In my recent reading on environmental issues I have encountered an awful lot of crazy rhetoric. One very large component of the rhetoric consists of categorizing one's opponents into specific groups with the obvious intention of making their views seem less legitimate. One of the groups with the most confusing and variable definition sets is Greens. What exactly makes someone part of the Green group and what characteristics does that group have?
I thought about this and considered for myself what a person would have to do for me to lump them into the Green group so I could get some sort of sense of it. I came up with an idea to differentiate a Green - a priority on environmental issues above that which an economist would strictly measure. For example, if an economist told us that the total economic costs of an environmental mess would be 100 M dollars and we could prevent it for 110 M dollars there is an argument to be made that we have made a bad bargain. I don't personally buy that argument because I feel that there is value in leaving our environment as it is above and beyond the costs so I would count myself a Green. I should note that the cost above *must* reflect the total cost of human suffering for the comparison to have any meaning, and yes, we can and do put a cost on human suffering. If we actually thought it was priceless we would spend a lot more money as a society on safer roadways and a lot less on things like gigantic TV sets.
A good further question is do I count someone in the Green category if they claim to have the viewpoint outlined above but consistently act in a way that does not support it? If someone says they care about the environment but owns several non hybrid vehicles and regularly takes long haul flights (one of which can be the pollution equivalent to a year of normal driving!) can they realistically be counted? I think the most difficult part here is the problem of knowledge - if a person who thinks they are Green flies a lot but has no idea that this is such an incredibly environmentally unfriendly act do we excuse the behaviour? It is easy for anyone who is in the position to take such flights to find out what exactly the best ways to reduce their personal contribution to emissions is and so clearly they have either not bothered (hardly an excuse) or they simply decide to go ahead anyhow.
Of course the boundaries of the Green moniker on internet forums are not remotely so clear. Greens are evil since they hate business, Greens are the people actually working to save the planet against the evil megacorporations, Greens are against anyone who questions their dogma of environmental collapse, Greens are open to the scientific data that suggests a problem before business is willing to admit that they *must* change. None of these ideas is particularly correct, and yet there are surely people who count themselves as Greens who fill each of these molds.
Slinging labels around is not a new thing. It has always been effective practice to label your opponents as being part of a group that is known or suspected to be doing terrible things even if the label is inaccurate. Enabling listeners to quickly put a person or idea in an unattractive box is a good first step to getting them to dismiss that person or idea out of hand. Whether your label is conservative, liberal, Green, denier, skeptic or sell-out a preconceived set of characteristics is lumped in and the exchange and debate of ideas is weakened. A terrible state of affairs, but nothing new, and not likely to end.