International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview


Caro, Robert A., 1982. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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Shafritz, Jay M., 1992. The HarperCollins Dictionary of American Government and Politics. New York: HarperCollins.

GREEN POLITICS . The agenda of minority, singleissue parties proposing that industrialization's despoliation of the global environment ultimately threatens human survival. The intellectual underpinning for this largely European political movement of the 1980s was provided by American author Rachel Carson Silent Spring ( 1962). She made the case that inadvertent but irresponsible environmental engineering through the use of such things as pesticides carried catastrophic consequences for all life on this planet. The argument is summed up in Albert Schweitzer's observation, cited by Carson in her book's dedication to him: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth."

Green politics have tended toward a predominantly left-wing bias. This fact stems naturally from conclusions derived from Carson's work that unfettered activity by large-scale industries in search of short-term profits produces human-made, self-destructive pollution on a global scale. Nature may be adaptable to change but, the argument goes, human enterprise is imposing change at such a rate that nature has insufficient time to make adjustments to sustain the climatic, chemical, and biological status quo. The consequence is the breakdown of natural life and, by extension, the end of civilization. From a left-wing perspective, this situation seems to embody the point that capitalism is not only pernicious socially and economically but also, in a secular sense, evil. E. F. Schumacher's hugely successful book, Small Is Beautiful, published in 1973, developed the point further. It showed that large-scale industries are dehumanizing, economically unsustainable, and environmentally dangerous; the solution can only be the commitment to sustainability and human survival through the conscious reduction of consumer expectations and the application of smaller-scale enterprises to every area of economic activity.

These generalized impulses were given a significant political dimension by being adopted by elements of the European antinuclear protest movement of the early 1980s. These groups recognized, however, that in France, West Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere the electoral likelihood of success with an antinuclear manifesto was slim. So-called "green issues," therefore, provided a context for the opposition groups protesting about deploying nuclear weapons and building nuclear reactors. As the U.S. motion picture The China Syndrome seemed to show, the threat represented by poorly managed nuclear reactors for power generation purposes epitomized the potentially destructive relationship between high-tech industries and human survival.

By the mid- 1980s, most Western European countries had seen the establishment of a green party. The most notable electoral achievement was that of the Green Party in the Federal German Republic, which achieved sufficient support to be represented in the Bundestag, offering at least the possibility in a multiparty assembly of holding the balance of power. However, the ending of the Cold War introduced a different agenda, and the German Greens faded politically. (Given that the newly liberated states of the Warsaw Pact and the constituent parts of the former Soviet Union were some of the worst polluted areas of the industrialized world, and Germany professed a willingness to help, this was nothing if not ironic.)

Arguably, the high point of the Green movement came in June 1992, with the UN-sponsored Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here, after a long campaign by Canadian Maurice Strong, the secretary-general of the Summit, the world's powers addressed the Green agenda set out by academics some two decades previously.

Despite media hype that the Rio Summit represented the last chance to save the world, very little was achieved, for three reasons: First, governments in Western Europe and elsewhere had acknowledged public concern by uniting areas of public activity-urban and rural planning, conservation, and the like-thereby creating new ministries with titles such as Department of the Environment. There was a public perception that such matters were being addressed, however imperfectly. (The widespread practice of recycling household glass, cans, and paper indicates the level of individual awareness.) Second, in the United States, the George Bush administration made it abundantly clear before and after the Summit that, as the world's largest consumer of energy, for example, it would do nothing to implement policies that would impact U.S. consumers. Other Western governments were thereby strengthened in their resolve to resist change. Third, the campaign against industrial pollution had surprisingly become, by the early 1990s, an attack on Third World countries like India, who claimed that the Green movement was an attack on its legitimate aspirations to economic progress and growth.

It was easy for center and center-left opposition parties in the 1980s to attack greed and wealth creation by capitalists; it was quite another thing to be accused of


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