Might a class analysis help in reshaping the debate on ecological sustainability and social justice?

The Anthropocene has been defined the ‘geology of mankind’. Humankind’s activities are said to have exerted a significant impact on the environment. Humans have become a geological force. As a consequence, the changes taking place in the Anthropocene are no longer naturally occurring but are in fact anthropogenic, that is, human-induced. Who are these humans? The answer given in the Anthropocene narrative is the entire human species. In this chapter, the authors problematize this notion for being inadequate. Historically speaking, the positive and negative effects resulting from industrialization are very unequally ‘distributed among social categories within the human species. There is a disconnect between the places of consumption and the places where the environmental consequences are most heavily felt; a temporal and spatial displacement of environmental loads. Second, there is nothing ‘natural’ or inevitable about the historical development that led to the Anthropocene or about the ‘institutions and forms of social organization’ that made this development possible. And third, does the Anthropocene narrative and conceptualization foster the political action needed for tackling the environmental destruction? In the chapter, the authors argue that a class analysis might help in reshaping the debate on ecological sustainability and social justice, with an emphasis on the massive environmental damage caused by the wealthy minority. In the authors’ view cultural and political change is likely to happen when the members of the classes that have the most to gain from the transformations to just and sustainable futures rise up and force these changes. For this reason, people should take a keen interest in the popular movements of the struggling and sustainable classes. An important contemporary gathering place for such movements is the World Social Forum process, where many members come together and energize each other around the slogan ‘Another World is Possible’. The solutions proposed by the authors are a transformation towards sustainable futures as a journey leading to something clearly better than the current situation. Embracing degrowth should be an empowering experience for the over-consuming classes, as by giving up unnecessary but environmentally and socially costly luxuries one can discover much more valuable things in life. Furthermore, lending support to, and calling for, political and structural transformations towards sustainability will be saluted by the world majority and future generations. In short, there are plenty of rewards in store in the sustainable futures.