What Shade of Green Are You? (Alex Steffan)

The following is an excerpt from “Bright Green, Light Green, Dark Green, Gray: The New Environmental Spectrum by Alex Steffen

Light Green Environmentalism

Light green environmentalists tend to emphasize lifestyle/behavioral/consumer change as key to sustainability, or at least as the best mechanism for triggering broader changes. Light greens strongly advocate change at the individual level. The thinking is that if you can get people to take small, pleasant steps (by shopping differently, or making changes around the home), they will not only make changes that can begin to make a difference in aggregate, but also begin to clamor for larger transformations. Light green environmentalism, as a call for individuals to change, has helped spread the idea that concern for sustainability is cool. On the other hand, it is the target of much of the “green fatigue” we’re now seeing. (My own thinking about this approach can be found in these three articles: Privatizing Responsibility, Don’t Just Be the Change, Mass-Produce It, and The Problem with Big Green.)

Bright Green Environmentalism

In its simplest form, bright green environmentalism is a belief that sustainable innovation is the best path to lasting prosperity, and that any vision of sustainability which does not offer prosperity and well-being will not succeed. In short, it’s the belief that for the future to be green, it must also be bright. Bright green environmentalism is a call to use innovation, design, urban revitalization and entrepreneurial zeal to transform the systems that support our lives.

It’s been pretty amazing to watch “bright green” take off. Since I first coined the term, thousands of organizations–businesses, NGOs, blogs, student groups, even churches–have adopted the label. For this year’s COP-15 climate summit in Copenhagen, both the parallel expo and the lead-in youth summit are calling themselves Bright Green. I’ve even started to see the term bubbling up in pop culture, used by people who clearly get it.

Dark Green Environmentalism

Dark greens, in contrast, tend to emphasize the need to pull back from consumerism (sometimes even from industrialization itself) and emphasize local solutions, short supply chains and direct connection to the land. They strongly advocate change at the community level. In its best incarnations, dark green thinking offers a lot of insight about bioregionalism, reinhabitation, and taking direct control over one’s life and surroundings (for example through transition towns): it is a vision of collective action. In a less useful way, dark greens can tend to be doomers, warning of (sometimes even seeming to advocate) impending collapse. Some thinkers, of course, (for instance, Bill McKibben and Paul Glover) blend a belief in the rural relocalization efforts of dark greens with the more design- and technology-focused urban solutions of bright greens. (Some of my own thinking can be found in these pieces Deep Economy: Localism, Innovation and Knowing What’s What, Resilient Community and The Outquisition.)

[Editor’s note: Excerpt from the Wikipedia page on “Bright green environmentalism”:

[Dark greens believe that environmental problems are an inherent part of industrialized, capitalist civilization, and seek radical political change. Dark greens believe that currently and historically dominant modes of societal organization inevitably lead to consumerism, overconsumption, waste, alienation from nature and resource depletion. Dark greens claim this is caused by the emphasis on economic growth that exists within all existing ideologies, a tendency sometimes referred to as growth mania.]


Grays, of course, are those who deny there’s a need to do anything at all, whether as individuals or as a society. They range from the most blatantly dishonest and self-interested people (climate scientists who take oil company money to dispute the clear scientific consensus on climate change, or “contrarians” like Bjorn Lomborg who make up specious “skeptical” arguments in order to make money) to principled, smart people who lack the facts (an increasingly small minority) or whose worldviews are just too set in an earlier way of thinking to understand the present-day realities of living on planet in overshoot. The epicenter of gray thinking is the nest of lobbyists and industry-funded think tanks on K Street in Washington, D.C.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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