We are at a critical turning point for human civilization. Our “way of life” is literally shredding the biosphere we depend on. Greens have been in the forefront of asserting that unless we make a dramatic U-turn and radically reorganize our societies, a human future may not be possible.
Humans currently use 1.7 times as much biological productivity to meet our needs (and greeds) as is produced on planet Earth each year. Wild animal populations have decreased 60% since 1970, 90% of the large fish are now gone from the oceans, and 40% of insect species are in decline. We are passing limits on deforestation, the phosphorus cycle, climate disruption, and numerous other indicators of our planet’s health, all of which are intertwined with the health of our own communities.
We cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. Yet “development” in most of the world today is directed towards creating still more economic growth: More stuff for more people. This dynamic has benefited a tiny layer of the population, but for nearly everyone else, even many of those who’ve had rising incomes and the ability to consume more, the costs — in terms of rates of pollution and resource depletion, inequality, anomie, and decimation of local community life — have constituted a social and ecological nightmare.
Western societies have tended to conceive of “Progress” as being a linear movement toward mastery of nature, material growth, advancement of science, expansion of technology. But disconnect from the natural world has increasingly obscured the truth that the dominant culture’s trajectory is leading toward ecocide. Instead of recognizing the perils of continuing with business-as-usual, experts offer us “technological fixes” which are likely to come with unforeseen consequences. Our hypermodern reality does not, in fact, define a culture of true progress, but rather a culture that is, as Native American activist John Trudell has written, “industrially insane.”
Some tell us that the growth imperative is a result of capitalist economic relations. But the problematic “progress and development” trajectories of our civilization pre-date capitalism and have been evident in every attempt to implement socialism in the modern era. On this basis we believe that the source of the problem goes deeper than just economic relations. The Deep Green perspective has emerged as an alternative to all the old ideologies. Its worldview questions traditional leftist and environmentalist assumptions about what needs to be done. Its vision of thoroughgoing social transformation begins with an analysis of this civilization’s preoccupation with productivity values, its addiction to technology, its patriarchy, and its anthropocentrism.
Growth mania has led to hypertrophy
Capital, technology, and the state have, for centuries, been an interlocking juggernaut fostering toxic industrialism and modes of production characterized by ecological irresponsibility. Meanwhile, the ideology of “development” has brought us to our current state of alienation from nature. Its growth mania has resulted in generalized hypertrophy (institutions and technologies too large to be controlled democratically) and a sense of cultural malaise. Although the situation is dire, we believe it is possible to respond successfully to the threats we face. We note how people pull together after a storm devastates their community. Humanity will need to call on that same sense of cooperation and care in the face of the unfolding modern crisis.
Our key value of Ecological Wisdom is derived from an understanding we’ve gained of how regeneration in nature is dependent upon cooperation and upon the maintenance of ecological balances. Ecosystems tend to evolve to a climax state and then remain stable for long periods of time. As evolution continues, equilibrium is established and re-established. Human systems, whether they are economic, social, or cultural, are subsystems of the over-arching ecosystem which contains them. So human systems must also strive for equilibrium.
Neither capitalism nor socialism have focused on these insights. Deep Greens tend not to favor the term “eco-socialism” because we feel that it channels thinking into old ruts. We also have concerns about the relationship of socialism to the dominant parts of the old paradigm that valued centralism and industrialism. It seems to us that the Ten Key Values of the Greens are more suggestive of a communitarian, bioregionalist orientation than a socialist one.
While reformed socialism may attempt to ameliorate its old deficiencies, we see no good reason to burden the Green Party with a term that’s been so loaded with negativity. Moreover, we’re proud to convey that Green politics arose on the basis of a “new paradigm” worldview. That paradigm is more radically transformative than socialism. Its critique goes deeper. It takes the New Left’s desire for a participatory form of democracy and says something novel: scale is an important factor. The huge modern nation-states are always characterized by plutocracy, whether their productive assets are owned publicly or privately.
Mega-scale institutions are never conducive to participatory democracy. That recognition is the basis for the key value: Decentralization. It represents a new direction for our civilization yet hearkens back to the sanity of Indigenous lifeways.
Limits and balances
Deep Greens appreciate the concept of limits and the need to bring economic relations into harmony with the natural world. We believe the best way to do so is to transition toward bioregional economies and to return power to local communities. Bioregional economics calls on us to come to know our own home territory intimately and to try and meet as many of our needs as possible from it, as suggested by the key value: Community-based Economics. Thus, Greens should encourage a revitalization of traditional ecological knowledge and rural living skills.
There is wide recognition that we’re nearing the end of the fossil fuel era, a period of time that allowed for enormous population and industrial growth. Even if we weren’t dealing with the issue of climate change caused by industrial pollution of our atmosphere, we would have to face the reality that the age of cheap and easily accessible energy (as well as many mineral resources) is over. The challenge of scaling down so that we can continue to meet basic human needs will require creative simplification. The emphasis should be on reducing our resources usage by cutting back wasteful over-consumption, improving efficiency, and reversing the trend toward increased energy consumption per person.
Going forward, we’ll have to be thinking in terms of resilience and adaptation. This will require prioritizing the rejuvenation of local community life. It will be much easier to transition together, in community, rather than person-by-person or family-by-family.
At the proper scale, a nation or bioregion could be conceived of as a community of communities. The health of all must be a general concern. The poverty of any must be unacceptable. Under present circumstances, in our country, expenditures on militarism stand in the way of such objectives. Our military is the most wasteful industry on the planet. Few things cause more immediate and direct harm to communities and ecosystems than war. Any country that spends more on war than on schools has lost its mind. Any country that claims to stand for freedom cannot strive for imperial power without losing its soul, bankrupting its people, and eliminating real democracy. Transitioning away from militarism to a foreign policy based on peaceful diplomacy and justice means that most of the billions of dollars now going to fund wars and weapons can be redirected toward social, ecological, and communitarian regeneration.
Deep Greens take seriously our responsibility to propose solutions and help craft legislation that can foster a transition to a better society. But we are keenly aware of how presumptive it would be to claim that we advocate from a position of certitude or special enlightenment. The “consciousness raising”/social engineering mentality of the left has never been appealing to most Americans. It should be avoided. Rather than trying to pre-determine universalist prescriptions, Greens should be notable as helping to cultivate an ethos of participatory democracy, the ultimate objective being to return decision-making power to the people.
For example: We have no desire to pre-determine specific property relations. Private enterprise might work best under certain circumstances, public enterprise might be preferable under other circumstances. In either case, scale and localization are major factors of consideration. It may very well be that in a Green world we could expect to see decentralized polities handling the issue of economic relations in diverse ways — some more socialistic, some based more on private forms of enterprise, some with mixed economies. Industrial-scale corporate capitalism has been ruinous in the modern period, no doubt, but the track record of industrial-scale bureaucratic socialism has not been any more satisfactory.
Toward the greening of society
We realize that there are no “quick fixes.” Unsustainable modern lifeways are a product of thousands of years of misguided civilizational values and exploitative practices. They have enormous momentum, and so “turning the ship of state” surely will take time. Nonetheless, every day we can be endeavoring to incrementally build the new society within the shell of the old. Every day we can be fostering the dramatic cultural U-turn that will open pathways toward the “greening of society,” i.e., toward a future where we live more lightly in a material sense but benefit from the enrichment of healthier relationships with each other, with other creatures, and with the natural world.
We are facing unprecedented challenges in this new century, but, together, we can meet them if our collective effort is guided by the principles of ecology, democracy, justice, peace, and community. Deep Greens believe that there is a basis for optimism. We are confident that a truly Green analysis, politics, and praxis can show the way forward to a healthier, more sustainable, and more beautiful world.