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Who Will Power the Climate Revolution?

Dylan Saba

Broadly, leftist climate programs represent two divergent tendencies. One advances a productivist approach, aiming to institute a socialist economy that would prioritize sustainability while raising standards of living. The other takes a conservationist approach, arguing for democratically scaling back collective consumption—and thus production—to accord with planetary constraints. The tension between these tendencies represents a real divide in the climate movement, which manifests not only in the pages of leftist magazines, but in on-the-ground struggles over key issues such as whether to increase reliance on nuclear power (an essential bridge fuel or a disaster waiting to happen, depending on your perspective), and whether socialists should push for climate legislation such as the Green New Deal (which proposes a pathway to net-zero emissions, but on the back of expansionary economic investment). Two new books exemplify this split. In Climate Change as Class War, geographer Matthew T. Huber calls for workers to seize the means of production while deriding conservationism as the pointless posturing of the professional class. In Half-Earth Socialism, environmental historian Troy Vettese and environmental engineer Drew Pendergrass paint an unabashedly speculative portrait of the world conservationism could build, while opposing contemporary Marxism’s “Promethean” impulse to dominate nature in the name of productivity.

But even as these books help to illuminate the central programmatic tension on the US climate left, they also unwittingly expose an area where the theories of both camps miss the mark. Just as important as the question of what climate program to fight for, after all, is the matter of how to fight for it—and the question of “how” is ultimately a matter of “who” and “where”: Who are the revolutionary subjects positioned—ideologically, materially—to organize a left climate program into a left climate movement, and where in the world are they to be found?