Green Theory, a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

Green Movement

Key Terms:

Vandana Shiva

Mira Behn


Chipko Movement

Sardar Sarovar Dam

NBA- Narmada Bachao Andolan movement

Normative theories: the way things ought to be

Triple Bottom Line

Postcolonial Feminism

Green Theory: field of IR

Reading: Scan Leopoldo’s document and post to D2L

Future edits: I could also talk about Chico Mendes

The Green Movement

  • I want to talk today about the Green Movement
  • Very difficult to define this movement, because it unites many different groups
  • I want to note that global or international studies is often defined as the study of globalization, in its political, economic, and cultural aspects
  • This is a good description, but it lacks reference to one subject: the environment in a globalizing world
  • There are myriad environmental movements globally
  • Often grassroots efforts defined by local concerns
  • But almost all major environmental issues have a global aspect
  • Of course, this is true if we consider the largest issue the world faces today, which is global warming
  • We are now seeing a new movement with its own theory base, which is not only environmentalism, but also a planetary approach to environmental issues, which questions many disciplines and traditional viewpoints
  • A theory base profoundly critical of traditional economics, and international relations
  • In this talk, I want to look at Vandana Shiva, a key figure, and also talk about an environmental movement in India
  • Sometimes people say that the environmental movement is something created in the first world, amongst the privileged.
  • But it is also has deep roots in the developing world
  • I want to show how movements can appear from real world concerns, and adopt ideologies based on this reality.

Vandana Shiva

  • One key figure in the global green movement has been Vandana Shiva
  • Vandana Shiva was born in Uttarakhand, India in 1952. 
  • She received an undergraduate degree in physics and an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada
  • She then completed a PhD in quantum physics at the University of Western Ontario. S
  • Shiva became an active participant in the Chipko movement in India in the 1970s
  • At that time followers of the environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna fought to protest logging in India by encircling and hugging the trees that loggers wished to cut (Chipko, 2009).
  • She was torn between two worlds
  • She refined her passion for the environment over time as she pursued her academic work and her activism. 
  • A prolific author of more than 300 books and papers, she is perhaps best known for her work on biopiracy and intellectual property rights, topics that we will explore later. 
  • In 1993, she won the Right Livelihood Award, which is sometimes called the “alternative Nobel prize.” 
  • She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology, as well as Navdanya, a seed bank in Uttranchal, north India.  
  • The seed bank and the organization Navdanya, a term meaning “nine crops that represent India’s source of food security” (, work to promote biodiversity by protecting heritage seeds. 
  • In her chronicle on the Navdanya website, Shiva tells of founding the organization in 1984 to respond in a positive way to violence in the Punjab region of northern India and to the terrible industrial accident in Bhopal that claimed the lives of roughly 5000 people.
  •  She speaks of four passions that have guided her: “the search for knowledge, a longing for freedom, a concern for justice, and a deep love and reverence for nature” (Right Livelihood Acceptance Speech, 2007).
  • She discovered that she could best reach her goals by leaving the field of academia. In her acceptance speech for the Right Livelihood award, she stated,

 [T]he combination of the urge for free enquiry and my concern for nature and people…made me leave the narrow confines of academia where disciplines are fragmented from each other, where knowledge is separated from action but linked intimately to power.  In 1982, I left an academic career with a dream to build an independent research initiative for generating a different kind of knowledge, which would serve the powerless not the powerful, which would not get all its cues from Western Universities and international institutions, but would also be open to learn from the indigenous knowledge of local communities, which would break down the artificial divide between experts and non-experts and subject and object (Right Livelihood Acceptance Speech, 2007).

  • A member of the International Forum on Globalization, she is strongly opposed to the genetic modification of food and to large-scale “technofarms.” 
  • Her work is not without criticism however. Ecologist Dr. David Wood of the Center for Global Food Issues argues:

It’s decision time for Shiva. She must now choose between being a patriotic supporter of Indian food and fibre production, or being a future tool of foreign agricultural export interests (interests cloaked in anti-GMO, pro-organic rhetoric, and a complex web of NGO funding). She must ask herself if her success on the international lecture circuit is in India’s interest. She should calculate the cost to India’s farmers of all her foreign ‘free lunches’, and ask who really picks up the tab. India cannot yet afford the luxury of organic farming. Faced with intense global competition to dominate trade in staple crops, India also cannot afford the luxury of having foreign activists trying to damage national crop production. For cotton alone, this is a billion dollar issue. (2007)

  • Shiva remains a political force shaping debates about environmental issues globally as well as within India.

The Origins of the Chipko Movement

  • Shiva has been associated with many movements, in particular those that focus on opposing GMOs and biopiracy
  • But the most famous movement that she was associated with was the Chipko Movement
  • She has argued that the Chipko movement began with Mira Behn, a woman who worked with Gandhi
  • Shiva believed that colonialism brought with it a colonization of living resources, such as forests
  • Also a mental colonization in an emphasis on technological and economic approaches to farming and environmental issues (Young, 100)
  • Local resistance to the appropriation of forests began in the colonial period
  • At that time logging was taking place without concern for the impact on local communities, or the long term consequences of deforestation
  • In the late 1940s, Mira Behn had moved to the foothills of the Himalayas
  • This was still before Gandhi’s assassination
  • She oncerned by devastating annual floods
  • Believed that this was caused by deforestation as well as the planting of non-indigenous trees
  • She founded a new ashram to focus on the problem
  • She studied the local environment and indigenous beliefs
  • She saw many references in local songs and traditions to plants and trees that had almost disappeared
  • She decided that problems in the area were caused by the disappearance of the oak forests
  • Oak had been replaced by pine, which was being planted for commercial reasons
  • Although valuable for timber for export outside the community, pine forests did not produce other goods that the community had used in the past
  • Soon more and more people were flocking to her ashram

Women in Chipko

  • The Green movement, however, soon became entangled in issues of gender
  • Early on the movement was focused on founding cooperatives so that local people could also exploit the forest for lumber
  • Shiva argues that this was a typically male perspective
  • The women, who were responsible for the cultivation of food crops, and for fetching fuel and fodder had a different perspective
  • They were less convinced of the value of producing mono-culture cash crops
  • The division was not only between outsiders and locals, but also between men and women within the villages
  • The women argued that the men had been ideologically colonized
  • They did not look at the value of the forest for fuel, medicines, and other resources
  • They mainly wanted it for money, and women believed that this was giving men new power in family relations
  • It was at this point that the Chipko movement was truly born

The Evolution of the Chipko Movement

  • The movement first came to attention in 72-73 when it tried to block the sale of 300 ash trees in Northern India to a sports good manufacturer
  • The local cooperative was forbidden by the government to cut even a small number of trees
  • The movement soon spread to other communities, where people opposed selling trees to lumber companies
  • In the colonial period, people had resisted the cutting of sacred trees by hugging them when foresters came to cut them
  • This sometimes cost them their lives
  • Chipko means hugging
  • In truth, the movement never focused mainly on hugging trees as a way to stop logging
  • But this did sometimes take place, and the image was such a powerful one that it attracted a great deal of attention to their movement
  • At a symbolic level the act captures the strength of peoples’ attachment to the trees
  • The movement became increasingly radical in its demands
  • The Chipko movement ushed for a complete ban on logging in Uttar Pradesh
  • It then moved to fight against commercial and development plans that did not take into account the local needs and ecology
  • Their goal was to preserve the forest both as an ecosystem, and as a linchpin for local communities

Ideology of the Chipko Movement

  • Their philosophy was fundamentally Gandhian, but focused towards practical needs
  • It is what is called a normative theory; that is, it describes the way the world ought to be
  • Privileges local knowledge
  • They believe that forestry programs run by central governments based on the criteria of forest science destroy the forest’s diversity
  • Also destroys the resources of the commons
  • This approach doesn’t consider the multiple roles that the forest plays in providing resources for local peoples
  • It also disregards the uses of indigenous species, and mass plants non-native species for their cash value 
  • This form of production favors the privatization of the forest, and the loss of communal lands
  • The Chipko movement is critical of foreign sponsored development efforts, which is often financed by the World Bank, and carried out with a Western approach
  • They suggest that this often results in a dependency on outsiders
  • These large scale development projects often fail to take into account local knowledge
  • The result is unnecessary damage

Why talk about the Chipko movement

  • I have chosen to begin my discussion of Green Theory with the Chipko movement, because I wanted to show that this is not an ideology produced only in the developed world
  • If we were to talk about the environmental movement in the U.S., we might start with John Muir and the parks movement, then talk about Aldo Leopold and Rachel Spring
  • This creates an image of the environmental movement as one that is privileged and removed from the daily concerns of average people
  • Environmentalists are often criticized for caring more about the environment than people
  • I wanted to begin this discussion with a movement from the developing world
  • The Chipko movement is interesting because it is a movement indigenous to Asia
  • It began as a grassroots movement, which did not see a division between environmental issues and people
  • It also ties to other theories, in particular postcolonial feminism, although you might also be able to make a connection to dependency theory
  • It is only one of many such movements across the developing world, which are often driven by opposition to major development projects
  • I won’t go into depth here today regarding Chico Mendes, but his story is another powerful example of a grassroots environmental movement, which drew international support.
  • So many of these protests are focused around specific development projects

Regional Protest Movements

  • You can see this in India with the Sardar Sarovar Dam
  • A vast infrastructure program that entailed displacing 200,000 people
  • This project was fought by the NBA- Narmada Bachao Andolan movement
  • Successful in getting the World Bank to withdraw funds from the project
  • The Indian state of Gujarat said that it would provide the funding on its own
  • The Supreme Court ruled that it would not block construction of the dam
  • As far as I know, the project is still moving forward
  • You can find many similar parallels globally to these movements, such as the efforts to block the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, and the Inambari Dam in Peru
  • You can also look at the Green Belt movement that began in Kenya, and has spread through the Sahel region south of Sahara
  • In the developing world, there is a strong focus on global and social inequalities, which are inherent to the green movement
  • The argument is that many development policies are inherently Western
  • Disregard local knowledge 
  • Thse movements are often influenced by dependency theory: not all development leads to social improvement, but rather make people more dependent on outside powers

Ties between Green Theory and Dependency Theory

  • This argument has an aspect of social justice to it
  • In the developed world, environmentalists point out that areas that are heavily environmentally damaged tend to be populated by minorities
  • The power lines run through the reservation
  • The poor community lives next to the power plant
  • The Green Movement in the developing world argues that something similar happens in the developing world
  • The dirtiest and most polluted industries are exported to China
  • Toxic metals and dirty jobs –like breaking down ships- are exported to the developing world
  • There is a race to the bottom
  • Countries that have higher environmental standards do not attract jobs
  • Major development projects that have environmental impacts often are designed to extract resources that are used in the developed world
  • In this respect, there is a link between Green Theory and Dependency Theory in the developing world
  • Not all development truly benefits the population
  • May take place more in the interests of the developed world

Local Global Alliances

  • It is important to note that environmental movements in the developing world are not always local 
  • They often form links to international NGOs
  • International environmental organizations are sensitive to accusation that they focus more on the needs of species than of people
  • New argument in the Amazon: you can’t preserve the forest without the people
  • These alliance serve the interests of all the parties
  • If globalization is part of the danger, then globalization can also be part of the solution
  • The internet allows people in rural Brazil to carry their message to the global community
  • There is also an aspect of environmental justice to this

Environmental Discourse in the developed world: Sustainability

  • It also matches the trend in sustainability discourse and theory in developed countries
  • What is interesting is that Green Theory is no longer only a normative theory
  • It does not focus on how things out to be
  • The trend in the Green Movement in the U.S. to focus on Sustainability
  •  a very practical argument
  • The way we live is not sustainable
  • It depends on resources that are finite, in particular energy
  • If we want to have a future, we need to change our life-ways to be more sustainable
  • Within the Green Movement is also a lot of discussion of the “Triple Bottom Line,” a term that was coined in 1995
  • The environment is not the only aspect that we need to focus on in judging a corporations’ bottom line
  • We also need to consider social benefits as well as profit
  • Sometimes called the 3 “P’s”: people, planet and profits
  • Emerged from the business world, where people wanted to emphasize corporate responsibility
  • Cynics might say that they are warning people that they can continue to have their position of privilege without making sacrifices so long as the prioritize sustainability
  • On the one hand, it reflects how mainstream environmental issues have become
  • On the other, some people argues that it simplifies environmental issues
  • Green Theorists in the north are now trying to focus on solutions, to avoid the criticism that they are overly negative
  • My own experience reading Farley Mowat
  • Beloved Canadian author of children’s books.
  • But then wrote “Never Cry Wolf” and “Sea of Slaughter.”
  • The latter work conveys the terrible environmental devastation that took place in Atlantic Canada.”
  • People forget that their used to be walruses in Atlantic Canada, or that the Great Auk ever existed
  • But by the time you finish reading the book it is easy to begin to think that people are a plague
  • Hard not to be depressed by reading it
  • Many institutes dedicated to sustainability have the word solutions in their title, including here at PSU
  • We will be talking about Hubbert’s Peak, and theories of collapse, later in the course
  • In the back of many discussions of sustainability in the north is this idea of collapse
  • That if societies do not choose to take another path, they will collapse as did the Mayans and the Egyptian Old Kingdom, both of which suffered a terrible drought
  • So the focus of the Green Movement is now sustainability, which is defined very broadly.
  • There is something of a backlash against this approach, to talk about sustainability broadly
  • The critique is that there is a definitional problem to this
  • The concern is that if everything can be defined as a sustainability issue, then the term loses its meaning
  • There is not enough of a focus any more on the environment itself

Critiques of the Environmental Movement

  • there are also substantial criticisms of Green Theory
  • within political science, and its subset IR, there is a perception that the movement lacks rigor
  • many scholars have a suspicion of normative arguments, which they argue lack evidence
  • for example, political scientists have done large scale quantitative studies to see if there is truly a race to the bottom, not only in terms of environmental standards, but also in terms of labor requirements
  • in fact, they argue that just the opposite has taken place, and that work has often moved to places with tighter regulation
  • critics also argue that there is a “doomsday” aspect to the modern environmental movement, which it tries to conceal, but which still exists
  • “Peter and the Wolf” argument: environmentalists have been predicting disaster since the 1970s
  • some scholars even ask if there is truly such a field as Green Theory
  • Green Theory is popular, but it is extremely diverse
  • Widely different arguments made
  • Is this field truly coherent enough to be described as a theory?
  • There is something to this argument
  • People don’t agree on a term
  • Are we talking about environmentalism? Sustainability? Green Theory? And what do these terms mean?

Critiques in the Developing World

  • Green theory and the environmental movement also face critiques within the developing world
  • I started out with a discussion of a Green Theorist and an environmental movement in the developing world
  • Don’t want to leave you with the impression that the movement is dominant in developing countries
  • The movement is often equated with the First World
  • Seen as a way for developed countries to impose their values upon developing countries
  • Several problems: environmental models adopted from the rich world may not work in developing countries
  • The effort to create national parks on the American model has not worked in Brazil
  • In the US: parks do not have people
  • This meant that when national parks were created in Brazil, people were forced to move from forests where their people may have lived for a lengthy time, with minimal impact on the environment
  • Brazil and other countries now moving to a British or European model, in which parks have people
  • But this had an impact
  • Also concern about the extent to which wealthy countries can dictate environmental standards, which may violate their sovereignty
  • Can see this with concerns about debt swaps proposed during the 1980s, which was known in Latin America as the lost decade
  • Debt forgiven in return for setting aside forest in national parks
  • The people who proposed this saw it as a win-win
  • In the developing world, this was seen as a form of neocolonialism
  • Not the case that Green Theory is always powerful, or that there are strong grassroots environmental movements throughout the South


  • Green Theory is understudied in International and Global Studies
  • Seems impossible given the importance of environmental issues
  • There is still much work to be done
  • If any you want to make your name as a theorist, this is an area where it is possible
  • What I want you take away from this lecture is that Green Theory is developing as the result of a discussion between scholars in the north and the developing world
  • The movement began in wealthy countries
  • No coincidence that Vandana Shiva studied in Canada
  • but it is no longer dominated by the wealthy countries
  • but there are differences between Green Theory in the developed and developing world
  • I can oversimplify my argument here
  • But in the north, sustainability is the main idea in most contemporary writing
  • Connection to concerns about social collapse
  • In the south, there are ties to both postcolonial and dependency theory
  • Interested in how the North and imperialism have damaged local environments

Green Theory:

  • There is also a field of IR called Green Theory
  • This is the literature that you read about in the book chapter last week by Eckersley
  • It is a subfield of international relations theory that focuses on international environmental cooperation
  • Heavily influenced by the liberal philosophy in IR
  • What are the factors that bring countries together to cooperate to address environmental issues?
  • Looks at the connection between globalization and environmental damage
  • Challenges traditional fields of IR
  • Some people view it as being closely related to the idea of human security, which we will discuss later in the course
  • Tries to securitize environmental threats
  • We are threatened as much by global warming as by outside enemies, and we should take this threat as seriously
  • Not a powerful branch of IR right now
  • This course does not focus on IR
  • Important to be aware of the existence of this field


How many of you have heard of the Chipko movement before?

Why do you think that the Chipko movement attracted international attention?

Do you think that the Chipko movement presents a romanticized view of traditional village life?

Why do you think that Vandana Shiva might have won the “Right Livelihood” award?

Why do you think that the Green Movement in the developed world focuses on the idea of sustainability, instead of moral arguments around the value of the environment?

Do you think that part of what motivates the environmental movement in the north is fear?

Why is the idea of “solutions” central to current environmental discourse

Have any of you ever heard of the triple bottom line before?

How do you perceive that term?

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