Greening Democracy


The unparalleled greening of democracy during the past half-century extends well beyond such matters as sustainability and climate justice, and is far more consequential than the birth of green parties, policy disputes about carbon pricing schemes and global emissions targets, this lecture proposes. Suggesting a new way of thinking historically about the relationship among ecosystems, energy regimes and democracy, John Keane asked why people with green sympathies might be expected in our times to embrace democracy for more than tactical reasons. 

Noting a difficulty, namely, that democracy is a deeply anthropocentric norm that has always imagined self-governing humans to be masters and possessors of “nature,” he also asked what it would mean to “green” democratic principles and why their redefinition has important practical implications for popular self-government in the age of monitory democracy. 

Keane emphasized the urgency of addressing these questions, and concluded with a warning: Democracies risk democide not only when citizens and their chosen representatives fail to spot the anti-democratic effects of extreme weather events, pestilences and other environmental emergencies but also, just as importantly, when they fail to understand that democracy won’t have a future unless its ideals and practices are rid of the deep-seated prejudice that humans live separately from a ‘nature’ whose dynamics are administratively controllable and commercially exploitable for the use and enjoyment of “the people.”

John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He has contributed to The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Harper’s, the South China Morning Post and The Huffington Post.

Misha Glenny, IWM Rector, introduced the speaker and moderated the discussion.

A recording of the lecture is available here: