Green is the color of vegetation, in particular of healthy, growing leaves. At least in the growing season, it is the predominant color of undeveloped land in nonpolar, non-arid regions. Green as a quality of the landscape was what was destroyed or threatened by the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Thus William Blake, in the poem that has become the hymn “Jerusalem,” contrasted the “green and pleasant Land” that England should be with the “dark Satanic Mills” of his time (the early nineteenth century). And Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley tells the heartbreaking story of the gradual transformation of a rural landscape, where young boys caught trout in the river, to a polluted industrial wasteland where the wastes from coal mining, dumped on the sides of the narrow South Wales valley, threatened to engulf the miners’ houses.
Green as undeveloped land, free from industry, is what is evoked by the term greenbelt. Greenbelt is a planning designation of land around cities or towns intended to prevent urban sprawl for the benefit of both city and countryside. Greenbelt land is to be permanently open, the presumption being against built development except in special circumstances (UK Department for Communities and Local Government 2012 ).
Because green is the color of vegetation, and thus plants, it has been linked with agriculture. Green Europe was a newsletter on the European common agricultural policy, published by the European Commission. The Green Revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s was about increasing crop yields through the development of new varieties that required high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides. That this form of agriculture was, by the 1990s, considered very ungreen is a sign that between the 1970s and 1990s green took on a particular political and philosophical meaning.
Greenpeace was the name adopted by a small band of nonviolent, direct activists who, in 1971, tried to take a small boat to Amchitka, an island off the southwest coast of Alaska where the United States was conducting underground nuclear tests. Greenpeace subsequently became a major environmental nongovernmental organization, campaigning for a green and peaceful future. What Greenpeace sees as at stake, threatened by modern technology and economic growth, is not simply a green and pleasant countryside but the ability of the earth to nurture life in all its diversity.
The first political party that took the name Green was the West German Green Party, Die Grünen. The federal party was formed at the beginning of 1980, but was preceded by numerous local or state-level groups that put up Green or rainbow lists of candidates for elections and, in the case of Bremen Green Slate, won seats in the state parliament. The 5 percent barrier to representation under the West German system of proportional representation meant that there was considerable incentive for a wide variety of different groups to come together as Die Grünen in order to achieve political representation. These groups included those concerned with environmental pollution, protestors against nuclear power, feminists, Marxists, and socialists disillusioned with the Social Democratic Party. They united under the four pillars of ecology, nonviolence, social justice, and grassroots democracy, which have since come to define what it means to be Green.
In the German federal elections of 1983, Die Grünen won 5.6 percent of the vote and sent twenty-seven members to the Bundestag. Following this success, parties in other countries with similar philosophies, such as the Ecology Party in the United Kingdom, changed their name to the Green Party. Green parties were also started in other countries, including the United States in 1984. The word green evokes rejection of industrialization and protection of life in all its diversity, but also freshness, immaturity, and naïveté. The Greens have thus proclaimed themselves to be a fresh force in electoral politics, different from the political elites of the grey parties, whom the public views as increasingly remote and answerable only to vested interests. Although Greens are often charged with being unrealistic, it is a measure of their success that being green no longer means being naïve.
Newness is also encapsulated in the idea that Green is neither left nor right but forward. The influence of anarchism on Green ideology and the resulting rejection of hierarchical structures result in an emphasis on individual responsibility and initiative akin to that of the right. Greens can also be seen as conservative with respect to technology. Greens are often skeptical about new technologies that traditional socialism welcomes as enhancing human capacities. They defend older technologies and smaller, close-knit communities, though they welcome some innovations, such as solar power and modern wind turbines. However, in their critique of capitalism and the free market, the Greens are firmly on the side of the left. What is new in the green critique is the emphasis on environmental limits. It is the environmental crisis, not just the suffering of the proletariat, that makes it imperative to move toward a different economy, technology, and society. This new green society will protect the planet by respecting nature—ecosystems, nonhuman species, and the rights of animals—and will also be better for the health and well-being of humans and their communities.
Green politics and philosophy presents a holistic vision in which monetary reform, participative democracy, meaningful work, social justice, and equality are all of a piece with renewable energy, organic agriculture, protection of wildlife, recycling, and nonpolluting technologies. This vision can be sought by the green consumer, as well as the voter, through boycotting certain goods and buying others (Elkington and Hailes 1988 ; Hailes 2007 ).
Despite this broad holism, green is narrowed in many instances to refer simply to reduced environmental impacts. Thus, for example, green travel plans, now a condition of many planning permissions in the United Kingdom, are plans introduced by employers to attempt to reduce the use of car transport by their employees. A green building is one designed to have reduced impact on the environment during its construction and use.
Dobson, Andrew. 2007. Green Political Thought. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.
One of the many publications giving an account of green political thought and philosophy.
Elkington, John, and Julia Hailes. 1988. The Green Consumer Guide: From Shampoo to Champagne: High-Street Shopping for a Better Environment. London: Gollancz.
Information on the history of the organization is available at this site.
Hailes, Julia. 2007. The New Green Consumer Guide. London: Simon & Schuster.
Spretnak, Charlene, and Fritjof Capra, in collaboration with Rüdiger Lutz. 1984. Green Politics: The Global Promise. London: Paladin.
An early account of Green politics in West Germany and the prospects for it in the rest of Europe and North America.
UK Department for Communities and Local Government. March 2012. National Planning Policy Framework. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6077/2116950.pdf
Revised by Chapman