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Passive Revolution on the World Stage: The Political Origins of Climate Change


This study builds on but challenges conventional theories of climate change by advancing a different way of analyzing climate politics. Starting out from the assumption that climate change can only be addressed by radically reforming or superseding capitalism, it draws from interview data, observation notes, and historical material to investigate why the world’s governments have not managed to pass stronger, more effective international agreements and domestic measures in response to what many now consider the greatest threat facing the international community.

Building on Gramsci’s concept of “passive revolution” by examining the micro-dynamics of class struggles on the world stage, it argues that our failure to make more progress in addressing climate change has been the consequence of successful “passive revolution” on the world stage: Faced with more organized subaltern groups demanding radical changes to address climate change and other global environmental problems, a particular fraction of the dominant classes came together to push for limited reforms in order to disorganize the subaltern groups, contain the threat of radical change, and reconstruct their hegemony. Faced with this passive revolution, the subaltern groups fragmented instead of becoming even more organized, thus failing to sustain their mobilization for radical change. But, faced with this failed revolution, the dominant classes too splintered instead of consolidating, thus also failing to sustain their mobilization for limited reforms. With both subaltern groups and dominant classes disorganized, the more conservative elites succeeded in blocking reforms, and weak and ineffective neoliberal “solutions” prevailed as global society’s dominant response to climate change.

Investigating how “passive revolution” could have failed in the past, the study sheds light on how we could make more progress in addressing climate change and other global problems.

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