In the recent Paris agreement on climate change, governments around the world have formally – although rather implicitly – acknowledged the urgent need for a transformation of the global economy away from its long-standing dependence on fossil fuels. Even the previously hesitant U.S. and Canadian governments, representing high-carbon societies, fully supported the deal – as well as the concomitant global elite consensus that this transformation is largely a technological challenge, to be met within a capitalist framework, requiring adaptation of consumption and other behavioral patterns but no fundamental change of social relations.
From a political ecology perspective, this work will present a skeptical take on such visions, subjecting them to thoroughgoing ideology critique: “Green” capitalism appears chimerical, an abstract utopia, considering both the basic mechanisms and the history of capitalist economies; moreover, technocratic responses to ecological crisis are prone to authoritarianism. The promise of a social democratic “Green New Deal” is particularly dubious, given the expansionary logic of capital.
Meanwhile, it seems imperative to consider concrete utopias, feasible proposals for democratic ecological societies, many of which have been presented recently under banners such as “degrowth.” These will be juxtaposed with green-capitalist thought here to clarify the differences, beginning with the distinct and conflicting ethical-philosophical outlooks at the roots of each approach.