“The dominant narrative begins to crack to allow an ecological regime to emerge”

On the occasion of the presidential elections, which are coming to a close with the second round on Sunday, April 24, Novethic has taken a closer look at these forgotten debates, which do not occupy the media, but are nevertheless vital. Today, focus on the place of ecological narratives in the election campaign with Alice Canabate, teacher and sociologist, president of the Political Ecology Foundation and author of an essay entitled “Ecology and the story of the worst,” published in 2021.

What place did ecological stories occupy in this campaign?

Environmentally speaking, these presidential elections are horribly bad, which is very worrying. Today almost no one is aware of ecological problems, but these are clearly not designed as a political priority, they remain a secondary lever. In addition to the votes for the Party Embodying Political Ecology (EELV), which fell short of what might have been expected, there is clearly and generally a denial or impossibility of representation, in light of the latest IPCC report giving us once again tells us how absolutely urgent climate action is, and that it is not a question of cosmetic, sectoral changes, but structural and priority changes. The overall story of this election is tragically continuist, it’s business as usual.

That’s why you advocate a healthy critique of progress, today’s dominant narrative…

Yes ; nevertheless, let us immediately evacuate the arguments that any criticism of progress would consist in the liquidation of the project of modernity and lead us to a “return to the candle”. It is not a question of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but of analyzing a certain scientific development, understood as a telos, that is, a goal towards which we must absolutely and necessarily strive. The debate between the two rounds illustrates this well: more than half of the 18 minutes spent on the ecological issue were allocated to nuclear energy, without complicated other equally sensitive aspects. A certain techno-solutionism, in quasi “magical thinking”, constantly postpones the sharpness of a very pragmatic debate about the orientation of our world, about what we want to save and about the issues in which we want to invest. † This techno-enthusiasm bends the debate and removes us from displacements, practices and imaginations, which it would be advisable to work without delay. We could decide together that maybe progress is less, it’s about reintegrating moderation, modesty, sufficiency – as Gorz said. But that, of course, presupposes changing software and questioning the values ​​we want to preserve and defend.

An ecological regimen is all the same during pregnancy, you say, what are the signs?

Different ‘regimes of reality’, to use Danilo Martuccelli’s expression, have succeeded one another in history: religious, political, economic regimes. What we feel is coming is a new regime, this ecologically, based on a fear specific to our time and on the story surrounding it: that of the transgression of planetary boundaries and an empirically possible catastrophe. Today, of course, we still have apostles of GDP and growth as the instrument and end goal of progress, but we realize that certain elements that were irrefutable yesterday are beginning to crack. The scope of what needs to be re-examined is enormous: whether it is a matter of defining which economism or ecologism to allow, or whether it is still a matter of returning to certain departments long supposed to structure: the nature/culture opposition, for example, which so-called ‘living’ thinkers have put on the agenda today. We can say that in a way a series of sensitivities and requirements come together. Admittedly, the ballot boxes say the opposite, but it may also be the whole representation and adherence to a very vertical social project, which is under discussion here.

You point out that one of the biggest obstacles to the ecological transition is the arrogance inherent in neoliberalism, ie?

I am referring here to Eugène Enriquez’s excellent work on arrogance as a form of neoliberal domination. The idea is very simple: the neoliberal world has its own culture, embodied in psychological behavior consisting of ignoring limits, the relationship with limits, and the very idea of ​​limit. This generates attitudes that are the source of our denial of finiteness. How do you want to integrate the borders of the world, really I mean, into such a culture? As long as we don’t turn our necks away from this “social character” to use the Frankfurt School expression, and have reintegrated modesty, it’s hard to imagine voluntary change. There are certainly initiatives, practices that reintroduce resizing and that come timidly to break through this dominant social character. New applications are emerging among young people who, instead of buying the latest fashionable smartphone, for example, prefer to buy a refurbished device or a “fair phone”, and who try every day to make almost moral gestures: a kind of ordinary ecology that is very well integrated the reversals or even the rationing that a planet with limited resources assumes. But the ones making the decisions are our governments, and they are not on this trajectory.

This arrogance even goes so far as to classify militant environmental actions as eco-terrorism, why is this dangerous?

This disqualification of environmentalists reflects a certain concept of public order and a seizure of democratic vitality. When we talk about “green jihadists” about zadists blocking the Sivens dam or about “ecological terrorism” to denote the occupation of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, there is a stigma that is extremely worrying. Indeed, according to Article 421 of the Criminal Code, ecoterrorism defines actions that threaten the integrity of our environment. However, these militants, with methods that can certainly border on illegality, are in environmental defense strategies and not vice versa. Introducing such confusion has consequences because in recent years we have seen a strong trend towards the criminalization of social movements. Make no mistake, behind these qualifications lies a political goal: that of delegitimization.

Interview by Concepcion Alvarez @conce1

“Ecology and the Narrative of the Worst”, Alice Canabate, Utopia Editions, September 2021, 160 pages.

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