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capitalism, climate, democracy, and demands

July 24, 2020

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This session is about change. How we understand change, what we think can be changed, and  where we fit into making change are all part of deeply politicized debates happening as we speak at intersections of the global ecological crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the global pandemic. The societal changes that are required to envision long term human futurity on a livable planet may feel at once impossible, imminent, and essential, but the impossible and the imminent are informed by our theories of change. The last great transformation of society, from feudalism to capitalism, set out a path that led to the world we live in today, and the choices we make in the next decade will likely shape human societies and ecologies for years to come. Understanding how we got here can empower us to understand what is changeable about our economies, our societies, and our selves. The democratic process of building a shared future is more than voting with a ballot or a dollar, and the demand for change must not be constrained to our identities as consumers. A social ecological and historical understanding of where we find ourselves today will help us navigate the debates about what kind of a ‘normal’ we want to create together.

We will explore the origins of capitalism and what had to happen to create the ‘market society’ we inhabit today. This session is based on the Long Talks pilot session in which we discussed the origins of capitalism, and how the violent and deliberate process through which the gendered division of labor and institutionalized patriarchy in Europe and colonization in other parts of the world were critical to organizing our current geopolitical and economic spheres. This session also includes aspects of understanding how the political framing of climate change as an ‘individual consumption’ problem has prevented meaningful change, and how to reframe our responsibility as people and members of a global community in taking climate action. We will explore why our demands for change in the marketplace don’t have as much impact as we would like them to, and why demands in the form of street protest are so regularly rejected as ‘unacceptable’ avenues of change. We will reframe democracy as how and who is empowered to make change, and who gets to participate in shaping the world we all share.

And then we will discuss.


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Shaun Sellers is a PhD student in the Leadership for the Ecozoic program (L4E) at McGill University, She has a MSc in Ecological Economics from the University of Leeds, and a BA (Hons) in Business Management from Antioch University. She has worked in sustainability consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations in Ontario, and has started her own businesses: a fair trade & organic chocolate company in Maple Leaf, Ontario, and before that, a second-hand bookstore cafe in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Her master’s thesis explored power structures, institutions, and philosophy relevant to envisioning trade policy through an ecological lens, and her current research is in social ecological trade theory. She likes books, her dog, and being in the woods.


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