Green political philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S019-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 07, 2021, from

Article Summary

All the major political philosophies have been born of crisis. Green political philosophy is no exception to this general rule. It has emerged from that interconnected series of crises that is often termed ‘the environmental crisis’. As we enter the third millennium and the twenty-first century it seems quite clear that the level and degree of environmental degradation and destruction cannot be sustained over the longer term without dire consequences for human and other animal species, and the ecosystems on which all depend. A veritable explosion in the human population, the pollution of air and water, the over-fishing of the oceans, the destruction of tropical and temperate rain forests, the extinction of entire species, the depletion of the ozone layer, the build-up of greenhouse gases, global warming, desertification, wind and water erosion of precious topsoil, the disappearance of valuable farmland and wilderness for ‘development’ – these and many other interrelated phenomena provide the backdrop and justification for the ‘greening’ of much of modern political thinking.

The task of outlining and summarizing the state of green political philosophy is made more difficult because there is as yet no agreement among ‘green’ political thinkers. Indeed there is, at present, no definitive ‘green political philosophy’ as such. The environmental or green movement is diverse and disparate, and appears in different shades of green. These range from ‘light green’ conservationists to ‘dark green’ deep ecologists, from ecofeminists to social ecologists, from the militant ecoteurs of Earth First! to the low-keyed gradualists of the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. These groups differ not only over strategy and tactics, but also over fundamental philosophy.

While there is no single, systematically articulated and agreed-upon green political philosophy, however, there are none the less recurring topics, themes, categories and concepts that are surely central to such a political philosophy. These include the idea that humans are part of nature and members of a larger and more inclusive ‘biotic community’ to which they have obligations or duties. This community includes both human and non-human animals, and the conditions conducive to their survival and flourishing. Such a community consists, moreover, not only of members who are alive but those who are as yet unborn. A green political philosophy values both biological and cultural diversity, and views sustainability as a standard by which to judge the justness of human actions and practices. Exactly how these themes might fit together to form some larger, systematic and coherent whole is still being worked out.

    Citing this article:
    Ball, Terence. Green political philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S019-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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