Why is green theory becoming popular in international politics at the current time?
Following the impact of the global financial crisis, which nearly shattered the world economy, the ideas of transparency, sustainability, resiliency and accountability have increasingly been associated with the restructuring of the international financial system (Runnalls, 2011; Newell, 2008).Along with this, the issue of climate change has also attracted significant attention over the past decade, transforming from a problem of the margins of policy making to one that has been placed at the core of global politics.The increasing awareness of the damaging impact which pollution has on climate change and biodiversity (Cumming, 2007; Brown et al, 2007) has arguably led to a consideration of a greener approach towards economic development and the use of natural resources.
The continuing decline of oil supplies has raised concerns about the future of an economy that is entirely dependent on oil and academics have called for an increased appreciation of the problems with associated with such a strategy of economic development (Cato, 2009). Because of this, the ideas of a new, greener politics and the theory behind it have become a prominent part of the discourse of international politics. In addition, green economists have been concerned about the ways in which the current economic system has led to the widening of inequalities between rich and poor on a global scale, and the inevitable tension and conflict this inequality creates (ibid.). The alternative solution, underpinned by green thinking, has led to calls for the rejection of changes in the current forms of governance and has led to a suggestion that political communities below the nation-state should be decentralised.. This involves decentralization not only on the levels of political organization, but encompasses economic and social organization as well. Green proponents also argue for abandoning traditional sovereign systems and practices in favour of more mixed locations of authority. Such an argument significantly departs from the ideas upon which the movement of environmentalism is built, as the latter is said to be in agreement with the framework of established forms of world political governance. According to green theorists, the main origin of the environmental crisis is precisely within this same form of governance, therefore there is a need to move beyond it (Dobson, 1990). As Eckersley (2004) notes, the greens suggest the establishment of new, ‘green state’ the regulatory ideal and democratic procedures of which are to be informed by ecological democracy rather than the principles of liberal democracy. Such a state could be understood as post-liberal, insofar as it emerges from an ecological critique of the current state of affairs, rather than from and outright rejection of liberal democracy (ibid.). To date, the green theory has gained wide prominence and this essay would like to provide a reflective inquiry on some of the reasons for its popularity, as well some of the problems associated with it. In line with this, the following section of the essay will provide an outline of the principles which are associated with the green theory and the movement inspired by it, as well consider its position of one the global issues of the 21th century, namely climate change.
The principles of green theory and a green economy
The green theory and the type of politics associated with it have several specific characteristics, among which are the ecocentric ethics, limits to growth and the decentralization of power (Patterson, 2005). To begin with, ecocentrism should be interpreted as the rejection of an anthropocentric world-view which places independent value only on humans in favour of one which places independent value also on ecosystems and all living beings (Eckersley, 1992). According to ecocentrism, the world is ontologically composed of inter-relations rather than individual entities (ibid.: 49). All beings are fundamentally ‘embedded in ecological relationships’ (ibid.: 53). Consequently, there are no convincing criteria which can be used to make a hard and fast distinction between humans and non-humans (ibid.: 49-51). Ethically therefore, since there is no convincing reason to make rigid distinctions between humans and the rest of nature, a broad emancipatory project ought to be extended to non-human nature. All entities are endowed with a relative autonomy, within the ecological relationships in which they are embedded, and therefore humans are not free to dominate the rest of nature.
The second principle of the green theory, of decentralization, suggests the need to shift authority from international institutions to local organizations (Rosenau, 1992; Hempel, 1996). Rosenau (1992) makes this claim concerning patterns of authority in global politics in general, but also specifically in relation to global environmental politics. For Hempel (1996), such forms of global environmental governance are emerging because the spatial scale of the state is inadequate for dealing with the scales of environmental change. The state is simultaneously too small and too big to deal effectively with such change, and thus practices of governance move towards regional and global levels and at the same time towards local levels, in response.
The third principle of the green theory is that of the need to limits the proportions of growth in order to create a sustainable society and ensure security (Dobson, 2011). The economic growth of wealthier states is not necessarily related to the security which its citizens feel (ILO, 2004). For this reason, green theorists have suggested the shifting of focus from economic growth towards sufficiency and income security (Barry, 2007). In addition, as the recent financial crisis has shown, the emphasis on growth and expansion of the economy of neo-liberal states has created more problems that it has actually resolved, signifying the failure of contemporary approaches to economic development.
Also, contemporary proponents of the green theory have suggested the increasing urgency of changing the current framework for climate justice towards one of capabilities (Schlosberg, 2012). The previous approaches of historical responsibility, carbon egalitarianism, and rights have all failed to take into account the wide variations of the needs and problems which the different countries and communities are exposed to on a daily basis. To a significant extent this has also been related to the misguided focus on prevention, rather than adaptation (Scholsberg, 2013a).Climate change has been an ongoing process and has been significantly affected by human activity (Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill, 2007), not to deny it, but as a result of the undermining of adaptation policies, international efforts have also failed to introduce effective preventive strategies as well (Scholsberg, 2013a). In fact, by focusing solely on prevention and mitigation, international conventions such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have failed to acknowledge the fact that climate change has undermined the provision of basic human rights needs in the developing world (ibid.). Moreover, academics have argued for a case where climate change itself can be perceived as a violation of the human rights to life, health and substance (Caney, 2010). The move towards adaptation policies for climate change is well-suited for such as task (Vanderheiden, 2008; Holland, 2012: Scholsberg, 2013a). Therefore, climate justice which is equipped with the principles of basic human and their provision is able not only to take into account the unequal distribution of environmental risks across the globe, but could potentially create a sustainable environment where these could be adhered to and implemented. Because of its grassroots focus (Wall, 2010), the green theory and the economics which is built up on its main principles can easily recognise the wide range of needs which can vary in different societies and communities worldwide. As an advocate of local participation and voice, the green theory is more than capable of devising distinctive policies within a diverse set of contexts by taking into account subjective and specific regional needs, as well as successfully addressing them by designing adaptive strategies (Scholsberg, 2012).This shift towards policies based on adaptation is also linked to the adoption of a capabilities approach towards climate change, which, in line with the former is able to take into account the particular needs of communities, as well as capable of directing adaptation policy towards the preservation and reconstruction of the specific capabilities under threat from climate change, and of measuring the success of implemented adaptation policies.
To summarise this section, the green theory and some of its main proponents appear to have established a solid framework with the utilisation of which a number of global problems such as inequality and climate change can be addressed. The movement is innovative in its propositions and its focus on tackling injustice, the focus on community development as a cornerstone for the promotion of sustainability, as well as basic human rights have all contributed towards the growing popularity of its principles. However, as the next section of this essay will show, the green theory has also been subject to significant criticism.
Problems associated with the Green Theory and Green Politics
Since the 1980s, many of the post-industrial consumer societies have been exposed to cultural shifts of governance which have led to a reconsideration of environmental concerns as a way towards the creation of more sustainable states and economies (Bluhdorn, 2013). This is the core hypothesis of the theory of post-ecologist politics (Bluhdorn, 1997, 2000) which comprises, of the theory of the post-ecologist turn (Bluhdorn, 2002), and secondly, the theory of the politics of unsustainability (Bluhdorn, 2007, 2011). At core of this theory is impossibility for liberal democratic states to create sustainable policies based around environmentalism. Due is due to the principles of individualism and personal freedom, which underpin liberal democratic forms of governance, as well as the emphasis on consumption practices which are at the core of late modern neo-liberal states. What this has led to is the acknowledgement of the ‘failure of liberal democracy’ to introduce solutions for ecological and environmental issues (Shearman and Smith, 2008). In line with this, Bluhdorn (2007, 2011) has suggested that the contemporary approaches towards devising environmental politics should be considered as attempts to sustain unsustainability, as there is an increasing awareness about the crisis of sustainability, yet the practices of the consumerist society are not scrutinized, despite the fact it was these practices which have had a negative impact of the environment and climate change. This amounts to a ‘post-ecologist paradox’ (ibid.), according to which the environmental problems are increasingly depoliticised, even though their existence is not denied. Within academia, this has called for the adoption of new forms of governance, as authoritarianism appears to be the remedy for the ‘post-ecologist paradox’ (Sherman and Smith, 2008). In a similar note, Giddens (2009: 7-8) suggests that the commitment to participatory democracy is counterproductive, and instead, an approach of centralised planning should be adopted.
Such appeals seem to be in direct conflict of some of the principles which underpin the green theory. To begin with, it discards the possibility for any grass-roots activism, which to a significant extent is associated with the operation of the green movement (Wall, 2010). The focus on centralised planning also argues for the implementation of policies which may not necessarily take into account the different needs which communities have, thereby also undermining the human factor in the decision-making process. Although the critique of democratic states focuses primarily on the patterns of consumption, it fails to take into account the large number of cases where democratic states, which have adopted the principles of green economics, have succeed (Cato, 2009). Also, in many of these countries it was the same principles of participatory democracy which contributed for the promotion of green thinking and the rise of the green parties on the political landscape (Carter, 2013).Therefore, it would be an understatement to suggest that the problem of approaching and addressing environmental issues is not related to participatory democracy itself, rather than it is the neo-liberal approach towards economic development which a country adopts that constitutes the problem. And the green theory appears to be capable of resolving it, hence the increasing popularity and influence of its ideas on the international level. Having provided an outline of some of the criticisms associated with the green theory and its suggestion for the establishment of green states based on democratic principles, the concluding section of this essay will relate the principles of the green theory to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, 2012 and its objectives.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, 2012 (UNCSD, 2012) outlined the main principles upon which more sustainable states should be based. Among these were the eradication of poverty, the promotion of sustainable patterns of consumption, the protection and effective management of natural resources. Moreover, this sustainable development should be achieved via the promotion of sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that support, inter alia, economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges. Although such an approach towards sustainability has been criticised for being over-inclusive and lacking in depth at the same time, it placed sustainability on the priority list for international development and by and large placed the agenda for the development of the green economy on national and domestic level, thereby allowing the incorporation of strategies based on capabilities approaches, which, as it was argued earlier is at the core of the green theory. Therefore, the lack of a defined and universal strategy for the promotion of sustainable states on the international level should not necessarily be considered as a failure, as in fact it will countries from the developing world to devise policies which will be based on the subjective needs each one of them has, as well as address the specific problems which have a negative impact of their citizens and communities (Council on Foreign Relations, 2012). Such an approach clearly incorporates many of the principles which underpin the foundations of the green theory for a more sustainable development and allows its incorporation. This could be the opportunity for many green theorists, economists and activists to devise a balanced, comprehensive and ecologically founded strategy of sustainability, as the academic debates around green theory and international development should not be separated from the context in which they occur, but rather contribute to the discourses around environmental justice and the promotion of sustainability (Scholsberg, 2013b). In conclusion, over the past decade, the green theory and its proponents have become an inseparable part of political debates on international debates. It has gained significant popularity since the world financial crisis and its alternative framework towards sustainability and the acknowledgement of climate change as a violation of basic human rights have all raised its profiled and contributed to its widespread recognition. Yet, there are many challenges which the movement has to tackle and only its critical engagement in international development can prove that the green theory is the alternative form of governance which the international community needs and deserves.
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