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Toward a postapocalyptic environmentalism? Responses to loss and visions of the future in climate activism

Journal article
Authors Carl Cassegård
Håkan Thörn
Published in Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Volume 1
Issue 4
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development (GCGD)
Language en
Links journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.117...
https://doi.org/10.1177/25148486187...
Keywords Climate activism, apocalypse/postapocalypse, climate justice, environmentalism, Utopia
Subject categories Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Abstract

The environmental movement has stood out compared to other movements through its futureoriented pessimism: dreams of a better or utopian future have been less important as a mobilizing tool than fear of future catastrophes. Apocalyptic images of future catastrophes still dominate much of environmentalist discourse. Melting polar caps, draughts, hurricanes, floods, and growing chaos are regularly invoked by activists as well as establishment figures. This apocalyptic discourse has, however, also been challenged—not only by a future-oriented optimism gaining ground among established environmental organizations, but also by the rise of what we call a postapocalyptic environmentalism based on the experience of irreversible or unavoidable loss. This discourse, often referring to the Global South, where communities are destroyed and populations displaced because of environmental destruction, is neither nourished by a strong sense of hope, nor of a future disaster, but a sense that the catastrophe is already ongoing. Taking our point of departure in the ‘‘environmentalist classics’’ by Rachel Carson and Barry Commoner, we delineate the contours of apocalyptic discourses in environmentalism and discuss how disillusionment with the institutions of climate governance has fed into increasing criticism of the apocalyptic imagery. We then turn to exploring the notion of postapocalyptic politics by focusing on how postapocalyptic narratives—including the utopias they bring into play, their relation to time–space, and how they construct collective identity—are deployed in political mobilizations. We focus on two cases of climate activism—the Dark Mountain project and the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature—and argue that mobilizations based on accepting loss are possible through what we call the paradox of hope and the paradox of justice.

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