The period of industrialization around which the understanding of modernity was based on has been characterized by man’s ‘conquest’ of the nature. The modern man and his legacy have being framed around taming the nature and exploitation all that nature has freely offered. The relationship is one marked with discord where one actor is so focus on exploiting and abusing the other that he is still baffled and unable to comprehend the consequence of such actions can have on his very existence.
Rise of environmental movements in 1960’s and 70’s in western countries heralds the rise growing awareness about the these exploitative tendencies of mankind and its equally devastating consequence. The rise of ‘Environmentalism’ and its interactions with different ‘isms’ evolved during that period. These movements have been transformed into various polices and programs that aimed at reducing the carbon emission (Kyoto Protocol), Paris Agreement, Montreal protocol that focuses on the depleting the ozone layer etc. However, any significant transformation of the very structural values and principles that our entire civilization is framed around appears to be a lengthy and enervating process.
But it can’t be denied that some changes are being made in conserving our environment. Germany is one of the nation well known for its commitment to sustainable industrial development, as evidenced by it’s achieving the most impressive record in the area of recycling, the regulating industrial emissions and nature conservation (Gißibl, 2009, p.113).
No more than half a century ago, Germany was left in a debilitated state after it’s defeat in the Second World War. Its population suffering from displacement and sever unemployment due its participation in the genocidal war. The post war Germany was a nation divided and its territory under the control of four occupying forces. Till 1990’s, the nation remained bifurcated by the Iron Curtain that divided the East Germany from its West counterpart. Each region under the diverging influence of two opposing ideologies-the East under Soviet communism and West was under ideological influence of the liberal capitalists economy.
However, the country managed to rise from its ashes achieving unification in 1989-90. The 21st century witnessed the unified nation of Germany emerged as the most successful economy in the European Union (EU) and is positioned as the world’s fourth largest economy on the basis of its Nominal GDP. The most remarkable aspect about the development the country has managed to achieve is commitment towards the objective ‘sustainable development.’
While, the world energy was being characterized by the development of nuclear power, Germany went a step ahead to invest into a ‘post-nuclear’ world that was characterized by the use of conventional energy resources. The country’s also have a very strong presence of a strong green political party called, ‘The Greens.’ In order to understand the interaction between ‘politics’ and ‘ecology’ in Germany, a study of historical trajectory needs to be undertaken to understand the development of green politics within Germany.
The roots of German environmentalism can be traced as early as in the 19th century, when notions of sustainability and conservation fueled dreams of nationalist expansion and military readiness (Goossen, 2013). However, these conceptual ideas didn’t find any expression in governmental policies and programs. The western world in the post-war period especially during mid-1970’s witnessed a shift in the materialist values in advanced industrial societies, especially in Europe. This development was observed through the emergence of various movements lead by the hordes of students, social reformers and full-time activists. These movements, which emerged as a tool of liberation, were characterized by the values like decentralization, anti-fascism, social equality and multiculturalism.
These transformations also resulted into the growth of various Environmental movements that emerged against the concept of materialism that characterized the rise of industrialization in Western Europe; these movements celebrated the aim to achieve a better quality of life and human development. These movements focused on issues like increase in urban renewal, constructions, nuclear energy and the threat of arms race of 1980s. These movements resulted into rise and entry of many Green political parties, from 1980 to 1984 their presence were felt in twelve Western European countries. They also managed to mark their presence in parliamentary system including national government through electoral politics (Muller-Rommel, 2002).
It is in the national of Germany, that the Green politics has emerged to occupy a significant political space. With the formation of the national Green Party of Germany was formed in 1980 in West Germnay and has played a significant role into the country’s federal politics. From the period of its formation from a social movement the party has subsequently transformed itself from a social movement to a mainstream political party. In its infancy the party has framed itself as a forceful challenge to the impersonality exhibited by the rational bureaucracy and capitalism of the Western modernity. Its has been suitably described by Petra Kelly when she refer to it as ‘anti-party party’ and Antje Vollmer’s description it as ‘the party which belongs to the social movements’ (Kleinert, 2006, p.77).
Four pillars on which the organizational ideal of Green policy and principles were based on were, grassroot democracy, ecology, social justice, and non-violence. The party’s ideology was also ambiguous, it was a melting-pot which represented varied environmental activists belonging to various ideological position which included those belonging to left socialism, radical conservationists, the former communists, ecologists with a conservative tilt, social democrats, pacifists, feminists etc. (Kleinert, 2006, p.78).
The Party that emerged thus represented the social minorities, it also advocated for the equal rights for women and championed the principle of egalitarian and political morality. Hence, it was a party of opposition and protest against the existing socio-political, economic and cultural order. However, since its emergence in the 1980’s the party has undergone some significant transformation. The most important reason for the rise and the party’s significant achievement in Germany can be attributed to the system of proportional representation that characterizes the nations federal structure electoral politic and various policy, programs within its system that encourages the growth of new and minor political parties (Jahn, 1997, p. 2). In Greens also managed to win significant political representation by capturing 8.3 percent of the vote in 1987 in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Soviet Union.
Even in Soviet dominated communist East Germany, environmentalism became an active sphere of political participation. During the time that it was united with West Germany in 1990, the German Democratic Republic was in possession of over 100 such groups operating in support of environmental politics. This environmental political discourse was then further unifies and developed in the unified nation of Germany. The most remarkable achievements of various environmental movements that emerged in Germany were its ability to transform a social movement into a national discourse through their entry into electoral politics (Goossen, 2013).
Though suffering from various set backs the party has still managed to retain its existence with a significant representation in various federating units. In the 2009 parliamentary elections the Greens managed to acquired 10.7 percent of the national vote producing an increase in their number of seats in the Bundestag from 51 to 68, its position significantly improving in the 2011 elections.
However, in the contemporary political sphere where political party in Germany projects an environmental protection, political future of the Greens appears bleak indeed. The party doesn’t seem to posses any agenda that might help the party present itself different to other major political parties within the nation. The party lacks any charismatic leadership and its political agenda and policy programs appear almost nonexistent in its contemporary conventional structural framework.
Thus, the ideological framework that characterized the Greens has undergone a major political transformation. Here, I would like to study the kind of ideological and political framework that frame and influenced the political party at its infancy through the study of one of its most charismatic political leader Petra Kelly.
In 1979-80, Petra Kelly along with Gerda Degen, Halo Saibold, Joseph Beuys, Lukas Beckmann, Milan Horacek, Rudi Dutschke, Roland Vogt and others formed Die Grunen, the Green Party in 1980. Through this she enjoyed the status of being the first female head of a political party in Germany. A prominent and influence theoretician of the Greens, Petra served as the party’s lead candidate for the party’s elections in the year 1979. She also managed to get nominated for federal elections of the year 1980 and 1983. As a representative of the Greens she served in the Bundestag for the two political terms in the year 1983 and 1987. While, in Bundestag she served as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and she also worked on the Subcommittee for Disarmament, focusing on human rights, disarmament, neutrality, and foreign policy.
Petra’s political career in Greens however has been characterized by increasing confrontation and antagonism between her transnational approach to politics and the dominant political views prevalent in the Greens. Her ideological position, through which Petra sought to connect grassroots activism with centers of political power, has proved influential in framing the ideological position espoused by Greens during its earlier days and has further helped the party’s entry into the country’s federal system and has proved very influential in introducing and encouraging the nation’s commitment to environmental issues into the national discourse (Milder, 2013).
Petra Kelly’s ideological commitments can be understood through the study of themes that include Ecology, Feminism, Peace and Non-violence and Human Rights. Her political ideology was framed around the inter-play and inter-relation around these four themes. She believes in employing the course of civil disobedience as a means of creating awareness about various issues that affect the world. Petra conceived of a nonviolent, ecological political party in the late 1970s.
Her philosophy can be summarized through some of her quotes, “The vision I see is not only a movement of direct democracy, of self- and co-determination and non-violence, but a movement in which politics means the power to love and the power to feel united on the spaceship Earth. … In a world struggling in violence and dishonesty, the further development of non-violence not only as a philosophy but as a way of life, as a force on the streets, in the market squares, outside the missile bases, inside the chemical plants and inside the war industry becomes one of the most urgent priorities. … The suffering people of this world must come together to take control of their lives, to wrest political power from their present masters pushing them towards destruction. The Earth has been mistreated and only by restoring a balance, only by living with the Earth, only by emphasizing knowledge and expertise towards soft energies and soft technology for people and for life, can we overcome the patriarchal ego” (Kelly, 1982).
Petra Kelly however died at a very early age, while she was aged at only 44 years. However, her ideological and political legacy continues through the successful achievements of democracy in Czechoslovakia, Germany’s unification etc.
The green politics in Germany hasn’t just influenced the country’s national discourse but it has also created awareness among its citizens. Majority of German’s support the nation’s commitment to renewable energy. Germans have traditionally been forced to embrace sustainability in virtually all facets of economic activity, from land use to transportation due to the debilitated state of the nation’s economy in the post-war period. This attitude is also reflected in the contemporary ideological framework of the country’s most influential parties and their commitment towards the ideas of ‘Energy Transformation’.
Various legislative and executive policy programs that reflect nation’s commitment towards sustainable development include, the excessive eco-taxes placed on the sale of fossil fuel prices, while implementing various subsidies to generate and encourage various innovations in the field of producing affordable renewables energy resources. In 1999, the German legislature passed the ‘Ecological Tax Reform Act’, which mandated gradual increase in the tax rates on oil and gas and introduced a new levy on electricity. The success of introducing of these legislations can be seen by the declined of national greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent in the year 2005.
Policies related to environmental protection and resource conservation have been mainstreamed in all areas of economic activity and have been described by a former government minister as central to Germany’s recent success. According to them, “green policy is merely good industrial policy”. Thus, by incorporating the idea of ‘sustainable development’ the country has managed to reduce its dependency on non-renewable resources and has managed to pioneer the way to an age of ‘clean energy’.
Books: Zelko, F.S. and Brickman, C., 2006. Green Parties: Reflections on the First Three Decades.
Articles: Jahn, D., 1997. Green politics and parties in Germany. The Political Quarterly, 68(B), pp.174-182.
Müller-Rommel, F., 2002. The lifespan and the political performance of Green parties in Western Europe. Environmental Politics, 11(1), pp.1-16.
Website: Gißibl, B., 2009. The Nature of German Environmental History. German History, 29(1), pp. 113-130.
Goossen. B., 2013. What the US Can Learn from Germany’s Stunning Environment Movement. http://www.ecology.com/2013/12/02/germany%E2%80%99s-environmental-movement/
Kelly, P. 1982. Acceptance Speech- Petra Kelly. http://www.rightlivelihoodaward.org/speech/acceptance-speech-petra-kelly/
Milder, Stephen. “Petra Kelly and the Transnational Roots of Green Politics.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia 2013, no. 8. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. https://doi.org/10.5282/rcc/5279
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