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The Green International Relations Theory Politics Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In the recent past, a lesser known but a vital topic in International Relations has been introduced which deals with the trans-boundary/inter-country ecological problem, known as Green Theory.

Green IR Theory is more radical in nature compared to other theories of IR and is inspired by factors outside the purview of IR Theory, thus increasing awareness on the ecological blindness of IR theory (Eckersley, 2010). It came as a movement against environmental problems which are the unforeseen byproduct of other acceptable practices. “They are the stowaways of normal consumption” (Beck 1992:40). Green theory analysts look at real world environmental problems differently as compared to Realism or Neoliberalism or critical theory preachers. Realists assume constant struggle between the various member states of the global world and don’t think environmental problems have any role in national security. Neo liberals do acknowledge environmental challenges and want to tweak the incentive structures in order to bring about cooperation amongst various countries (Eckersley, 2010).Critical theorists reject such solution designing which fails to take into consideration the social and economic structures of the country. Green theory analysts base their line of study on non-human nature, needs of future generations and ecological risk distribution.

Green Theory does contribute to our understanding the world politics and environmental issues by way of Green Political Theory which has three main features namely Eco centric ethics, Decentralization of Power and limits to Growth. These features reconstruct the world politics keeping the environment in clear view. Green Theory talks about the need of political transformation worldwide. It does try to address and respond to the environmental challenges by suggesting ecological modernization and a shared solution designing. But these solutions need to be propagated across the world on a global scale, which has not been seen yet.

Green theory suggests that through environmental governance around the globe, we should be targeting to respect all life forms and not only protect the current human society but also other forms of life which are crucial to main the balance of bio diversity which in turn is essential to human life survival only. Green theory’s analysts argue on the fact that humans are the most complex and developed species on the mankind, henceforth it is our moral duty to respect all the other life forms coexisting along with us. Mankind should not be showing his human chauvinism where it would be destroying or using the earth’s natural resources injudiciously for his own personal development leaving nothing for the other forms (Barry, 1992).

As per Green theory, there have been environmental injustices prevalent across the globe wherein few of the privileged communities, societies or nations try to capture the larger share of the environment and exploit it fully for their technological advancement and try to justify the same leaving very little share for the other under-developed or lesser privileged nations. This has been majorly found wherein the developed nations around the world leave a larger carbon footprint on the globe and then preach and force to reduce the carbon footprint of the developing and the under-developed nations of the world. Therefore one of the basic aims of the Green Theory is to reduce the ecological risks across the world and also to ensure that fair share of the environment and resources are given to all the communities preventing the unfair distribution resources to lesser communities (Goodwin, 1992).

There is a concept of Ecological Modernization (Hajer, 1995) proposed which states that technological advancement, innovation and economic growth should take place using steps which consumes less energy and resources and also keeps the waste produces/per unit of GDP to the minimum. Each nation needs to have an environmental governance program which could ensure modernization of the economy with least resources exploited. This win-win situation has been welcomed by the Green theory and also being pushed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

All the above discussed environmental problems and their probable solutions have been absorbed by the two approaches of International Relations theory (Neorealism and Neoliberalism) differently (Hayward, 1995). On one hand, Neorealism scholars have mostly rejected this idea of ‘Green’ International Relations theory and dismissed the idea of environment conservation, but on the other hand, Neoliberals have embraced this idea. They have also conducted ground level research, working on empirical solutions to deal with these trans-boundary environmental concerns. They have conducted studies and researches to find out whether nations would be willing to cooperate and share on the idea of environmental protection and check their economic advancement keeping in mind the economic factors and resources being exploited. Thus they have primarily accepted this idea in International Relations observing, explaining and predicting actions of nations for the same (Karlsson, 2010).

Thus we can see that in order to implement the Green International Theory on actual basis, it is an absolute must that all the parties, nations and communities affected by the decisions and risks should also be a part of making the IR theory in one way or the other. Along with this Green theory scholars also emphasize that since environmental crisis is a shared problem, therefore the solution designing should also be a shared responsibility (Trainer, 1985). The nations need to conduct a collaborative research, build trusts and work on the common environmental goals to conserve the depleting resources and also maintain their technological advancement hand in hand. The Green International Relations theory has had significant changes in the recent past and is now and all together a new and a separate stream of this IR theory.

The new green IR theory along with suggesting the concepts of environmental justice, sustainable and green ways of technological development of the economy and ecological balance maintenance, it has also redefined the responsibility that various nations, communities and their citizens must perform for the overall environmental sustenance (Walz, 1979). Many of the proposals ask consumers, for e.g. to bring about change in their daily lives. For e.g. Consumers were responsible for being able to reduce use of CFCs in aerosol sprays, a famous skin care company Body Shop gave away reusable bottles and did not test its product on animals etc. These activities are important because they show what citizens can do to bring about the change in environmental issues.

While Green generally refers to environment, Green Political theory (GPT) has come up as a challenger to the two most famous political theories, liberalism and socialism. In common to these theories, GPT has a normative branch which talks about rights, democracy, the state and environment and a political branch which deals with relationship between the state, the economy and the environment. These two dimensions of Green Political theory are now more conspicuous but because they are still developing, are not as popular as other theories of IR which deal with the same issue.

GPT came up with a strong criticism of Capitalism and communism, which were regarded by the Greens as two versions of industrialism, only differentiating in market and state roles. Greens challenged industrialism which under the veil of modernization and progress, are exploiting the environment. Few of the other theories such as liberalism and orthodox Marxism developed on the fact that Earth’s natural resources could sustain uncontrolled economic growth. They preached that Earth’s resources could be used infinitely to increase the human growth and technological advancement of the mankind which were considered highly desirable (Beitz, 1999). According to these theories, human domination is the key to advancement. On the contrary, Green political theory throws light on what social, psychological and ecological cost mankind is paying for this modernization and technological advancement (Dobson, 1990).

There are three main features of Green politics, ecocentric ethics, decentralization of power and limits to growth. It is necessary to understand that Green politics is different from Environmentalism. Environmentalism accepts the existing social, political, economic and normative pillars of world politics and tries to understand environmental issues within those pillars whereas under Green Politics, these pillars are considered the reason as why environmental issues are there and thus look to challenge these pillars. (Dobson, 1990). Green International theory, by way of Green Political theory, concentrates on the need for political transformation worldwide. According to the green stance on World Politics, radical social changes are needed in order to address global environmental issues.

According to Eckersley (1992), the defining feature of Green ideas on International Relations is ecocentrism, which rejects anthropocentric view of the world which gives high regards to human’s moral values and focuses more on placing value on eco-systems and all living beings. Another feature described by Dobson (1990) is limits to growth about the environmental crisis. This feature explains that the root cause of the current environmental crisis is the unprecedented economic growth which has eroded the environmental resources to the maximum limit.

Ecocentrism is based upon four main features which explains its position towards the environment and thus towards shaping up the world politics. First is Resource Conservation which aims to garner full interest in non-human world not just by understanding the economic use of the resources but their conservation also. Second is Human Welfare ecology which recognizes the interests of non-human community. Third would be preservation, which is the right non-use of resources and fourth is animal preservation where it treats all species, ecosystems as a whole.

Hayward (1995) and Barry (1999) challenge the concept of ecocentrism by taking it as a very tough stand on politics and contemplates a softer stand on the same and argues that a complete rejection of anthropocentric behaviour is way too radical. But their detailed arguments definitely point out to the fact that a radical change is desired in world politics to cater to the environmental change.

The second feature of Green Politics, limits to growth is very well described in the book, The Limits to growth (Meadows et al., 1972). As per this book, the exponential economic growth and population growth is reaching a point of crisis where the environmental resources would soon exhaust and thus limits to growth exist. Greens support this argument and say that exponential growth is impossible in a finite system (Trainer, 1985). According to Dobson (1990), technological innovations will not work, exponential growth over the long run can have very damaging effect and also the issues associated with growth are all interrelated.

According to greens, Sustainable development is a misleading notion and according to them, sustainability explicitly requires reducing industrial and economic output, thus hindering the economic growth. They have developed arguments which prove that development is inherently anti-ecological. Development undermines sustainable practices and thus takes control of resources for industrial and economic use, and also increases inequality which produces social conflicts.

The examples stated above which show green consumerism, though show the involvement of citizens, do nothing to bring the main point in focus that unlimited production and consumption is not sustainable as discussed above. The strategy adopted by Body Shop, may be environment friendly but it will allow the consumers to spend albeit guilt free. The society at large still remains materialistic and thus is still vulnerable to diminishing resources.

Green politics third stance is Decentralization. A form of global political restructuring is evident by Green Politics. Nation states are both too big and too small to deal effectively with sustainability and thus decentralization is the order of the day. Thus authority is required but not on a global scale but by small tightly bound communities which can address the environmental issues and efficient use of resources. Greens’ futuristic view is to see small scale self-reliant communities. This view is based on the stance by bioregionalism which has its basis in the concept of ecological societies organized together with natural environmental features like for e.g. Watersheds forming boundaries between two communities. Also these communities would be self-reliant but would also be internationalist in their formation and dealings. ( (Burchill, S. et al, 2005)

One of the best known slogans inspired out of Green International Relations theory on World Politics is think globally, act locally. According to greens, which is clear in the above arguments, Global environmental issues happen on a global scale but can be handled by breaking down those very global powers so as to act locally on them by creating small political economies and self-reliant communities. Thus decentralization comes out as the main focus of Greens in their political stance. The advantages are many. Self-reliant communities are more sensitive to the environmental problems around them and can act faster and this calls for small political communities. The formation of these communities ensures quick response and feedback in tackling the environmental degradation before they turn severe.

Green Political theory calls for reorganization of political economy and structure globally so as to intertwine the economic production and exchange which uses resources and thus transforms nature into it. It is against enclosures and commons but also wants to create where there are no commons. They depend for their sustenance on a sort of equality between the members of the community. Commons won’t be called public spaces where rules governing them do not depend on the hierarchy of states. (Burchill, 2005). Thus Green political theory forms its basis on decentralization. But there have been arguments against this very premise also. The foremost argument against this concept is that small scale, self-reliant communities would be self-interested and selfish to work in conducive cross-community atmosphere which would then defy the premise, think globally, act locally. This argument is refuted by greens by comparing it with sovereign states and establishing the fact that effects on other communities would have to be taken into account in decisions. Citizens of the nations can definitely think globally and act locally for the environment conservation and norms can be developed which can help nature directly or indirectly. Holistic health is also a part of the Green theory wherein public health and health promotion are given the highest priority in this theory.

Another argument which surfaces in this regard is that since the communities would be small, how they would respond to the global problems in a global manner, which is defining effective mechanisms to counter the nature’s forces. This argument was reasoned by Goodin (1992). Goodin has given examples of four games which reflect his stance very well. They are prisoner’s dilemma, Chicken, Assurance and Altruism. By bringing these games’ example in the argument, he tries to show that decentralized communities will not be able to handle the problems and transfer of power to some global level is imperative. Dalby (1998) also criticizes Green theory that Greens are committed to form a sovereign model of Politics and thus creating sovereign states at a local level. But According to Greens, though they base their political arguments on scale, but they feel that this involves creating fundamentally different political structures.

Green politics has a number of features in common with critical approaches in International Relations theory. It integrates normative and explanatory concerns which is common in theories of feminism, critical theory etc. It also resists the concentration of power by promoting small communities i.e. decentralization which is also a concern of feminism and post structuralism. (Dunnes, 2010).

Thus it is clear from the above argument that green international theory, in the form of Green Political theory calls for a different structure of politics in the world. It calls for decentralizing the world political communities rather than a global political leadership. This involves disintegration of economic, social and political pillars of existing global economy. The World Politics should be in favour of mixed locations of communities. According to green’s theory ecology concept, how the current power structure need to be changed to create sustainable societies is the current flavour of contemporary world politics. (Trainer, 1985).

Greens are clearly trying to improve the world by understanding the politics which governs it and thinking of radical ways to change the very concept. Its focus is on human-non-human relationship, and adopting ecocentrism, and limits to growth. It aims to provide an explanation of the ecological crisis which is in front of the humanity, by disintegrating political economies and thus responding to the global environmental change locally.

In conclusion, we can see from the above arguments that how Green theory has contributed to our understanding on global environmental issues by integrating world political structures. It draws our attention to common resources which need to be used judicially, by proper integration of human and non-human existence. Exponential growth of population, and thus economy has resulted in fast depletion of global environmental resources and here Green theory has contributed by presenting arguments which explain what need to be done in order to restore the sustainable development. Its stance on world politics and tackling of global environmental issues is very radical and requires complete upheaval of the current political, economic and social structures but that is what is needed in order to save the world.

Green theory and other theories of International Relation, when studied in isolation don’t give the complete picture of how international political arena should work. They need to be seen from a common view point and ought to be studied in that way. The two approaches discussed above, Neorealism and neoliberalism have incorporated this new issue of environmental problems in their existing framework. Neo-realist may dismiss this problem as not very serious to affect the politics within states, but neoliberals have conducted various researches to establish rules dealing with global environmental problems. Such challengers and supporters of Green theory will only help us understand the world politics, international security and politics with environmental regime in a better way.

A green public sphere (Torgerson, 1999) needs to be built which will attempt to reconfigure the relationship between human and non-human nature of the world. The green movement has offered many ways to understand the larger issues surrounding world politics and actions taken to address environmental issues. Green Politics is a new way to think about the immense possibilities of a green public sphere.

Since long, a theory combining Globalisation, Politics and environment was missing. Green theory is an answer to that missing concept.


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