The Greening of Iran
A look inside the Green Party of Iran
August 1, 2003

by Gar Smith

Iranian students and Greens demonstrate for peace and freedom in Tehran.
Environmental activists in the US may think they have their hands full trying to save the air, land and waterways from an administration run by oil, coal, gas and uranium junkies but maybe we should count our blessings. It could be worse. We could be members of the Green Party of Iran.

"Come again? There's a Green Party in Iran? You're kidding."

It's no joke. The Iran-e-Sabz is one of 24 global green parties located in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. The Iran-e-Sabz was founded in 1999 and its website bristles with all the typical Green Party concerns: forests and wildlife, water and air quality, oil and mineral exploitation, nuclear weapons, population, renewable energy, agriculture, corporate responsibility, economic equity, peace, democracy, human rights, and sexual freedom.

But Iran is a country that traditionally has a low tolerance for public criticism.

In May 2000, a cartoonist was jailed for a drawing that took a jab at a conservative cleric. That same year, the government hanged four people and amputated the fingers of seven prisoners, closed the Daily Arya newspaper, flogged two people caught smoking in public and cracked-down on people playing chess in public parks.

During the 2000 election, the Interior Ministry barred 758 candidates from key polls, disqualified 576 potential candidates, jammed politically charged radio programs, and annulled the victories of at least seven reform candidates.

On September 18, 2001, members of the Green Party joined other Iranians in a candle-lit vigil in Tehran's Mohseni Square to express sympathy for the lives lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Some of the Greens also carried placards criticizing the environmental failures of the government. According to the Greens, the vigil was attacked "by vigilantes organized by the Iranian regime." A number of protesters were reportedly beaten and arrested and police confiscated the protest signs.

The Terrain in Tehran
Two women struggle to make their way through the smog-clogged capitol city.
An environmentalist in Iran would not want for crusades to undertake. The country's forests have been denuded, urban centers are bursting with swollen populations and the effluent of oil refineries, industrial smokestacks and fossil-fuel-spewing tailpipes besmirches air and water.

Pollution is killing the Caspian Sea where fish harvests were down 11 percent in 2000. Iran's Moghan deer vanished in late 2000 and the Iranian cheetah is facing extinction, along with the Asian Black bear, Caspian tiger, Persian fallow deer, wild ass, houbara bustard and Iranian wolf.

Drought and a cut-off of river water from neighboring Afghanistan has nearly eradicated Hamoun Lake -- at 4,000 sq. kilometers, once the largest freshwater lake in Iran. Hundreds of thousands of migrating birds used to depend on the lake as a crucial stop-over.

Economically, the average Iranian's assets are less than half of the world average. At the same time, Iran's energy consumption is double the world average. Although Iran's petrochemical industry accounts for more that 90 percent of the country's export revenues, most of Iran's vehicles still run on outmoded leaded gasoline and the cars lack pollution controls.

On an average day, a resident of Tehran can expect to see the city's air anointed with a deadly incense of industrial smoke -- 3,000 tons of carbon monoxide, 40 tons of hydrocarbons, 30 tons of sulfur and two tons of lead.

In December 1999, the air over Tehran was so clouded with smoke that it became impossible to see the sun. Schools were closed. Hospitals filled with people gasping for breath. The Green Party did not mince words. It declared in a public statement that "considerable blame should be placed on the current government for their lack of concern and for their inability to solve the air pollution problems or to prevent any other environmental destruction in Iran during the past 20 years of their regime."

The indirect ramifications of the industrialized world's excesses are also catching up with Iran which, like every other country on Earth, is faced with the unknown stresses of a changing climate.

Vanishing Rivers; Disappearing Lakes
In the summer of 2000, the Zayanderoud River, which courses grandly through Isfahan, stopped flowing, strangled by two years of unprecedented drought. Some 800,000 animals perished from hunger and disease and 200,000 nomads -- along with more than 60 percent of Iran's rural population -- swarmed into the cities seeking relief from the swelter.

UN emergency inspectors reported that all but three of Iran's 28 provinces were running out of drinking water. In the southwest town of Abadan, rioters smashed stores and set fires to protest the lack of drinking water. The United Nations warned that the drought, the worst in 30 years, was destroying wildlife habitats and aquatic ecosystems. Three major lakes northwest of Mahabad dried up. Jafar Sediqi, a local environmentalist, told the Iranian News Agency IRNA) that the disappearance of Iran's lakes, wetlands and rivers "has endangered the life of many migratory and endemic birds" including "ducks, swans, flamingos, herons and gray geese."

With millions of fish rotting in drying lakebeds and the bodies of dead camels lining the roads, Iran was forced to appeal to the outside world for economic aide -- only the second time such an appeal had been made since the clerics seized power during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, that overthrew the Shah of Iran (who had been installed by the CIA after the US engineered the overthrow of his predecessor, the democratically elected nationalist Mossedeh.)

The Green Party's Programs
The GPI has condemned "current mining practices, such as open pit mining, diverting rivers and draining lakes." and "rejects the unlimited consumption of these non-renewable resources."

The GPI is a fierce critic of the government's fossil fuel-based energy plan and has called instead for an energy program based on "solar heating and cooling systems, solar water heating, solar electricity, ocean, wind and small-scale hydro." The Greens are strongly opposed the planned construction of the Bushehr nuclear powerplant and 15 additional reactors.

The GPI wants Iran to abolish and dismantle "all nuclear, chemical and biological weapon programs."

Agricultural production provides about 20 percent of Iran's gross domestic product. Despite growing wheat, rice, sugar beets, fruits, nuts, cotton, wool, dairy products and caviar, the GPI notes that Iran still "is not self-sufficient in food production. In addition, the quality of food is decreasing due to heavy chemical pesticide and fertilizer use, non-cropping, over-processes and long-distance transportation." The GPI has proposed that chemical-free farming be encouraged by "rewarding farmers for converting from chemical to ecological methods of farming."

The Green's ecology runs so deep that it insists that "all species have the intrinsic right to exist without regard to their usefulness to humankind and that humans must share the environment with all other species so that biological diversity is sustained."

The GPI has called for the creation of "an endangered species act" and conservation strategies that will preserve "large tracts of land as wilderness, free from permanent human habitation and resource exploitation."

While Iran's Greens would ban animal experimentation, they are still a bit soft on recreational hunting which, they say, should continue but under strict limits. If the GPI was running things, corporations would be socially and environmentally responsible and "a regulatory body would be se up to carry out environmental inspections and that corporations be legally liable, criminally and in civil court, for the environmental harm they cause."

Getting to Know Our Colleagues in Iran
Recently the media has reported on how America's Christian Right has begun to forge an alliance with their fellow fundamentalists in Iran's ruling mullocracy. It's easy to see why Pat Robertson could find common cause with other religious leaders who would elevate privilege and patrimony over the rights of wives and mothers, gays, lesbians, and dissidents of every stripe.

As a matter of solidarity, it behooves US environmentalists to build bridges to our brothers and sisters in Iran and to lend a hand when and where we can.

The Green Party of Iran's platform is unstintingly radical. Given that the goal is to achieve these goals within a heavily controlled Islamic state, just publishing the platform could be seen as nothing short of heroic.

On the volatile issue of womens' rights, the GPI platform decrees: "All political, economic and religious laws that discriminate against women must be annulled and replaced by laws supporting women's rights. Participation in social, political and economic organizations by women must be increased by affirmative action projects. Women must have the freedom to form feminist organizations" and, finally, "Women have the right to decide to have an abortion. To avoid abortions caused by a lack of social and economic support, the government must provide universal child health services."

Greening the Islamic Economy
Nor is the GPI shy when it comes to spelling out its program for "Greening of the Economy." The GPI "believes that the economic system should be based on the fair distribution of wealth" and the economy should be self-sustaining -- "neither a free market nor command-based system, since both are based on unlimited economic expansion and consumption." A self-sustaining economic model would be one that exists "in harmony with the environment in addition to working for the social well being of people."

"Since economies grow while ecosystems do not," Iran's Greens reason, "a growing economy is a threat to the long-term health and well being of a society." It points to the example of the West where "large corporations seeking increased revenues are often the main perpetrators of environmental destruction." Globalization and increased foreign trade is anathema to Iran's Greens who proclaim that "economic development should never be used as an excuse to harm the environment." And the first requirement for achieving this sustainable economy, the GPI observes is "a stable democratic political system."

Under the democratic model envisioned by the GPI, Every Iranian citizen has the right to live in a healthy environment; every Iranian citizen is equal by law, regardless of gender, age, race, nationality, religion, marital status, sexual orientation or political beliefs." Labor unions would be legalized and protected. Students, teachers, farmers, businessfolk and merchants would similarly be guaranteed the right to organize. The Greens would replace Iran's military draft with an all-volunteer army."

Politically, Iranians should be permitted to raise and resolve national issues through the power of public referendums. Capital punishment (currently justified under the S'haria code of Islamic law, would be banned, along with the use of torture (which has been a fixture in Iran's jails for centuries). Freedom of speech, assembly and religion must be granted "unconditionally" and extended to "speech, thought, press, film television and Internet."

There would be "free health care, education and social welfare services [designed] to increase the standard of living."

"In the last two decades," the GPI states, "Iran has experienced increased levels of poverty, misery, homelessness, prostitution and inflation and has seen a general reduction in the quality of life and in the strength of the economy as a result of its bloody eight-year war with Iraq and of its interference in the internal struggles of foreign countries." The Greens would put an end to this patter of "endless wars " and institute "a foreign policy of non-engagement."

"The Green Party of Iran believes that engaging in war with another country is never acceptable. Disagreements that cannot be resolved diplomatically, must be resolved by competent international organizations."

"The Green Party of Iran believes that the current Islamic Republic of Iran and its undemocratically elected government is unable to solve the mounting problems facing the country today such as its devastated ecology, faltering economy, the reduction in the standard of living, and the lack of freedom of speech and of human rights." In order to overcome these obstacles, the GRI states, "the removal of the present regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is necessary and inevitable."

The phrase "regime change" must surely bring a smile to the lips of CIA planners and "Axis of Evil" hawks. It would not be surprising to learn at some future date that the GPI may have become the unwitting recipient of covert aid from US intelligence agencies.

But when the time comes for Iran to reinvent itself politically, the GPI will be there to insist that Iranians are "given the right to democratically choose representatives who will work together to write a constitution and propose a political system for the country. Subsequently, a representative government must be elected through free democratic elections."

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