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Green Government & Green Politics in the US: Is Go Green a Go?

Updated on November 30, 2012

Leading Green

Let's take a look at a U.S. gone Green, internationally, nationally, and locally. What would a Green government be doing?

Is there any hope for a significant Green Party in the United States at the Federal level? What about state and local government? And can green initiatives become law through advocacy and activism, even if we don't have an active Green Party in politics?

Greening America

We can go Green on many levels. Many personal choices, especially around energy conservation, simple living, and thoughtful purchases can make a big difference. Locally, we can get involved in direct action through volunteer work and cooperative efforts such as community gardening.

Working for change at a larger level, though, means addressing government policy, and that brings in politics. And there are three ways to work for Green policy changes:

  • Green Advocacy, also called Green Activism, involves activities like designing legislation, educating ourselves about legislative alternatives, signing and promoting petitions, writing letters to government, and engaging in protest and perhaps civil disobedience.
  • Green Politics is about joining the Green Party and running for elected office at a local, state, or national level.
  • Green Government is the result we hope to achieve through Green Advocacy and Green Politics: legislation and regulations put into place by government that are intended to move our country and our planet to a more sustainable, healthier future.

Both Green Advocacy and Green Government have a history over 100 years long, beginning long before the term "green" came into the picture. And key issues related to Green Politics go back just as far, to the first American environmentalist thinker, Henry David Thoreau. To learn more about this history, please read Conservation, Preservation, Ecology & Go Green: History & Lessons.

Green government, is, of course, only part of the picture. To understand Green energy, Green economics, and Green construction, engineering, and marketing, and what choices we can make as consumers to make a difference in these areas, please read Going Green: Is it for real, or is it a scam?

In this article, we'll start at the top, with the goals of Green Government. Then we'll look at how Green Advocacy and Green Politics can get us there - and whether that's likely to happen before the ice cap at the North Pole melts away completely.

The American Ecology Flag

Will this some day fly over the White House?
Will this some day fly over the White House? | Source

The Goals of Green Government

If the U.S. federal government went thoroughly green, what would its goals and policies look like? We'll look at this at six levels:

  • International cooperation and leadership
  • Green health
  • Federal stewardship
  • Federal support for corporate, state, local, and individual Green actions
  • The Green approach to world peace, justice and sustainability
  • Affordable government

International Cooperation and Leadership

The U.S. would re-ignite an updated version of the Kyoto Accords that would reduce the human contribution to global climate change and lead the way in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We would develop international cooperation: to protect and clean up the oceans and replenish ocean habitats and fish that have been over-fished to scarcity; to save endangered species with international habitats such as polar bears and migratory birds; and to share in the development of technology that would improve research into climate change and weather prediction and develop methods for cleaning up toxic waste and nuclear waste.

Green Health

Federal oversight of our food supply at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be completely overhauled. The Environmental Protection Agency would take on a preventative role, and, for cleanup, the Superfund would be restored. Through the coordinated efforts of these three agencies, toxins would be prevented or eliminated at the source, rather than allowed to enter our environment, air, water, and food supply. As people were encouraged to sustain their own health through prevention, medical costs would plummet along with the occurrence of preventable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Research dollars could be re-focused on more intractable problems, such as preventing Alzheimer's. Our techniques could be shared internationally, saving millions of lives and helping with our efforts towards world cooperation and, eventually, world peace.

Federal Stewardship

National Parks would receive much more funding and focus more on preservation than conservation. Restoration of endangered species, even controversial species such as wolves (which are really quite harmless) would be a priority. National forestry and agricultural policy would focus on conservation and sustainability, rather than perpetually alternating between that and allowing corporations a free hand in destroying environments.

Federal Support for Corporate, State, Local, and Individual Green Actions

Strong incentives for development of solar, wind, and tidal power would replace the century-old tax incentives for developing oil. Support for Green Construction would focus more on retrofitting current residential and business properties at low cost, and less on the development of highrises. Federal government would fund state and local initiatives for organic and sustainable farming. Ecology and sustainability would become central components of our educational curriculum. This is just a beginning - the list would grow with imagination and creativity as the nation was educated in sustainable living.

The Green Approach to World Peace, Justice and Sustainability

Everything you see above is just the beginning. War is not a sustainable or environmentally friendly activity. It is a total waste of life and a major source of global warming and pollution. Nonviolence is a core principle of the Green movement. So we would see a rapid shift away from war and military development. This is not a new idea, or a Green one. It was supported by the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who said, "I will destroy my enemy; I will make him my friend." By changing our relationship to other nations and peoples to one of service and humility, we will eliminate terrorism by giving no one a reason to want to kill us. Why? Because as a democratic President, Jimmy Carter said, at times "war may be a necessary evil, but it is always an evil."

Affordable Government

All of this may sound like a lot of expensive government and government regulation. But it doesn't need to be that way at all. As we stop engaging in wars on foreign soil and reduce terrorism through supporting ecological and social stability around the world, we actually spend less. Prevention costs 100 time less than cleaning up the mess afterwards. The savings created by maintaining peace and ecological harmony would actually reduce the national debt. And government would lead through grants, incentives, and modified taxation. Green government is simple government that shrinks over time. Goal are achieved through enlightened education, not bureaucracy.

Green Government - Greenbacks for Corporations

The current reality is that almost all Green efforts in government, especially at the national level, have been blocked by major corporations with one very green purpose - lining their own pockets with money.

After the Hurricane

Flooding in Maryland during Superstorm Sandy, 2012. Government responded well after the disaster. But infrastructure improvements before the storm could have prevented lots of damage that did occur.
Flooding in Maryland during Superstorm Sandy, 2012. Government responded well after the disaster. But infrastructure improvements before the storm could have prevented lots of damage that did occur. | Source

Green Government in the US today

Actual government, that is, legislative action rather than politics, related to Green issues has been going on for over 100 years. But it is a very mixed bag. Preservation is rare. Conservation is constantly both co-opted and obstructed by corporate interests. And claims for the need to let business do whatever it will do (laissez-faire policies and deregulation) to prevent an economic crises come back around every two or three decades.

When they do, it is not just the ecosystem that loses out. Poor conservation management is bad economic and social policy. Just as the Dust Bowl permanently reduced the productivity and value of America's richest farmland, so, now, managed forestry across New England is vastly reducing land values there. And beyond reduction of land values, we face increased cancer rates, higher costs for creating drinkable water, and a food supply in greater and greater danger of contamination each year.

At an international level, the US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and was the only nation not to sign on. The Kyoto Protocol was created by UN committee in 1997, and was our best hope for really slowing down global climate change. The US refusal to ratify has led to collapse of the most important international effort to prevent the coming decades and centuries of chaotic global weather. The reason was simple: Short term corporate greed had too much influence in Washington, primarily through untrue propaganda. The result - over a couple of decades, key corporate interests make billions of dollars in profits. The cost: millions, probably tens of millions lives lost over the next century.

Local governments have had some effective green legislation and action. But genuinely helpful Green activity at a state and national level will only come when the people educate themselves and make it a priority. I hope we do this before more of us lose our homes to floods and our loved ones to cancer and environmental poisoning.

Green Politics in the US is beautiful, but small. But, then again, small is beautiful.

Green Politics

International Green Politics is often associated with the Green Party in Germany, but it did not begin there. It's first success in elections was in the Netherlands, and its first political party was the United Tasmania Group in Australia. Arguably, though, the German Green Party has had the most success in maintaining an agenda in a national government. That success is very mixed: Germany's Green Party has been, at times, part of the majority coalition; part of the minority opposition; and out of power. It's most significant initiative, legislation ending nuclear power in Germany by 2020, was later overturned.

People interested in Going Green in the United States have mixed feelings about being involved in electoral politics. All are non-violent, none are revolutionary. But some feel that involvement in the current political system dilutes their purpose. Those who do not want to be involved in state and national politics are currently operating under the banner of the G/GPUSA, the Greens/Green Party USA, which is not a registered political party. It focuses on education and local action. We'll talk about that more in the next section, Green Advocacy.

The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) is a national American political party that grew out of a voluntary association of state Green parties. So it is truly the result of a grass roots movement. It is most famous for Ralph Nader's Presidential run in 2000. But no one from the Green Party has ever been elected to a Federal Office as of 2012.

In state government, there have been only four elected to State representative positions, and some of these left the Green Party after their election. Altogether, there have been a few hundred elected at local levels, such as town council members and a few mayors.

The Green Party does, however, continue to represent an important set of values at the national, state, and local levels.

The Ten Key Values of the Green Party

The ten key values of the Green Party are:

  1. Grassroots democracy
  2. Ecological wisdom
  3. Social justice and equal opportunity
  4. Nonviolence
  5. Decentralization
  6. Community-based economics
  7. Feminism and gender equality
  8. Respect for diversity
  9. Personal and global responsibility
  10. Future focus and sustainability

These ten key values are interesting in several ways. The focus on wisdom is important: It increases the chances that the party's Green values will not be co-opted or corrupted. The recognition that creating a sustainable society must address both ecological and social issues is evident in that, of the 10 values, only one is entirely about the environment, four are about social issues, and five of the values are both social and ecological. To learn more about these ten key values, read about them at the G/GPUSA website.

Clearly, though, green politics is a very small part of what we mean by Going Green in the United States in 2012.

Most Green Advocacy is not straight out of the Green Movement. It is from older sources, such as the preservation and ecology movements, or from organizations with broader social agendas.

Green Advocacy and Green Activism

One wonderful thing about the United States today is that individuals can get together and make their voices heard. The traditional tool of petitions, now made more powerful and more democratic by the Internet, is speeding up the exchange of ideas and values. And that is a good thing.

Green activism is just another term for Green advocacy - there is no real difference. Any effort to get a message from a group of citizens to the government at any level, elected or regulatory, or to corporations or other special interests is advocacy.

There is a lot of Green advocacy that comes from sources that are outside the center of the Green movement. In fact, we find Green advocacy coming in from at least six different directions:

  • Traditional preservation, conservation, and ecology groups such as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council are major sources of Green advocacy that pre-date the green movement, sometimes by more than 100 years.
  • Groups that promote social change promote Green causes. One example is, where anyone can launch a petition, and many of the petitions are on Green issues.
  • International Green initiatives, especially when there are international congresses on climate change and other global issues, are active in the U.S.
  • Special interest groups focus on specific topics, such as saving particular endangered species.
  • Local Green activities, from cleanup programs to the simple use of state, county and local parks, and, of course zoos, are all good ways to make a Green connection.
  • Not-for-profit organizations, such as the Roots and Shoots program of the Jane Goodall Institute, offer volunteer opportunities, Green education, and Green Advocacy.

It is clear that Green social and political activism is a long-standing and widespread aspect of human society, and not just a separate movement. This is good. Green is wide and old, as well as deep.

I took a look to see about advocacy at the Greens/Green Party USA website, and found very little. Their last complete program dates back to 1990. Their draft program looks like it was scheduled to come out in the year 2000, but it is not clear why it was never completed or what has been happening with the organization in the past 12 years. Perhaps I am missing something, and if a reader knows of an organization with the name Green in it that is doing Green Advocacy, I'd like to hear about it. My conclusions about Green Advocacy, right now are:

  • Green Advocacy is a healthy part of American society: small, but well integrated.
  • The Green Movement, as a coherent or coordinated program or set of organizations, does not exist.
  • Historically, the Green movement has done well in starting from grass roots and moving upwards.
  • Historically, however, either differences of opinion or egos have prevented the creation of a robust, coherent, cohesive organization.
  • In everything we learn and do in relation to Go Green, we must be aware that, with all the good thinking that is present, there are also issues of biased agendas, limited perspectives, and outright scams.

Green Advocacy requires us to learn, and then to speak out.

Learn Green, Live Green, Share Green

In government and politics in the US, Go Green remains a set of ideas with widely scattered support. There is no way to predict what will happen. Go Green may build to success like the movement to abolish slavery; It may be made less relevant by other changes in the world, like the Nuclear Freeze movement; it may fade out like the Socialist Party of America; or it may be first attacked, and then co-opted, as happened to the Communist Party in the U.S., which, by the mid-1950s, had only 5,000 members, more than a quarter of them who were actually FBI informants. (In fact, in 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed he was funding the Communist Party.)

So, let's forget about predictions, and talk about action.

What we can do, each one of us, is this: Learn Green, Live Green, and Share Green:

  • To learn about Go Green from the top down, please read Go Green: The Big Picture for Climate Change and Healthy Living, which introduces this series of articles. (The series has eight articles in December 2012, and will continue to grow.)
  • To Live Green, follow the blueprint (and pay attention to the cautions) in Going Green: Is it for real, or is it a scam? Take one-time actions and create new habits to live a greener life with fewer toxins, greater health, a smaller carbon footprint, and a lot more joy and peace.
  • To Share Green, look at the websites listed above in Green Advocacy. Join your favorite group, focus on what matters most to you, take action, and share with others.


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