Of green and Green

Wednesday, July 31, 1991

By Alan Gemmil

Green Political Thought
By Andrew Dobson
Allen and Unwin. 224 pp. $25.95
Reviewed by Alan Gemmill

Is environmentalism Green? Are constructing better sewerage treatment plants and fitting catalytic converters to cars truly Green political aims?

Andrew Dobson's answer to these questions is a resounding and heretical no.

Green Political Thought draws a sharp distinction between the underlying philosophies and programs for action of environmentalism (small "g" green) and ecologism (capital "G" Green). Dobson, a lecturer in politics at the University of Keele, UK, provides a fascinating critique of the political ideology, aims and raison d'être of ecologism.

Environmentalist policies, Dobson points out, are propounded by parties and governments of every political persuasion.

Ecologism, on the other hand, is a radical political philosophy in its own right. In disentangling ecological politics from the welter of public, political and literary interest in all things green, Dobson does a skillful and persuasive job.

Central to ecologism's challenge to the "political, social and scientific consensus" are the twin concepts of the limit to growth thesis and the sustainable society.

Subscription to these ideas is the main "dogma" of the ecological politics. Dobson gives a thorough account of the diversity of opinion inside the ecological movement as to what a sustainable society should be.

Ecologism has so far failed to provide a realistic strategy for transforming our present society to a sustainable society.

In this way the book seriously questions the ecological movement's claim to have gone beyond the politics of class. The "universal appeal" of the movement is based on the assumption that the ecological crisis affects each of us equally.

Dobson is not convinced of this. "A significant and influential proportion of society has a material interest in prolonging the crisis because there is money to be made from it", he says.

He goes on to examine the various strategies that have been developed around the "universal appeal" approach and finds them seriously lacking.

Dobson sees the gap between theory and practice as the greatest threat to the survival of radical Green politics.

The lack of a coherent strategy for change constrains the movement to a "light green" stance in political debate, keeping most of ecologism's radical content hidden from the public eye.

Dobson warns that unless ecologists take this challenge seriously, and find ways of mobilising "dark Green" politics, then ecological politics "might just disappear without trace". n

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