Political Ecology: Beyond Environmentalism

Political Ecology: Beyond Environmentalism, by Dimitrios Roussopoulos, reviewed by Mat Little

December 1, 2015 · 2 min read

politicalecologyPolitical Ecology, by the veteran Canadian community organiser and publisher Dimitri Roussopoulos, opens with a prediction. The UN climate change conference in Paris this December will fail. State management of the environment, which has spawned hundreds of global agreements since the 19th century, has not arrested, let alone reversed, the environmental crisis. Political and economic elites are ‘practically speaking, in denial’, says Roussopoulos.

But NGOs are equally hamstrung by environmentalism – a managerial approach, akin to acute medicine, according to Roussopoulos’ definition, that tries to deal with one urgent problem after another (like climate change) but refuses to confront their underlying cause. So we come to political ecology, which transcends environmentalism, by demanding radical changes in social, economic and political life.

Roussopoulos concentrates on one variant: social ecology. A social ecologist himself, he was a friend of Murray Bookchin, the American theorist who invented the concept.

The relevance of social ecology is fourfold. First, it’s implacably anti-capitalist. We need to face the ‘raw brutality of capitalism’, says Roussopoulos.

Second, social ecology aims to create truly participatory democracy. A section of the book, which should be required reading for every UK housing activist, chronicles how a six-block area of Montreal (a city labelled ‘a laboratory of social ecology’) was saved from developers, creating 22 self-managed housing co-ops. ‘Imagine an entire neighbourhood where the buying and selling of property is not permitted,’ writes Roussopoulos.

Third, social ecology is against the nation-state. While this currently has little traction in the west, it has inspired a revolution in Syrian Kurdistan spearheaded by the formerly Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The now social-ecologist Kurds advocate ‘democratic confederalism’, gender equality and ethnic tolerance, to be spread throughout the region. As an alternative to bombing and ethnically dominated nation-states, this is infinitely preferable.

Lastly, social ecology is resolutely urban. Social ecologists focus on the city as the ecological future of humanity. Not the megacities sprawling everywhere today, but physically and institutionally decentralised, ‘human scale’ cities. There are many questions left unanswered, but this book is a good introduction to a strand of political thought that merits more attention.


Review – This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

Suki Ferguson reviews the XR guide to climate activism

Review – Decolonial Communism, Democracy and the Commons

A collection of essays which could be a key resource for those seeking to create economic alternatives, edited by Catherine Samary and Fred Leplat. Reviewed by Derek Wall

Review – We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent

A book that systematically unpicks the myths that are spread in order to preserve the status quo, written by Nesrine Malik. Reviewed by Leah Cowan


Review – Letters of Solidarity and Friendship: Czechoslovakia 1968-71

Letters between Leslie Parker and Paul Zalud, edited by David Parker. Reviewed by Mary Kaldor

Review – Finding a Voice: Asian women in Britain

Finding a Voice: Asian women in Britain, by Amrit Wilson, reviewed by Maya Goodfellow

Chav Solidarity

Ewa Jasiewicz reviews the new book by D Hunter