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The Green New Deal, Decolonization, And/as
James K. Rowe
To cite this article: James K. Rowe (2020) The Green New Deal, Decolonization, And/as
Ecocritique, New Political Science, 42:4, 624-630, DOI: 10.1080/07393148.2020.1847539
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Published online: 20 Nov 2020.
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The Green New Deal, Decolonization, And/as Ecocritique
James K. Rowe
School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
Anthropocene Alerts: Critical Theory of the Contemporary as Ecocritique is a collection of
Timothy W. Luke’s essays from the journal Telos ranging from 1980 until 2018. The title is
marked by classic Lukeian alliteration – Anthropocene Alerts – that has magnetizing
rhythm, carries multiple meanings, and does theoretical work. By “alerts” Luke is referring
to the warnings that his Telos essays have raised for forty years. Since the Carter admin-
istration he has been arguing that without deep course correction industrial societies
would nd themselves plagued by growing ecological crises, including actual plagues
such as COVID-19.
In these essays, Luke is also alerting his readers to the critical
limitations of dierent conceptual and political strategies devised to address ecological
devastation, including the “Anthropocene” concept itself. The nal lines from the book
nicely encapsulate a key thrust of Luke’s larger project that this book is an important part
of: “striving to determine truths worthy of anchoring genuine hope rather than churning
out worn-out leftist diamat hopes that are mistaken for truth.”
While Left or progressive programs or thinkers are targeted for ecocritique in specic
chapters Deep Ecology, Edward Abbey (and his readers), and Locavores – more politically
nebulous formations are also engaged, such as the Anthropocene concept itself along with
accelerationist philosophy. The chapters on the Anthropocene and accelerationism are them-
selves worth the price of admission, brilliantly dismantling worn-out hopes “that are mistaken
for truth.”
The combination of older and newer essays in Anthropocene Alerts makes for a compelling
collection that allows the reader a window into both Luke’s developing thought and the
continuities and disjunctures in environmental politics over the past forty years. What stuck out
most for me is Luke’s critical prescience. For example, in an essay from 1983 on
“Informationalism and Ecology” Luke warned about proto-fascist currents in American politics
preying on an eviscerated working class with appeals to restoring “America’s greatness,
economic prosperity and social consensus.”
While he was writing about Reagan’s America
at the time, the warning about Trump’s MAGA movement is clear to contemporary readers.
In that same essay Luke warns of market shifts away from accessibility to “low-volume, high-
cost upscale markets of elite consumers that primarily emphasize exclusivity.”
CONTACT James K. Rowe School of Environmental Studies University of Victoria, Victoria, BC,
Timothy W. Luke, “The Dawn of the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Administration of Fear and the Fear of Administration in
the United States,” Telos 191 (2020), pp. 187–191.
Timothy W. Luke, Anthropocene Alerts: Critical Theory of the Contemporary as Ecocritique (Candor, NY: Telos Press, 2019),
p. 304.
Ibid., 36.
Ibid., 35. Emphasis in original.
2020, VOL. 42, NO. 4, 624–630
© 2020 Caucus for a New Political Science
years before Citigroup published their infamous plutonomy memos, Luke was pulling power-
ful signals from the noise and predicting the market implications of intensifying economic
Finally, this same 1983 essay anticipates by more than a decade J.K. Gibson-
Graham’s “capitalocentrism” critique by emphasizing the size and depth of alternative econo-
mies in the United States, and how these can contribute to ecologically sane alternatives to
neoliberal capitalism.
Given Luke’s predictive track record it would make sense to heed his contemporary
warnings. For example, he worries that Anthropocene discourse in the natural sciences
might contribute to an anti-democratic ecomanagerialism with “very little collective
discussion, deliberation, or decision-making about equity, justice, or representation.”
is easy to dismiss this “alert” as paranoid and premature given that the White House
remains inhabited by a climate-denier-in-chief. And yet the return to technocratic neoli-
beralism promised by a Biden administration means that Luke’s warning made during the
nal year of the Obama presidency might be reanimated soon.
Is there a positive political project that Luke’s ecocritiques point us towards? Throughout
the excellent essays included in Anthropocene Alerts, Luke returns to a Left ecological populism
as his preferred alternative. For the ecological Left in North America (populist and otherwise)
the program and vision of a Green New Deal (GND) have become a powerful point of assembly
since 2018. The Green New Deal is an umbrella term for a public investment strategy that seeks
to mitigate climate change by transitioning economies o of fossil fuels and onto renewable
energy sources. Crucially, the GND is not solely an environmental proposal but is also meant to
ensure a socially just transition that guarantees good jobs for displaced workers while addres-
sing long-standing colonial and racial injustices.
The movement for a Green New Deal took o as Anthropocene Alerts was going into
production and so it is not subject to Luke’s ecocritique, or the “relentless contestation of
the politics of nature.”
But fear not, thanks to Luke’s prescience he has a 2009 essay from
Critical Policy Studies devoted entirely to an earlier version of Green New Deal (GND)
discourse that we can refer to until he weighs in on the latest variant. The Green New
Deals of 2009 and 2020 have important distinctions and so his earlier critique cannot be
considered complete.
The earlier GND was much more of an elite-driven discourse, with Thomas Friedman
being one of Luke’s primary interlocutors.
Obama had just been elected president and
featured on the cover of Time Magazine as the next FDR, the bringer of a “New New Deal”
to resuscitate the American economy from the great recession.
Thinkers such as
Friedman encouraged the new administration to promote a green recovery that simulta-
neously addressed the nancial and climate crises. At the time, Luke expressed apprecia-
tion for the populist elements of GND discourse, such as the “green collar jobs” promoted
by author Van Jones who would be appointed as Obama’s “green jobs czar” before swiftly
having to resign when his leftist past became a lightning rod for Republican criticism.
Daniel Liberto, “Plutonomy” (2019), available online at:
Anthropocene Alerts, p. 39. J.K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political
Economy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996).
Luke, Anthropocene Alerts, p. 227.
Ibid., 1.
Timothy W. Luke, “A Green New Deal: Why Green, How New, and What is the Deal?” Critical Policy Studies, 3:1 (2009), pp.
Ibid., 15.
Luke’s essay on the GND was completed before Jones was appointed and then swiftly
purged from his White House position, a journey that embodied the promise but also the
dangers of earlier GND thinking. Particularly, Luke worried that elite-driven Green New
Deal discourse was “yet another vision of citizen apathy matched with expert activism to
keep things ‘business-as-usual.’”
Luke was clearly right: Jones needed to be purged
because his leftist past pointed to deeper transformations that neither corporate
Democrats nor Republicans had any interest in.
The Green New Deal of 2020 is rather dierent, with its most visible adherents being
the Sunrise Movement and democrat socialist politicians Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and
Bernie Sanders. Unlike the more ecomanagerial instantiation that Luke criticized in 2009,
the contemporary GND is more focused on social justice issues such as full employment.
Arguably, this focus on equitable job creation is a key reason why the GND continues to
poll well despite a lukewarm reception from corporate Democrats and outright hostility
from Republican lawmakers.
The environmental movement has nally found a convincing way to overcome the
“jobs vs. environment” frame that has historically been mobilized by industry and other
elite interests to stall environmental progress. Part of the reason for this success is that the
Left itself now sees the urgency of environmental challenges and the importance of
linking ecological and social justice demands. Luke’s concern of 1980 that the “Left
remains allied with ecological and technological Tories” is thankfully no longer when
we consider that one of the American Left’s most successful leaders in the United States –
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – is also a leading proponent of the GND.
What does Luke make of the contemporary GND? His critiques of bureaucratic statism
throughout Anthropocene Alerts give us one clue to possible reservations. Likewise, the
Green New Deal is not explicitly anti-capitalist and does not challenge the endless
compound growth that has us teetering on the edge of the Holocene. Proponents from
the radical Left position it as a non-reformist reform capable of setting the conditions for
deeper transformations.
I nd myself in this camp and I suspect Luke does as well. In
other words, the GND is a populist program “worthy of anchoring genuine hope” and
represents one temporary telos to Luke’s program of ecocritique.
This said, it is important to recall Luke’s earlier GND criticisms since a Biden presidency
starting in 2021 – a desirable outcome only given the alternative – is unlikely to produce
more political space for a transformative Green New Deal than did Obama’s. Biden’s
backers are already invoking comparisons to FDR with hopes of magnetizing support
from deated Bernie supporters, but we know how those comparisons turned out in 2009.
Unlike FDR, Obama did not welcome the hatred of his enemies, and Biden is arguably
even more the corporatist than his former boss. It is thus important to remain vigilant and
join Luke in the “relentless contestation of the politics of nature.”
It would be a disservice to Luke’s ecocritical project, however, to make this review all
celebration without a dose of negation. I would like to raise one important alert. I think the
Ibid., 24.
Parrish Bergquist, Matto Mildenberger and Leah.C., Stokes, “Protesters Want Justice – Including on Social, Economic and
Climate Demands,” The Washington Post (June 12, 2020), available online at:
Luke, Anthropocene Alerts, p. 22.
Amna A. Akbar, “The Left is Remaking the World,” The New York Times (July 11, 2020), available online at: https://www.
626 J. K. ROWE
pages of Luke’s new book contain a missed opportunity to examine more closely the role
of Indigenous knowledge in decolonization, ecological redress, and collective liberation.
Luke’s chapter on Deep Ecology is where he engages most with Indigenous environ-
mental knowledges. He is rightly critical of deep ecologists for relying on a self-serving,
universalizing, and romantic view of Indigenous ecological practices.
But I do think that
his critique skips over the learning that settler environmentalists and the broader settler
Left can undertake from a number of Indigenous nations.
A lively debate over the conservation record of North American Indigenous peoples
has unfolded since Luke published his critique of Deep Ecology in Telos in 1988. Scholars
such as Shepard Krech and Michael Harkin have argued that Indigenous peoples did not
practice conservation as it is understood today.
A problem with these accounts is that
they treat Euro-American understandings of conservation as the yardstick and fail to
engage Indigenous land management techniques on their own terms and within the
broader context in which they were practiced.
A number of scholars have documented the success many Indigenous nations have
had promoting ecological abundance, particularly for the species they directly rely
A recent study from Nature Communications, for example, documents empirically
how Pacic Northwest Indigenous peoples enhanced forest productivity.
Western red-
cedar trees growing near coastal habitation sites were found to be “taller, have higher
wood calcium, greater radial growth and exhibit less top die-back.”
According to the
researchers: “With a deep time perspective from 13,000 years of repeated occupation of
the study area, it is clear that coastal First Nations people have developed practices that
enhanced nutrient-limited ecosystems, making the environment that supported them
even more productive.”
While the Nature Communications study focuses on the specic land management practices
that improved soil conditions for Western Red-cedar, a “kincentric” worldview that weaves all
beings together into a web of mutual well-being and interdependence, and is distinct from
Euro-American human supremacy, also played an important role.
Enrique Salmón’s concept
of “kincentric ecology,” names an epistemological framework common to many of the world’s
Indigenous peoples, an understanding that people are part of an extended ecological family –
including a shared ancestry, origins, and wellbeing – with all life around them. This view is
Luke, Anthropocene Alerts, p. 55.
Shepard Krech, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999); Michael
Harkin, “Swallowing Wealth: Northwest Coast Beliefs and Ecological Practices: Native Americans and the Environment,”
in M Harkin and D.R. Lewis (Eds) Perspectives on the Ecological Indian (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007).
Paul Nadasdy, “Transcending the Debate of the Ecologically Noble Indian: Indigenous Peoples and Environmentalism,”
Ethnohistory 52 (2005), pp. 291–331.
Ronald L. Trosper, Resilience, Reciprocity and Ecological Economics: Northwest Coast Sustainability (New York, NY:
Routledge, 2011); Nancy J. Turner, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of
Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America (Montreal, QC: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014); Robin
W. Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (Minneapolis,
MN: Milkweed, 2015); Leanne B. Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance
(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Kype P. Whyte, “Food Sovereignty, Justice, and Indigenous
Peoples: An Essay on Settler Colonialism and Collective Continuance” in A. Barnhill, M. Budolfson, and T. Doggett (Eds)
The Oxford Handbook for Food Ethics (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Andrew J. Trant, “Intertidal Resource use over Millennia Enhances Forest Productivity,” Nature Communications 7:1
(2016), pp. 1–8.
Ibid., 1.
Ibid., 6.
Turner, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge, p. 34.
distinct from deep ecology’s abstracted biocentrism, which is often less attentive to the
reciprocal relations between human and non-humans that are better represented by the
“kincentric ecology” concept.
Haudenosaunee scholar John Mohawk has argued that Euro-American human supre-
macy is not only integral to accelerated and increasingly global ecological degradations,
but also to white supremacy and class exploitation. Indeed, Mohawk denes “western
civilization” as “the history of mankind since the beginning of its contradictory relation-
ship with nature. The most basic contradiction.”
For Mohawk, Euro-American cosmolo-
gies and total lifeworlds are animated by resentful relations with the natural world.
Feelings of dependence and belittlement in the face of nature have helped to fuel
compensatory chauvinisms that give the elect feelings of power and capacity while
producing considerable damage for their victims (who, not coincidentally, are often
gured as somehow more animalistic or closer to nature: Indigenous people, women,
racialized and poor people, and indeed animals themselves). From the “most basic
contradiction” ows these other painful contradictions.
It is surprising that Indigenous, and particularly Haudenosaunee thinkers, have not had
more uptake within Euro-American critical theory when we recall the central importance
of the Haudenosaunee to the Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, which served as the
basis for Engel’s The Origin of the Family, State, and Private Property. Indeed, in 1888 Engels
felt compelled to amend the Communist Manifesto to include the Haudenosaunee
No longer could the “history of all hitherto existing societies be the history
of class struggle” when knowledge was emerging in the Euro-Americas of communal and
relatively egalitarian societies such as the Haudenosaunee whose territories extend across
the US-Canadian border in the northeast of the continent.
The Ethnological Notebooks make for a unique reading experience when compared to
the rest of Marx’s oeuvre. For one, they are populated with animal names such as “Wolf,”
“Bear” and “Turtle” as Marx works to discern the clan structure of the Mohawks (one of the
nations that comprise the Haudenosaunee Confederacy). When animals appear in much
of Marx’s writing – such as the spiders and bees – they tend to be a foil for human
exceptionalism. The Notebooks are dierent. In their pages, we see a Haudenosaunee
ontology enter into conversation with Euro-American critical theory, albeit in a highly
mediated form. When Marx rst read Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Societies – which
served as the basis for his Ethnological Notebooks – it gave him a window into the
workings of an actually-existing classless society and he sought to understand it in as
much detail as possible.
Pursuing the conversation and attempted learning from
Indigenous knowledge systems that Marx started with the Notebooks is a path largely
untaken within the Marxist world.
Enrique Salmón, “Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human-Nature Relationship,” Ecological Applications 10
(2000), pp. 1327–1332.
John C. Mohawk, “A Basic Call to Consciousness: The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World,” in Akwesasne
Notes (ed.), Basic Call to Consciousness, (Summertown, TN: Native Voices, 1977), p. 68.
John C. Mohawk, Utopian Legacies: A History of Conquest and Oppression in the Western World (Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light
Publishers, 2000), p. 56.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2002), p. 219.
Franklin Rosemont, “Karl Marx and the Iroquois” (2009), available online at:
iroquois-franklin-rosemont; Christine W. Gailey, “Community, State, and Questions of Social Evolution in Karl Marx’s
Ethnological Notebooks,” in J. Solway (ed.)The Politics of Egalitarianism: Theory and Practice, (New York, NY: Berghahn
Books, 2006), pp. 31–52.
628 J. K. ROWE
If a people already achieved what your movement is striving for classless society
would you not want to be engaging them as much as possible, seeking to learn further?
And yet the Haudenosaunee perspective has rarely been included within Euro-American
critical theory.
We don’t know how Marxism would have developed dierently had the promise of the
Ethnological Notebooks been pursued with consistent eorts over the past century to learn
more about the conditions enabling Haudenosaunee communism and its reproduction. This is
a path, however, that remains open to contemporary eco-socialist movements. Mohawk
thought that the limited number of published writings produced directly by Indigenous
peoples was a block to socialist learning. Writing in the early 1980s he hoped that
Indigenous resurgence movements would develop “an intellectual tradition that could be
studied and shared among many peoples.”
This hope has now come to pass, greatly
facilitating socialist learning. Works by Coulthard, Hunt, Simpson, Estes and many others
advance a decolonial, ecological, and egalitarian politics and are crucial reading for the settler
Luke concludes Anthropocene Alerts with a powerful chapter on Adorno, who he argues
“serves as the best accompaniment to the Anthropocene.”
For Luke, Adorno helps us
diagnose the modernist triumphalism alive in both technocapitalism and much
Anthropocene discourse. Both technocapitalism and much Anthropocene discourse are
universalizing and Eurocentric, valorize rule by experts, and position Western science and
technology as redemptive.
In Luke’s reading of Adorno, the rationality and progressi-
vism espoused by enlightenment thinkers “brought to fruition a one-dimensional society
whose most rational expressions perhaps are Auschwitz, the Gulag, and Hiroshima.”
John Mohawk develops a similar view to Adorno’s.
But from his Haudenosaunee
perspective, he helps to underscore how the overture to the “Great Acceleration” began
long before Hiroshima, and even the enlightenment itself.
European colonization of Turtle Island has visited an ongoing apocalypse upon his
people and their non-human kin. Indigenous thinkers such as Mohawk arguably go even
deeper than Adorno in their diagnosis of the onto-political drivers behind longstanding
ecological and social injustices in the Euro-Americas. Recall Mohawk’s denition of
western civilization as “the history of mankind since the beginning of its contradictory
relationship with nature. The most basic contradiction.” I think Luke’s eco-critical project
has much to gain from further engagement with the new generation of Indigenous
resurgence thinkers that Mohawk hoped for in the early 1980s when the rst essays in
Anthropocene Alerts were penned and are now a powerful intellectual force.
John C. Mohawk, “Marxism: Perspectives from a Native Movement.” In J. Barreiro (ed.), Thinking in Indian: A John
Mohawk Reader,(Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2010), pp. 213–223.
Glen S. Coulthard, Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 2014); Sarah Hunt, “Ontologies of Indigeneity: The Politics of Embodying a Concept,” Cultural
Geographies 21:1 (2013), pp. 27–32; Sarah Hunt, Violence, Law, and the Everyday Politics of Recognition, (Washington,
DC: Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, 2015), available online:
Leanne B. Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota Press, 2017); Nick Estes, Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access
Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (New York, NY: Verso, 2019).
Luke, Anthropocene Alerts, p. 286.
Ibid., 293.
Ibid., 299.
Mohawk, Utopian Legacies.
It is of note that recent Indigenous eorts to push the movement for a Green New Deal
in more decolonial and anti-capitalist directions – by proposing a parallel “Red Deal” –
aligns with Luke’s concerns about bureaucratic statism and ecomanagerialism. Writing
about the Red Deal, Nick Estes of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe notes how: “The GND has
the potential to connect every social justice struggle – free housing, free health care, free
education, green jobs – to climate change. Likewise, the Red Deal places anti-capitalism
and decolonization as central to each social justice struggle as well as climate change. The
necessity of such a program is grounded in both the history and future of this land, and it
entails the radical transformation of all social relations between humans and the earth.”
Specically, the Red Deal calls for public divestment (or defunding) from not only fossil
fuel companies (in the form of ending subsidies), but also from the military, policing, and
prison-industrial complex to free up resources for free education, housing, healthcare, and
accessible public transportation for everyone. The Red Deal also calls for job creation by
reinvesting in: renewable energy; traditional and sustainable agriculture; land, water, air
and animal restoration; the protection of sacred sites; multi-species caretaking, and the
enforcement of treaty rights.
The political prospects of such a plan are treacherous with
either a Trump or Biden presidency. But growing the existing anities between the
ecological Left that Luke has done critical work to strengthen in Anthropocene Alerts,
and movements for Indigenous resurgence, is an ongoing project “worthy of anchoring
genuine hope.”
Notes on contributor
James K. Rowe is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria.
Nick Estes, “A Red Deal,” Jacobin (August 6, 2019), available online:
The Red Nation, “Call to Action: The Red Deal, Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth, June 19–20” The Red Nation (June 9, 2019),
available online:
630 J. K. ROWE
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Recent debates over the stereotype of the ''ecologically noble Indian'' have helped illuminate some of the ambiguities and complexities that characterize the relationship between indigenous peoples and environmentalism. But, while schol- ars engaged in this debate have examined the cultural assumptions underlying Euro- American notions of indigenousness, they have paid relatively little attention to the equally problematic concepts of environmentalism and conservation ,a nd how use of these terms necessarily frames indigenous people's beliefs and values in Euro-North American cultural terms. This essay examines the cultural assumptions underlying
  • Ronald L Trosper
Ronald L. Trosper, Resilience, Reciprocity and Ecological Economics: Northwest Coast Sustainability (New York, NY: Routledge, 2011);
As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance
  • Leanne B Simpson
Leanne B. Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2017);
Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge
  • Turner
Turner, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge, p. 34.