Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Revisiting Social and Deep Ecology in the Light of Global Warming

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Revisiting Social and Deep Ecology in the Light of Global Warming

Article excerpt


The purpose of this article is largely theoretical. It asks what type of perspective is needed in order for left libertarians and anarchists to develop a deeper understanding of global warming. This way of framing the question builds on a set of premises which I will spell out. First, global warming is real. Second, the reality of global warming exists independently of our discourse about it. Third, global warming will have real and dangerous consequences for humans and human society. Fourth, we do not have full knowledge about global warming and climate change, and we must reach a deeper understanding. Fifth, the urgency of global warming demands that we act before we know everything we want to know about it. Sixth, human societies have an inherently creative capacity to find solutions to the challenges posed by global warming. Ethical thinking about global warming cannot, therefore, be reduced to the realm of human consciousness, language and discourse; global warming forces us to rethink our relationship with nature and our possible paths to understanding nature and reality in a theoretically serious manner (in the Hegelian sense of the word 'serious') - that is, in terms of the unity between theory and praxis.

Keywords: Ecology, global warming, anarchist praxis


Because of its relative 'newness', global warming is different from most other phenomena that we normally relate to 'globalisation'. For instance, in reading the 'classics' of left libertarianism and social ecology, the near absence of analyses of global warming and climate change is striking. The work of Murray Bookchin is an exception: he began to deal with the topic in the 1960s (Bookchin, 1987,1990,1991a, 1991b, 1991c; Marshall, 1994). Nonetheless, anarchist perspec- tives on nature have had a considerable influence on the development of the environmental movements over the last decades and they are still felt in environ- mental movements today. It is therefore pertinent to reconsider the historical background and particular experiences that produced those influences. This is particularly important in the light of the conflict between deep and social ecology in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At one point this conflict was seen by many as threatening to 'split the whole environmental movement' (Carter, 1995, p. 328).

Thinking about the challenge posed by global warming has the potential to be a very fruitful exercise. It forces us to re-examine critically the ways in which we think about the big questions on a global scale while, at the same time, making us focus on the deep and narrow, on how we hermeneutically and collectively make sense of, and understand, the nature of which we are a part. It also presents a challenge to left libertarians and anarchists to rethink and develop theoretical perspectives in the light of new information about, and knowledge of, phenomena. It is not enough for anarchists and left libertarians to limit themselves merely to subsuming global warming and climate change within existing theoretical perspectives.

I will not attempt here to capture the full meaning of phenomena as multi- faceted as 'anarchist' or 'left libertarian' (Evren, 2011; Franks, 2011). However, if terms such as 'anarchism' or 'left libertarianism' are to be useful tools for analysis, a minimal understanding of what characterises them in relation to, and in contrast to, other terms or 'isms', is necessary. In that spirit I briefly outline below some of the key elements necessary (but not sufficient) for 'offering a vision of a potential new society' (McKay, Elkin, Neal, and Boraas, 2010).

1. Decentralised forms of organisation. This has a number of components. Murray Bookchin, for example, builds on E. E. Schumacher to make an argument about scale. However, smallness should not be seen as a sufficient condition for non-violence and non-repression (Laferrière and Stoett, 1999, p. 59). According to Malatesta, 'the new society should be organised with the direct participation of all concerned, from the periphery to the centre . …

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