The Color of Green

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source: Possibilitator

The mother of the term so frequently evoked to represent care for the environment,

Petra Kelly, would find much of its use now to be simplistic and much shallower than what she had in mind as she forged the birth of the Green Party. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1982 for ” .for forging and implementing a new vision uniting ecological concerns with disarmament, social justice and human rights.” 

I became interested in the Green Party just before Kelly’s sudden death in 1992. So much so, that I applied for a mini-research grant to visit the National Clearinghouse of the Greens, then located in Kansas, a few months after her death in March 1993. I honestly don’t recall if I knew that she had died when I went to KC as I was only marginally aware of her work and the US press would not typically spend much news time acknowledging her passing.

I spent a week at the Clearinghouse combing through files looking to understand how the various local Green groups around the US functioned. How did they design  decision-making? How was power shared? What were the concerns Greens had about group process? I knew that process was very important, and that no one size fits all approach driven from on high was going to ever determine how local Greens would work. I never fully completed any lengthy or formal research from that experience, although a summary of my research was submitted and it also forever awakened me to the role of process in developing a sustainable future. My involvement with the National Coalition on Dialogue and Development and recent work with the Kettering Foundation, “Building Civic Capacity”  efforts are simply a continuation of the explorations begun two decades ago.

But back to Petra Kelly and the deeper meaning of Green that she helped give birth to and which is the fundamental basis of the Greens Ten Core Values. In her posthumously published book,Thinking Green!” that she was working on at the time of her death, she addresses not simply environmental concerns including climate change, hazardous chemicals, pollution, biodiversity, etc. but the role of women, of nonviolence, of economic equality, peace and the arms race. Her final essay is optimistically entitled, “If There is to Be a Future, It Will Be Green.”

But not the bleached green that so many use the term for these days, but truly a deep green, or perhaps as noted sustainability thinker/friend has recently phrased it – a robust green. Petra Kelly’s Green was no whiter shade of pale as you may sense from a few select excerpts from this 1994 collection of essays.

 Peace studies should also touch the spirituality of politics, talking about the problems of poverty, oppression, and the nature of war, and offering alternatives to war, militarism, and deterrence…It should also discuss Third World development, ecological planning, human rights, social movements, and grassroots movements. (p.56)

    There are many structures of domination – nation over nation, class over class, race over race, humans over nature. But domination of women by men is a constant feature within every other aspect of oppression. (p.14)

    For environmental solutions to be effective, economic imbalances must be redressed. We need sustainable development in the Third World that supports an ecological economic system, a more just distribution of wealth within and among nations, political reforms, and greater access to the knowledge and resources of the North. (p.29)

    The destruction of nature, the militarization of the world, and the exploitation of the disenfranchised all kill life and kill the spirit. We “shut down” and not only numb our fear and pain, we also lose touch with our own innate spiritual resources – compassion, imagination, and the power to respond. (p.61)

Petra Kelly has set the standard for the deep meaning of Green and it’s successor, sustainability. Looking back to the Greens Ten Core Values

Every human being deserves a say in the decisions that affect their lives and not be subject to the will of another. Therefore, we will work to increase public participation at every level of government and to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them. We will also work to create new types of political organizations which expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decision-making process.
All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and homophobia, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law.
Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature.  We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems.
It is essential that we develop effective alternatives to society’s current patterns of violence. We will work to demilitarize, and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments.  We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace.
Centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization. Therefore, we support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions away from a system which is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few, to a democratic, less bureaucratic system. Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens.
We recognize it is essential to create a vibrant and sustainable economic system, one that can create jobs and provide a decent standard of living for all people while maintaining a healthy ecological balance. A successful economic system will offer meaningful work with dignity, while paying a “living wage” which reflects the real value of a person’s work.
Local communities must look to economic development that assures protection of the environment and workers’ rights; broad citizen participation in planning; and enhancement of our “quality of life.” We support independently owned and operated companies which are socially responsible, as well as co-operatives and public enterprises that distribute resources and control to more people through democratic participation.
We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.
We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines.
We believe that the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies, and we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles. We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms than our own and the preservation of biodiversity.
We encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well-being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet.
Our actions and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. We seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of or “unmaking” all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. We must counterbalance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions.

Looks an awful lot like The Earth Charter perhaps the most important document of this century to date.

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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