8 October 2014

What Shade of Green are You?

This is Part 1 of 3 articles in our ‘Shades Of Green’ series. Read part 2 here and Part 3 here. Sign up on the right of this page for weekly blog posts to make you think and act. 


Part 1: The Spectrum of a Movement

The environment movement has, of late, become all but subsumed by the climate movement. I point this out not because climate doesn’t matter, but because it’s not the only thing that does.

I fear that many important challenges are going unaddressed due to lack of attention. And I fear that our tactics are narrowing in scope, shunning direct action and favouring populism. The aim to attract more mainstream attention and support means vanilla tactics dominate while striking at the core of issues is viewed as too radical for popular appeal.

The emerging trend of the environment movement is toward the centre of the bell curve, both in terms of issues addressed, and the means by which they are addressed.

As the movement pulls resources toward the organizations and agendas at the centre of the bell curve the extremities get frozen out, and alternative perspectives get lost. More radical perspectives, once commonplace in the environment movement are now greeted with disdain, and the worldviews underpinning them are not given serious consideration – instead they are often denigrated as extremist. We have become a movement of eco-pragmatists, a position far removed from our roots in ecocentrism, where nature was regarded first and foremost.

This transition has much to do with the emerging pattern of differing shades of green in the environment movement as it grows, lending nuance to the approaches of the various different groups, organizations and initiatives that have emerged to combat ecological crises. Green is no longer unified, if it ever really was. Bright Green, Lite Green, Deep Green and Dark Green tribes form around divergent worldviews, theories of change, and an accepted range of tactics. Each tribe vies for attention to its message in a world of time-constrained news cycles and manufactured consumerism, and competes for the resources – in a finite pool of funding and volunteers – required to make good on its mission statements.

With such intense competition for such limited resources, brand image and recruitment become powerful means for amplifying a perspective, and the movement collapses toward the populist centre, where most of the funding is applied. Current funding favours Bright Green and Lite Green approaches, for obvious reasons: they don’t challenge the received wisdom of the economic growth imperative or anthropocentric delusion, and they don’t challenge existing power structures. It is no surprise, then, that the environment movement has, to a large extent, been declawed by its own mainstream success.

A closer look at the various shades of Green present in today’s environment movement is needed if we are to identify points of common ground upon which to unite and collaborate, and cracks that lead to ruptures if left unaddressed.

Bright Green

The Bright Green tribe dominates the environment movement today, and, as such, it is Bright Green solutioneering that dominates public and political discourse. Bright Green techno-optimists present the promise of a bright future based on human ingenuity and our ability to harness technology, policy and market forces to solve any environmental problem and meet our every economic need.

Big Green Tech and carbon pricing mechanisms are the mainstays of Bright green advocacy, with the overwhelming majority of Bright Green groups, such as 350, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club spruiking support for large-scale energy infrastructure projects such as solar and wind farms and the magic of the invisible hand of the carbon market – in some cases while playing the stock market or engaging in market speculation (and not always winning). Petitions, protests, divestment actions, and media-friendly PR stunts are the modus operandi, with occasional forays into political advocacy.

Lite Green

The Lite Green tribe has seen a slow and steady increase in membership with its embrace of ‘green consumerism’, an appealing new brand for cashing in on a niche market. Once the business world got wind of the potential of the eco-dollar, the eco-friendly alternatives rolled in. Lite Greens believe in voting with their dollars, that their own ethical consumption adds a drop to the bucket of overall change, and that is noble in and of itself.

These are the Prius drivers, folks with solar panels on the roofs of their energy-intensive-by-global-standards suburban homes, folks who delight in organic everything and eschew single-use plastic. Lite Green is a shade that needs no organizing to shine, but is amplified by light-hearted symbolic events, such as Earth Hour, and consumer-based challenges, such as Plastic Free July.

Deep Green

Deep Greens have earned themselves a reputation for being the new radicals of the environment movement for their commitment to deep ecological sustainability and pulling our destructive system up at the roots. For Deep Greens, the environment is the bottom line, and resistance is protection. Think Deep Green Resistance, Earth First or Generation Alpha at the systemic challenge-to-civilization end of the pool, and Sea Shepherd, at the resistor-come-protector end.

Although the current corporate media-induced panic over Deep Green tactics is relatively new, Deep is not a new shade of Green. Deep Green tactics such as monkeywrenching and blockading are frontline norms, and have saved many a natural wonder that petitions and placards have merely bounced off. Deep Greens don’t aim to tweak at the system; they aim to undermine it, disrupt it, and facilitate its eventual transformation.

Dark Green

The Dark Green tribe is a relative newcomer to the shades of Green, and is most strongly associated with initiatives such as the Dark Mountain Project and Transition Towns network. Dark Greens base their approach to the environment movement on the realities of limits to growth, and, in some cases, the prediction of civilizational collapse. Issues such as peak oil, population growth, industrial agriculture, and a perpetual-growth economy, underpin Dark Green theory and practice.

Seeking to remove their tacit compliance with the systems that perpetuate our predicament, Dark Greens are generally downshifters who have escaped the treadmill to the extent possible, moved their lives off-grid to the extent possible, and are working to build resilience and upskill themselves in preparation for the limits-to-growth predicated shocks to our energy supply, the economy, and the environment.


I’ll pre-empt premature suspicions of pigeon-holing here with the disclaimer that no one individual, group, organization or initiative is likely to fall squarely in one box. One can adopt a Lite Green lifestyle while advocating Bright Green solutions; one can engage in Deep Green direct action while embracing Dark Green downshifting; one can advocate for Bright Green solutions using Deep Green tactics; one can downshift to a Dark Green footprint via a Lite Green gearshift. And few individuals remain in one category throughout their activism, with many Dark Greens being jaded former Deep Greens, and many Deep Greens being radicalized Bright Greens, and many Bright Greens being mobilized Lite Greens.

My own haphazard journey through the various shades of Green has covered them all. I suppose I was raised Deep Green in all honesty, with the worldview instilled in me that we are but one strand in the web of life and that we must tread lightly upon the earth. My family ensured I was well-versed in the Lite Green rituals of recycling, water conservation and energy saving, and now I’m an ardent plasticphobe who showers with a bucket and goes around switching off appliances at the wall. I briefly trotted out the politically appealing mantras of the Bright Green techno-optimists – that we can have our cake and eat it; and then I learned about peak oil and carrying capacity, and limits to growth – things that should have been intuitive, but required a deconstruction of cultural indoctrination to comprehend.

Now I find myself with a foot in each of the Deep Green and Dark Green camps with the occasional Lite Green flicker of indulgence. That means my activism is Deep Green, my lifestyle is as Dark Green as I’m able to shade it, and Lite Green slips through the cracks in my plans. Please forgive me my biases – I’ve been there, done that, and worn out the t-shirts.

Finding common ground

Despite the differences between the various shades of Green, there are areas of common ground shared between the tribes.

Bright Greens and Light Greens favour populist approaches that have the potential to generate mass-uptake, while Deep Greens and Dark Greens push the envelope in order for the environment movement to progress. While Bright Green and Light Green initiatives are strong on populist messaging for their causes, thus sacrificing depth and breadth, the more holistic messages of the Deep Greens and Dark Greens have narrower appeal.

Where Bright Greens and Deep Greens share common ground is their reliance on collective action, while many Lite Green and Dark Green actions can be carried out by individuals acting alone – it is their collective impact that achieves the desired results. Bright Green activists also take part in some traditionally Deep Green direct actions such as blockades, lending a greater degree of support to the movement’s goals.

Deep Green activists are often critical of the Lite Green approach to the environment movement, however. The notion that shortening our showers and changing our lightbulbs brings about incremental change has worn thin for Deep Greens, and the all-too-frequent response is a failure to reach out to potential allies from the Lite Green camp – who are usually starting out on their environmentalist journey and could use experienced, empathic guidance, not the cold shoulder of know-it-alls.

Dark Green downshifters, likewise, tend to be critical of Bright Green activism, questioning the value of their work in light of the limits to growth constraints and unintended consequences that render many Bright Green solutions moot. While the Dark Greens most definitely have a point, it is a mistake to sacrifice Bright Green relationships – it is only by connecting and communicating across the network that realities such as limits to growth can permeate the movement and couch its strategies in a more realistic framework.

Despite the obvious differences at the surface, many Dark Green downshifters began their journey as Lite Green conscious consumers. Lite Green consumer choices can light the path toward one-planet living that leads one to further questions regarding what mode of living is genuinely sustainable. The rabbithole goes as far as any individual is prepared to go when it comes to downshifting, and a Lite Green thinker can transition fairly rapidly into a Dark Green downshifter given the advantages of a critical mind and access to information.

Bright Green activists aren’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon, despite frequent public appearances in matching t-shirts. Many Bright Greens stand with a foot inside the Deep Green camp, and seek to ramp up Bright Green action in order to be more effective. Many, however, are critical of the radicalism of Deep Greens, and are wary of the lengths some are prepared to go to in order to achieve their goals, while Deep Greens are often harshly critical of the parameters of professionalized activists’ campaign remits, suggesting these limit the movement’s capacity to effect change. The distrust of one another that this criticism engenders bubbles up from time to time, and has the potential to fragment the movement in the absence of communication across the borderlands between the shades, and genuine intention to understand the other’s perspective.

And everyone is a hypocrite hunter when it comes to Bright Greens or Deep Greens who don’t curb their consumption while waiting for technological or political salvation, or the collapse of industrial civilization; or when it comes to Lite Greens or Dark Greens who live cocooned by privilege while ignoring their responsibility toward their broader Earth community.

Across the borderlands

Once the various shades of Green within the environment movement are recognized it then becomes possible to find areas of common ground to work from and develop. A danger with any movement is its potential to fragment into factions once it reaches a certain size – with the various factions competing instead of collaborating – and the potential emergence of a dominant faction that drowns out competing worldviews, theories of change, and tactics. Through this tangled web of worldview, theory and practice there is a need to locate strands of commonalities that can be woven together in a comprehensive strategy. Our collective power is surely much greater than the sum of all our parts.


Kari McGregor is based on the Sunshine Coast, in Australia and blogs as The Overthinker. She is a full-time downshifter after walking out on the employment paradigm, turning her back on non-profit management and mainstream ‘education’. These days she spends far more time working pro-bono for Sustainability Showcase than generating dollars from her small non-profit sector consulting business. Just how she likes it!

Ronnie Wright says:

Thanks Kari for this very well thought out assessment of the environmental movement today.

I think it’s important that each group, as you have described them, work together where common ground is found. Although I’m planted in the Deep Green group and leaning towards the Dark Green side I have worked with organization like 350.org and Greenpeace on some of their campaign efforts here in Brisbane but mainly it was because I worked as a paid staff member for an NGO that partnered with them on the campaigns.

I’ll have to be honest in saying that when I participate in Bright Green events, and even very large events like the Walk Against Warming to raise awareness about climate change, I have a bit of fun participating but at the end of the day when I reflect on the events I feel that it was mostly a waste of time (especially when only a few thousand show up for the march but a football game can bring out forty thousand here). It just seems that there aren’t any real results from most of it other than feeling good about doing something even if it didn’t make any real difference. You do the march and go home and the next day nothing has changed and its business as usual.

We are losing the war against the destruction of our planet. Signing petitions and holding protest can serve their purpose, we definitely aren’t going to shop our way out of this crisis, but that alone isn’t getting us very far and time is quickly running out. I feel that it’s time to launch direct action campaigns against the corporations that are hell bent on making a profit no matter the environmental destruction and lives lost as a result. And maybe for once instead of smiling at those corrupt murders we should shout to them “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”


Michael\\ says:

Thanks, copied to friends here in BC where so much of environmentalism began and where it was so important to show that it could be corporate co-opted. It is a nice article, not because it is precisely accurate, but because it opens discussion on whether there even still is an environmental movement after the borging of environmentalism in all its diversity by corporate climate conservationism. 

Deep, lite, soft, dark and bright green are the environmental flavours referenced in this article about the activist personality types but what is missing is an assessment of effectiveness and whether any of these  presumed lifestyle enviro-ish approaches actually has any traction and works for the environment. 

In my view, environmentalism before the multi-flavour bifurcation was doing rather well.  —That was up until those with access to big money from blue ribbon fascist US foundations decided that if we were effective with thousands of people and hundreds of dollars, then just think what improvements could be achieved by replacing thousands of people with hundreds of staffers and millions of dollars. 

Since then, none of the exceedingly comfortable staffers has had another bright green idea.  Yes, I am a little bitter but please check out the article.  Maybe it can engender some useful thought and discussion about how we get out of this dungeon and push back against exploitation regardless of flavour. 

forwarded to envirowatch, stumps, Vancouver ecosocialists and other friends,

Cheers, Michael\\


“We need everyone” is one of Naomi Klein’s catch cries. I’m sure neither she -nor any other single individual- decided on that one. Unity is being used as a wedge to stimulate fear of a fractured movement. The creation of fear is the weapon of choice for the “shadow state” for whom Komrade Klein is such a useful mouthpiece. Deep Green asks us this important question “What will you do for your landbase?”. Climate too is used as a wedge to create fear (in westerners) of a loss of affluence. The inaction resulting from constant compromises by hyper-networked corporate NGO’s serves to institutionalise our efforts at finding systemic solutions. I find solace in Audre Lorde’s ‘Uses of Anger’ “For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth…”

Mike Sliwa says:

It’s tough because of our domestication and indoctrination as a civilized culture is our collective starting point. Because of this we are trying to provide solutions to a predicament. This living arrangement has no solution. It will either be stopped or run its course. I applaud finding common ground as long as it’s not looked upon as some sort of solution to a living arrangement that needs to devour the living and everything in its path to maintain itself. My shade(s) of green represent what I consider my responsibility as an earthling. My choices are not about solving anything but rather finding a balance between my ego and the impact it has upon my fellow earthlings. If there is common ground to be found may it come in the relization that our efforts no matter the shade cannot be just be about us but instead what we’ve ingnored for so long. After all there’s no such thing as systemic solutions because systems are the predicament.

Emerson says:

“Climate Justice Green”? “Socialist Green”? “Eco-feminist Green”? How would you fit them in the spectrum? Parsing and slicing up the environment movement is useful in seeing how we’ve gone and where we are atm, but these strands of environmentalism has mostly been absent in the West, and your piece reflects that. Some of the strongest movements for environmental change have been in the developing world because of the recognition that it is the indigenous, women, workers and the poor who are the most effected by environmental destruction and as such are the only force willing and capable of challenging it. This is in stark contrast to the movement in the West (whatever shade of green) which largely blames most of the population for the crisis and counterpose their living standards to environmental action.

Bonnie says:

How green am I? As green as I can be in any given moment. For me as an individual, that’s what it comes down to. I look at my choices and try to think of the Earth when I make them. For me that means I fish recyclable stuff out of the garbage, when my husband tosses it in there. I have old electronics squirreled in my home waiting for the day when I can find an e-waste facility to take them to. I turn off the lights whenever possible, and buy little solar devices to cut down our energy usage. And, whenever I have enough money in hand to maybe consider buying a car, I think, do I really need a car? Or could I keep getting by with Zipcar plus the bus? I don’t know whether that makes me light, bright, deep, or dark green — I only know that I strive to be as green as I can in any given moment. I just keep trying and trying to get better at this. I put my heart into it — and green, by the way, is the color of the heart chakra. That’s what I’d ask us all to do — is to put our hearts into it.

Emerson says:

Compare the million strong Landless Workers Movement in Brazil. Not generally considered a “Green” movement, but in a country where richest 3% own 60% of the best arable land and governments pushed the poor into deforesting the Amazon – millions of people expropriating farm land from latifundias and agricorps is a massive step forward. The self-interest of the poor and the environment coincide. Ditto the anti-dam movement in Gujarat India by adivasis and farmers, or the Green Belt Movement in the sub-Sahara by millions of women – because its women who have to collect firewood for cooking – and it was women who were losing out by deforestation. The only comparable movements in the West is the uptake of residential solar hot water and pv, and the anti-fracking movement.

Clara says:

I belong to an International Civil Association , nonprofit. We do not receive donations of any kind. Our leader is a humanitarian philanthropist, writer and artist, who has gone source of the issue since 2006 we have been fighting for environmental attention is focused on the origin of the problem. Livestock itself generates more than 80% of all greenhouse gases that cause global warming, deforestation and not to mention the waste of water and food that it represents. All this is based on the Book From Crisis to Peace of Supreme Master Ching Hai

[…] What Shade of Green are You? | Generation Alpha. […]

Evidently, class struggle environmentalism, green syndicalism, and ecosocialism don’t count as shades? :-(

I’m with you brother. “There is no such thing as a one issue struggle.” Audre Lorde again.

[…] is Part 2 of 3 articles in our ‘Shades Of Green’ series. Read part 1 here. Sign up on the right of this page for Part 3 and weekly blog posts to make you think and […]

[…] is Part 2 of 3 articles in our ‘Shades Of Green’ series. Read part 1 here. Sign up on the right of the original article at Generation Alpha for Part 3 and weekly blog posts […]

Newbie says:

It’s difficult when one is involved across the spectrum to prioritise. So many dimensions, so little time …

That for many years we are in this, we have seen and gone through these colors. Despite the fragmentation, which varied is the societies, the difference from the 1970s until now, shows progress. Clear been exhausting and too slow; According to the needs of the planet, we are lagging behind. Realistically, this generation will not see “the paradise”, there will be alternatives and conflicts, we are unpredictable and unstable. The catalyst does not work for which it is intended (from the Green perspective), for the worshipers of money, Yes. Everything is business. The masses follow your step. From my small trenches, hope is the last thing is lost, I’m still thinking about my action with (near) neighbour, meanwhile, sometimes transcends to larger stadiums, and then I feel more useful and will do my best. Each suit with his candle, sometimes can not guide who don’t want to or don’t see, and I wonder if our duty collides with the right of the other. We are a river with too many drops, some flow, others stagnate, and… other evaporate. Based on our conscious evolution, we are far from achieving a harmonious balance, but we must continue, the moments that we achieve something good and effective gain, are valuable. Thank you for living, when I write this I can see the bird from my window, breathe fresh air and enjoy the shades of green around me these days… I do not know if tomorrow I will have them… but I enjoy them with joy.

Steve, we are all included on this trip… climate now screams, but the Earth is suffering.

[…] is the last of 3 articles in our ‘Shades Of Green’ series. Read part 1 here and Part 2 here. Sign up on the right of this page for weekly blog posts to make you think and […]

[…] by Kari McGregor This article was first published at Generation Alpha. […]

[…] chance I had just read a series of articles by Kari McGregor (part 1, part 2 and part 3) using a framework for thinking about green activism that seemed relevant to […]

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