Lecture at Bath Univercity, UK (12 October 2007) 


Ecological Crisis and Inclusive Democracy


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The main aims of this lecture are, first, to consider the ecological crisis as part of the present multidimensional crisis, second to examine some of the myths about the ecological crisis and third to discuss the main approaches to the ecological crisis with particular emphasis on the Inclusive Democracy approach.


1. The ecological crisis as part of a multi-dimensional crisis


Few, outside the system’s ideologues, would doubt today that present society, which takes everywhere the form of a neoliberal market/growth economy and representative ‘democracy’, faces a profound and widespread crisis encompassing all spheres of social life —although there are of course too many explanations around about the causes of this crisis and what is to be done to get out of it. The main characteristics of this crisis are:


  • First, that it is a multi-dimensional crisis involving the economic, the political, the ecological, the social as well as the cultural levels.

  • Second, that it is a universal crisis in the sense that it envelops all parts of the world that are integrated in the New World Order established by the internationalised market economy and its political complement of representative ‘democracy’. In fact, it is precisely the universal character of this crisis that differentiates it from other crises in the past. It calls into question practically every structure and idea that supports contemporary heteronomous societies in East and West, North and South. Therefore, the present crisis calls into question not just the political, economic, social and ecological structures that emerged with the rise of the market economy, but also the actual values that have sustained these structures and particularly the post-Enlightenment meaning of Progress and its partial identification with growth.

  • Third, as far as the causes of the crisis are concerned, as I tried to show elsewhere[1], this multidimensional crisis can safely be attributed to the very institutions of modernity, which today have, been universalised. In other words, it is the dynamics of the market economy and representative ‘democracy’ that have led to the present concentration of power at all levels which, in turn, is the ultimate cause of every dimension of the present crisis[2].

Very briefly, as regards the non-ecological dimensions of the crisis:



The political dimension


Thus, the concentration of political power in the hands of parliamentarians in liberal modernity, has led to an even higher degree of concentration in the hands of governments and the leadership of ‘mass’ parties in statist modernity, at the expense of parliaments. In the present neoliberal modernity, the combined effect of the dynamics of the market economy and representative democracy has led to the conversion of politics into statecraft, with think tanks designing policies and their implementation. So, a ‘crisis in politics’ has developed in the present neoliberal modernity that undermines the foundations of representative ‘democracy’ and is expressed by several symptoms which, frequently, take the form of an implicit or explicit questioning of fundamental political institutions (parties, electoral contests, etc.). Such symptoms are the significant and usually rising abstention rates in electoral contests, particularly in USA and UK, the explosion of discontent in the form of frequently violent riots, the diminishing numbers of party members, the fact that respect for professional politicians has never been at such a low level, with the recent financial scandals in countries like USA, UK, Italy, France, Spain, Greece and elsewhere simply reaffirming the belief that politics, for the vast majority of the politicians —liberals and social democrats alike— is just a job, i.e., a way to make money and enhance social status.


The historical cause of the present mass apathy can be traced back to the inadequacy of representative ‘democracy’ to create genuine democratic conditions, which may be considered as the ultimate cause of the present apathy.[3] However, the question still remains why this crisis has become particularly acute in the last decade or so. To my mind, the answer has to be found in the cumulative effect of the changes in the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ conditions which have marked the emergence of the internationalised market economy since the mid-seventies and in particular:


  • The growing internationalisation of the market economy that has undermined effectively not only the state's power to control economic events but, by implication, the belief in the efficacy of traditional politics.

  • The acute intensification of the struggle for competitiveness among EU, NAFTA and the Far East which, in turn, has resulted in the collapse of social democracy, the establishment of the `neoliberal consensus' and the consequent effective elimination of ideological differences between political parties.

  • The technological changes that have led to the present post-industrial society and the corresponding changes in the structure of employment and the electorate, which, in combination with the massive unemployment and underemployment, have led to the decline of the power of the traditional working class and the consequent decline of traditional politics.

  • The collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’, which has led to the myth of `the end of ideologies' and further enhanced the spreading of the culture of individualism that has been promoted by neoliberalism.


Thus, in the context of the present neoliberal consensus, the old ideological differences between the Left and the Right have disappeared.. Thus, the collapse of 'socialist' statism in the East, instead of functioning as a catalyst for the building of a new non-authoritarian type of politics which would develop further the ideas of May 1968, simply led to a general trend —particularly noticeable among students, young academics and others— towards a post-modern conformism and the rejection of any ‘universalist’ antisystemic project. The rest, including most of the underclass, who are the main victims of the neoliberal internationalised economy, have fallen into political apathy and an unconscious rejection of established society —a rejection that usually has taken the form of an explosion of crime and drug abuse, and sometimes violent riots.


Still, Seattle and Genoa yesterday, as well as Paris last year, are clear indications of the fact that today’s youth is not apathetic towards politics (conceived in the classical meaning of the word as self-management) but only with respect to what passes as politics today, i.e., the system which allows a social minority (professional politicians) to determine the quality of life of every citizen. In other words, what has transformed politics into statecraft and turned many people away from this sort of ‘politics’ is the growing realisation of the concentration of political power in the hands of professional politicians and various "experts" (as a result of the dynamic of representative ‘democracy’). The same applies to the radical people’s movements in Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil who exert significant pressure from below for new direct democratic forms of organisation.



The economic dimension


As regards the economic dimension of the crisis, it can easily be shown that it is the concentration of economic power, as a result of commodity relations and the grow‑or‑die dynamic of the market economy, which has led to a chronic economic crisis. Therefore, the outcome of the present universalisation of the market/growth economy in its present neoliberal form —necessitated by the opening of the markets due to the massive expansion of transnational corporations in the last quarter of a century or so— is the creation of a bipolar world consisting of:


  • one world which includes the privileged social groups created by globalisation, either in the North or the South and

  • another world which is left out of the supposedly ‘universal’ benefits of neoliberal globalisation and which includes the marginalised majority of the world population, either in the North or the South.


It is for this reason that, as I stressed elsewhere,[4] the traditional division between North and South does not make sense anymore and it is much more appropriate to talk about a “New North” and a “New South” defined as follows.


The `New North' could be defined as all those social groups that benefit from the neoliberal globalisation process, whether they live in the old North or South. In general, we may say that this New North consists of the ”two-thirds society” in the old First World and a small minority in the old Second and Third Worlds. The beneficiaries from the marketisation process in the old First World do not just include those in control of the means of production, which constitute the bulk of the ruling elite, but also the large middle classes that have flourished in this process (professionals, skilled workers, etc.). Similarly, the beneficiaries in the old Third World include not just the ruling elites (big landowners, importers and so on), but also a rudimentary middle class of professionals, top state employees, etc.). Finally, the beneficiaries in the old Second World include the new ruling elite, which has been emerging in the marketisation process (usually, ex-members of the old party nomenclature) and a very small middle class of professionals.


The inherent incapability of the market economy system and its political complement, representative ‘democracy’ (which is the State form developed in modernity as the most compatible with the market economy system), to create an economically even world is the direct result of the fact that the concentration of economic power and the parallel growing inequality all over the world are not just consequences, but also preconditions for the reproduction of the market/growth economy. In other words, there is an absolute natural barrier that makes impossible the universalisation of the consumption standards which have been created in the North during the capitalist growth process. To give an indication of why this is impossible let us make some simple calculations. It is estimated at present that the world population will be over 7 billion people by 2015.[5] For the inhabitants of our planet to reach the per capita energy use rates that those living in the rich countries enjoy now, the world energy production would have to quadruple (or increase by 6 times for everybody to enjoy the US consumption standards)![6]



The social dimension


The growth economy has already created a growth society, the main characteristics of which are consumerism, privacy, alienation and the subsequent disintegration of social ties. The growth society, in turn, inexorably leads toward a "non-society", that is, the substitution of atomised families and individuals for society —a crucial step to barbarism. The social crisis has been aggravated by the expansion of the market economy into all sectors of social life, in the context of its present internationalised form. It is, of course, well known that the market is the greatest enemy of traditional values. It is not, therefore, surprising that the social crisis is more pronounced in precisely those countries where marketisation has been well advanced. In Britain, for instance, it took 30 years for the crime rate to double, from 1 million incidents in 1950 to 2.2 million in 1979. However, in the 1980s, the crime rate has more than doubled, and it reached the 5 million mark in the 1990s to approach the 6 million mark at present! The ruling elites respond to the explosion of crime by building new jails. Thus, the prison population in England and Wales increased from 64,000 at the beginning of the decade to 77,000 a couple of years ago, while the most recent Home Office projections forecast a jail population of up to 90,000 by 2010.[7]


Similarly, it took the United States 200 years to raise its prison population to a million, but only the last 10 years to raise it to almost two million, with 680 people in jail for every 100,000 —a quarter of the world's total prison population! In fact, the explosion of crime (also caused by the criminalization of major sectors of the population, e.g. in the USA African-Americans are about 12% of the population , but represent half the prison population), as Martin Woolacott[8] points out, tends to take the form of an insurgency in urban conglomerations all over the world, and is treated as such by the ruling elites.


The cultural dimension


The establishment of the market economy implied sweeping aside traditional cultures and values. This process was accelerated in the twentieth century with the spreading all over the world of the market economy and its offspring the growth economy. As a result, today, there is an intensive process of cultural homogenisation at work, which not only rules out any directionality towards more complexity, but is in effect making culture simpler, with cities becoming more and more alike, people all over the world listening to the same music, watching the same soap operas on TV, buying the same brands of consumer goods, etc. The rise of neoliberal globalisation in the last quarter of a century or so has further enhanced this process of cultural homogenisation. This is the inevitable outcome of the liberalisation and de-regulation of markets and the consequent intensification of commercialisation of culture. As a result, traditional communities and their cultures are disappearing all over the world and people are converted to consumers of a mass culture produced in the advanced capitalist countries and particularly the USA. In the film industry, for instance, even European countries with a strong cultural and economic background (like Italy) had to effectively give up their own film industries, unable to compete with the much more competitive US industry, or , even worse, attempt lately to make films that would attract money and/or distribution from the American networks.


Thus, the recent emergence of a sort of “cultural” nationalism in many parts of the world expresses a desperate attempt to keep a cultural identity in the face of market homogenisation. But, the marketisation of the communications flow has already established the preconditions for the downgrading of cultural diversity into a kind of superficial differentiation based on folklore and likeable by tourists as well!


Last, but not least, a few words about the related ideological dimension of the cultural crisis. The changes in the structural parameters marking the transition to neoliberal modernity were accompanied by a parallel serious ideological crisis which put into question not just the political ideologies, (what postmodernists call ‘metanarratives’), or even ‘objective’ reason[9] in general, but reason itself. This is shown by the present flourishing of irrationalism in all its forms: from the revival of old religions like Christianity and Islam, etc. up to the expansion of various irrational trends, e.g. mysticism, spiritualism, astrology, esoterism, neopaganism and ‘New Age’, rejection of scientific medicine in favour of various forms of alternative therapies which use methods that usually have nothing to do with reason and testable hypotheses, etc.


The rise of irrationalism in particular is a direct result of the crisis of the growth economy in both its capitalist and ‘socialist’ versions. As I attempted to show elsewhere,[10] the collapse of the two main projects of modernity, i.e. the socialist and the development projects, in combination with the parallel ‘credibility crisis’ of science that developed in the last quarter of a century or so, were crucial to the present flourishing of irrationalism



The ecological dimension


There is no doubt today that a major dimension of the present multidimensional crisis, which extends to the economic, political, cultural and general social level, is the ecological crisis, namely the crisis which concerns not the relations between social individuals, as the other dimensions of the crisis, but our interaction, as social individuals, with the environment. The upsetting of ecological systems, the widespread pollution, the threat to renewable resources, as well as the running out of non-renewable resources and, in general, the rapid downgrading of the environment and the quality of life have made the ecological implications of economic growth manifestly apparent in the past 30 years.


Furthermore, it has now been established beyond any doubt that the ecological crisis and particularly the greenhouse effect —as well as the consequent climate change— which is the most important manifestation of this crisis, worsens daily. In fact, the recent publication of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finally brought the ecological crisis to the status of universal front-page news. The catastrophic climatic change threatening us all because of the greenhouse effect becomes obvious once we take into account that, even if we take the best-case scenario of a 2.2C rise in temperature this century (while a 4.4C rise is much more likely!), this would mean – according to the European Commission – that an extra 11,000 people in Europe would die within a decade, and from 2071 onwards there would be 29,000 extra deaths a year in southern Europe alone, on top of 27,000 extra deaths in northern Europe. In fact, as this summer showed, these predictions may be highly optimistic!


However, the publication of the IPCC report was also accompanied by an entire mythology in the international mass media on the causes of the deepening ecological crisis and the ways out of it. This mythology is being reproduced, not only by the political and economic elites, but also by the reformist Left and the Green movement, who declare, "the crisis belongs to all" (governments and civil societies alike). It would, therefore, be well worth examining the main ecological myths, taking for granted the shocking conclusions of the report, which simply confirms —using indisputable evidence— the worst predictions of the anti-systemic Left and ecologists which, until now, have been dismissed by the elites and the reformists as “scaremongering”! Furthermore, examining in some detail these myths will hopefully help to understand not only the causes of the ecological crisis, but also the ways out of it.



2. The Myths about the ecological crisis


The myth that humanity in general has to be blamed for the crisis


According to the main myth reproduced by the system, it is “human activity", or “man” in general, that are responsible for the greenhouse effect. Now, it is of course a sign of progress to recognize that the ecological crisis in general and climate change in particular are not acts of God or “normal climate phenomena”. However, blaming “human activity” for the greenhouse effect is still a daft tautology, given that humans are the only members of the animal kingdom who have the capability to create it anyway. Furthermore, human beings do not just live like Robinson Crusoes on their isolated islands, but within societies, which are organised in particular ways that may be environment-friendly or otherwise. However, blaming humanity as a whole for the crisis is not only silly; it is dangerous too. It is not surprising, therefore, that today, following the eco-fascist trends which had developed in the past —mainly among deep ecologists who were blaming overpopulation for the crisis and even were discussing the idea of compulsory sterilisation— various organizations have emerged arguing that, as mankind is at the heart of every environmental problem facing the planet, it should now commit biological hara-kiri. An organization for instance with thousands of subscribers calling itself “The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement” is campaigning for the phasing out of the entire human race as the only way to save the planet![11]


In fact, it is now generally recognised that although Homo sapiens first appeared on Earth some five hundred thousand years ago, as the IPCC report points out, concentrations in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming) are presently at their highest levels for at least 650,000 years. Furthermore, they show that these concentrations began rising only with the birth of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. The evidence therefore, clearly indicates a close connection between not just humanity and the crisis but between society and the way it is organized, i.e., the kind of socio-economic system that has been established since the Industrial Revolution, and the present ecological crisis.


Thus, carbon dioxide concentrations ranged between 180 and 300 ppm (parts per million) over the previous 650,000 years, reaching 278 ppm on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. From then on, carbon dioxide concentrations began to rise at accelerating rates, particularly since the universalisation of the growth economy after the Second World War, (by growth economy we mean the system of economic organisation whose basic aim is the maximisation of economic growth, whether this aim is ‘objectively’ determined as in the case of the capitalist market economy, whose dynamic inevitably leads to it or not, as in the case of the ex ‘actually existing socialism’, where the development of productive forces was an ideological aim). The outcome of this process was that carbon dioxide concentrations increased from 315 ppm 50 years ago to 382 ppm today. Furthermore, the growth rate of such concentrations has lately been rising rapidly, as the IPCC stressed, with hardly disguised disquiet. Thus, whereas the average annual growth rate of concentrations was 1.4 ppm in the period between 1960 and 2005, it reached 1.9 ppm in the last decade (1995-2005) —a 36 per cent rise! At the same time, the planet’s temperature kept on rising, accompanied not only by catastrophic heat waves, but also by devastating droughts and consequent water shortages, storms, etc.


So, it is now indisputable that the ecological crisis has not been caused by human activity in general but by the human activity of the last two hundred years or so since the Industrial Revolution. But then, another question arises: can we say then that the cause of the ecological crisis is the Industrial Revolution itself? This is the object of the second myth:



The myth that the Industrial Revolution has to be blamed for the ecological crisis


According to this myth, which is adopted mainly by various irrational (religious and spiritualist) currents, deep ecologists, primitivists, et. al., it is the Industrial Revolution, as well as industrial civilisation and its values that are to be blamed for the current crisis.


However, as I have tried to show elsewhere,[12] the Industrial Revolution assumed the particular form that we are familiar with, simply because it took place in a society in which control of the means of production belonged to minorities (merchants, landowners, etc). Had the means of production belonged to communities as a whole, technological progress would have led to a very different kind of Industrial Revolution, which in all probability would not have led to a growth economy and the present ecological crisis. Thus, the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century became an integral part of the system of the capitalist market economy that emerged at the same time, the dynamics of which inevitably led to a continuous economic growth and development, consumerism and a growing concentration of income and wealth. This was inevitable because of the paramount need of those controlling the means of production to maximise profits through improvements in economic efficiency (narrowly defined[13]) and competitiveness— which was ensured, also, by the minimisation of social controls over the market protecting labour and/or the environment.


It is, therefore, obvious that the rise of the growth economy was not simply the result of changes in values, the imaginary, or ideology, but that it constituted, instead, the result of the dynamics of a concrete economic system in interaction with the outcome of social struggle. This is why the growth economy that developed in the countries formerly of “actually existing socialism”, although sharing several characteristics with the capitalist growth economy (and leading to a similar environmental disaster) was very different from it, as it was not the result of the dynamics of the market economy[14].



The myth that personalises the problem and its solutions


In view of the rapidly worsening ecological crisis, the political elites have recently found a new way to shift the blame of responsibility from the main culprits: the very system of the market economy and its offspring the growth economy and the consequent present pattern of living. In the process they managed also to commercialise the problem! Thus, not only they created carbon trading markets, supposedly to deal with the problem of carbon emissions at the country level (the EU, for instance, introduced last year a carbon trading scheme which sets country-by-country overall caps for carbon, and rewards individual companies which find a profitable way to minimise carbon emissions) but now they aim to create similar schemes at the individual level, through a personal carbon trading scheme proposed by crooked professional politicians like David Miliband and soon likely to be put in practice.


According to this scheme[15] the Government would set an annual "carbon budget" and allocate everyone over the age of 18 an estimated 64 million people the same number of credits, initially allowing them to emit five tons of carbon a year. While businesses would get 60 per cent of the total carbon cake, 40 per cent would go to consumers, whose domestic greenhouse-gas emissions are responsible for 44 per cent of Britain's total output. Purchases included in the scheme would be likely to include petrol, airline tickets and fuel bills. The idea is the same as with the country scheme, i.e. those who live within their carbon limit would be able to sell credits to those who do not, so that everybody could balance his/her eco-sins against others’ low-energy lifestyles. This way, low income groups (as low-emitting countries in Africa who can sell their credits to the US) will sell their credits to high income groups, so that rich countries and now individuals could continue their lavish lifestyles at the expense of the rest! The aim therefore is obvious: artificial equalization of carbon emissions between countries and persons and no change at all in the present system of concentration of economic power which is the ultimate culprit for the ecological crisis. No change therefore in the way we cover our needs, particularly our energy needs and generally our consumer needs as the lifestyle remains basically the same (“everything changes so that it remains the same”!)



The myth that the ecological crisis affects all equally


According to this myth, which arises from the ignorance (deliberate or not) of the "systemic" character of the ecological crisis and its origins in the rise of the capitalist growth economy, the greenhouse effect does not make class and race distinctions, equally affecting rich and poor, white or black. This myth clearly ignores the fact that the basic aim of the capitalist growth economy is not to cover human needs, but to reproduce the present concentration of economic, political and social power in general at the hands of the privileged social strata.


The ecological crisis is neither caused by global "civil society”, nor does it affect everybody equally. On the contrary, according to recent World Bank data, the poorest 37% of the world’s population is accountable for only 7% of carbon dioxide emissions, whilst the 15% of the world’s population that lives in rich countries is responsible for half these emissions[16]something hardly surprising, of course, if one takes into account that the energy use per capita of high income countries is, today, more than 10 times higher than that of low income countries![17] In terms of the consequences of the greenhouse effect, it is precisely the victims of the system who pay the heaviest price, whether they live in New Orleans or in the favelas of Rio, and not those living in luxurious villas in the affluent suburbs of America, Western Europe or other continents. 


So, to sum up our conclusions up to now:

a. There is a definite relationship between the ecological crisis and the growth economy which in turn has been determined by the dynamic of the market economy and, in particular, the concentration of income and wealth between and within countries, the consequent urban concentration, —the car culture and so on.


b. It is now confirmed that the destruction of the environment during the lifetime of the growth economy, in both its capitalist and state socialist versions, bears no comparison to the cumulative damage that previous societies have inflicted on the environment.


c. So, the cause of the greenhouse effect is the very pattern of living implied by the growth economy,


However, as it becomes obvious from what was stressed before, although almost all experts (apart from, those in the service of the system) agree today that we are at the edge of an ecological catastrophe, there is no corresponding consensus on the causes of the crisis. So, what are the main theoretical approaches to deal with the ecological crisis?



3. The main approaches on the ecological crisis


We may distinguish between two types of approach: reformist and systemic approaches and within them we may distinguish between centralist and decentralist approaches. Reformist approaches are all those approaches that take the present system of the capitalist market economy and representative ‘democracy’ for granted and seek a way out of the various aspects of the crisis through reforms, i.e., through changes in this system that do not affect the basic political and economic structure of it. Systemic approaches on the other hand seek to find out the systemic causes of the various aspects of the crisis and seek a way out of it through changes in the economic and political structure of the system itself. Reformist approaches as well as many systemic approaches are centralist in the sense that they see the way out of the crisis in terms of a centralist sustainable growth economy whereas some systemic approaches are decentralist in the sense that they see the way out of the crisis in terms of a decentralised ecological society.



Reformist approaches: sustainable development or “greening capitalism”


The reformist approaches broadly speaking seek the causes of the ecological crisis in the technologies used and the dominant system of values naively assuming that a massive change in them is possible, if only we could persuade people about the need for such a change in order to “green” capitalism. This solution is supported not just by the mainstream green movement and the reformist Left but also by the ‘progressive’ parts of the transnational elite, as it takes for granted today's institutional framework of the market economy and representative ‘democracy’. All these establishment currents, taking for granted the growth economy and consumerism, suggest a series of supposedly "realistic" half-measures to avert a possibly dramatic deterioration in the ecological situation within the next century or so.


Starting, first, with the technological fixes, several studies have shown the inadequacy of various technological solutions suggested to cover the needs created by the present consumerist growth economy. For instance, the universalisation of renewable sources of energy, as for example Ted Trainer[18] and Serge Latouche[19] stress, could have a significant impact on the ecological crisis only if they are complemented by a dramatic change of our lifestyle and de-growth.


As regards the change of values, if we accept the premise that both our values and our way of life are crucially determined by the prevailing socio-economic system, which is defined by the market economy and the growth economy, then it is clear that neither a radical change in our values nor in our way of life are feasible, unless both are accompanied by a parallel change in the socio-economic institutions defining the present system.


Yet, there is no lack of proposals to deal with the ecological crisis through a process of ‘greening capitalism’. Given that no scientist or technologist at the moment, even the most enthusiastic ones, suggests that technological fixes alone could sort out the growing ecological crisis, ecologists and others suggest things like:

  • Drastic changes in our consumption patterns,

  • The end our love affair with the private car and cheap flights all over the world,

  • The end of intensive farming,

  • The stopping of moving food over huge distances.

In a word, those not relying on technology to fix the ecological crisis are in fact suggesting some kind of restrictions on growth, particularly as far as the growth of countries like China and India is concerned which, because of the huge population sizes involved, (these two countries alone, between them, share 37% of world population) threatens world energy resources and constitutes a further serious ecological burden. However, apart from the fact that nobody could seriously suggest to the billions of people in the world who are starving or just surviving that they do not need growth, the fact is that it is the very structure and dynamics of the present system that prevents such changes from being introduced —even if the continuous worsening of the ecological crisis increasingly persuades more and more people about the imperative need to change their pattern of living. It is therefore preposterous for advanced countries, whose growth led to the present ecological crisis, to demand from such countries like China and India not to do the same for the sake of the planet, i.e., for peoples in rich countries to continue living happily ever after and peoples in poor countries to remain more or less in the present condition.


Furthermore, the argument becomes even more ridiculous if one thinks that most if not all of growth in China and India is not even induced and financed by China and India-based transnational corporations, but, instead, by such TNCs based in the USA, the EU or Japan, which aim to exploit the vast resources of cheap labour and the miserable working conditions in these countries! Nearly three-fifths of its exports and nearly all its hi-tech exports are made by non-Chinese, foreign firms. It is in other words, the dynamics of the market economy itself which inevitably lead to more and more growth, even in China and India, since expansion means more income for those controlling the production, distribution, research and development world networks; it means new and more efficient methods of production and therefore even more income for them and so on. China and India are in fact being used today as the assembly lines of the transnational elite, i.e. of the economic and political elites controlling the world system today. Therefore, growth leads to growing concentration of economic power and greater inequality.


Also, one should take into account the crucial fact that market economies are dependent on growth not only because of the production requirements imposed by the system of market economy, given that the very dynamic of this system necessitates and therefore leads to continuous expansion but also because consumer democracies of today are equally dependent on growth, for without the prospect of mass consumption, the present inequalities would be unbearable. So, it is not only multinationals and those controlling them who aim at growth but the people themselves who demand more growth since, as Serge Latouche[20] observes, inequalities are only temporarily tolerated on the basis of the ideological myth that the luxuries of today will be accessible to all tomorrow, as many goods that were once reserved for the privileged are now widespread. One could therefore imagine the dramatic social effects that would follow drastic restrictions on car use or air travel, which mostly would hit the lower social strata particularly hard, turning things that have become necessities within the present pattern of life (private cars, flying, etc.) into luxuries!


It is, therefore, clear that the same growth process, which leads to further concentration of economic power, leads also to concentration of production, on the grounds of ‘efficiency’ —as defined by narrow techno-economic criteria. And this happens both at the level of primary production (large-scale farming, etc.) and also at the traditional level of secondary production. Furthermore, the vast expansion of services in the present post-industrial era leads to even greater urban concentration, despite the decentralisation that information technology supposedly creates —which however is bound to be minimal for several reasons we cannot expand on here.


Therefore, one may argue that developments like the following ones make impossible the drastic changes required to even slow down the present crisis within the present economic system:

  • The very patterns of living that have been created today, where people and goods have to travel significant distances to reach their destinations,

  • The fast way of life that has developed in present society and

  • The constant bombardment by the advertising industry in its systematic effort to create more new ‘needs’, so that production and incomes of those controlling it could further expand.

Rightly, Latouche again, recently stressed, “eco-compatible capitalism is conceivable in theory, but unrealistic in practice. Capitalism would require a high level of regulation to bring about the reduction of our ecological footprint…a society based on economic contraction couldn’t exist under capitalism.[21]” In this sense, therefore, it is not the systemic approaches which are utopian in the negative sense of the word as reformists argue, but the very reformist approaches which are promoted as frealistic and pragmatic!



Systemic approaches: centralist and decentralist approaches


As regards the systemic approaches to the ecological crisis and the ways out of it, we must at the outset rule out the irrational trends, which, after condemning industrialism and Progress itself, usually end up with a primitivist, call for a return to pre-industrial societies.


Starting with “centralist” approaches, we may classify under this label the various versions of socialist, ecosocialist[22] and eco-Marxist[23] approaches, which emphasize the significance of production relations and production conditions in the analysis of environmental problems and as such represent a synthesis of Marxist economic theory and environmental analysis. Here also belongs the Participatory Economics (Parecon)[24] approach which, like socialist planning and the market economy systems, shares the same overall objective of economic growth, (though presumably of a sustainable kind) as well as the implied meaning of efficiency, treating ecological problems as a case of externalities, (exactly as orthodox economists and environmentalists do!) which can supposedly be solved by involving more consumer councils and the like.


As far as the decentralist approaches is concerned, we could classify under this label those approaches supporting a radically decentralised ecological society. The differences between centralist and decentralist approaches are not just theoretical, since they have very significant practical implications as regards the proposals on how to transcend the ecological crisis. For centralists, the way out of this crisis could be found through the creation of a sustainable growth economy and with the help of socialist or democratic planning in which workers’ councils, as well as consumers’ councils, would be involved. On the other hand, for decentralists, the ecological crisis could only be transcended in a radically decentralised ecological society based on local communities according to Social Ecologists, or on eco-villages and eco-cities according to supporters of the Simpler Way and De-growth projects respectively and, finally, based on the demos according to supporters of Inclusive Democracy, i.e., a direct political, economic, ecological and social democracy, of say 25-30,000 people, which would be part of a broader confederation of demoi.


The main approaches belonging to this category are the following ones:


The social ecology[25] approach (Bookchin) sees the causes of the present ecological crisis in terms of the hierarchical structures of domination and exploitation in capitalist society and, as such, represents an explicit attempt for a synthesis of libertarian socialism or anarchism with environmental analysis. However, although this is an important approach in stressing the systemic character of the crisis and in proposing a systemic change as a way out of it, it shares the drawbacks of 19th century philosophy by assuming the existence of a rational process of social evolution, i.e., the view which sees History as a process of Progress, the unfolding of reason —a view which assumes that there is an evolution going on towards autonomous, or democratic, forms of political, economic and social organisation— that, to my mind, is both untenable and undesirable. No wonder that this approach adopts the communistic fiction of a post-scarcity society in which no economic-decision taking about the allocation of resources is, in effect, required. This is why the Social Ecology project, in contrast to Parecon and the Inclusive Democracy project, does not propose any mechanism for the allocation of resources.[26]


The de-growth approach (Latouche),[27] the development of which was a significant development in Green politics and thought. This is because it showed that the Green movement, after its rise as an antisystemic movement in Germany in the 1970s and its subsequent integration into mainstream politics as a kind of reformist Left party or lobby (taking part in the process —or supporting in various degrees— the criminal wars of the transnational elite in the 1990s and beyond), could still play a role at the boundaries between a reformist and an antisystemic movement. At the same time, the degrowth project shows significant similarities, both at the theoretical and the strategic levels, with the “Simpler Way” approach (Ted Trainer)[28], which, like the degrowth approach, involves “mostly small, highly self-sufficient local economies; economic systems under social control and not driven by market forces or the profit motive and highly cooperative and participatory systems”, as well as the associated “eco-village movement.” However, the degrowth project stresses that the transition process involves not just the creation of “eco-villages”, mainly outside the main society, but, instead, the creation of “urban villages,” which involve the development of a high degree of decentralisation within the main society itself. In other words, unlike the supporters of eco-villages who, even when their aim is the creation of a new social movement and not just a life style change, aspire mainly to a movement based on communities outside the main society, supporters of the degrowth project explicitly aim to create a new social movement within the main society as the traditional Green parties have always attempted to do. Therefore, the aim pursued by both approaches is the same —a non-growth society to replace the present growth society. But, for Latouche, degrowth does not also imply any move towards abolishing the market economy system —only reducing its scope. Similarly, the degrowth project adopts a similar stand of a not outright rejection of the market economy’s political complement: representative ‘democracy’. Therefore, as I attempted to show elsewhere,[29] given the non-rejection by the degrowth project of either the system of market economy or its political complement, representative ‘democracy’, it is clear that the cultural revolution imagined by it does not imply a systemic change. Localism, either it takes the form of urban villages and participatory democracy (Homs), or even of a confederation of demoi within a reformed market economy and representative ‘democracy’ (Latouche), clearly could not lead to a degrowth society on the basis of the above analysis. In other words, this sort of “ecological democracy” in no way solves the problem of concentration of economic and political power —the root cause of the present multidimensional crisis.


As the approach we shall examine next stresses, the Inclusive Democracy approach, an ecological democracy, or more generally, an inclusive democracy could only become possible if the change of values is the outcome of a parallel and interacting gradual change in the political and economic institutions replacing the present institutions of concentration of political and economic power with institutions of equal distribution of each form of power. 



4. The Inclusive Democracy approach on the ecological crisis


The Inclusive Democracy approach sees the causes of the ecological crisis (which is considered as part of a multidimensional crisis), in terms of the present huge and growing concentration of power at all levels that, in turn, is seen as the inevitable outcome of the dynamics of the market economy and representative ‘democracy’ and of the related hierarchical structures. In this sense, the ID approach represents an explicit attempt for a synthesis of the two historical traditions, the classical democratic tradition with the socialist tradition, as well as with the radical currents within the new social movements (feminism, ecological movement, identity movements and so on). The explicit aim of the ID project is the reintegration of society to nature the economy and polity. However, in contrast to the social ecology approach, an Inclusive Democracy is seen not just as an utopia, or as an objectively rational society (in the sense that there are objective trends in nature which involve the objective potentiality for such a society) but as a project, the product of political will, and as a way of transcending the multidimensional crisis. The main institutional changes proposed by ID supporters are:


  • the radical decentralization within confederated self-reliant local Demoi;
  • the abolition of the institutionalised concentration of power at all levels; and
  • changing the overall aim of production from economic growth to meeting the citizens’ needs (particularly those referring to the quality of life).


But, let’s see in more detail the ID approach to the ecological crisis



The ID approach on the causes of the ecological crisis


As I said, the ultimate cause of this crisis according to this approach is the concentration of economic and political power. In a nutshell, the ID’s thesis is that the present concentration of economic power is the inevitable outcome of a process, which started about two hundred years ago with the rise of the system of the market economy. It was the rise of this system which has led, through different processes and for different reasons, to the two types of the growth economy, i.e., the now defunct ‘socialist’ version of it (what used to be called ‘actually existing socialism’) and the presently universal capitalist growth economy. As we all know, both versions of the growth economy have been responsible for the greatest damage to the environment in all of History and a corresponding huge concentration of power. Of course, concentration of economic power does not constitute a new phenomenon. What is new is the fact that the reproduction of the social system itself, as well as of the power of the elite controlling it, crucially depends on the realisation of the growth objective, which, in turn, is `justified’ through its identification with Progress. So, economic growth functions not just as a fundamental social and economic goal, but also as a basic means to reproduce the structures of unequal distribution of economic and political power, which characterises modern hierarchical society, as well as a central element of the ideology that supports it.


However, the fact that modern hierarchical society relies for its reproduction on the maximisation of economic growth constitutes, also, its fundamental contradiction. This is not because, as it is usually argued, the continuation of the growth economy has serious environmental implications, but because the necessary condition for the reproduction of the growth economy is the concentration of its benefits to a small section of the world population, in other words, the huge inequality in the distribution of world income. The present, for instance, rapid growth rate in countries like China, whose GDP per head rose by an average rate of 8.5 percent in 1990-2003,[30] is physically sustainable only if the parallel huge increase in inequality continues. In fact, as various reports show[31] the faster the country has grown, the more the gap has opened up between the urban rich on the east coast and rural poor in the western interior. Furthermore, the universalisation of green technologies would not be possible, given their cost and the concentration of world income. And, this, without taking into account the fact that it is at least doubtful whether after the universalisation of such technologies their beneficial impact on the environment will remain the same.


So, as I already mentioned, concentration of power and ecological disintegration do not simply constitute consequences of the establishment of the growth economy, but also fundamental pre-conditions for its reproduction. Contrary to the neo-Keynesian argument of ‘civil societarians’ who hope that the transnational elite, facing the threat of an inadequate demand because of growing inequality, will be induced to introduce a world mixed economy,[32] in fact, the opposite is the case. The growth economy in the North not only is not threatened by the growing inequality of the present internationalised market economy, but, instead, depends on it. Thus, just as the production of the growth economy is not possible without the plundering of nature, its reproduction is equally impossible without further concentration of economic power.



Inclusive Democracy as a way out of the deepening ecological crisis


If we now accept the thesis I have put forward so far, i.e., that the cause of the ecological crisis, as part of the present multi-dimensional crisis, is ultimately the concentration of power at all levels which is implied by the present socio-economic framework, the obvious conclusion is that the only way out of the crisis is the creation of the subjective and objective conditions which will lead to a new society. That is, a society, which, at the institutional level, will create the necessary conditions for the abolition of concentration of power and, by implication, for the re-integration of nature and society. Such a society is what I call an inclusive democracy. So, let’s see briefly what we mean by Inclusive Democracy.


We may distinguish between four main types of democracy that constitute the fundamental elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic, ecological, and ‘democracy in the social realm’. We may then define, briefly, political, economic, and democracy in the social realm as the institutional framework that aims at the equal distribution of political, economic, and social power respectively, in other words, as the system which aims at the effective elimination of the domination of human being over human being. Similarly, we may define ecological democracy as the institutional framework that aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the system, which aims to reintegrate humans and nature.


The preconditions for an inclusive democracy:


  • Political and economic democracy are inseparable in the sense that political or direct democracy —in which political power is shared equally among all citizens— is neither feasible nor desirable, unless it is accompanied by economic democracy in the sense of equal distribution of economic power.
  • Political and economic democracy do not, by themselves, secure an inclusive democracy, given that political and economic power are not the only forms of power, i.e., an inclusive democracy is inconceivable unless it extends to the broader social sphere to embrace the workplace, the household, the educational institution and indeed any economic or cultural institution which constitutes an element of this realm through various forms of self-management.
  • Ecological democracy is an indispensable part of inclusive democracy since the attempt to dominate Nature and the attempt to dominate other human beings are integral parts of the relation of domination itself, which characterises every hierarchical society.


Of course, an Inclusive Democracy cannot offer any guarantees that the horizontal relations of equality and respect for other human beings and Nature will finally replace the vertical relations of domination. This is because if we see democracy as a process of social self-institution where there is no divinely or ‘objectively’ defined code of human conduct, such guarantees are by definition ruled out. There is therefore no guarantee that an Inclusive Democracy will be an ecological society. The replacement of the market economy by a new institutional framework of inclusive democracy constitutes only the necessary condition for a harmonious relation between the natural and social worlds.


The sufficient condition refers to the citizens’ level of ecological consciousness and one can only hope that the radical change in the dominant social paradigm that will follow the institution of an inclusive democracy, combined with the decisive role that a democratic Paedeia[33] will play in an environmentally-friendly institutional framework, would lead to a radical change in the human attitude towards Nature. In other words, this problematique cannot go beyond defining the institutional preconditions that offer the best hope for a better human relationship to Nature. However, there are strong grounds to believe that the relationship between an inclusive democracy and Nature would be much more harmonious than any society-nature relationship which could ever be achieved in a market economy, or one based on socialist statism. The factors supporting this view refer to all three elements of an inclusive democracy: political, economic, and social.

  • At the political level, one could reasonably expect that the establishment of a political or direct democracy will by itself have a very significant effect in reducing the appeal of materialism —the precondition of consumerism— as it will provide a new meaning of life to fill the existential void that the present consumer society creates.

  • At the economic level, the establishment of an economic democracy would mean that once the market economy is replaced by a confederal ID, the grow-or-die dynamics of the market economy will be replaced by the new social dynamic of the new society: a dynamic aiming not at growth per se but at the satisfaction of the Demos’ needs, as expressed by the democratic decisions of the citizens taken either collectively (as regards basic needs) or individually (as regards non-basic needs). But, if the satisfaction of community needs does not depend, as at present, on the continuous expansion of production to cover the wants that the market creates, and if the link between society and economy is restored, then there is no reason why the present instrumentalist view of Nature in which Nature is seen as an instrument of growth will continue conditioning human behaviour.

  • At the broader social level, the establishment of a democracy at the social realm, it is reasonable to assume that, with the phasing out of patriarchal relations in the household and of hierarchical relations in general, should create a new ethos of non-domination which would engulf both Society and Nature.

  • Last, but not least, the very decentralised character of an ID might also be expected to enhance its environmentally friendly character. It is reasonable to assume —and the evidence about the remarkable success of local communities in safeguarding their environments is overwhelming— that when people rely directly on their natural surroundings for their livelihood, they will develop an intimate knowledge of those surroundings, which will necessarily affect positively their behaviour towards them.

However, the precondition for the local control of the environment to be successful is that the demos is self-reliant, i.e., that the community depends on its natural surroundings for its long-term livelihood and that it therefore has a direct interest in protecting it —another reason why an ecological society is impossible without economic democracy. One should not also forget that the economic effectiveness of the renewable forms of energy (solar, wind, etc.) depends crucially on the organisation of social and economic life in smaller units. Such a solution is impossible within the framework of the internationalised market economy, precisely because it is not compatible with today's concentration of economic, political and social power. This is why the alternative solutions, which are being advanced today, are solutions, which supposedly concentrate many advantages of renewable energy and at the same time, do not require any radical changes in the market/growth economy.


In this problematic, it is clear that the project for an inclusive democracy is not just a utopia, in the negative sense of the word. A social project is not a utopia if it is based on today's reality. And today's reality is summed up by an unprecedented multidimensional crisis of the `growth economy'. Furthermore, a social project is not a utopia, if it expresses the discontent of significant social sectors and their, explicit or implicit, contesting of existing society. Today, the main political, economic and social institutions on which the present concentration of power is founded are increasingly contested. Thus, as we have seen, not only basic political institutions are contested in various ways and representative democracy itself is questioned, but also fundamental economic institutions, like private property, are challenged in a massive way (e.g. explosion of crime against property) clearly reflecting the growing discontent with the rising inequality in the distribution of income and wealth —an inequality, which, within the context of the present consumer society, becomes unbearable. I think that after the collapse of the state socialist project, democracy may represent the only way out of the multi-dimensional crisis.


Thus, roughly 100 years after the adherents to socialist statism attempted to create a new kind of institutional framework in place of the market economy and representative ‘democracy’, it is becoming increasingly clear today that the autonomy of the social individual can only be achieved in the context of democracy. It is also clear that democracy does not mean the various oligarchic regimes in the North that call themselves today democratic, let alone the despotic regimes in the South. Needless to add that democracy also does not mean an anachronistic return to the classical conception of democracy. Democracy could only mean a genuine, comprehensive democracy in all spheres of life, i.e., what I called an Inclusive Democracy, i.e., a structure and a process, which, through direct citizen participation in the decision-making and implementing process, ensures the equal distribution of political, economic, and social power among them.



[1] See The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, (2005), ch.5.

[2] ibid.

[3] See e.g. Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Retreat from Autonomy” in World in Fragments (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997) p. 43.

[4] See The Multidimentional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, ch. 8.

[5] UN, Human Development Report 2005, Table 5.

[6] Calculations on the World Development Report 2000/2001, World Bank, Tables 1 and 10.

[7] Sam Jones, ‘More than half of jails in England are too full’, The Guardian, 13/8/2005.

[8] Martin Woolacott, “The March of a Martial Law”, The Guardian (20 Jan. 1996).

[9] See, e.g.,Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970); Imre Lakatos, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970); Paul Feyerabend, Against Method (London: Verso, 1975).

[10] See Takis Fotopoulos, ‘The Rise of New Irrationalism and its Incompatibility with Inclusive Democracy’, Democracy & Nature, vol. 4 nos. 2/3 (July/November 1998), pp. 1-49.

[11] See Guy Adams, “How to save the planet”, The Independent, 19/4/2007 see also the site to which the article refers at: www.vhemt.org

[12] See T. Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy (Cassell/Continuum 1997), ch 1; see also Per Una Democrazia Globale, (Eleuthera, 1999) and Vers une democratie generale, (Seuil, 2002).

For an online version see The Multidimentional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, (2005).

[13] Efficiency in a market economy is defined on the basis of narrow techno-economic criteria of input minimisation/output maximisation and not on the basis of the degree of satisfaction of human needs, which is supposed to be the aim of an economic system. The usual definition of economic efficiency in terms of technical efficiency, production efficiency and exchange efficiency, although supposedly ‘neutral’, in fact assumes away distributional aspects, so that it is perfectly possible for a particular allocation of resources to be ‘efficient’ and at the same time incapable of meeting adequately (or at all) even the basic needs of many citizens.

[14] See The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy ch. 5

[15] see Ian Herbert, “Fair trade: Can personal carbon trading really make a difference?”, Independent, 11/10/2007

[16] See World Bank, World Development Indicators 2005, Tables 2.1 & 3.8

[17] ibid. Table 3.7

[18] Ted Τrainer, “Renewable Energy: No Solution for Consumer Society”, The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Vol. 3 - No. 1 (January 2007).

[19] Serge Latouche,De-growth: an electoral stake? The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Vol. 3 - No. 1 (January 2007).

[20] Serge Latouche, “The globe downshifted”, Le Monde diplomatique (January 2006).

[21] ibid.

[22] For a useful description of eco-socialism and its differences from eco-anarchism and other green tendencies, see David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (London: Routledge, 1993), and Modern Environmentalism (London: Routledge, 1996).

[23] See James O'Connor, “Capitalism, Nature, Socialism,” Society and Nature, Vol.1, No.2 (1992), pp. 174-202.

[24] Michael Albert, Parecon, Life After Capitalism (London: Verso, 2003).

[25] See the works of Murray Bookchin, for instance, Remaking Society (Montreal: Black Rose, 1989), The Philosophy of Social Ecology (Montreal: Black Rose, 1995), From Urbanization to Cities: Toward a New Politics of Citizenship (London: Cassell, 1995).

[26] See T. Fotopoulos, “The ID project and Social Ecology”, The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Vol.1 - No. 3 (May 2005).

[27] see the articles by Serge Latouche “De-growth: an electoral stake? and Clement Homs “Localism and the city: the example of "urban villages"” in The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy , Vol. 3 - No. 1 (January 2007); see also Latouche, “The globe downshifted”.

[29] See T. Fotopoulos; Is degrowth compatible with a market economy? The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, Vol.3, No.1 (January 2007).

[30] UN, Human Development Report 2005, Table 14

[31] See e.g. Jon Watts, ‘A tale of two countries’, The Guardian, 9/11/2004

[32] Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, Globalisation in Question, p. 163.

[33] T. Fotopoulos, ‘From (mis)education to Paedeia’, Democracy & Nature, Vol.9, No.1 (March 2003).