The Environmentalism That Progress Forgot

Within the spectrum of green politics there are many perspectives and philosophies that have a diversity of focuses and varying levels of support. They are often described as sitting on a spectrum from Dark to Bright, something like this:

Popular Understanding of Green Spectrum

This spectrum is not a real thing though; it is merely a popular approximation of a range of viewpoints into a nice, easily understandable format for people who have limited exposure to the range of views to get a rough handle on things.

In reality though, many things on both ends of the spectrum are actually compatible with each other, and they exist where they do only because they are commonly associated with each other due to the common sharing of certain groups of views by different groups of people. Things are not as simple as all that though.

Notably, there are several environmental philosophies that incorporate pieces from across the spectrum in tension with each other:

  • Deep Ecology
    • This is a philosophy that natively includes many of the elements of the Dark Green end of the spectrum. It has a few variants, with focuses on different parts including:
      • Ecocentrism
      • “Gaia” perspectives
      • Anti-consumerism
      • Degrowth
      • Lifestyle Change
      • Sustainable Technology
      • Systemic Restructure
    • In this way it actually stretches across the spectrum, albeit while popularly weighted in the Dark Green end of things.
  • Eco-Socialism
    • This philosophy has a focus on the social angle of tackling Green issues, but also natively includes many elements on the lighter side with dips into the darker side:
      • Total Waste Recycling
      • Dense Living
      • Lifestyle Change
      • Personal Responsibility
      • Anti-Consumerism
      • Systemic Restructure
    • In this way, it too stretches across the spectrum in a similar way; occupying a space very similar to that of Deep Ecology, but weighted towards the anthropocentric rather than ecocentric perspective of things.

This understanding of the inherent stretch and overlap of different philosophies is key. Ultimately no philosophy can gain real traction, in a world where much of the population must still escape from poverty, without containing some form of balance which enables a good quality of human life while also addressing the needs of our global environment.

So where does Cool Green come in?

In the simplest sense, it can be viewed as an opposition to Light Green - a distinct philosophy of change that spans elements of both dark and light, without being commandeered by the interests which encourage low-impact solutions to slow down any shift away from the status quo.

Light Green can be considered the “conservative” approach to environmentalism, focused on working within current systems and promoting personal awareness and influence through existing mechanisms. Then with both Bright and Dark Green as distinct paths that diverge from that; Cool Green can be considered a “third way”, a reconciliation of the Bright and Dark philosophies, but with an equally strong focus on change.

Cool Green is not a compromise between two paths made in an attempt to merely satisfy competing objectives, but an alternative approach intended to provide compelling objectives which satisfy the root concerns of both other major paths.

In the diagram below I have attempted to represent the distinctions on a set of axes, characterising the placement relative to the core distinctions that I see defining the green political space.

This is imperfect, a radar chart would probably allow for the most accurate representation, but a radar chart would require a more in-depth breakdown of the underlying features of green politics. In contrast this approach is relatively simple to understand as an approximation.

2D Chart of Green Environmentalist Values and Philosophies Mapped on value position and technology position axis

Cool Green Environmentalism therefore represents a fusion of the two key sentiments of both:

  • treating the Environment as something which has Inherent Worth, the principles that the well-being of human and nonhuman life on earth is of intrinsic value irrespective of its value to humans and that the diversity of life-forms is part of this value, and
  • viewing the potential for Technological Advancement with an Optimism that it can be used to enhance our lives and our relationship with the environment, rather than continue to degrade it.

It is a green that is painted with a broad stroke, but tinged blue by Blue-sky Thinking; the activity of trying to find completely new ideas - a necessity of any path of systemic reform.

Cool Green requires fostering an attachment to our natural world, without succumbing to the fear of the unknown which threatens that attachment. It requires not thinking only of individual problems, nor of individual areas or of isolated wins. It demands a willingness to be informed, a tolerance of uncertainty, and a respect for expertise. Yet it also demands an assertion of values in a pathway forward.

And it needs all this in a world with problems that surpass the abilities of any one person, group, or nation…

In short; it is a philosophy of bravery.