Svein is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

By combining a sociological approach to the climate crisis with examples drawn from literature and film, interesting new horizons are revealed in this British publication.

Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature

Lisa Garforth


I’ve read many books on green politics, ideology and economy over the years, books with different visions for the future. Green Utopias succeeds in adding something fresh, partly because it’s the work of a sociologist, partly because of the author’s use of literature and film as sources of inspiration. The result is a book that opens up some new and interesting horizons.

Lisa Garforth positions herself at the juncture between the society we live in today and the looming threat of a future apocalypse. Within this space she identifies several different utopian discourses that at times seem to point in wildly different directions. The first chapters present us with well-known positions. Garforth takes us back to the 1970s, where Limits to Growth and a handful of other texts set the agenda. For the first time it was made clear that the Earth contains limits beyond which we cannot pass. Building on this, radical discourses on guiding society’s development in a different direction were established.

Ecological modernisation

Through the 1980s and 1990s, however, the course of development changed. Environmentalism became mainstream, and sustainable development emerged as the dominant strategy for meeting the challenge. The strategy for economic modernisation, with its narrative of how we can combine continuous growth and progress with smarter environmental choices and the use of more eco-friendly technology, took centre stage. Parallel to this, however, a different, more transformative discourse was kept alive. Arne Næss and his philosophy of «deep ecology» is crucial here, with its message that humans and nature form interlinked parts of a united whole in which both organisms and eco-systems are incorporated into our moral community. This thought is radical in a completely different way from the limits discourse, as it formulates an expectation that our identity and way of life must be changed.

Into the world of fiction

After dealing with these discursive strands, Garforth shifts her attention to the world of fiction. Whereas philosophical, academic and political discourses tend to become programmatic, she finds a greater awareness of the nuances of everyday life in fiction. We’re introduced to novels from the 1970s and onwards that in different ways shed light on life in small, self-sufficient communities. The novel’s end goal is not to formulate fixed strategies, but to explore the desire for a different way of life and how we might get there. Examining fiction is an approach that succeeds in offering a broader understanding of these discourses than a purely philosophical, academic discussion could.

«The Earth contains limits beyond which we cannot pass.»

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