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date: 24 July 2017

Social Movement Participation and Climate Change

Summary and Keywords

Climate change is often said to herald the anthropocene, where humans become active participants in the remaking of global geology. The corollary of the wide acceptance of a geological anthropocene is the emergence of a new form of self-aware climate agency. With awareness comes blame, invoking responsibility for action. What kind of social action arises from climate agency has become the critical question of our era. In the context of climate deterioration, the prevalence of inaction is itself an exercise of agency, creating in its path new fields of social struggle. The opening sphere of climate agency has the effect of subsuming other fields, reconfiguring established categories of human justice and ethical well-being. In this respect we can think of climate agency as having a distinctive, even revolutionary logic, which remains emergent, enveloping multiple aspects of social action.

From this perspective the question of climate change and social movement participation is centrally important. To what extent is something that we can characterize as “climate agency” emerging through social movement participation? What potential has this phenomenon to develop beyond ideological confinement and delimitation to make wider and transformative claims on society? A genuine social movement, we are taught from history, is indeed a transformative force capable of remaking social and political relations. It remains unclear, but what are the emergent dynamics of climate movement participation that depart from established systemic parameters, to offer such a challenge? How are such developments reconfiguring “climate change communication,” forcing an insurgent element into the polity?

Though scholarship addressing these questions on social movement participation and climate change exists, the field undoubtedly remains relatively underdeveloped. This reflects the extent to which inquiry into climate change has been dominated by scientific and economic discourses. It also reflects the difficulty that social science, and specifically political sociology, the “home” of social movement studies, has had in apprehending the scope of the challenge. Climate change can disrupt deeply sedimented assumptions about the relationship between social movements and capitalist modernity, and force a reconsideration of the role of social movements across developmentalist hierarchies. Such rethinking can be theoretically challenging, and force new approaches into view. These possibilities reflect the broader challenges to political culture posed by climate change.

Keywords: climate change, climate action, climate justice, social movements, social agency, political process, ecological modernization, ecological sufficiency, anti-systemic movements

Introduction

Climate change marks an unprecedented moment, where humankind becomes capable of manipulating global geology. Humans become active and conscious participants in the remaking of global geology. What Paul Crutzen and others have labeled the Anthropocene marks a new chapter in human history (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000). The corollary of the wide acceptance of a geological anthropocene is the emergence of a new form of self-aware climate agency. The horizon of politics is suddenly extended into millennia and magnified into universal planetary scope: historical agency is radically transformed as the structures on which we have to gain political purchase exist in an entirely different register (Chakrabarty, 2008). People are only beginning to imagine the implications for political community, and for the very language of politics, as we start to directly experience society’s collective force in the new climate era. As the sociologist Mike Hulme puts it, “we have only tentative understanding of the implications of such a new role and only limited means at our disposal to exercise purposeful, as opposed to inadvertent, agency” (Hulme, 2010, p. 1). The opening spheres of climate agency have the effect of subsuming other fields, reconfiguring established categories of human justice and ethical well-being. The prevalence of inaction is itself an exercise of agency, creating in its wake new fields of social struggle. In this respect we can think of climate agency as having a distinctive logic that remains emergent, producing a “climate dialectic” that envelops multiple aspects of social action (Goodman, 2016).

This article is centered on exploring how movement intellectuals and academic researchers have sought to address this question of gaining what Hulme calls “purposeful agency” in an era of human-induced climate change. To what extent is something that we can characterize as “climate agency” emerging through social movement participation? What potential has this phenomenon to develop beyond ideological confinement and delimitation, to make wider claims on society? A genuine social movement, we are taught from history, is indeed a transformative force capable of remaking social and political relations. What are the emergent dynamics of climate movement participation that depart from established systemic parameters, to offer such a challenge?

Social movements are distinguished from other social phenomena as conscious interventions into the social sphere. Whatever the goal—to change policy frameworks, to challenge power hierarchies, to express outrage—the movement engages in strategic action to project the favored values. Social movements seek to generate participation: agency is a process of collective identification, which only exists by being enacted (Melucci, 1996). As such, movements are defined as “collective challenges by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interaction with elites, opponents and authorities” (Tarrow, 1998, p. 4). Movements therefore exist across the political spectrum—they can express reactionary or traditionalist agendas as well as reformist or revolutionary aspirations. Movements often engage in “meta-politics” rather than more immediate partisan or bipartisan contestations: As Alain Touraine has insisted, to be effective, social movements must challenge the underlying “historicity” of society (Touraine, 1978). By acting on society, movements confront immediate structures, politicizing and delegitimizing power holders; by acting within society they create the power to transform social relations, making society anew. In this way, movement organizations transform latent potential into social and political force, and at different times the movement can encompass a range of organizational forms—loose networks, community-based organizations, advocacy organizations, trade unions, political parties, and engaged think tanks.

In the current period we arguably sit on the cusp of a new social order forced into place by ecological exhaustion and climate change. As existing institutions fail in the face of mounting crisis, the creative praxis of movement organizations offers us the best foundation for the required transformations. Equally, movements are mobilized to negate “purposeful” climate agency, as proxies for the fossil fuel industry, but also expressing a deeper climate denialism, across a range of vested interests. Climate movements are both a necessary vehicle for effective climate action, and a potential obstacle to it. Understanding their social and political dynamics is vitally important. Yet investigation of social movement participation and climate change remains relatively underdeveloped. Over the last two decades the social sciences and humanities have only started to grapple with questions of climate change, arriving relatively late to the cultural, social, and political questions of climate change (Lipshutz & McKendry, 2011). Until recently, advances are mainly in governance and policy debates and in the economics of climate change, rather than in its social and cultural aspects, including its implications for social movements. Where climate movements are addressed in sociology and politics journals, they have generally been treated as a subset of environmental movements, and rarely addressed in their own right; in the climate change literature there is a similar absence, even in journals dedicated to climate and society. This has reflected the extent to which inquiry into climate change has been dominated by scientific and economic discourses. It also reflects the difficulty that social science, and specifically political sociology, the “home” of social movement studies, has had in apprehending the scope of the challenge.

There are signs this has changed, especially since the emergence of more proactive and direct mobilizations for climate action in the mid-2000s, and the later development of multiple dimensions of “climate justice” movements, that since 2009 have actively opened up new agendas for climate movements. The shift is reflected in a relative surge in academic research in the field, where climate movements are increasingly addressed in their own right. Reflecting this there is a range of recently published monographs and edited collections (Anshelm & Hultman, 2015; Bond, 2012; Doherty & Doyle, 2014; Hadden, 2015; Hampton, 2015; Kent, 2015; Machin, 2013; Noorgard, 2011; Nulman, 2015; Princen, Manno, & Martin, 2015; Rosewarne, Goodman, & Pearse, 2013), and recently, a substantial handbook, which itself notes a growing interest in the topic since 2005, particularly on climate justice (Dietz & Garrelts, 2014, p. 8). Methodologically the focus is on the lived experience of climate change in terms of the social impacts of climate disruption, the impacts of climate policy, and the process of political engagement. The work generally takes a qualitative approach, drawing on aspects of ethnography and policy studies, and is often driven by a normative concern to advance the social and political capacity to address the crisis. The research, as discussed, addresses a wide range of questions posed by climate movements, and from a variety of perspectives, constituting an important emergent field dedicated to grappling with the conundrum of “purposeful” climate agency.

Contexts for the Climate Movements

Historically, movements have acted on and transformed social relations, framing the conditions of emergence for new forms of society. Industrial accumulation channeled movements into class-based solidarities, particularly through trade unions, establishing the broad mobilization of society for social justice (Van Der Pijl, 1998). The cultural revolt against laborism and social democracy in the later decades of the 20th century, from the so-called new social movements, prefigured more “flexible” intensive modes of informational capitalism and neoliberal globalism (Hardt & Negri, 2004). Crises of social and ecological “exhaustion” under intensive accumulation, such as climate change, are now linked to movements for the social and ecological “commons” asserting common normative foundations that likewise pose the question of transforming of society.

The new dispensation raises qualitatively different problems and possibilities for movements. Industrial accumulation centers on the contradiction between capital and labor, placing trade unions and the wider labor movement at the center of social antagonism. Intensive accumulation, by contrast, centers on a capital-nature contradiction, what O’Connor calls the “second contradiction,” which forces new ecocentric movements and frameworks into view (O’Connor, 1998). The point is made most clear by the example of climate change, where all possibilities of social development and social justice hinge on the capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Notwithstanding a continued faith in “climate-proofed” development, the social is now unalterably subsumed into the ecological (Van Der Pijl, 1998).

Possibilities for survival under climate change hinge on human solidarity (UNDP, 2008), and as carriers of solidarity, movements become critical. Ecological crisis expresses and creates new forms of global interconnectedness, and new imperatives for reflexivity and ecological solidarity (Beck, 2015). Just as industrial capitalism created new sets of interchangeable roles, what Ernest Gellner called the “musical chairs society,” so today we see “intensive” capitalism forcing the emergence of new solidarities. Where Gellner saw nationalism as providing the industrial identity fix, so today various observers, Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens among them, argue that modes of precautionary self-regulation emerge in response to increased exposure to global flows and ecological risk (see Beck, Giddens, & Lash, 1994). Global climate policy is a key site for such solidarities, both as a form of regulation and as a focus for climate movement organizations animated by the global side effects of climate change. This may take a more-or-less institutional form—from the global Climate Action Network, an alliance of Environmental Non-Government Organizations (ENGOs), to more diffuse forms of digital mobilization, though 350.0rg for instance. Both lobbying efforts and forms of digital direct action draw on global framing, positing a universal claim for action. Reflexive modernity, in this reading, forces peoples to live with regard to their side-effect and to act on the basis of intergenerational and trans-local solidarities. As the principal carrier of collective reflection and action, the movement moves to the core of reflexive modernity, generating the values and affiliations that underpin solidarities.

The context, though, is highly volatile. Periods of rapid change have historically offered opportunities for forces of reaction as well as forces for transformation. As Karl Polanyi highlighted, the Great Depression of the 1930s laid the basis for a socialization process that gave rise to fascist as well as social democratic forces (Polanyi, 1944). Current crises can generate “emotional movements,” and produce an impulse to reaction rather than transformation (Walgrave & Verhulst, 2006). The emergence of a top-down “denialist” countermovement dedicated to discrediting climate science, is a case in point, and can be seen in this respect as an instance of “anti-reflexivity” that has the potential to negate the required transformations (McCright & Dunlap, 2010). In these periods the ideology and political strategy of social movements, challenging the “historicity” of society, become if anything more important. As Mike Davis argues, the utopian imagination becomes critical: “Either we fight for ‘impossible’ solutions to the increasingly entangled crises of urban poverty and climate change, or become ourselves complicit in a de facto triage of humanity” (Davis, 2010, p. 45).

Key Debates

What Is the Scope of a Climate Crisis?

A key debate among social movements engaged with climate change is the question of how to define the scope of a climate crisis. Many climate movements build on and contribute to definitions of climate change as producing a deep-seated affective and epistemological crisis. Where the social movement theorist Alain Touraine addressed the countercultures of the 1960s and ‘70s in confrontation with the conformity of “programmed” societies, current climate action movements address a contradiction that literally pits society against life itself (Touraine, 1978). Given the scale and imminence of the problem, a deeply transformative and affective response, especially from movements seeking to produce public mobilization, is to be expected.

As with movements of the past, such responses rest on a shared cognitive interpretation and capacity to politicize the issue. Climate campaigners have sought to generate a shared globalized political frame of climate crisis. Here, the priorities of the present are weighed against the developmental survival of future generations (Roberts & Parks, 2007). Taken seriously, this scope produces a new demos that potentially extends across generations, and across species, requiring new forms of democratic engagement embedded in new ethical frameworks for coexistence.

As discussed in section 3, for many in the climate movement, especially those in mainstream environment NGOs, climate crisis arises out of a confrontation between society in general and ecology. The mainstream of the movement embraces the concept of the anthropocene uncritically, as an accurate reflection of the newfound role of humanity in shaping global geology. Others in the climate movement insist on the unevenness of climate change, as a responsibility in the first instance of high-emitting societies and their elites, with the crisis attributed to broader social systems of extractivism, consumerism, or capitalism, rather than to humanity in general. From this perspective, some have argued that the anthropocene is better termed thought of as a “capitalocene,” as embedded in and driven in the first instance by profit-seeking rather than by a more generic humanity in general (Malm, 2016; Moore, 2015).

Certainly global warming forces a direct confrontation with the dominant paradigms of growth and accumulation. Given there is no longer term possibility of adaptation to climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be directly mitigated “at source.” As such, the crisis poses a profound challenge to the globally dominant model of “carboniferous” consumer capitalism (Newell & Paterson, 2010). To use the categories developed by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, there is no “sub-paradigmatic” pathway: only a paradigmatic transition (Sousa Santos, 1995). Importantly, climate transition cannot be gradual: As the crisis is cumulative it imposes a harsh and nonnegotiable timetable. Unlike social democrats who a century ago sought “evolutionary socialism” (see Bernstein, 1961), there is no scope for a long march through the institutions. While the welfare state could to a degree socialize class division, offering an evolutionary pathway for socialists, it is increasingly difficult to lend credence to an incremental or reformist “evolutionary” ecologism (Malm, 2014).

What Is the Role of Climate Science?

The pace for public and governmental engagement in climate politics has not been set by social movements, although they have played their part. More important has been the process of producing and then mobilizing world scientific opinion to establish the facts of global warming, and the need for action to address it. The creation of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate change in 1988 was a defining moment, as a deliberate amalgam of scientific and governmental authority under the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Association. Successive IPCC Assessment Reports have framed UN climate policy, from the first in 1990 that informed the United Nations’ 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, to the most recent Fifth Assessment Report, in 2013–14, which influenced the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

Climate change movements have responded to this global discursive and institutional framing by gearing their rhetoric to climate science, and timing their actions to mirror the UN negotiating process. Soon after the IPCCC was established, nationally based environmental organizations (ENGOs) established a coordinating body to influence the international climate policy process, the Climate Action Network. Initially the role of social movements was centered on amplifying the disjunctures between climate science, as reported by the IPCC and the inadequate policy response, whether through the UN or at the national level (Lipshutz & Mckendry, 2011). The CAN process became gradually more domesticated through the 1990s, with national-level alliances being established, mainly by environment organizations, and mainly in high-income countries thatwhich since 1992 had recognized their immediate responsibility to take action. Through the 2000s national and international ENGOs in CAN were joined by a wider range of NGOs from other sectors, notably development and humanitarian NGOs, religious NGOs, and by trade unions, as well as various research institutes, campaign organizations and community organizations specifically established to address climate change.

The CAN process, though, has had diminishing returns as the UN negotiating process under the UNFCCC and later under Kyoto saw the targets for emissions reduction gradually reduced, offset, and narrowed. The focus on climate science and on international governance frameworks persisted until at least 2009 when frustration at the Copenhagen Summit led many nationally based movements to seek alternative sources of leverage (iii. below). Climate science itself has legitimized movement demands, yet at the same time became a burden as it over-technized the agenda, demobilizing publics (Schlembach, Lear, & Bowman, 2012). The scientism carried over into the technical alternatives promoted by players, and at times blind faith in the power of facts, as against power, in shaping political outcomes. Social movements are generally built upon moral claims that have an evocative and affective power and symbolic resonance beyond immediate claims (Goodwin, Jasper, & Polletta, 2001; Jasper 1999). A science-based social movement was never likely to gain much public traction, yet climate science framing has persisted especially in the ENGO mainstream of the movement. Ongoing difficulty with gaining traction has fueled an intense debate in the movement about the extent to which climate change needed to be reframed as an ethical and justice concern. Some of the tenor of the debate is reflected in two key movement strategy documents—the “Contours of Climate Justice” collection produced by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation immediately prior to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit; and the “Paths Beyond Paris” compilation, produced by Carbon Trade Watch in the run-up to the 2015 Paris Summit (Brand, Lander, Bullard, & Mueller, 2009; Cabello & Gilbertson, 2015).

How Can Climate Action Be Embedded in the Everyday?

In part produced by its all-encompassing global scope, but also due to its predictive aspect, as a phenomenon that will most seriously come to affect relatively distant generations, climate change is generally experienced as an abstraction. This is especially true in the heartlands of climate policy, where decision makers are substantially insulated and effectively immunized from current climate effects. Social movements, though, have had difficulty grappling with this abstract character of the issue field. Social movements are grounded in social contexts, and are centered on acting in these contexts: In this respect their leverage hinges upon concrete engagement with social concerns. As a complex scientific proposition, human-induced climate change is projected into the future on the basis of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, over millennia. As a necessarily global phenomenon centered on world climate, it is distanced from everyday experience spatially as well as temporally (Chakrabarty, 2008).

Reflecting this, social movements have had difficulty in gaining public purchase for global climate change agendas, despite the policy failures, the intensifying crisis, and associated political openings for the movement. What leverage has been gained has been intermittent, with important results in terms of raising levels of public engagement, but not in terms of defining the international policy agenda. One such upsurge was in the immediate five years prior to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, which, as noted, was framed largely in terms of climate science and global climate policymaking (Rosewarne, Goodman, & Pearse, 2013).

In the aftermath of the disappointment at Copenhagen, climate movements diversified away from reliance on global policy frames, creating new more concrete opportunities and targets. There remains a strong focus on mobilizing against the injustices of climate policy—which has brought new players into the movement, notably indigenous movements targeting the commodification of forest sinks as carbon credits (under the UN’s REDD scheme; Powless, 2012). Beyond climate policy there has been a focus on finance markets in campaigns for disinvestment from fossil fuels (Alexander, Nicholson, & Wiseman, 2014); efforts to directly halt mining and drilling for fossil fuels, especially by mobilizing affected communities, often with an increased focus on conservation values (Princen, Manno, & Martin, 2015); others have focused on addressing the health effects of extracting and burning fossil fuels, in terms of both air-borne and water pollution; others have focused more on the humanitarian consequences of advancing climate change; and finally, another subsection of the movement has set about establishing the social conditions for low-carbon energy supplies, for instance through the transition towns movement and related efforts at community level delinking from fossil fuels (Hoff & Gausset, 2016; Salih, 2013; Scott-Cato & Hillier, 2010; Vasi, 2011).

Several of these aspects have a strong lineage—but noticeably all have burgeoned since 2009, and have had a growing impact in terms of framing policy. Climate policy per se is not an important focus for large sections of the climate movement, and in some contexts, such as anti-extractivism, climate may not figure strongly or at all. This is particularly marked in low-income countries. Climate change and climate policy has until recently remained the preserve of industrialized countries, reflecting acknowledgment of historic responsibility for emissions embedded in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997–2012 Kyoto Protocol. In low-income and industrializing contexts the direct local effects of the fossil fuel economy have tended to drive contestation rather than climate policy per se. The social and environmental impacts of extracting and burning fossil fuels are key flashpoints, for instance as arising from displacement, loss of livelihood, or the health effects of coal smog. These issues have been central to the emergence of movements against fossil fuels in newly industrializing countries such as China and India, where there has been some success in politicizing fossil fuels, enabling stronger policy advocacy for renewable energy (Goodman, 2016; Green & Stern, 2016).

Climate change and climate policy, though, is likely to become a more significant national-level focus across low-income countries with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement that in 2016 saw policy commitments ratified across virtually all countries. With this, and the increasing impacts of climate change on everyday life especially in low-income contexts, we are likely to see the further domestication of climate politics and along with it the emergence of stronger climate movements. As discussed below, the climate justice movements that emerged in the mid-2000s politicized the marketization and displacement strategies of high-income countries, but they also targeted the elites of industrializing countries who themselves had for decades used “Third Worldism” as a cover for their own exponential reliance on fossil fuels (Steger, Goodman, & Wilson, 2013). Those same elites are now accountable in new ways to the various “Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions” for emissions reduction as agreed in 2015, and these commitments may lend legitimacy to the often well-established local anti-fossil fuel agendas to create a more fertile ground for climate movements.

Despite evident unevenness, and different levels of intensity, the diversity of responses is embedded in the broad global delegitimization of fossil fuels that has come with wide public recognition of climate change. Taken together, the various aspects of mobilization against fossil fuels have come to constitute a formidable “swarm” that is now visiting itself on the “carboniferous” economy. In other social movement cycles, an initial politicization and protest wave, often disappointed, can lay the foundation for a more embedded and empowered struggle for lived alternatives (Tarrow, 1998). We can see this pattern in the development of climate movements, with the caveat that cycles of climate change protest appear to intensify. As discussed below in the conclusions, climate change is cumulative and forces more of a cascading effect across fields of social life, cross-fertilizing as climate impacts intensify.

What Is the Place of “Justice” in Climate Movements?

There is an intense debate about the place of justice in climate campaigning. Intergenerational justice has been central to climate politics since the advent of climate science. This is overlaid by questions of spatial injustice between high- and low-income countries, in terms of the uneven causes and effects of climate change, and in terms of the capacity to respond, and to influence climate policy frameworks (Roberts & Parks, 2007; UNDP, 2008). Climate movements have framed this largely in alignment with interstate injustices, highlighting the extent to which high-income countries that were principally responsible for climate change faced the least immediate impacts, had the most capacity to take action, and dominated the policy process (Roberts & Parks, 2007). Beyond the interstate focus on “common and differentiated responsibilities,” movement organizations have promoted more ambitious emissions reduction goals, on a global equity basis, with various models promoted for equitable burden sharing (see Eco-Equity, 2007).

In the absence of significant emissions reduction in high-income countries, paired with growing emissions in low-income industrializing countries through the 1990s and 2000s, climate policy itself became increasingly politicized. In the context of a failing neoliberal policy mix, most spectacularly demonstrated in the effective collapse of the EU’s emissions trading system, a new climate justice frame began to emerge based as much on social as spatial distribution. The focus was on exposing social context of emissions growth, in terms of the elite’s luxury emissions, and avoided responsibilities, as against low-income subsistence emissions. Corporate responsibility, negated by market-based climate policy, was a key concern, as well as the injustice of continued emissions growth to serve elite interests. Here, the climate justice claims had their origins in “Southern” critiques of the Kyoto Protocol, as a neoliberal elite-driven imposition (Bond, 2012). The emergent climate justice approach also politicized injustices of “transition” in terms of distributional burden sharing within countries. The question of “just transitions” for communities dependent on the carbon economy was one aspect (Evans, 2010; Hampton, 2015); another was the question of whether the burden should be borne by low-income consumers or high-emitting industrialists. International emissions displacement was a major target, including especially, various efforts at commodifying and displacing emissions responsibilities through emissions trading, and offsetting through the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and its proposed scheme for avoided deforestation, “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD) (Goodman & Roberts, 2011; Powless, 2012).

The climate justice perspective, centered in the South, was directly mobilized as an alternative to and antagonist of the largely Northern “climate action” movement (Doherty & Doyle, 2014; Hadden, 2015). From 2007 this antagonism was manifested in the creation of “Climate Justice Now!” (CJN), a campaign grouping outside of the international ENGO “Climate Action Network” that attracted a range of largely Southern-based groups to target the UN policy process. CJN leveled its radical critique and mounted its own mobilizations, offering a counter to the dominant “climate action” frame,” to the extent that in 2010 the only prominent ENGO in both groupings, Friends of the Earth International, left CAN to become a full member of CJN (Kruse, 2014).

The climate justice perspective, with the wider movement, had developed its critique with and against the UN process, and when that process stalled in 2009, the political opportunities were dissipated and the movement faltered (Bullard & Müller, 2012). Yet and partly in response to the CJN, some wider sections of the movement had begun to “frame shift” after 2009, themselves incorporating concepts of climate justice. Post-Copenhagen the movement became weakly integrated, and focused on a small number of key nodes (Jamison, 2010). The CJN critique of the injustice of climate policy is, though likely to be taken up with greater force after 2015, as climate policymaking is both universalized and domesticated through the Paris Agreement. As noted, the politicization of climate policy under the Kyoto process, including by the CJN, was mainly centered on obligations for high-income countries, Under the Paris Agreement commitments have been universalized, and we can anticipate a new wave of Southern-based movements calling their governments to account, allowing the politicization process to deepen.

How Should Climate Consensus Be Maximized?

Questions of discourse and justice relate closely to the question of strategy, in terms of which constituencies to construct and mobilize, and how. This question of public engagement shapes debates about alternatives, in terms of the extent to which movements adopt more-or-less “weak” or “strong” programs to enable emissions reduction. Neoliberal policymaking and associated economic modeling has a strong hold on the mainstream of the movement, which, as discussed below, may be anxious to argue that climate policy is growth friendly, and indeed corporate friendly. The political strategy and priority is often to isolate the fossil fuel sector as negating “green growth” prospects, and to achieve this there has at times been wholesale endorsement of neoliberal environmental policy, including emissions trading and offsetting. These commitments persist, even against widespread evidence of policy failure in efforts at “re-pricing” and commodifying emissions.

The movement’s consensual policy framings reflect a wider concern to maximize the climate action constituency, against an entrenched fossil fuel sector, its allies, and sponsored denialists. Not surprisingly, in the context of political conflict over the seriousness of climate change, movements have tended to advocate policy programs that minimize economic disruption and maximize political consensus. This can, though, be counterproductive: Neoliberal policy has delivered a windfall for fossil fuel corporates, ostensibly to enable them to make the transition, it has failed to substantially reduce emissions, and has directly imposed costs in the form of indirect taxes on the wider public. Most important, such policy has dramatically discredited climate action and enabled a revival of climate denialism. The experience clearly demonstrates the fatal cost of discarding or downplaying social justice concerns in the pursuit of emissions reduction.

Other policy engagements can pose a direct “moral hazard” for movements, in terms of inadvertently offering a means of delaying action on emissions. With the advancing disruptive effects of climate change there is a growing pressure for movements to focus on adaptation measures and “resilience” initiatives. These concerns preoccupy development NGOs especially but also wider climate movement organizations, especially as the profile of climate-related disasters affirms climate science. The humanitarian impulse, and the illusions of “climate-proofing,” can substitute for wider efforts at addressing the causes of climate change. Other moral hazards arise from ostensible technological solutions, for instance, in relation to nuclear energy and climate geo-engineering, including carbon capture and storage, which remain on the agenda for a number of movement organizations.

A Taxonomy of Climate Movements

Interpretations of climate social movements reflect assumptions about the relationships between society and nature. David Harvey, the political geographer, argues that approaches to society–nature relations fall into three broad categories: those that see society dominating nature; those that see natural limits as dominating society; and those that seek to free nature–society relations both from natural limits and from social domination (Harvey, 1996, p. 149). The first approach center on ecological modernization, and assumes the possibility of continuing to dominate nature and produce limitless growth, what Hornborg dubs “conucopia” (Hornborg, 2001). The model posits a decoupling of growth from emissions, through limitless efficiency gains. The second approach center on ecological limits and as such, reverses the nature–society nexus, putting nature in control. The limits serve to halt exhaustion, through sufficiency, de-growth, or a steady state, removing emissions via closed-loop production. The third approach is characterized by a range of critical approaches, including ecological socialism, that advocate freedom from domination, “whether of society or nature,” and seek to re-embed economy in both society and ecology (Harvey, 1996, p. 149). The focus of this third approach is on bridging the “rift” between capitalist society and ecology, and constructing an alternative regenerative model for social development.

As outlined in Table 1, these three broad models inform three distinct approaches to interpreting climate movements: first, as “transition” movements pursuing ecological modernization; second, as “post-political” movements expressing ecological limits and sufficiency; and third, as a range of transformative “anti-systemic” movements encompassing a range of approaches, including ecological socialism. This three-part model assumes that the distinctiveness of movements is primarily defined by their objectives and ideological appeal. Movements are clearly sites for action and social change, not intellectual schools of thought, yet their actions are informed by their overarching definition of the problem of climate change, and of therefore how to tackle it. At the same time, the three categories of interpretation are not exhaustive, nor are they mutually exclusive; rather, they are analytical categories constructed to clarify the debate (and in practice there is considerable overlap and engagement between them).

Table 1. Three types of climate movement

A “transition” movement

A “post-political” movement

An “anti-systemic” movement

Focus

climate politics and policy

social relations with climate

climate injustices + elite power

Role

instrument for climate transition

expression of climate crisis

harbinger of post-capitalism

Drivers

exclusions in climate policy

crisis of meaning in climate crisis

capitalist commodification

Solutions

ecological modernization (transition)

Ecological sufficiency (within limits)

generative value (beyond exchange value)

Practices

strategic framing, climate contention

post-political climate consensus building

cross-sectoral politicization of injustices

Theory lineage

pluralist political process approaches

new social movement approaches

critical and ecosocialist approaches

Examples

ENGOs and their allies (Climate Action Network)

conservationism (Conference for De-growth)

climate justice movements (Climate Justice Now!)

The model echoes categories used to analyze environmental and climate movements. The first two categories closely align with Wapner’s distinction between “mastery” and “naturalism” in U.S. environmentalism; his third option seeks coevolution between the two poles (Wapner, 2013). The model is also similar to Jamison’s distinction between “old” socialist-orientated movements often expressed in party-political formations, “new” environmental movements institutionalized into ENGOs, and the emergent climate justice orientation (Jamison, 2010). Reitan and Gibson also suggests a three-part framework, centered on ideological divides between reformist ENGOs, Marxists, and anarchists (Reitan & Gibson, 2012); Dietz and Garrelts identify a two-part divide between climate modernizers and climate justice advocates (Dietz & Garrelts, 2014, p. 2).

A “Transition” Movement?

The dominant way of interpreting the climate movement is in terms of its capacity or otherwise to secure policy change, whether at intergovernmental, national or local levels. The assumption is that the problem of climate change is principally a problem of the political process, in terms of the adoption of effective climate policy. The approach reflects the broad framing of political change in terms of formal political structures that have the responsibility and capacity to respond to climate crisis. This “political process” approach is founded on pluralist assumptions underpinned by a broadly Lockean model of society, as a social contract between ruling institutions and their elites on the one hand, and the broader populace mobilized through social movements on the other. It is grounded in a narrative of social movements as carriers of mass public opinion that emerge with the advent of the despotic state, which both constitutes “the people” as an entity to be governed, and enables the emergence of the mobilized public as a foundation for sustained popular movements (Tarrow, 1998). From this perspective the movement is interpreted in terms of marshalling political resources to both create and exploit political opportunities for extending climate policy, for instance, to change energy regimes in favor of renewables. In all respects the movement is defined as a social movement for political change, and as having its political objectives uppermost.

Given the prevailing scope of political opportunities, the focus is often on transitions in terms of ecological modernization, a term coined by Arthur Mol (Mol, 2000). This draws on a dominant theme in environmental politics—of seeking a mode of modernity that more closely aligns with ecological sustainability. For ecological modernizers, industrialized countries offer the possibility of regeared technology, regrounded markets, and eco-sensitive political institutions. Together these are assumed to create a cross-societal shift to renewables, eco-pricing, and to “green” states, movements, and cultures (Mol, Sonnenfeld, & Spaargaren, 2009).

The ecological modernization approach has a powerful hold over the political imagination of the climate movement, with many groups embracing the political opportunities it has offered (Van Der Heijden, 1999; Toke, 2011). There is often strong support for “carbon pricing,” and of the capacity to trade emissions, not simply within a given economy but also between economies. The assumption is that emissions reduction through market mechanisms will deliver the lowest cost and therefore most efficient transition process. Emissions, it is argued, should be priced as a commodity, to “internalize” of the costs of climate change. In this respect, ecological degradation—climate change in this case—is assumed to arise from undercommodificaton of “ecosystems services.” By pricing such services, literally putting a value on them, the market is said to then minimize ecological degradation and ensure sustainability in a new “green economy.” This economism is then allied to the commonplace argument that decarbonization offers economic opportunities, in terms of “green jobs” (see Nulman, 2015).

Reflecting the broadly pragmatic approach adopted by environmental NGOs, the climate change movement of the 1990s was more focused on the overall reduction goals rather than on the question of how they would be achieved. Markets were already institutionalized into the orthodoxy: The conceptualization that markets could serve the climate had informed the global climate policy since at least 1992 when the UNFCCC stated that climate policy should in no way serve to distort trade flows (thus outlawing discriminatory trade practices to reduce emissions) (Eckersley, 2009). The position was elaborated with the Kyoto Protocol, which in the 1990s allowed countries to offset emissions reduction obligations by purchasing emissions reduction units overseas. This in turn helped frame national-level emissions trading systems as interlinked trading entities able to seek out “least cost abatement.”

From the perspective of the political process model, the movements engaged the preexisting opportunity structure to focus on the overarching priority of emissions reduction targets and the overall legitimacy of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, which in the 1990s was threatened by the United States (and Australian) refusal to ratify the measures. With Kyoto expiring from 2012 the movement engaged in an important process of “frame shifting,” from models of “climate action” to models of “climate justice,” which itself opened up new political opportunities to question the existing neoliberalized policy mix (Hadden, 2015). The 2007–2009 period, which ended in failure with the Copenhagen Summit, and the succeeding 2013–2015 period that culminated in the Paris Agreement, arguably saw the movement successfully mobilizing the climate justice frame to shift the political process. At the same time, some local- and national-level movements were able to make significant progress, demonstrating the centrality of local and national political conditions, and of movement strategies in addressing them (see Rootes, Zito, & Barry, 2012).

Analysis from this perspective reveals the creative role of movements in the climate policy process. Hadden’s book on climate networks, for instance, conceptualizes networks of contention in the climate movement that gave rise to the climate justice perspective (Hadden, 2015). Other work reveals the importance of climate science as a political resource, as a form of climate action populism for climate transition (North, 2011). A book-length study into the movement’s outcomes in the United Kingdom confirms the importance of making as well as exploiting political opportunities in the context of a brief “climate change policy window” marked by interparty competition (Nulman, 2015, p. 89). A study of the climate action model, centered on the CAN, stressed process rather than outcome—including a strengthening of the international NGO alliance and increased transparency in the UN policy process (Lipshutz & McKendry, 2011); a study of frame shifting through climate justice emphasized the new mobilizing resources and the potential for bridging with global justice concerns (della Porta & Parks, 2014); a comparison of climate activism in the United States and European Union stressed the importance of mobilizing networks, and their capacity to engage in awareness building, alliance building, and network creation (Bomberg, 2012); U.S.-focused studies have highlighted the failure of environmental “interest group politics” in producing legislative change (Bryner, 2008), while at the same time enabling the emergence of climate change as a widely held “interpretative schema” (Brick & Cawley, 2008).

A “Post-Political” Movement?

With most ENGOs taking an instrumental approach to the climate policy field, other movement players have taken a more expressive approach to advancing their agenda. Here there is a tendency to depoliticize the message, defining climate change as a realm of necessity that exists “above politics,” requiring urgent “emergency” action. This may be part of a wider strategy of shocking the population and the authorities into an existential crisis in order to force the political agenda (Foust & Murphy, 2009). In the process, though, climate crisis can be emptied of its social content, in terms of both social causes and effects. From this perspective, the crisis signals humanity’s confrontation with its ecological context, creating an existential crisis of wide scope and meaning. Akin to watching a “disaster movie,” the result can be unintended political disengagement (Luke, 2014), which overlaps with a broader elite strategy of defining climate crisis as a crisis of society, not a crisis of their making (Swyngedouw, 2010).

The “limits” approach has strong roots in climate science: It is also rooted in long-established forms of environmentalism that assert the existence of natural limits to societal development. The approach contrasts with positive-sum cornucopia offered by ecological modernizers, of delinking “green” economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the assertion of absolute limits reflects the broad model of “ecological sufficiency,” which seeks to chart climate solutions in terms of living with “less.” Overconsumption and the growth economy is often identified as the principal culprit, and superseding it the key challenge, for instance through various mechanisms, often assumed to be possible within prevailing capitalist relations, such as localization (De Young & Princen, 2012), the “steady state” economy (Daly, 1996), eco-sufficiency (Sachs, 1993), or “prosperity without growth” (as based on a 2009 Report to the UK Sustainable Development Commission: Jackson, 2010). These social–systemic alternatives have been increasingly framed in terms of “de-growth,” a concept that has spawned a subset of the movement, in the form of a yearly gathering of de-growth activists from 2008, as outlined in an associated handbook of materials (D’Alisa, Demaria, & Kallis, 2010).

Social movements in this context are often focused on prefigurative “Do It Yourself” actions, at household and community levels, for instance, in terms of transitioning to renewable energy, which reflect the diagnosis that climate change is a society-wide responsibility (Kent, 2015). These kinds of climate movement initiatives can enable a strong sense of empowerment through personalization and responsibilization, with movement engagement and meaning founded on ethical ecological practices.

More symbolic forms of engagement have emerged through digitally mediated climate activism that garners its power though mass online global action. These genres create rituals of identification, for instance, in posting creative ways of conveying “350” as symbolic of the demand for climate stability, or the yearly mass switch-off for lights for “Earth Hour,” or the intermittent mass petitioning through AVAAS. Other more face-to-face symbolic actions emerged with the “Global Climate March,” which has coincided with the yearly UN Climate Summit since 2006, in 2014 producing a 300,000-strong “Peoples Climate March” in New York. At the same time there have been various efforts at coordinated direct action movements, beginning with the “Dissent” network in the United Kingdom from 2005 and “Camps for Climate Action” 2006, which subsequently resurfaced in various mass blockades against extractivism (Rosewarne, Goodman, & Pearse, 2013).

In this context, movements can become powerful vehicles for identification and what Touraine calls “subjectivation,” which can be particularly important in the face of climate science and the profound crisis of cultural meaning it can bring (Noorgard, 2011; Touraine, 1995). Through subjectivation, people become subjects in the making of their own history, allowing the “construction of oneself as the author of one’s experience” (McDonald, 2014, p. 2). In the context of climate crisis the sense of achieving policy objectives may be incidental to the process of enacting ethical commitments, individually, socially, and through cultural solidarity within the movement. In this context, rather than a vehicle for policy, the movement becomes a symbolic expression of the cultural politics of climate crisis—and of the struggle of making meaning in the face of climate disruption. McDonald interprets this move in terms of a shift from “social movements” to “experience movements,” where the affective and embodied process of cultural engagement becomes a primary driver of mobilization (McDonald, 2006). Through this, according to Touraine, movements may address the underlying “historicity” of society, challenging the constitutive cultural assumptions on which it is based.

The critical question for climate agency is not catastrophism per se but the capacity to address the crisis, and at the scale required. As Swyngedouw argues, a passive concern with the “politics of the environment” needs to be replaced with a much more active process of “politicizing the environment” (Swyngedouw, 2013, p. 16). Arguably much of the political praxis of the climate justice movement has been geared to achieving this: The challenge though, is not so much with the rhetoric as with the very nature of climate change. As Malm notes, there is no avoiding that fact that climate crisis is indeed confronting (Malm, 2014). In the absence of a political narrative the logical response is avoidance. As revealed by Noorgard’s research into everyday conversations about climate change in Norway, the “shock” of climate change can produce a form of emotional self-protection, to avoid participating in climate movements and to “keep the issue of global warming at a distance” (Noorgard, 2006, p. 392, 2011).

Symbolic engagement with climate crisis can be demobilizing, or it can lend purpose: In this respect, movement strategy and context matters. In their study of movement discourses of “climate collapse” in Australia, Leahy and colleagues found the “social imaginary of capitalism” to be profoundly demobilizing, making “it very difficult to envisage the major changes that would actually be necessary to deal with current problems” (Leahy, Bowden, & Threadgold, 2011). In other contexts, though, the climate change imaginary can force public debate and politicize climate and emissions in new ways. In Sweden, Anshelm and Hultman find that apocalyptic framing creates rather than dissolves political controversy, producing new polarities and antagonisms in the political process (Anshelm & Hultman, 2015). Political polarization and antagonism may be a key driver of public deliberation and mobilization, and Machin argues it is a vital element for any possibility of collective engagement and action on climate change (Machin, 2013).

In response to these concerns, Ulrich Beck argues for “emancipatory catastrophism” where political agendas for common action emerge from a process of “anthropological shock” and “social catharsis.” He argues climate change allows society to address its global side effects, and in the process produce new “normative horizons of common goods” (Beck, 2015, p. 79). From shock to solidarity, the narrative rests on the political preconditions: The horizon will remain unreachable unless climate movements are able to create the means of political engagement, leverage, and traction. Such possibilities emerge out of process of politicizing climate change, not naturalizing it.

An “Anti-Systemic” Movement?

Accounts of the field of political ecology often confine themselves to discussing two dominant approaches—on the one hand ecological modernization or “sustainability” approaches; and on the other hand ecological limits, or “radical” green approaches (Dryzek, 1997). As David Harvey notes, there is a third perspective, reflected in a variety of more critical transformationalist approaches, including ecological socialist and socialist ecofeminist approaches (Harvey, 1996). These differ from ecomodernist and eco-sufficiency approaches in simultaneously seeking to liberate society from social domination and from domination by ecology. Instead of focusing on the instrumental or expressive dimensions of climate movements, this third approach takes a wider structural critique that positions movements as having transformative potential to challenge the social system beyond both the existing political process and the dominant cultural framing of climate change politics.

Using Wallerstein, the approach can be broadly characterized as “anti-systemic,” as being centered on a critique both of capitalism as the prime driver of contemporary climate change, and of governing elites in their failure to address it. Anti-systemic movements are understood as historical actors in world capitalism, arising from contradictions in the world system, and as having transformative impacts on it. Wallerstein, Arrighi, and Hopkins cited two principal anti-systemic movements—socialism and nationalism—that both had historical force between 1850 and 1970, transforming the globe (Arrighi, Hopkins, & Wallerstein, 1989). Wallerstein later sought to identify “candidates” for anti-systemic status for the period after 1970, assessing Maoism, new social movements, human rights movements, and anti-globalization movements centered on the World Social Forum (WSF), finding only the latter to have had lasting potential, mainly as an inclusive antagonist of neoliberal globalism (Wallerstein, 2002). Writing in 2011, Wallerstein combined the WSF axis with the ethic of “Buen Vivir” (living well), popularized in Latin America, as a foundation for replacing the goal of “economic growth” with the “goal of maximum decommodification,” linked to wider democratization through the “‘alterglobalization’ of multiple autonomies” (Wallerstein, 2011, p. 5; see also Smith & West, 2012).

The account mirrors developments in the movement against corporate globalism, from the WSF, created in 2001, to focus on commodification as the key tenet of the neoliberal growth model, and as the main threat to living environments and livelihoods. The model draws together these global justice orientations with environmental justice perspectives, fusing them into a climate justice critique (Chatterton, Featherstone, & Routledge, 2012; Goodman, 2009; Schlosberg & Collins, 2014). The position was foregrounded at the “Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights,” hosted by Bolivia’s president in 2010, designed as the Southern-based climate justice alternative to the failed UN Copenhagen Summit. The conference offered a convergence point for ecologism and socialism in the backwash from Copenhagen, and as a prefigurative moment it anticipated some of the emerging strategic questions of mobilization. Two years later, the mobilization of alternatives was expressed in the movement’s synthesis document “Another future Is Possible,” which countered the UN’s “The Future We want” platform at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, and was directed at charting a “bio-civilisation” grounded in decommodification and “the commons” (see Goodman & Salleh, 2013). Similar orientations were developed at the UN’s ad hoc climate summit in New York in 2014 (Giacomini & Turner, 2014) and at the 2015 Paris Summit (Cabello & Gilbertson, 2015).

These various interventions position ecological impacts as a product of the internal logic of capitalist accumulation, not an externality (Bellamy-Foster, 2002, p. 88). Under capitalism, society and nature are seen in direct structural conflict: The resulting “metabolic rift” can only be healed with the passing of capitalist accumulation. In this account ecological limits are produced by the demands of capitalism, not by ecology (see Smith, 1984). The capitalist production of climate signals a global contradiction between capital and nature, and, for many ecosocialists, is seen as creating profound possibilities. In “The Enemy of Nature,” for instance, Kovel states that climate crisis creates a choice between ecosocialism and ecocatastrophe, declaring “the moment for the global realization of ecosocialism has arrived” (Kovel, 2007, pp. 258–262).

Ecosocialism is sometimes expressed as a “transitional” program in terms of socialist modernization. Here the focus is on liberating productive forces from the constraints of capital to meet the ecological challenge. A version surfaces in Callinicos’s (2003) Anti-Capitalist Manifesto, where he looks to large-scale public investment in renewables and transport to address climate change, within a globally planned equitable mitigation strategy (Callinicos, 2003, p. 137). Likewise, in his ecosocialist program for climate crisis, Neale argued that capitalism possesses the technological capacity and the resources to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but lacks the motivation (Neale, 2008). Beyond decommodification ecosocialists envisage wider transformations in technology and labor, to create new ways of living within ecologies, freed from exchange value.

In terms of practical transitions, there have been extensive efforts by trade unionists to develop ecosocialist agendas within the labor movement (Snell & Fairbrother, 2010). Unions have embraced the “green jobs” agenda, and the need for social agency for “just transitions” especially in energy-intensive sectors; these proposals have promoted the necessity for industrial policy and planning, as against market measures, and posed the role of worker democracy in enabling the conversion of industries; reflecting these agendas, unions have been collaborating in agendas for “energy democracy,” which engages with the democratic possibilities of distributed renewable energy systems (see Hampton, 2015, esp. pp. 80–87).

Ecosocialist agendas also point to “the commons,” particularly the local commons, as the foundation for ecocentric values and living environments (see Giacomini & Turner, 2014; Goldman, 1998; Wall, 2010). Reflecting this there is often an emphasis on planning and commons management, as a “collectively managed, just process of de-growth” (Mueller & Passakis, 2009, p. 59). Bennholdt-Thomsen and Mies, for instance, align their post-capitalist ecofeminism with a “subsistence perspective,” where people are autonomous of commodification, within living ecologies, outside of the “regime of wage labour” (Bennholdt-Thomsen & Mies, 1999, p. 177). In another context, the global “Via Campesina” movement, a peasant international, has developed its own practice into a the vision of “food sovereignty” as the foundation for livelihood in the ecological commons, and as a direct challenge to the commodification and financialization of food and peasant livelihood (Steger, Goodman, & Wilson, 2013). In these versions, prospects for “living well” hinge on redefining ecology as a commons to be nurtured, rather than as a resource to be exploited. The key to understanding the resulting transformation is in the contrast between regenerative labor and instrumental labor. Where instrumental labor exploits and exhausts ecologies, regenerative labor enhances ecologies: It “synergizes the satisfaction of human needs with enhanced metabolic flows in nature” (Salleh, 2009, p. 295).

In general terms, rather than assuming a choice between technology and sufficiency, ecosocialists and many ecofeminists argue that relations between them can be transformed. Such transformation can overcome both the drive to exploit labor and to exploit nature, in a double move to embrace noncommodified “metabolic” relations. The aim is to heal the rift between society and nature, so that they become mutually self-reproducing. In material terms, humanity lives within nature, whether or not the social system expresses that reality.

Conclusions

Activists in climate movements have struggled to develop forms of participation that reflect the issues specific to climate change politics. In the process they have produced new types of social and political engagement, and helped develop the context for addressing climate crisis. The process is an open-ended one in which debates and actions form a distinct climate movement praxis. As outlined, there are controversies about the scope and cause of the climate crisis, about how to effectively deploy climate science discourses and engage with global climate policy frameworks, how to embed such abstract concepts in everyday life and make appeals based on climate justice claims, and finally how to develop effective strategy that mobilizes constituencies and pushes the agenda forward. The recent literature on climate movements has interpreted the different manifestations of climate movement, distinguishing between a “transition” movement dedicated to ecological modernization, a “post-political” movement linked to ecological sufficiency, and an “anti-systemic” movement dedicated to wider agendas for transformation. Respective researchers debate the merits of each of the approaches, in terms of their respective usefulness in shedding light on the movement and how it may develop.

In general terms, the emerging subfield of study is still in its infancy. The conceptualization of climate movements, and the associated theoretical alignments, reflects wider debates about socioecological relations. There is cross-fertilization between overlapping schools of thought in environmental sociology and in the political sociology of social movements. This has strengthened critiques of the dominant ecological modernization model, both from the perspective of cultural meaning and from more anti-systemic perspectives. As a result, as noted, there are lively debates over how to explain the ongoing weaknesses of climate movements generally and how to address them. Research brings evidence to these debates, drawn from the experience of climate movements and climate politics, including ethnographic accounts and forms of institutional and policy analysis. Despite the issue having global scope most of the studies originate in high-income countries, reflecting the extent to which climate movements have been centered on countries with the deepest historic responsibility for climate change. The weakness of climate policy in these countries has been a major mobilizing focus—as has been the effort to displace responsibility to low-income countries. Climate movements in low-income counties are on the rise though, as governments are failing to honor commitments under the post-Paris “comprehensive” deal. In this context we can expect more studies of emerging movement dynamics among the new industrializing countries, and that this will accentuate the shift toward justice and livelihood concerns in the increasingly global debate about climate transitions.

A key issue to be addressed is the extent to which climate movements offer a distinct model for social change, reflecting the distinct requirements of climate crisis. The climate movement is characterized by an unfolding process of global escalation, mirroring the escalating crisis. While climate politics waxes and wanes, reflecting dynamics of politicization and depoliticization in IPCC reporting and UN negotiating, beyond this the process of climate mobilization has its own cascading logic, of encompassing wider realms of social life. The early process was centered on establishing recognition for climate science, building national commitments at the UN level, with national implementation. The key agents, as noted, were ENGOs, and the movement was centered on lobbying. By the mid-2000s the failings of climate policy produced a stronger legitimacy gap, and opened up new climate justice agendas. The movement was regrounded in a new wave of specifically climate organizations, with new forms of public engagement and mobilization. Movement organizations and strategies proliferated across social sectors, reflecting the widening and subsuming logic of climate crisis. A swarm began to build against the fossil fuel sector, effectively removing its “social license to operate”; new alternatives began to be developed and popularized, beyond ecological modernization, neoliberalism and Third Worldism. A cross-fertilization process emerged, framed by climate justice, enabling new North–South engagement and agendas.

The cascading logic can be projected into the future. Through to 2020 the more pragmatic positions are likely to be rethought as climate movements to press up against the limits of “weak” ecological modernization and its failures. In anticipation of the continued failure to meet even the most optimistic requirements for a stable climate, we can expect aspects of the movement to move closer to more far-reaching transformative approaches, and to more direct ways of achieving its goals. There is already evidence of this, not least in the emergence of the climate justice perspective, but also in the growing “materialization” of climate movement praxis, into finance markets, coal and gas extraction and burning, anti-pollution and health initiatives, the development of community renewables, energy democracy, and zero-carbon de-growth. A plethora of social forces and sites of leverage are being created and exploited, to extend the climate agenda in the face of continued policy failure. As noted, post-Paris that process of politicization, across the social field, is deepening beyond the high-emitting high-income heartlands. In its wake, this unfolding “climate dialectic” creates new horizons of “the possible” (Goodman, 2016). It is in the nature of the crisis that it creates these new horizons. Now, more than ever, the climate crisis “compels us to stretch our imagination to the utmost, to experiment wildly with creative strategies for revolutionary subjectivity where so little exists and so much is needed” (Malm, 2014, p. 41).

Suggested Reading

Anshelm, J., & Hultman, H. (2015). Discourses of global climate change: Apocalyptic framing and political antagonisms. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Beck, U. (2015). Emancipatory catastrophism: What does it mean to climate change and risk society? Current Sociology, 63(1), 75–88.Find this resource:

Bellamy-Foster, J. (2002). Ecology against capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press.Find this resource:

Bond, P. (2012). Politics of climate justice: Paralysis above, movement below. Durban, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.Find this resource:

Brand, U., Lander, E., Bullard, N., & Mueller, T. (2009). Contours of climate justice. Uppsala, Sweden: Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.Find this resource:

Bullard, N., & Müller, T. (2012). Beyond the “green economy”: System change not climate change? Development, 55(1), 54–62.Find this resource:

Cabello, J., & Gilbertson, T. (Eds.). (2015). Paths beyond Paris. Durban, South Africa: Carbon Trade Watch.Find this resource:

Chatterton, P., Featherstone, D., & Routledge, P. (2012). Articulating climate justice in Copenhagen: Antagonism, the commons, and solidarity. Antipode, 45(3), 602–620.Find this resource:

D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F., & Kallis, G. (2010). Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Dietz, M., & Garrelts, H. (2014). Routledge handbook of the climate change movement. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Doherty, B., & Doyle, T. (2014). Environmentalism, resistance and solidarity: The politics of Friends of the Earth International. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

Goldman, M. (Ed.). (1998). Privatising nature, political struggles for the global commons. London: Pluto.Find this resource:

Hadden, J. (2015). Networks in contention: The divisive politics of climate change. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Hampton, P. (2015). Workers and trade unions for climate solidarity. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

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Kent, J. (2015). Community action and climate change. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Malm, A. (2016). Fossil capital: The rise of steam power and the roots of global warming. London: Verso.Find this resource:

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Noorgard, K. (2011). Living in denial: Climate change, emotions and everyday life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

Nulman, E. (2015). Climate change and social movements: Civil society and the development of national climate change policy. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

O’Connor, J. (1998). Natural causes: Essays in ecological Marxism. New York: Guilford Press.Find this resource:

Princen, T., Manno, J., & Martin, P. (Eds.). (2015). Ending the fossil fuel era. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

Rosewarne, J., Goodman, J., & Pearse, R. (2013). Climate upsurge: The ethnography of climate movement politics. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Wall, D. (2010). The rise of the green left: Inside the worldwide eco-socialist movement. London: Pluto Press.Find this resource:

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