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Green theory

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Green theory in international relations is a sub-field of international relations theory which concerns international environmental cooperation (Eckersley 2010). Green theory helps us re-examine the relationship between the state, economy and the environment. It also re-defines issues such as Climate change in terms of ecological values.

Liberal institutionalism[edit]

The majority of scholarly literature in international relations approaches environmental problems from a liberal institutionalist perspective focusing on international environmental regimes. There is a relationship between Globalization and Environment which is among the forces behind the birth of green theory. However a unified theory is missed. Controversy of the human species as world managers where "conservation" is "right use" of nature and "preservation" is "right non-use" of nature and humanity as protecting nature against itself with little allowance for ecological dynamics is part of the cause for some "essentially contested concepts" where even "sustainable development" is sometimes contested.

The "collective action problem" is central to cooperation. It is discussed by Michael Laver (1997) with examples of "The Prisoner's dilemma" and the "Tragedy of the commons." The disconnect between individual goals and group goals suggests a role for leadership and more than simple management. Green theory has championed consensus decision making as best it can be done. Empowering the disempowered is also a strand in Green theory.

Interactions are important to Green theory. Stephen W. Littlejohn (1983) discusses macronetworks with members and links. The five properties of links are: (1) symmetry (how much who relates to who or how equal the communication is); (2) strength (how often who relates to who); (3) reciprocity (agreement between members of links); (4) content (what the area or context of communication is); and, (5) mode (what the means or context of communication is).[lower-alpha 1] Network communication is a bridge to appreciating the interdependence of ecosystems.

International Regimes is a classic IR work edited by Stephen D. Krasner (1983) which discusses emergent norms in complex (international) systems. International regimes are deemed to be a collective solution to problems of turbulence and unpredictability. On the micro level, Marshall Rosenberg suggests people must agree on the description of the situation, agree on the stakeholders' feelings, agree on the stakeholders' needs, and then agree on the stakeholders' requests in order for healthy negotiation to be possible. In veridical conflict, when it occurs, there may not be a mutually satisfactory resolution possible.

Green IPE[edit]

This field studies the impact of IPE (international political economy) and it has been widely accepted as an area within IR theory.[clarification needed]

J. K. Galbraith says in The Age of Uncertainty that economics entails understanding the relationship of people with land. Green theory uses case studies of people living on land to better understand economy. Later, the idea of "ecological footprint" developed.

Green leaders use suasion, persuasion, exemplification and all the techniques of public relations and propaganda to shift the publics' tastes towards green decisions both in markets and in other areas where decisions, goals, or choices are being made. As Fraser P. Seitel (1989) says there are many "publics" and many choices. Places or contexts of choices matter too. Green theory rewrites the rules for consumers. David R. Boyd and David T. Suzuki (2008) is one example.

The public as workers is critical to Green theory. The greening of the labour market, workplace, and industry is important. One wonders, as democracy is valued in Green theory, what the appropriate attitude towards "economic democracy" would be. Robert A. Dahl (1985) argues weakly in favour of workplace democracy. If the factors of production are land, labour, capital, and entrepreneurship, it is unclear how these can be democratically related and what kind of property rights might survive.

Joseph Heath (2009) describes "capitalism" as a "nexus of relationships" (as between suppliers, producers, consumers, marketers, regulators, for example). Green theory is complex in its management of policy networks. The New Age idea of "segmented, polycentric, integrated networks" (SPINs) suggests a possible complex replacement for capitalism. In public administration the idea of "governance" systems addresses some of the complexity.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's idea of "noosphere" as a connection and link thick environment where multilateral group, system, organization, and network interrelations can instantiate human wisdom is also possible for Green theory.

"Globalization" is commonly understood to involve cross-border flows. This can be transportation of material or people, transmission of information or ideas, transfer of capital or ownership, transactions altering status, transmissions of disease and disease causing organisms, trade in goods and services, transfers of technology or industrial arts and products, and may be considered a stage of "modernization" and/or "development." Global flows are to be monitored and controlled through many local actions. For this 'globalization' to work, local decisions must successfully restrict the perverse effects of global flows. A margin for error must be maintained.

Free trade appears to be focused upon free markets. Yet, even Raymond Vernon (1977) suggests that a multinational corporation could serve as a non-tariff barrier to free trade. You could go further and suggest that concentrations of purchasing power and control over property rights might serve to restrict "free trade" even if we do not wish to have the total equality of no concentrations of wealth. Free markets are not free if those who have wealth can control flows and restrictions as well as the litigation over disputes.

Control over energy and power, likewise, serves to replace the slave trade. "Nature" is never clearly enough defined. Natural resources and natural flows of energy and nutrients are neither entirely free nor entirely artificial. No one, apparently, wants total energy entropy (insofar as it can be delayed). It seems that a mixed economy may be best suited to the "natural" as complete rational planning and complete free markets are no friends to nature. This assumption is, of course, quite contestable.

Normative and cosmopolitan[edit]

One aspect of Green IR theory is normative theorising such as bioregionalism. The idea of a "land ethic" and the belief that people can "think globally and act locally" have given hope that norms can be directly or indirectly derived from nature.

Futurology and counterfactual reasoning, such as that promoted by Philip E. Tetlock and Aaron Belkin (1996), may just as easily produce dystopias as utopias. Environmental security, while still questionable, is at least more basic than human security. Likewise, "ecology" (the study of households or habitats) has priority over "economics" (the applied laws of households or habitats).

The fit between people and their environments brings up the topic of positive and negative eugenics which has been a background challenge in Green theory. Healthy and unhealthy have seemed to replace the theology of good and evil. Holistic health is a popular part of green theories combined with green living. Public health with prevention and health promotion are more consistent with Green theory too.

The non-violent thread in Green theory has led to an anti-hierarchical standard which can seem to be anarchical in this theory. Eco-feminists may hold anti-hierarchical views. Living wages and more equality may be emphasized. Ernest Callenbach's "Ecotopia" seems to almost be a matriarchal totalitarianism. The choices and liberties can be shifted in Green theory.

Turn taking among Green leaders means sometimes the responsibilities of power and sometimes being the follower. All this within groups attempting consensus with group skills added to communication skills which can be overpowering.

A behavioural space with contingencies, classical and operant conditioning, plus systems of semiotic systems with underlying structures, even for individual cells, organisms, groups, and all conceivable units of analysis could certainly be overpowering. It would seem to be a case of Michel Foucault's "governmentality" where both individuals and populations are simultaneously controlled. And the governmentality would grow and evolve.

Growth of any particular species can be in numbers, qualities, adaptations (fitting in), and adjustments (changes to environment) which makes for complex practical syllogisms. As Thomas Szasz said in "Ideology and Insanity": "stars move, machines function, animals behave, and people conduct themselves." It is an idea of "ecopsychology" that contact with nature promotes mental health and wellness.

According to Morris Berman (1996) there is a "Shadow Side of Systems". Just as democracy can make for a tyranny of the majority so can systems thinking provide for authoritarianism and/or paternalism. A case study of Green theorists' dealing with the issue of "abortion" can illustrate this matter. Life and choice are both important to Green theorists. Disconnecting the conception decision from the birth decision can have eugenic consequences. Perhaps females could take charge of reproductive technology but then they would be in charge of eugenics too.

The compromises of living where you like and liking where you live; of doing what you like and liking what you do; and, of having the child you like and liking the child you have—these do not make choices easier. Do we love the people we love and love the people we love—both? Green theory does not always distinguish public space from private space. As for political ideologies and Green theory, Timothy O'Riordan (1990) indicates there to be "dry greens" (perhaps conservative and market centered), "shallow greens" (perhaps liberal and sustainable development centered), and "deep greens" (perhaps radical and ecosystem or earth centered). This, of course, may be an oversimplification. "Dry Greens" may be the least appreciated environmentalists and might not even be given that title. However, a very good economic treatment is given in "The Plundered Planet" by Paul Collier (2010). Collier may put the plight of the bottom billion (poorest and worst off people) on the planet above environmentalism. He believes protecting the viability of the planet and the bottom billion must both be done. Green theorists, of course, emphasize equality such that the bottom billion are equal to the top billion. How that works out is challenging. If the planet does need a billion fewer people, then there is no agreed upon way of choosing. Market solution would include rising food prices and only those with ability to pay survive. Each culture, religion, and academic discipline has developed and produced different solutions to the "Who survives?" conundrum.

Security Studies[edit]

Green IR approaches have challenged traditional approaches to security in international relations. This has included the concept of environmental security which has involved the 'securitization' of environmental threats.

While Green theory embraces non-violence and condemns the toxicity of much military materials, civilian defence and protest have long been used as tactics. Appropriate technology, even for military use, is becoming more preferred. Green theorists may dispense with much strategic security planning as letting the laws of nature take their course.

John H. Storer (1953, 1956, pp. 76 – 77) mentions some of the laws of nature as: adaptation, succession, multiplication, and, control, such that a species occupies a niche with a carrying capacity and limiting factors. This is the long view of strategy. Strategy is assumed to be phylogenetic and tactics more ontogenetic (as may be morals and ethics respectively). Families and nations may be similar and different. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt (1996) suggest that fractal thinking may highlight fractal warfare. Swords and spears, the tools of regular warfare, may be changed to plows and pruning-hooks, the tools of eugenic management.

As for the short view, private security or acting locally may be of interest. Harvey Burstein (1994) gives five items that security staff must control: crime, waste, accidents, errors, and unethical practices. Such is the short view of tactics—albeit from an environmental perspective. Even the best "securitization" cannot eliminate error. The items that security controls also have their carrying capacities and limiting factors. Control may interact with higher level controls and counter-controls like a flow chart.

Agenda 21, that optimistic document for the beginning of the Twenty-first Century, seeks to control all accidents so that human beings can live in safety. It failed, but it can provide a guide for those who think globally and act locally. The move from human centered to ecosystem centered thinking and feeling may, ironically, be an improvement to humanity.

An area of challenge to all IR theories is secrecy and surveillance along with control of information. Monitoring is necessary for protection and control (security) but sometimes secrecy is necessary too. Realism, capitalism, and socialism could not handle secrecy well and it remains to be seen whether Green theory's handling of secrecy could not create worse disasters. Transparency and democracy may not be appropriate political technologies for all decisions.

Further discussion of power, secrecy vs. espionage, persuasion vs. evaluation, and information control is in "Policing Politics: Security Intelligence and the Liberal Democratic State" by Peter Gill (1994). Citizen policing of politics goes with empowering the disempowered and consensus. Perhaps "subsidiarity" may be needed with a secret "black box" at the appropriate level of decision making which is always the lowest possible.

It would be a good exercise in Green Theory to consider Derrick Jensen's "Twenty Premises" from his books "Endgame: Volumes I & II" (2006) with "Agenda 21" and its efforts to control humanity and the environment to produce security. Is a graceful transition from the present world to a greener future world possible? How possible?

A critical point in the history of Green Theory is 1992 when, of course, the Rio Conference happened. Also Biodiversity and Global Warming became more important. Emphasis may have moved from local ecosystems to the global ecosystem. One book published at this time in which the author seeks perhaps to rescue Greens from themselves and provide a revisionist Green policy is Green Political Theory by Robert E. Goodin (1992). It was a timely criticism. He compares a capitalist theory of value based upon consumer satisfaction; a socialist theory of value based upon labour; and, a Green theory of value based upon natural resources.

He also discusses the weakness for international organization of a highly decentralized political system. Perhaps in answer, "Leaders lead; but none too much," might provide a solution to Michel's 'iron law of oligarchy' where leaders can do job rotation with teaching environmental education, group decision-making, policy-making, as well as with other leaders, taking turns with administrative and diplomatic tasks. Much leaders make for much participation and many types of participation. Therefore, diversity is increased.

Goodin (1992) also discusses norms or values by focusing on "goods" and "the good" as well as "agency" which is more in the direction of "the right." Such a critical analysis of Green Theory at what is also a critical point in history is invaluable.

An obvious modern point about environment and security is distribution of risk and even global flows of risk. If the rich are not to be protected too much, then it also might follow that the poor are not to be protected too much as well. Proper balance is not the mere matter of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Ulrich Beck and others have written on the "risk society" which seems to enter into the discussions both of economy and security. Subsidiarity may include levels of government which share authority, for example, national government, religious or organizational government, family government, and individual government. There would not seem to be a monopoly over use of force. There may be a tendency for eco-anarchism here.

Just as we may use computer software to determine such things as financial crime and corruption, we might also use actuarial tables to determine unjust distribution of risk. We would have to find ways to prevent "fait accompli" acts of the powerful to the less powerful. This goes far beyond environmental impact statements or even studies. It is a whole fabric with the socio-economic structures.

Solving the problem of a gentle transition to a green future can be difficult. Between Derrick Jensen's "Endgame 1 & 2" and Donald R. Liddick's (2006) "Eco-Terrorism", it can seem like opposite sides must be taken. Liddick's book was published by Praeger Publishers which may have a reputation as being influenced by Intelligence agencies. Of course, there is not necessarily anything wrong with patriotism and good intelligence writing is often better than standard academic publishing. "Eco-Terrorism" could, however, be a bit of a propaganda piece. It might knock down weak forms of green arguments to establish those arguments of a more capitalist nature supporting free markets and corporations.[citation needed] Praeger Publishers may also have published "Crimes Against Nature" also by Donald R. Liddick (2011) and "The Rise of the Anti-Corporate Movement" by Evan Osborne (2007). If Green theorists are to take consensus decision-making quite seriously, then bringing the environmental skeptics on board to the gentle transition becomes very important to a Green future.[according to whom?]

The question of whether (national) government alone must have a monopoly over the legitimate use of force has been contested for some time. Should national government also have a monopoly of the use of fear, violence, and terror and would this ever be legitimate? Can dissent, protest, and civil disobedience and holding the viewpoint of subversion of the current system be justified? Is the "right to rebel" really a euphemism for the "right to revolt"? It seems one other book: Crime Wars: The Global Intersection of Crime, Political Violence, and International Law by Paul Battersby, Joseph M. Siracusa, and Sasho Ripiloski (2011) might be worth reading. But, books like Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin (2011) and Green is the New Red by Will Potter (2011) may also be worth reading.

Green theorists sometimes shift the meanings of "rights" and "freedoms" but a book to be published this year by Praeger Publishers about "Eco-psychology" (in two volumes) by Darlyne G. Nemeth, Robert B. Hamilton, and Judy Kuriansky, according to their catalogue would seem to shift some of the standard Green vocabulary. Even "eco-terrorism" is a use of a label with often pejorative connotations. It seems there is a battle going on over the future of Green discourse. We may have to rethink definitions for "genocide" and "ecocide" with both broad and narrow definitions for each and how much powers and authorities whether those of people and families, organizations (religious or otherwise), governments (at all levels), or businesses can be criminalized and especially where and how prevention can best be practiced. The Encyclopedia of Earth website is apparently neutral and non-controversial. Green theory has many essentially contested concepts. Encyclopedia of Earth may also be in the process of updating its ideas of biosecurity and bioterrorism. Antonio Gramsci's ideas of "war of manoeuvre" (real war in physical space) and "war of position" (war of words or what in Michel Foucault's terms could be a discussion and shaping of a discourse space) are pertinent to what is currently happening. John Stuart Mill's On Liberty applies to discourse rather well for a standard 'liberal' approach which, itself, is not neutral. It is supposed that Green thinkers clearly realize that much discussion need not lead to consensus and there can still remain veridical conflicts. Whether the 'soft energy path' and a 'steady-state economy' can actually be made to work require further theory and practice too. The making of a fait accompli by mass ecocide or mass genocide (whether these be sudden or gradual) can hopefully be avoided.

When it comes to a 'war of position' and discourse, the subject of 'ecocriticism' becomes important. Timothy Clark has written two interesting books on this topic: The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment (2011) and The Value of Ecocriticism (2019). Plato made the observation that an expert on the literature of the "Iliad" might not be suitable to be a general. Experts at environmental literature are expected to have at least minimal competency in environmental science or some equivalent. Multitasking in areas of high complexity and many levels of analysis (scales) shall not be easy.

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topic Politics : Bert Hatten, John M. Robinson (Louisiana judge), Pamela Sossi, New British Union (NBU), Leon Gary, Masood Ahmad, Zach Dasher
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  • Ecofeminism
  • Ecocentrism
  • Sustainable development
  • The Coming Anarchy


  1. Littlejohn is actually referring to Richard V. Farace, Peter R. Monge, and Hamish Russell (1977).

Works cited[edit]

  • Arquilla, John and Ronfeldt, David (1996). The Advent of Netwar. RAND.
  • Battersby, Paul; Siracusa, Joseph M. and Ripiloski, Sasho (2011). Crime Wars: The Global Intersection of Crime, Political Violence, and International Law.
  • Berman, Morris (Winter 1996). "The: Shadow Side of Systems Theory". Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 36 (1): 28–54. doi:10.1177/00221678960361005. ISSN 0022-1678. Unknown parameter |s2cid= ignored (help)</ref>
  • Boyd, David R. and Suzuki, David T. (2008). Green Guide.
  • Burstein, Harvey (1994). in Introduction to Security.
  • Clark, Timothy (2011). The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment.
  • — (2019). The Value of Ecocriticism.
  • Collier, Paul (2010). The Plundered Planet.
  • Dahl, Robert A. (1985). A Preface to Economic Democracy.
  • Eckersley, Robyn (2010) ‘Green Theory’ in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity. Dunne, Tim; Kurki, Milja; and Smith, Steve (eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Farace, Richard V.; Monge Peter R. and Russell, Hamish (1977). Communicating and Organizing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Galbraith, J. K. The Age of Uncertainty.
  • Goodin, Robert E. (1992). Green Political Theory.
  • Heath, Joseph (2009) Filthy Lucre.
  • Jensen, Derrick (2006). Endgame. Volumes I & II.
  • Krasner, Stephen D. (ed.) (1983).International Regimes.
  • Laver, Michael (1997). Private Desires, Political Action.
  • Liddick, Donald R. (2006). Eco-Terrorism. Praeger Publishers.
  • — (2011). Crimes Against Nature. Praeger Publishers.
  • Littlejohn, Stephen W. (1983). Theories of Human Communication (2nd ed.).
  • Nemeth, Darlyne G., Hamilton, Robert B., and Kuriansky, Judy (2015). Eco-psychology (in two volumes). Praeger Publishers.
  • O'Riordan, Timothy (1990). "On the 'Greening' of Major Projects". The Geographical Journal. 156 (2): 141–148. doi:10.2307/635321. ISSN 0016-7398. JSTOR 635321.
  • Osborne, Evan (2007). The Rise of the Anti-Corporate Movement. Praeger Publishers.
  • Potter, Will (2011). Green is the New Red.
  • Rosenberg, Marshall (2003). Nonviolent Communication (2nd ed.).
  • Salatin, Joel (2011). Folks, This Ain't Normal.
  • Seitel], Fraser P. (1989). The Practice of Public Relations.
  • Storer, John H. (1953, 1956). The Web of Life.
  • Szasz, Thomas. Ideology and Insanity.
  • Tetlock, Philip E. and Belkin, Aaron (1996). Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics.
  • Vernon, Raymond (1977). Storm Over the Multinationals.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vogler, John (2008) ‘Environmental Issues’ in The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Baylis, John; Smith, Steve; and Owens, Patricia. (eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Patterson, Matthew (2009) ‘Green Politics’ in Theories of International Relations. Burchill, Scott et al. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Steans, Jill; Pettiford; and Lloyd. Diez, Thomas. (2004) Introduction to International Relations: perspectives and themes . London: Pearson, pp. 203–228

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