An unsustainable modernity: democracy, the global climate emergency and environmental ethics

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The paper opens with a series of observations on the unsustainability of modernity, its distinctive features and environmental consequences, which are global in scale and scope. Consideration is given to the global climate emergency and decline in biodiversity and ecosystems and the scientific research that has been accumulating from the nineteenth century, research which has demonstrated the increasingly damaging environmental consequences of business-as-usual under modern capitalist conditions of production and consumption. Scientific evidence confirms that we are in a climate emergency; engaging critically with social and political analyses, this paper therefore focuses on questions subsequently raised about the limits and limitations of the nation state and democratic forms of political governance to deliver what is required to meet the challenge of the global climate emergency. The paper argues for a radical rethinking of the collective and the commons, to encompass all species; it concludes with a call for a Levinasian environmental ethics as the basis for any possibility, remote as that might currently seem, of achieving a sustainable ecologically just form of life not diminished by, or subservient to, anthropocentric assumptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-42
Number of pages19
JournalThe Journal of Law, Social Justice and Global Development
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019


  • Modernity
  • democracy
  • climate change
  • environment
  • ethics
  • justice


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