainly not meat for crocodiles. This is one reason why we now treat so inhumanely the animals we make our food, for we can not imagine ourselves similarly positioned as food. We act as if we live in a separate realm of culture in which we are never food, while other animals inhabit a different world of nature in which they are no more than food, and their lives can be utterly distorted in the service of this end.
[After the encounter] I glimpsed a shockingly indifferent world in which I had no more significance than any other edible being. The thought, 'This can't be happening to me, I'm a human being, I am more than just food!' was one component of my terminal incredulity. It was a shocking reduction, from a complex human being to a mere piece of meat. Reflection has persuaded me that not just humans but any creature can make the same claim to be more than just food. We are edible, but we are also much more than edible. Respectful, ecological eating must recognize both of these things. I was a vegetarian at the time of my encounter with the crocodile, and remain one today. This is not because I think predation itself is demonic and impure, but because I object to the reduction of animal lives in factory farming systems that treat them as living meat.
Thus the story of the crocodile encounter ... is a humbling and cautionary tale about our relationship with the earth, about the need to acknowledge our own animality and ecological vulnerability.’
More recently (From www.fusion.net – March 8th 2017: International Women’s Day) a Native American leader, Eryn Wise, who has been resisting the Dakota Access pipeline, when asked what is the connection between environmental activism and being a feminist, said: ‘I definitely think the Earth is female. Water is female. This Earth is a life-giver, and I am a life-giver... without these resources, without these delicate, fragile beautiful ecosystems, we wouldn’t exist. [My] ‘feminism side is for equality of the sexes while my environmental side is for equality for all those who cannot speak for themselves. The ones in the sky and the ones in Earth, and the ones walking beside us that we don’t see, and all the plants and everything that tries so hard to love us in the best way it knows how...
The trees, the water, the animals, the Earth...[have] nourished me so much. And I feel it’s my job now to give and nourish back.’
For Murray Bookchin, 1990, the source of problem is intra-human domination – an anarchist approach?
“The very concept of dominating nature stems from the domination of human by human, indeed of women by men, of the young by their elders, of one ethnic group by another, of society by the state, of the individual by bureaucracy, as well as of one economic class by another or a colonised people by a colonising power”
Social ecology doesn’t say that anthropocentrism is at the root of our exploitation of nature, rather: humans create value, and the issue is why some things and some people are under-valued… Social ecology raises crucial question about ‘domination’: how widespread is it? Why do some need to dominate others?
How intriguing to find (Weds 11 March 2015) a reference to the Kurds of the PKK following a political system similar to that recommended by Murray Bookchin:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/10/revolutionary-kurdish-isis-ivana-hoffman This is very much a women’s revolution as well: Mehmet Aksoy says: ‘the first revolution, the agricultural revolution, was instituted by women, and the first counter-revolution and the first negative hierarchies were created by men.’
(iv) Deep ecology – e.g. Fritjof Capra, 1982, Arne Naess 1984.
Environmental damage results from the human relationship with the environment, (not intra-human issues) – i.e. from anthropocentrism. If we see ourselves as the centre of the universe, or as the most important part of, then we de-value everything else, and then animals, plants, and the environment, only exist for us, and we only care about destruction because (and when) it affects us.
Here, nature is ‘intrinsically’ valuable – i.e. for itself, not for what it gives us.
The 3.5 million-strong CSUTC de Bolivia (Confederacion Sindical Unica de Trabajadores) helped to draft the law – the biggest social movement in the country.
However, the Amazon is still being destroyed by oil companies and others.
[I return to other ‘indigenous’ views below.]
For an obituary and further information on Arne Naess see:
Naess argued for: limits to economic growth, i.e. cuts in consumption, a reassessment of the concept of human need, communal growth, and even restricting population growth...
Fritjof Capra tries to find links between the very latest scientific theories (20th century particle physics, complexity theory in maths) and mysticism, Taoism etc – see:
http://www.fritjofcapra.net/bibliography.html. (See also: Pepper 1986, and Dobson 1990).
Capra is also involved in the Shumacher Centre, which promotes ‘alternative [or ‘soft’] technology’ etc. Fritz Schumacher advocated ‘Buddhist economics’: suffering in the world is caused by ‘attachment’ (primarily but not only to things...) and as all humans find it difficult to be non-attached, so all suffer, and all deserve compassion. See also Resurgence magazine, edited by Satish Kumar, of the British Wheel of Yoga. I shall finish this section (below) with quotes from another Buddhist, Joanna Macy.
Most greens would agree that we need to base our society on other values (Goodin 1992) than those we have at present. These would include, I suggest, humility and compassion (the fundamental Buddhist value) for suffering animals, and, even, for plants and other living organisms – for the whole of the natural environment. It is striking to me how many indigenous peoples, together with the poor in less-developed countries (Malaysia, India, Brazil – see Yearley 1992) are defending this way of being in the world...
(i) La Via Campesina (The Peasants’ Way)
The Ecologist (April 2009) had an
article on this: it is a grassroots organisation to defend the way of life of peasants
in developing countries and to resist globalisation. Launched in 1993, it draws
on supporters in more than 60 countries across five continents. The 5th
International Conference was held in 2008 in
La Via Campesina does not simply ‘say no’ to global policies, it has developed an exchange programme to share skills (Campesino a Campesino). International campaigns now focus on ‘food sovereignty’… See www.viacampesina.org
(ii) Mother Earth:
The indigenous Andean spiritual view is that Pachamama (Earth Mother) is at the centre of all life, and for Australian aborigines the relationship is with mother/father/grandmother etc... In ‘My People’s Dreaming’ (Finch Publishing, Sydney), Max Dulumunmun Harrison says:
‘Begin with Mother Earth:
Mother Earth births everything for us. Father Sky carries the water and oxygen for us to breathe. Grandfather Sun warms the planet, warms our body, gives us light so we can see, raises the food that the Mother births and raises most of our relations, all our plants and trees. Grandmother Moon moves the water and gives us the woman-time and our birthing.’
Mayan and Toltec ideas are explained in the Ecologist magazine, Jan 2009, (article by Nicola Graydon – and see Don Miguel: The Four Agreements). ‘Toltec’ means ‘artist of the spirit’ – we are spirits with limitless creative imaginations. For the Toltec, humanity is one strand in the vast web of creation, and ‘all of humanity is just one organ of the earth. The atmosphere is another organ, so are the forests and the oceans. Each organ creates the equilibrium on earth that we call its metabolism. As an organ of the earth, we are part of that metabolism… One of our functions… is to transform energy. We do that through what we call ‘awareness’… the human mind is programmed to dream: to perceive, to create a symbology, to create a story – and give a sense to everything that exists.’
In Islam there is a concept of tayyab – roughly: ‘ethical and wholesome’ (linked to, but going beyond halal). As Shelina Janmohamed says in Generation M: ‘Resources must be properly respected, workers in primary industries must not be exploited. Sustainability and renewability are part of the Islamic idea of ‘stewardship of the Earth’ which generation M eco-Muslims are championing.’
This idea is of course like the Christian notion of ‘stewardship’, deriving from the Creation story – I believe it was only after Adam and Eve sinned that the hostility to nature and animals began.
4.1 Vandana Shiva. (See also: notes on climate change - updates).
Dec. 2013: - from an interview with Amy Goodman on women and the environment/climate change etc (from Democracy Now!):
‘So it's a combination of major grassroots mobilization as well as dealing with the paradigm wars. And I think the challenge of this summit is to put forth another paradigm about how to live on the Earth—what the Earth is first, she’s not a—you know, she’s not there to be engineered, she’s not bits of dead rock; she is the living Earth that we were reminded about—and also, through that, bring forth another leadership for another world, because we don’t want leadership in that rotten world of destruction. It’s not worth it anyway. It’s not going to last too long.
[Emissions trading didn’t
work]: ‘Arcelor—the Mittal family, which bought up all
the steel plants, ... he made a billion a year just through these emissions
trading.’ [Nor did funding for Clean Development Mechanisms]: ‘This year (2013)
we had the most intensive rains, and a glacial lake burst, and flooding like
I’ve never seen in my life took place. Twenty thousand people have died in my
The Chipko movement resisted industrial forestry and
logging in rural
‘Agriculture, industrial globalized agriculture is 40
percent of the greenhouse gases. We can do something about it today... So, even
though it might look a bit strange, but I think creating organic farms and
organic gardens is the single biggest climate solution, but it’s also the
single biggest food security solution. And given the economic crisis, [in
And I think if there’s one thing women can bring to this discussion, ... [is] the capacity to have compassion [which] is the capacity to see connections. That’s the disease that the deeply patriarchal mindset has not been able to overcome, that they can’t transcend fragmentation and separation and thinking in silos, and, worse, thinking as if we are separate from the Earth, and therefore, as masters and conquerors, ... And I think we need to give a message saying, no, the Earth was not made by you, therefore you can’t fool around further. You’ve already messed up enough. Stop these geo-engineering experiments. ... We need to tell them this world is about life, not just about your profits and your bottom line, so don’t reduce everything to a commodity, and don’t financialize every function of the Earth and all her gifts.’
Some points from ‘This Changes Everything’ (Penguin 2014)
Renewable energy should be organised
under the control of, and for the benefit of, local communities: ‘roughly half
Renewables are available now, can be democratically controlled, and are far less risky than nuclear power – as comedian Bill Maher once observed, ‘You know what happens when windmills collapse into the sea? A splash.’
‘Proponents of research on geoengineering simply keep ignoring the fact that the biosphere is a player (not just a responder) in whatever we do, and its trajectory cannot be predicted. It is a living breathing collection of organisms (mostly microorganisms) that are evolving every second – a ‘self-organising, complex, adaptive system’... These types of systems have emergent properties that simply cannot be predicted.’
‘The fight against violent resource extraction and the fight for greater community control, democracy and sovereignty are two sides of the same coin’ – witness the struggle of the Ogoni against the rape of their land for oil.
‘The need to adapt to nature is what drives some people mad about renewables: even at a very large scale, they require a humility that is the antithesis of damming a river, blasting a bedrock for gas, or harnessing the power of the atom. They demand that we adapt ourselves to the rhythms of natural systems, as opposed to bending those systems to our will with brute force engineering... they require us to think closely about where we live, to pay attention to things like when the sun shines, and when the wind blows, where and when rivers are fierce and when they are weak... Renewables, at least the way Henry red Cloud sees them, require us to unlearn the myth that we are the masters of nature.’ [We need a ‘partnership ethic’].
She cites Transition Towns – which develop
local democracy - as a way forward: started in Totnes in
However, she also argues that ‘only mass social movements can save us now’ – because only such movements can change the dominant culture. These are likely to include ‘environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by Indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups.’
4.3 Joanna Macy: Indigenous ideas combined with Buddhism and psychotherapy:
Notes on Learning to See in the Dark by Joanna Macy: Macey calls her practical work, often with people recovering from trauma: The Work that Reconnects... [In the Dark, the Eye Learns to See – the title of one of her workshops, is borrowed from Theodore Roethke’s ‘In a Dark Time’ and echoes Martin Luther King: ‘Only when it’s dark enough can you see the stars’.]
Her work is done ‘using certain methods drawn from systems theory and spiritual teachings – from most traditions but primarily from Indigenous and Buddhist – to overcome the fragmenting of our culture through the hyper-individualism... that has produced, first unwittingly but then wittingly, a sense of isolation.’
She argues that if you have to spend all your time thinking about yourself, nurturing your separate ego, ‘that leaves you very little to fall back on if you have to confront something unpleasant...’ – be that the ‘criminal activities of your own government’ (Donald Trump has just been elected US president when this is written), the conflict in the world, the appalling inequality and suffering, or the wider environmental crisis.
People don’t respond if you keep telling them how awful something is – apathy grabs them, in the sense of wanting to be without passion i.e. without fear. Macy’s work with people is designed to get them to discover that ‘acceptance of that discomfort and pain actually reflected the depths of your caring and commitment to life.’ Goebbels and the Nazis knew that to control people you need to scare them.
Hannah Arendt says, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951): ‘The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.’ The American mind has been ‘shattered, fragmented’ - by the falsities of the media, its diet of ‘pap’ and entertainment, the poverty of the education system, the ‘culture bred on competition, command and control, power over – which we inherited from patriarchy...’
However, she begins the book with an epigram from her teacher Karl Jaspers: ‘Give in neither to the past nor the future. What matters is to be entirely present.’
She believes we are in the midst of a ‘great unraveling’ but at the same time we need to embark on ‘the great turning’ – away from ‘the industrial growth society’.
But this is not something we can do alone – ‘alone you get overwhelmed, and it becomes traumatising’. Once people overcome their ‘reluctance to suffer with our world... then they found their unity with our world.’ A sense of bondedness, of relief, of laughter and joking... of a shaking off of a kind of spell or curse.’ ‘People dare to be comfortable with uncertainty if they are in solidarity with one another.’
[Note: this relates to the Buddhist notion of compassion – we are bound to feel compassion, and solidarity, once we realise that we are all subject to the same anxieties and fears...]
What’s more, when you are less dependent on someone else to sort things out for you, you become stronger in yourself, have more self-respect.
She at first thought that she was doing the work as a way of making us more effective agents of change, but now she says ‘I’m doing this work so that when things fall apart we will not turn on each other.’ Totalitarian systems turn people against each other: we don’t need to see each other as enemies, because we all share a caring for living. And the economic system compels people to go on behaving the same way – we should feel compassion for people trapped in the system as well.
[Conflict can only be avoided by feelings of compassion and solidarity]
Links with sarvodaya – waking up together – and ‘there is almost no limit... to what we can do with the love and support of each other. There is almost no limit to what we can do for the sake of each other. .. That’s that hero figure of Mahayana Buddhism, ‘the one with the boundless heart’, the one who realises there is no private salvation.’
‘So it will be different for different individuals. But I think we should not make a move to do things alone. Find others. Even if it’s one other person to begin with. Then others will come. Because everybody is lonely. And everybody is ready to find out what they most want...
So: little study groups, and book groups, make a garden together. Keep your ear to the ground. Inform each other. We have to develop the skill of finding that it’s more fun to be waking up together, than a single lone star on the stage.’
A short booklist on politics and philosophy for the environment:
Bahro, R. 1984: From Red to Green, Blackwell
1986: Building the Green Movement, New Society
Beck, U. 1992: Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage
Bookchin, M. (e.g.) 1997: The Politics of Social Ecology, Black Rose Books
Capra, F. 1982: The Turning Point, Simon & Schuster.
Capra, F. and Spretnak, C. 1984: Green
Chase, S. (ed) 1991: Defending the Earth: a dialogue between Dave Foreman and Murray Bookchin,
South End Press
Davis, J. and Foreman, D. 1991: The Earth First! Reader, Peregrine Smith
Dobson, A. 1991: The Green Reader, Andre Deutsch
1995: Green Political Thought, Routledge
Goodin, D. 1990: Green Political Theory, Polity
Gorz, A. (e.g.) 1979: Ecology as Politics, South End Press
Merchant, C. 1992: Radical Ecology, Routledge
Naess, A. 1989: Ecology, Community and
Lifestyle, ed. Rothenberg,
Pepper, D. 1984: The Roots of Modern Environmentalism, Croom Helm
1993: Eco-socialism: Routledge
Porritt, J. 1984: Seeing Green, Blackwell.