1. Green parties are on the ascendancy in many developed countries. What explains the increasing support for green politics and to what extent do green parties offer a serious challenge to traditional political parties Green politics has become a contentious area in the political arena. As the environmental issues facing society has grown, the importance the public places on how they are addressed by political parties has grown correspondingly. Public support has grown relative to many factors.
The main two that I will address are the increasing impact human society has on the environment and how its’ consequent effects on quality of life cause people to react and the changing attitudes towards the environment – especially in developed countries. Within these two areas there are other significant questions to be addressed; how does human caused environmental degradation affect the level of support for green politics? What means have been employed and which groups have used them to facilitate the changing perception of environmental protection?
The two factors that have a significant effect on the levels of support for green politics are the cultural attitudes of the people and the extent to which pollution effects their’ lives. Cultural attitudes in this context are the way people in the society regard environmental damage and how it should be addressed. Evidence suggests that typically a developed culture has a greater tendency to have a postmaterialist population (Inglehart 1995). Quality of life is high enough to ensure that most basic needs are met for the majority of the population ensuring that people are freed of the ‘need’ aspect of life.
“As previous research has found, people with postmaterialist values-emphasizing self-expression and the quality of life-are much more apt to protecting the environment (and are much more likely to be active members of environmentalist groups), than those with materialist values-emphasizing economic and physical security above all. ”(Inglehart 1995) To support this claim, I looked at the most recent data from the Environment section of the World Values Survey.
To get an idea of the levels of support in developed countries I looked at the results of the sections “Increase in taxes if used to prevent environmental pollution” and “Would give part of my income for the environment”(2005-2008). The data shown uses samples from countries which I chose by taking a selection of countries listed by the UN as developed countries (United Nations Development Program, 2011). Weight [with split ups]| Total| Would give part of my income for the environment| Strongly agree| 10. 90%| | Agree| 42. 80%| | Disagree| 31. 30%| | Strongly disagree| 15. 00%| | Total| 7580 (100%)|
Weight [with split ups]| Total| Increase in taxes if used to prevent environmental pollution| Strongly agree| 9. 60%| | Agree| 38. 20%| | Disagree| 33. 30%| | Strongly disagree| 18. 90%| | Total| 7629 (100%)| This is an inverse relation with many developing, pre-industrial countries who care little for the environment despite having much larger environmental issues facing them. Having much more pressing concerns than those of the environment such as food, water, shelter and healthcare gives developing country populations little time or incentive to try and protect the environment.
The levels of willingness, although not substantially positive is still quite high, providing evidence that a large portion of developed countries populations are postmaterialist in their cultural attitudes. The perception that the environment is precious and needs to be protected is not a long standing idea. The green political movement only started gaining momentum in the 1970’s as part of the NSM’s era. Since then there has been a substantial increase in the amount of green parties globally and also organisations that support similar areas to those of green politics.
These have grown in accordance with the increased public awareness of the issues surrounding green party ideology. There are many ways in which awareness has been generated; a direct effect of environmental pollution is one. Those people that depend on the environment for their livelihoods or when things like acid rain, water sanitation and food availability start to impact on peoples lifestyles cause self-interested awareness of to arise. Ronald Inglehart (1995) lists this as one of the top two ways public awareness is generated.
In the list of sampled countries from earlier in the World Values Survey there is a slight correlation between willingness to give away some income and the levels of water and air pollution and sewage and sanitation problems (2005-2008). This gives evidence to support Inglehart’s claim that awareness is gained through direct consequences and follows with slight evidence it increases a person’s willingness to sacrifice economic wellbeing for the environment as a result. Second is the cumulative effect of recognising pollution as an issue.
The increasing amount of emphasis scholars, media outlets and government organisations discuss and give out information on the environmental issues facing us the greater the recognition is that there is a serious issue and that the public should take note. Globalisation has a role to play in this also. As the political arena has become increasingly globalised there is more coverage of environmental issues elsewhere in the world. Seeing the possible outcomes of our current behavioural patterns helps convince people to be more willing to sacrifice for the benefit of the economy.
The graphic images of destroyed forests from acid rain and industrial progress and the effects of water pollution that can be seen from countries with relatively little environmental scarring can see where poor environmental policy will lead and react to prevent what damage could be done. The effect powerful international organisations like the European Union have on green politics an account for much of the direction green parties have taken in policy ideology. A study done by Elizabeth Bomberg on four European green parties and the effect the EU policies has had on their party ideology of the green parties globally.
She has a specific meaning of the term Europeanization regarding their effect of the EU; “Whilst not defined consistently the concept is commonly used to signify the impact of European Union (EU) policies, structures and process on the national arena” (2002). The green parties have taken many of the ideological issues of the EU and exploited them to their own advantage. However, because the list of issues was not of their own devising, they are pressured to highlight some issues while only lightly covering others. Although green parties have come from a typically radical backgrounds of coalitions of environmental groups.
Increasingly more their’ campaigns have lost some of this attitude. Instead of considering the economic fallout of market economy there has been a migration to safer territory such as transparency in democratic governments. Europeanization has further dulled the radical aspect of Green politics by forcing them to approach issues with no clear green position (“monetary union, sovereignty, further integration and enlargement”) (Bomberg, 2002). The consequence of having no clear stance on controversial issues exposes how many areas of green party ideology are undefined or non-clearly interpretable.
As a counterbalance to these effects the EU has also provided a plethora of new resources that would not typically be available at the national or even global level without them. This has allowed them to progress politically from the once passionate but less cohesive and guided political entity they once were, to the new and more sophisticated party that has ever-increasing support. Green parties offer a threat to traditional parties through the nature of the issues they represent. The growing popularity of green politics represents how the environment is becoming more important to people.
Green parties have ascended in the polls as a result of this. But they will only become a threat if there is an increase in the severity of the issues facing us causing greater public support rapidly or if traditional political parties continue to ignore the issues as some major parties have been criticized of doing. The Greens in New Zealand are an example of a consistently growing party because of the major parties failure to address environmental issues sufficiently. Although in spite of this they are still a relatively minor party and can only achieve a small amount of power through coalition agreements.
They pose no real threat to the traditional parties due to the connotations attached to NSM type parties who are seen as temporary and radical in their approaches to policy. As New York times journalist Nicholas Kulish describes in his article about the highly successful German Green Parties beginnings “It is a long way from the German party’s founding in 1980, when middle-class voters saw the Greens as radicals, heirs to the 1968 student protest movement or even the left-wing terrorists of the Red Army Faction”(New York Times, 2011).
Even though the NZ greens have become more established and resemble a more traditional party with some exceptions they still do not gain a significant portion of the vote but the potential is there. In other countries green parties have managed to gain quite strong positions and a large portion of the vote. The German Green party is the strongest example of this, currently polling around 20% in most reliable scientific surveys in Germany and receiving 10. 7% of the vote in the last election in 2009 (NYT, 2011).
Founded around opposition to pollution, nuclear power and NATO military action they gained representation through these strong issues that were not being addressed by major parties. Their success is attributed to their efforts in producing anti-nuclear policy and catering to the conservative German political system by lobbying for less destruction of forests, buildings and slower industrial development with a regard towards the environment. However, as shown by the adaptation of some major parties there is opposition in the field.
The Blue-Greens initiative was started by David Cameron leader of the English conservatives and is a prime example of how a major party, typically thought of as insensitive to green issues can turn itself around. Even though many radical greens dismiss his efforts as vote-seeking it has successfully given a poll boost to the conservatives. His initiative has changed the conservatives’ party ideology which has unsettled some but because of the increased levels of support for environmental protection policy it has been seen as a smart move by many political commentators.
In conclusion. Green politics has grown due to an increased public groundswell of awareness that has followed through to greater levels of support for both green politics and the parties representing them. Awareness has been brought about by the effects of environmental damage and an increasing postmaterialist attitude in developed countries. International organisations like the European Union have gathered much of the momentum and transformed it into cohesive political actors who are shifting the balance of power in many developed political countries.
This has caused not only shifts in power between political parties but has changed much of the ideology of both Green and traditional parties. There is not a huge threat posed to the traditional parties for the ‘major party’ position from green parties but there are examples of significant electoral change that hint to the possibility. Traditional parties have the ability to capitalize on the new desire for environmental protection by changing policy ideology to capture more votes and respond to the new issues.
Reference list Bomberg, Elizabeth. (2002). The Europeanisation of Green Parties: Exploring the EU’s Impact. West European Politics, 25(3), 29-50. Retrieved from http://docserver. ingentaconnect. com/deliver/connect/routledg/01402382/v25n3/s3. pdf? expires=1318472823&id=64892211&titleid=5484&accname=University+of+Auckland&checksum=2BCB0EBF95CE48F6B29875F356A32D05 Inglehart, Ronald. (1995). Public Support for Environmental Protection: Objective Problems and Subjective Values in 43 Societies.
PS: Political Science and Politics 28: 57–72. Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org. ezproxy. auckland. ac. nz/ New York Times. (2011). Greens gain in Germany and the world takes notice. Retrieved from http://www. nytimes. com/2011/09/02/world/europe/02greens. html? _r=3&pagewanted=all United Nations Development Program. (2011). UN development report. Retrieved from http://www. beta. undp. org/undp/en/home. html World Values Survey. (2005-2008). World Values Survey. Retrieved from http://www. wvsevsdb. com/wvs/WVSAnalizeSample. jsp.