For Greens, the environment trumps all other political issues. After all, our very existence is tied to the environmental conditions that make human, plant, and animal life possible. Clean air and water are essential to life. When these become polluted, the prevalence of disease will increase and put human well-being at risk. The environment is also critical for food production, both on land and from the sea. Soil degradation and overfishing, for example, can put human food security at risk. Beyond our physical health and the ability to provide our most basic needs, the aesthetic elements of nature and the environment are critical for mental health and well-being. Living in a beautiful and clean environment offers intangible benefits that cannot be substituted by other means, at least for most people. The environment is foundational to human flourishing in many ways. So, Green values regarding the health of the environment are ultimately also values about the health of humanity. Environmentalism is deeply humanistic. Earth is humanity’s home. Just as a family cannot thrive in a dilapidated, dirty, and uncared for home, neither can human beings thrive on a planet that is polluted and environmentally depleted.
Though protecting the environment is a way of protecting human beings, many Greens go beyond what is best for human beings. These Greens also value what is best for the other living beings with which humans share the planet and what is best for the Earth itself. For these Greens, a purely anthropocentric view of environmental issues is unduly selfish. Such human-centered utilitarianism could conceivably justify animal experimentation, species eradication, and the total transformation of the natural world for human use and pleasure. For many Greens, this sort of anthropocentrism is abhorrent, even when concerned enough about the environment to protect it for human use. For them, true environmental awareness requires a broader view. These Greens value the planet, all living organisms, and nature itself irrespective of their utility to humans. Even if humans were not affected by environmental degradation, the preservation of the Earth and its non-human inhabitants are important for their own sakes. For some Greens, their devotion to Nature is religious in its depth while for others their commitment remains completely naturalistic but no less committed. In both cases, Greens value Nature and the natural world, not just the benefits that humans enjoy from the natural world. The image below highlights the anthropocentric view of humans in Nature and humans as one part of Nature.
As we will see later, Greens come in a variety of forms and differ widely on such issues. Because of the diversity of people who adhere to one form of Green ideology or another, it is difficult to pin down its history. Green political activity as it has manifested in European and American politics started in its contemporary form primarily during the Cold War, fueled by such issues as opposition to nuclear power, deforestation, animal extinction, and clean air and water. But the central role of the environment in how people organize themselves socially and politically has roots that likely date back to the formation of civilization itself and even before. Many Indigenous peoples are reliant on their relationship to the environment for their sustenance and way of life and have been for centuries. One could say that many Indigenous people have been Greens since the beginning.