Emergence of an ecological class: turning old worldviews upside down

Despite the alarm signals, little is happening in the climate catastrophe. Bruno Latour and Nikolaj Schultz rely on the concept of “ecological class”.

Indigenous activist, environmentalist and politician Sonia Guajajara from Brazil wears a feather headdress

Climate Summit: The indigenous activist, environmentalist and politician Sonia Guajajara from Brazil Photo: Nariman El-Mofty/ap

Shortly before his death, the French Sociologist and philosopher Bruno Latour published another small volume. In it, together with his co-author Nikolaj Schultz, he tries to save the concept of class. They call the “ecological class” people who bring about fundamental changes saving livelihoods deem necessary.

However, these have not yet shared any social experiences, but are made up of activists, ordinary citizens, gardeners, industrialists, indigenous people and investors. It is not plausible why the authors absolutely want to stick to the concept of the class. They also keep the attribution “left” and justify this with a “rejection of an independence of the economy at the expense of the companies”.

On the following pages, however, there are exciting thoughts. The authors circle the paradox that alarm bells have been ringing for 40 years, millions of people have already lost their livelihoods due to drought and floods and the majority now feel unwell – and yet so little is happening to stop the catastrophe. “Nothing will save us, and certainly not danger.”

Subjugate the earth

Panic and paralysis resulted from the previous perspective of progress: where it was always a matter of subjugating the earth, protecting the environment and resources means loss of freedom and restrictions. But the realistic perspective, which is being perceived by more and more people, is that humanity is completely dependent on the planet.

“Suddenly nature is no longer a victim to be protected; it owns us.” The world in and from which we live is the framework in which emancipation must take place in the future. This is the opposite of the enclosure described by Rousseau, where people just fence off areas and claim the land is now theirs. Only the realization that we are completely dependent on the earth can open up new perspectives and creative scope today.

Many dominant ideas need to be turned inside out. Indigenous people who have been defamed as “savages” and “uncivilized” actually know much more about a sustainable way of life than the modern cultures of exploitation shaped by natural sciences. Youth no longer represents the future of the production system that transcends archaic techniques. Rather, they view the elderly, and especially the baby boomers, as “spoiled and immature teens” who have devoured the future ahead of time.

Such positions are still marginalized in the economic and political power structures that are stabilized by bureaucracy and state structures. “No civil servant, no member of parliament is able to state how the change from growth – and the forms of misery that go with it – to prosperity… can succeed.” Complaints and protests in this direction come to nothing.

Question the claim to power

At the same time, many representatives of marginalized groups question claims to power per se – after all, they have led to the fatal developments that are causing humanity today to stand on the abyss. In contrast, the authors demand that the “ecological class” penetrate institutions and functions at all levels and, through diverse networking, promote the transformation towards decentralization, situational adaptation and diverse and complex relatedness.

“There are times when the temptation is great to give in to despair,” the authors concede in their afterword, pointing out that the war against Ukraine arouses much stronger passions than the ruthless destruction of the biosphere. But at the same time they assume that most people have understood deep down that the old world order is over. “You have to be ready to seize every unexpected opportunity,” was the plea.

The booklet describes itself as a memorandum and is a thoroughly inspiring contribution to the diverse search movements towards transformation. The theses, which are by no means all convincing and stringent, stimulate the reader to confront their own positions – and that’s no small amount.

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