Produce less. Distribute it fairly. Create a greener world for all.

Achieving an Ecologically Sustainable Civilization: Strategic Perspective

Our strategic perspective is evidently a revolutionary one, not limited to modest reforms that would leave capitalism as the globally dominant mode of production of essential goods and services. In our previous ten articles, published in Green Social Thought, we have at some length argued that capitalism, with its accompanying ideology, is itself the main barrier to…

Written by

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden


Originally Published in

Our strategic perspective is evidently a revolutionary one, not limited to modest reforms that would leave capitalism as the globally dominant mode of production of essential goods and services. In our previous ten articles, published in Green Social Thought, we have at some length argued that capitalism, with its accompanying ideology, is itself the main barrier to environmentally and socially sustainable relationships for making our way on Earth. Only a revolutionary perspective within each of the people’s struggles offers a path out of the environmental and social crises a dominant capitalism now accelerates. 

The recent emergence within the mass popular resistance of a revolutionary movement for an ecologically sustainable civilization is the only path left to a continuing life affirming environment on Earth, at least one that would support human life and the large retinue of life forms and ecological relationships we require for our own existence.  

At the same time, we continue to insist that there is no magic wand for bringing into existence an alternative to capitalism. The path to an ecologically sustainable civilization must be a continuous one, punctuated no doubt by significant events. People must have the means to live at every stage of the struggle for a future. 

At every point in the people’s struggles, attention needs to be given to the continuing influence of capitalist culture. We will need to remind ourselves frequently that real revolutionaries (in any field of endeavour) do not aim to distinguish themselves from the rest of humanity, but rather to contribute to the process of an essential transition to a society beyond capitalism (and all other class-divided systems for making our way within nature).

Dimensions of the ecological challenge

Exploitative social systems (slavery, feudalism and capitalism), in addition to being systems of class violence, are characterized by three ecological rifts. One is the metabolic rift, whereby some of the organic material needed to sustain human life becomes waste, that is, matter no longer accessible for the maintenance and reproduction of human and supporting life. Another rupture is the urban-rural divide, whereby humans are removed from naturally productive locations to urban centres which do not have all the natural conditions necessary to sustain human life. The third is the theory-practice divide endemic to the existence of social classes, whereby the classes most closely engaged in productive relationships with nature and natural materials are not equally engaged in the decision-making about how these relationships might best function to sustain human and other life. 

Class society emerged and could only exist in a geological period of natural abundance. That abundance is now rapidly being transformed by capitalism into waste, creating conditions of material scarcity for the majority, while sustaining a diminishing minority in unprecedented individual wealth.  

These consequences of a class-divided global human civilization have profound implications for the continuation of a sustainable relationship of human civilization with the Earth. Class relationships need to be fully replaced by communal ones so that the damaging consequences can be sufficiently repaired for the Earth to support many more human generations. The consequences for political policy are likely more profound than any political movement has so far been prepared to consider. But time is not on our side. Revolutionaries gain credibility by educating people for the changes that are needed, unlike those political leaders who fail or are unable to share this responsibility. 

While the details will have to be worked out by generations of people, the broad outlines of needed social change follow from the identification of the systemic causes of ecological degradation. The following general policy directions should be part of any effort to address the ecological crisis humanity now faces:

  • Use of natural resources must be dramatically reduced, with emphasis on conservation, including durable construction of all structures and manufactured goods and priority to essential goods and services, equitably shared;
  • Organic waste must be retained where it is needed for the reproduction of life, or returned to locations where it is so needed, such as for sustainable agriculture, forestry and as part of the resources needed on land and in water bodies to sustain them as carbon sinks; 
  • Class relationships must be ended, replaced by radical democracy to close the theory-practice gap, engaging all as environmental stewards, including bringing their experience and knowledge to bear on all work decisions with environmental consequences;  
  • The urban-rural divide must be closed by bringing those currently living in urban areas closer to natural reproduction of life (ruralizing urban life) and by engaging all in the opportunities now available mainly in urban areas (urbanizing rural life).

Comparing an ecological civilization with contemporary capitalism

Contemporary Capitalism

Ecological Civilization

Political-Economic Characteristics

Political-Economic Goals

1. Legal priority of private profit over public good in the management of privately-owned capital

1. Stewardship responsibilities and usufruct rights, but no private ownership over nature

2. Finance industry (banking, insurance, investment) conducted as private for-profit business with periodic financial meltdowns throwing millions out of work

2. Exchange of goods and services conducted on the principle “from each according to their ability to each according to their need” 

3. Capital accumulation, growth in material throughput in the economy, expanding global population, economic “growth” measured as economic busy-ness, beneficial or not

3. Sustainable relationship with nature, based on conservative use of natural resources. 

4. Degradation of nature and human life, fetish on acquisition of personal wealth and consumption of superfluous quantities of goods and services

4. Improved quality of life, including human welfare in a healthy environment with a focus on durable goods and consequent reduction in material throughput

5. Vast private wealth accumulation alongside poverty

5. Equitable distribution of income and wealth in a sustainable economy, an end to poverty

6. International military-industrial complex as a major source of resource waste and environmental destruction, a principal recipient of corporate welfare and the main enforcer of trans-national corporate power

6. Conversion of military-industrial complex to peacekeeping, international search and rescue, first responder services during environmental disasters and source of international assistance

7. Trans-national for-profit corporations able to foment a race to the bottom in labor rights, environmental protection and social welfare

7. Locally, regionally and globally coordinated fair exchange of goods and services, based on local sovereignty and bottom up decision-making, with strict enforcement of environmental and labor laws in the service of a just, sustainable future

Dominant Cultural Characteristics

Cultural Values

1. Isolated individuals, exclusivity

1. Human solidarity, inclusivity

2. Corporate “citizenship rights”, economic power translated into political power, hierarchical top-down management of business and government 

2. Citizens equal persons, not corporations, inclusive participatory democracy in all organizations and institutions, decision making of, by and for the people

3. A mixture of private and public science, the former constrained by secrecy, patents and copyrights

3. Science fully conducted in the public interest in public institutions, with free flow of ideas, knowledge and information globally

4. Commercial advertising as the dominant form of cultural expression and information

4. Imagination liberated from commerce, with advertising restricted to service in the public interest

5. All the education and justice an individual can buy

5. Education and justice services free to all at every level

6. Waste

6. Conservation

Roles revolutionaries can play in the people’s social movements

The paths from contemporary capitalism in all its nationally specific variants to an ecologically sustainable global civilization, in all its likely variants, may take many different paths, some with detours, others with water crossings, all with climbs and descents. Whatever the path that circumstances dictate, there will be need for the participation in the people’s movements of those whose aim is to reach an ecologically sustainable civilization, again in any of its local, regional and national variants.  

The following movements become revolutionary ones when they adopt aims and methods like the following. 

A labor movement (social unionism) which:

– beyond the immediate physical survival of working people and their families puts the interests of the global working class before any other-short term interests of any of its detachments, joining the fight against poverty wherever it exists and by opposing militarism, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and all other forms of oppression of people (global working-class solidarity)

– champions the environment, protecting it for future generations (working class environmental stewardship)

– behaves thoroughly democratically in its own organizations, including adherence to the principle of the primacy of the rank and file over those in formal positions of leadership, and militantly opposes all manifestations of authoritarianism, beginning in the workplace (working class democracy)

– fights for a living wage for a reduced number of work hours, enabling working people to spend more time with their families and in voluntary contributions to their communities, thereby expanding the non-market sector of the economy at the expense of an ultimately vanishing capitalist market economy (working class morality)

– aims for an equal say in all work-related decisions that concern the health and welfare of the community, ultimately replacing “management rights” with the fundamental right of working people to manage their own workplaces (economic democracy).

An environmental movement that

– opposes private property rights to nature and natural resources, working to replace these with stewardship rights and obligations (environmental stewardship)

– fights for legislation and constitutional change aimed at a rapid winding down of the fossil fuel economy, and a just transition to an alternative economy based equally on safer, alternative energy sources and conservative, sustainable use of all resources (creating a sustainable economy)

– links its fight for the environment with a commensurate fight for human equality, including passing along the full costs of the transition to those most able to pay (making the new economy a just one).

A civic movement that

– works to create resilient communities that prioritize people and nature over private profits (resilient communities)

– actively builds a culture and practice of community participation in decision-making and action (participatory democracy)

– uses its electoral victories to create public banks as transitional means to a non-market ecologically sustainable economy, including the transfer from private banks of all public funds and financial transactions, with an investment priority in public institutions and democratic worker managed businesses needed in the construction of an alternative just, sustainable economy, featuring family and cooperative worker owned and run enterprises and initiatives (public banking for the new economy)

– works for a new era of enlightenment based on community oriented and diverse, vibrant forms of public education, science, communication and culture (the new era of enlightenment)

– is thoroughly engaged in national and international politics, making local communities beach-heads in the struggle for an ecologically sustainable global civilization, including the ultimate aim of overwhelming the centralized, autocratic economic and political power of the billionaire class (transition towns and communities).

Non-violent democratic political movements that in addition to the above include political parties and policy advocacy organizations that

– work both inside and outside of parliamentary/governmental bodies and for-profit and non-profit business and non-business organizations to push for the goal of an ecologically sustainable civilization, that is, a just, sustainable global community

– emphasize education and culture, including learning, teaching and inspiring as integral to the progressive movements

– respect and learn from the knowledge and experience of others regardless of and indeed because of initial differences in understanding and outlook

– recognize that the comfort of sectarian affirmation is a dead-end for those who seek a just, sustainable future

– accept the challenge of the necessary give and take in every creative, problem-solving endeavor

– recognize and act on the recognition that as long as extreme wealth and income inequality continues we cannot match the power of the wealthiest to buy representation from lobbyists, politicians and think-tanks

– give priority instead to our strength in numbers, experience and determination

– rely on our collective might as volunteers in the struggle for a just, sustainable future

– defeat the autocracy of the few by the democracy of the many.

This concluding chapter has focussed on some of the shapes which contemporary revolutionary activity can take. Many have already made the commitment to active participation in the revolutionary struggle for an ecologically sustainable global community 

To those in process of making that decision, let us conclude with the following observations. More than a mere antidote to the despair that continuing environmental and social degradation can create, the opportunity now exists to participate in struggles that have a realistic possibility of realizing some of humanity’s most cherished aims. This is reason enough for celebration. Joining in the struggle for a just, radically democratic, ecologically sustainable global community is the path of hope, friendship and a meaningful existence.

Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden

Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada