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Toward Climate-Catalyzed Social Transformation?

Toward Climate-Catalyzed Social Transformation?

Applying the work of Erik Olin Wright to emergent climate change movements helps us to understand current trajectories and possible pathways for transformation.

In the past weeks, Extinction Rebellion has continued to make news headlines with acts of protest in LondonBostonNew York and other cities across the globe. In London, thousands of activists blocked roads and bridges and over 1,000 were arrested. These actions are a part of Extinction Rebellion’s ongoing strategy to disrupt the economy and pressure governments to meet their demands to address climate change.

In addition, the youth movement Fridays for Future continues to hold school strikes with an estimated 1.6 million participants across the globe on March 15. In the United States, the Sunrise Movement has just launched a tour to promote the Green New Deal, a possibly transformative resolution that targets both inequality and greenhouse gas emissions.

These movements are unprecedented, growing, and are unlikely to go away any time soon. In addition, meeting the demands of these movements would require significant social and economic changes through a radical political program.

Given the momentum of these movements, are we on the verge of a possible climate-catalyzed social transformation? And if so, what strategies for transformation will be most effective?

To interpret the recent rise of these climate change movements, we draw from the late Erik Olin Wright whose work illustrates a deep understanding of social transformation.

In his book Envisioning Real Utopias, Wright outlined a detailed theory of social transformation with four main components. First, identify the forces of social reproduction that impede positive social change. Second, find gaps and contradictions that can be politicized to open the door for change. Third, understand and build a trajectory of change: history tells us that transformation occurs when unintended social consequences combine with purposeful social movements.

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