Bright green environmentalism

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Bright green environmentalism is an ideology based on the belief that the convergence of technological change and social innovation provides the most successful path to sustainable development.

Origin and evolution of bright green thinking[edit]

The term "bright green", first coined in 2003 by writer Alex Steffen, refers to the fast-growing new wing of environmentalism, distinct from traditional forms.[1] Bright green environmentalism aims to provide prosperity in an ecologically sustainable way through the use of new technologies and improved design.[2]

Proponents promote and advocate for green energy, electric automobiles, efficient manufacturing systems, bio and nanotechnologies, ubiquitous computing, dense urban settlements, closed loop materials cycles and sustainable product designs. "One-planet living" is a commonly used phrase.[3][4] Their principal focus is on the idea that through a combination of well-built communities, new technologies and sustainable living practices, quality of life can actually be improved even while ecological footprints shrink.

The term "bright green" has been used with increased frequency due to the promulgation of these ideas through the Internet and recent coverage in the traditional media.[5][6]

The term Neo-environmentalism has emerged to describe an environmentalist view that is optimistic that technology and the capitalistic business model can resolve the ecological crisis that faces the Earth. It dismisses traditional green thinking (which emphasizes limits and the transformation of societal values), as naive and insufficiently engaging to be widely embraced.[7] Neo-environmentalism recognizes there is a problem of sustaining industrial society on the Earth but sees part of the solution in nuclear energy, biotechnology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, geo-engineering and GM crops.[7][8][9]

Dark greens, light greens and bright greens[edit]

Alex Steffen describes contemporary environmentalists as being split into three groups, "dark", "light", and "bright" greens.[10]

"Light greens" see protecting the environment first and foremost as a personal responsibility. They fall in on the transformational activist end of the spectrum, but light greens do not emphasize environmentalism as a distinct political ideology, or even seek fundamental political reform. Instead they often focus on environmentalism as a lifestyle choice.[10] The motto "Green is the new black" sums up this way of thinking, for many.[11] This is different from the term "lite green", which some environmentalists use to describe products or practices they believe are greenwashing.

In contrast, "dark greens" believe that environmental problems are an inherent part of industrialized civilization, and seek radical political change. Dark greens believe that currently and historically dominant political ideologies (sometimes referred to as industrialism) 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 referred to as "growth mania". The dark green brand of environmentalism is associated with ideas of ecocentrism, deep ecology, degrowth, anti-consumerism, post-materialism, holism, the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, as well as support for a reduction in human numbers and/or a relinquishment of technology to reduce humanity's impact on the biosphere.

More recently, "bright greens"' emerged as a group of environmentalists who believe that radical changes are needed in the economic and political operation of society in order to make it sustainable, but that better designs, new technologies and more widely distributed social innovations are the means to make those changes - and that society can neither shop nor protest its way to sustainability.[12] As Ross Robertson writes, "[B]right green environmentalism is less about the problems and limitations we need to overcome than the “tools, models, and ideas” that already exist for overcoming them. It forgoes the bleakness of protest and dissent for the energizing confidence of constructive solutions."[13]

International perspective[edit]

While bright green environmentalism is an intellectual current among North American environmentalists (with a number of businesses, blogs, NGOs and even governments now explicitly calling themselves "bright green" - for instance, the City of Vancouver's strategic planning document is called "Vancouver 2020: A Bright Green Future"[14]), it is in Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, that the idea of bright green environmentalism has become most widespread and most widely discussed. For instance, the official technology showcase and business expo for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen is called Bright Green in reference to this idea,[15] while the Danish youth climate activism movement is called Bright Green Youth.

An Ecomodernist Manifesto[edit]

On April 14, 2015 An Ecomodernist Manifesto[16] was issued[17] by John Asafu-Adjaye, Linus Blomqvist, Stewart Brand, Barry Brook. Ruth DeFries, Erle Ellis, Christopher Foreman, David Keith, Martin Lewis, Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus, Roger A. Pielke, Jr., Rachel Pritzker, Joyashree Roy, Mark Sagoff, Michael Shellenberger, Robert Stone, and Peter Teague[18] According to Michelle Nijhuis, writing in The New Yorker, "The manifesto’s basic arguments [are that] technology, thoughtfully applied, can reduce the suffering, human and otherwise, caused by climate change; ideology, stubbornly upheld, can accomplish the opposite." [19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steffen, Alex (August 6, 2004). "Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Reports from the Team". World Changing. Retrieved 2012-08-31. 
  2. ^ Green schools show New Haven students the light – The Yale Herald
  3. ^ Bright Green Living wiki mission statement (Note: Wiki is inactive.)
  4. ^ "On Earth Day", Alex Steffen – Worldchanging website
  5. ^ Schechner, Sam (March 21, 2008). "Will 'Bright Green' Bring Discovery The Long Green?". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on July 11, 2010. Retrieved 4 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Weise, Elizabeth (2008-04-23). "Ed Begley acts on his eco-beliefs". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  7. ^ a b The New Environmentalism: Where Men Must Act 'As Gods' to Save the Planet; Paul Kingsnorth; The Guardian; retrieved 1 August 2012.
  8. ^ The Long Death of Environmentalism; Sara Mansur; Breakthrough Institute; retrieved 25 February 2011.
  9. ^ A Brighter Shade of Green—Rebooting Environmentalism for the 21st Century; Ross Robertson; December 2007; EnlightenNext Magazine; retrieved .
  10. ^ a b Steffen, Alex (27 Feb 2009). "Bright Green, Light Green, Dark Green, Gray: The New Environmental Spectrum". Worldchanging. Retrieved 21 November 2012. 
  11. ^ Eco-friendly: Why green is the new black - International Herald Tribune
  12. ^ "Don't Just Be the Change, Mass-Produce It". World Changing. September 12, 2007. Retrieved 2012-08-31. 
  13. ^ Robertson, Ross (October–December 2007). "A Brighter Shade of Green: Rebooting Environmentalism for the 21st Century". Ecology, Politics, and Consciousness. BigThink (Originally "What Is Enlightenment?/EnlightenNext Magazine". Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
  14. ^ "Vancouver Makes a Bright Green Future its Official Goal". Worldchanging. October 9, 2009. Retrieved 2012-08-31. 
  15. ^ "Technologies for Sustainable Growth - Bright Green - DI". 2009-04-28. Retrieved 2012-08-31. 
  16. ^ "An Ecomodernist Manifesto". Retrieved April 17, 2015. A good Anthropocene demands that humans use their growing social, economic, and technological powers to make life better for people, stabilize the climate, and protect the natural world. 
  17. ^ Eduardo Porter (April 14, 2015). "A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development". The New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2015. On Tuesday, a group of scholars involved in the environmental debate, including Professor Roy and Professor Brook, Ruth DeFries of Columbia University, and Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif., issued what they are calling the “Eco-modernist Manifesto.” 
  18. ^ "Authors An Ecomodernist Manifesto". Retrieved April 17, 2015. As scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens, we write with the conviction that knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene. 
  19. ^ Michelle Nijhuis (June 2, 2015). "Is the “Ecomodernist Manifesto” the Future of Environmentalism?". The New Yorker. The manifesto’s basic arguments, after all, are hardly radical. To wit: technology, thoughtfully applied, can reduce the suffering, human and otherwise, caused by climate change; ideology, stubbornly upheld, can accomplish the opposite. 

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