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Nine Shades of Green

By David Greenfield
April, 2009

Over the years, in trying to discern the nature of the ecological movement, a number of activists and thinkers have made distinctions between different shades or types of green. Some have distinguished between a light or shallow shade of green and a dark or deep shade of green, while others have distinguished between left and right shades of green. It has become apparent to me that there are shades of green within the contemporary ecological movement, and that it is important to name these to begin to chart the way forward. I have come to discern some nine distinct shades of green. These are:

1. Light Green

Light green signifies the very basic sense of environmental responsibility, which almost everyone today professes. It would include the very basic ideas of recycling, conserving energy, etc. While this basic shade of green may be thought of as being non-political, it does tend to carry some political assumptions. It tends to assume that ecological imbalance is fixable through individual lifestyle changes, and that the deeper institutional power structures of our society either need not be changed or cannot be changed.

2. Business Green

Business green signifies the range of environmentally oriented businesses and products that have emerged with the growth of a green industrial sector. Particular businesses, products and areas of green business will very in their credibility and depth of greenness. I would include the expanding renewable energy sector, the organic food sector, and various other lines of supposedly green products. It isn’t all bad. I am glad that there are businesses producing windmills, solar cells, and organic food. There are risks, however, if one develops a sense of ecological thought and policy centred too specifically around a business green paradigm. The green business sector, like all business sectors, is committed to economic growth, the marketing of products, and the shaping of a social paradigm in ways which are taylor-made to the needs of business. Adjusting taxation systems and government policy to create a climate more favourable to green business is, at best, only a small part of the overall puzzle.

3. State Green

State green signifies the array of environmentally related departments and programs in the realm of government. It is largely a managerial shade of green, including various government programs responsible for environmental regulation, parks and wilderness management, state-based environmental education, and so forth. Many state green programs and policies over the years have been well-intended, while others have been deliberate attempts at greenwashing. Overall, since state policy in capitalist society tends to serve the interests of corporate power, or at best be limited to what the corporate elite is willing to allow, it would be fair to say that state green has been limited to the boundaries of green as defined by, or allowed by, the capitalist elite. Of course, there have been instances when governments have made the right decisions on environmental issues, and have stood up to particular development interests. Usually this has occurred as a result of strong grass roots pro-ecology citizen resistance, which managed to form a counter-balance to the power of industry.

4. Citizen Green

Citizen Green signifies the tens of thousands of ecological citizen organizations that exist throughout the world. These organizations, to qualify as citizen green, must be both non-government and non-corporate. This shade of green includes the full range of environmental groups, from groups of ten or twenty people which come together to mobilize on a particular issue, to large-scale organizations with thousands or millions of members which may mobilize on a variety of environmental issues over a long period of time. It is these organizations, large and small, which form the backbone of the ongoing environmental movement, raising concerns with governments, educating the public, and shaping the political landscape on environmental questions. Citizen green must, by definition, be free of both corporate and government control. If an ecological citizen organization decides to take funding from either the corporate sector or government, it is dancing a dangerous dance where its actions and entire focus may slide down the slippery slope toward serving state or corporate interests. As well, when ecological activists have formed political parties, such as Green Parties, and these parties have become part of government or of parliamentary oppositions, there is often a similar tendency to drift away from citizen green values toward serving the agenda of state and industry.

5. Centre-Left Green

Centre-left green signifies those ecological activists and thinkers who combine their ecological concerns with a commitment to peace and justice issues, but who tend to remain within a social democratic paradigm. Typically, centre-left greens come from the activist wing of the centre-left, and have sympathies toward, and past or present involvement in, such movements as the labour movement, women’s movement, peace movement, anti-poverty movement, and so forth. Centre-left greens will tend to have a reasonable awareness of issues of oppression within human society, but will believe that such oppression can be overcome within the boundaries of a reformed capitalism. They will often relate easily to the Earth Charter, with its intertwined call for peace, social justice and sustainability, and will usually not tend to view the term, “sustainable development” as being contradictory. The centre-left shade of green is perhaps a step or two closer to seeing the whole picture, with its commitment to peace and justice questions, but tends to believe that capitalism and the growth economy can be made sustainable.

6. Far Left Green

Far left green signifies those eco-activists and thinkers who reject capitalism as unsustainable, who are seeking to transform society in a revolutionary way, usually toward some type of revolutionary socialist, or communitarian, alternative, but who also tend to reject Deep Ecology as being misguided. Generally, far left greens come from a marxist or social anarchist background, with strongly held beliefs in the necessity of class struggle and class revolution, with the goal of overthrowing capitalism. People of the far left shade of green will often tend to reject an analysis that holds all of humanity to be responsible for ecological destruction, and will view capitalism as being the primary enemy of nature. Far left greens will tend to relate to the Belem Ecosocialist Declaration of 2008, and will criticize the Earth Charter and centre-left greens for not rejecting capitalism.

7. Radical Action Green

Radical action green signifies those ecological activists who are prepared to use more radical forms of action in ecological struggle. This would include various types of nonviolent civil disobedience, sit-ins, blockades, trespassing and the like, as well as the more direct inhibbiting and damaging of property as in classic Earth First-style monkey wrenching. People involved in the radical action shade of green may, in some cases, also have a more radical analysis of ecological issues, but the defining feature of radical action green is the willingness to participate in more radical forms of action.

8. Deep Green

Deep green signifies those who are drawn to the perspective of Deep Ecology, as expressed in the Eight Point Platform of Deep Ecology, (1984 revised in 2001), and the ecocentric perspective expressed in A Manifesto for Earth, in 2004. The deep green perspective stresses the need for human beings to undergo a fundamental shift in consciousness, away from human-centredness toward ecocentrism. This involves a fundamental realization that the earth does not belong to us, and that we have no right to interfere with the richness and diversity of an eco-system except, to satisfy vital needs. Instead, we belong to the earth, as one of many species, all of whom have intrinsic value, independent of human use. The deep green perspective teaches a different kind of radicalism from that of the traditional left, calling for a reduction in the quantitative standard of living for human beings, a reduction in the human population, and an increase in the standard of living for the rest of nature.

9. Deep Left Green

Deep Left Green signifies those eco-activists and thinkers who accept the idea of deep ecology or ecocentrism as described in the previous point, but who combine this with a strong anti-industrialist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist analysis and commitment. Deep left greens believe that, while transforming human consciousness toward a oneness with nature, reducing our per capita impact on the earth, and reducing the human population, are all necessary, it is also necessary to put an end to capitalism and empire, and to create an equitable society within the limits of the ecosphere. Deep left greens most commonly refer to themselves as Left Biocentrists or Left Ecocentrists, and have summarized their thought in the ten point Left Biocentrism Primer of 1998. Deep left greens are critical of the far left green perspective for being too human-centred, and have expressed criticism toward some deep greens for being too philosophical and too removed from the realities of ecological struggle.

Summary and Further Thoughts

These nine shades of green represent an interesting range of thought and action within the contemporary ecological movement. Shades two to four tend to be defined by where the shade stands in relation to the dominant structures within capitalist society, the business sector, the state or the grass roots movement. Shades five to nine tend more to be defined by ideological perspective. The different shades tend to interact, and many individuals may be influenced by, and be a part of, several shades. I view the last five shades, centre-left green, far left green, radical action green, deep green and deep left green, as forming a five-way conversation, or pentalogue, between them. A pentalogue, by its nature, is less dualistic than a simple dialogue of two. The five perspectives each bring something to the conversation, and should each be willing to learn from the others.

  • The centre-left green, being the most wide-spread and most moderate, can have the effect of helping to keep the other shades in touch with the broader, more moderate progressive green movement, and enabling the deeper and more leftward shades to build bridges with those who share many of the same values, but who don’t go quite as far.
  • The far left green may help keep the other shades in touch with movements of oppressed people seeking to combine their struggles with the ecological struggle.
  • The radical action green brings to the conversation the direct wisdom of physically confronting industry, and may help to balance tendencies toward intelectualism in the other shades.
  • The deep green may remind the other shades of the fundamental fact of planetary finiteness and the need to shift fundamentally from a human-centred to an earth-centred consciousness.
  • The deep left green combines ecocentrism with an awareness of the realities of power and oppression within human society, and can hopefully help build bridges and heighten awareness among all the other shades.

With this model of the nine shades of green, and of the pentalogue among the last five shades, we may perhaps move forward with a mutualistic pattern of change, finding our way through the luminous fog of our time.

About the Author

David Greenfield

Dave Greenfield is an activist and thinker from Saskatchewan who has been involved in peace, ecology and social justice concerns since the mid 1980s. His analysis of the reality of corporate and state power and its role in human oppression and ecological destruction has led him to combine the non-violent, social anarchist philosophy with deep ecology to tackle the ecological implications of living on a finite planet.

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