Shades of Sustainability


I recently read a series of blog posts by Kari McGregor out of Australia which attempted to break down the environmental movement and environmental activists into four typologies, or tribes as she called them. I won’t regurgitate her breakdown word for word. If you want to check out the posts in question, you can do so here, here and here (parts 1 - 3 respectively). In extremely short form, the tribes are:

  • the Bright Greens, techno-optimists who have faith in human ingenuity to solve problems;

  • the Lite Greens, ethical and green consumers who favour light hearted awareness building;

  • the Deep Greens, disruptors, resisters and the new radicals of the environmental movement; and,

  • the Dark Greens, downshifters who get off the grid and build personal resilience through upskilling.

As McGregor points out, many people will not fit neatly into any of the four categories. I consider myself an example of this, primarily in my mindset though less so in everyday life. In everyday life, in the here and now, I am squarely in the Lite Green camp, because that is all I can manage. I try not to take that luxury for granted. My aspirations are much different. In my finer moments I have great sympathy for Deep Green tactics and Dark Green lifestyles.

This also got me to thinking about SPN. Especially when I joined, but at various times throughout my involvement, I have harboured intentions for SPN to become a group that can seriously push Hamilton towards a more sustainable, “green” existence. My definition of that, the tactics to be used, the strategies to be employed, the projects to be undertaken, varied from others involved, sometimes dramatically. Turns out that SPN, from the executive members on to those who are just on our mailing list, represents a broad and diverse cross-section of the environmental movement. I would argue that SPN has representation from each of the four tribes described by McGregor. Initially I found this frustrating and I struggled to understand the purpose of some of the projects to which SPN began contributing.

Something that has been getting clearer in my mind of late, and which McGregor herself touches upon in her posts, is that this sort of diversity can bring strength to a movement. In a previous life, I studied sociology and did some research on the first World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. One of the defining features of that protest was the wide and diverse array of movements that banded together for a common cause, against a common foe. These were folks that would normally have nothing to do with one another. Under the circumstances, they found common ground and a common purpose, and managed to bring widespread attention to their message.

In the case of the environmental movement, the sustainability movement, and SPN itself, we find a collaboration of different perspectives working towards a more-or-less common goal. It seems that we have more in common than some of the wildly different groups that assembled in Seattle. I would suggest that each tribe plays a role in moving our society gradually towards being more sustainable and lessening our impact on the Earth. In addition, each tribe has valid criticisms that can be levelled against the others. Instead of getting defensive or retreating into echo chambers and only listening to people we agree with, accept those criticisms to critically reflect on your position. Given that there are no silver bullets and no single strategy or action will achieve the goal of sustainability, appreciating diverse perspectives, supporting various strategies and working together is a far better way forward than retreating to tribalism.

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under Opinion.