The Currents Of Ecological Democracy

What do grassroots movements for social and environmental justice think of the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis? Critical social ecologists have generally argued that since capitalism is based upon the principle of "growth or death," a "green" capitalism is unsustainable and therefore impossible.62 Given its institutional logic, capitalism must continually expand, in the process creating new markets, increasing production and consumption, invading more ecosystems, and using more resources. Sociologist Takis Fotopoulos has argued that the main reason why the project of "greening" capitalism is just a "utopian dream" lies in "a fundamental contradiction that exists between the logic and dynamic of the growth economy, on the one hand, and the attempt to condition this dynamic with qualitative interests on the other."63

Moreover, proponents of ecological democracy argue that global competition between nation-states is another element responsible for ecocide. As international competition becomes more intense and weapons of mass destruction spread, the seeds are being sown for catastrophic global warfare involving nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Because such warfare would be the ultimate ecological disaster, the green and peace movements are but two aspects of the same basic project. Similarly, ecological democrats recognize that domination of nature and male domination of women have historically gone hand in hand. Hence, so-called "eco-feminism" is yet another aspect of ecological democracy.

Since feminism, ecology, and peace are key issues of the new social movements more broadly, radical environmentalists believe that mainstream social movements for social and environmental justice should adopt more radical democratic principles of direct political action rather than choosing the gradual road of trying to elect environmentally conscious people to state offices. Radicals criticize mainstream greens for confining their attack to what they consider to be the "wrong ideas" of modern society, that is, its "materialistic values" and individualistic tendencies. For the proponents of a more pragmatic approach to environmental issues, the radical critique misses the point that ideas and values do not "just happen," but are the product of a given set of social relationships. This means that it is not just a matter of changing our values in a way that places humanity in harmony with nature, but also a matter of understanding the social and structural origins of the ecological crisis. While ideas and values need to be challenged, real change will not occur if our hierarchical relationships and social inequalities remain in place. In short, the social and institutional context that reproduces ecocidal practices must be transformed in order to arrive at an ecologically sensitive society. Our present ecocidal predicament did not develop in a social vacuum and is, therefore, not reducible to the biological deficiency of our species or some inherent feature of so-called "human nature."

A key argument for a more direct form of global democracy put forward by a rainbow coalition of progressive social movements since the 1960s is that the effective protection of our planet's species and their habitats requires that ordinary citizens be able to take part at the grassroots level in decision-making that affects their environment. That way, they would be more likely to take on special corporate interests that tend to dominate the so-called "representative" system of government. Thus, a constructive global resolution to the social and ecological crisis presupposes inclusive forms of ecological democracy in both the political and the economic sphere - a transformation that, in the contemporary cultural context, would amount to a social and ethical revolution.

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