Radical, integral, social ecology ... Understanding the words of the Green candidates


Social ecology, degrowth, radical ecology or environmental radicalism: from Yannick Jadot to Sandrine Rousseau, Éric Piolle or Delphine Batho, these terms have been used at will by candidates for the environmentalist primary. However, they need to be explained so that they can be understood by the uninitiated.

A first clarification is in order. The words, in political space, are generally used from performative way, depending on the mobilization effect they may have on the target audiences, and in particular on opinion leaders.

These are basic elements of political communication, which are by no means specific to the Greens. When the right-wing candidates present themselves as "free" (Valérie Pécresse) or "conservatives" (François Fillon), it is not to make the history of ideas, but in order to differentiate themselves from their rivals and to mobilize in different audiences.

The exercise is not easy: researcher Manuel Cervera-Marzal thus suggests that the radical left must now succeed in bringing together the France of neighborhoods and immigration, progressive urbanites, a part of peripheral France embodied by the "yellow vests" and the public sector wage earners, which obviously seems more difficult than to bring the working class together, as was its goal in the 1960s.

A history of long-term ideas

We observe, however, that the words used in the programs of environmental candidates often cover a long history of political ideas. For example, “Social Ecology” is generally linked to the ecomunicipalism of the American Murray Bookchin (1921-2006), who is considered to be the founder of this current. Coming from a family that participated in the Russian Revolution of 1905 and forced to flee due to repression, this intellectual first frequented Trotskyist circles. Then he moved towards ecologism during the years 1950-1960, without ever losing sight of the self-management perspective.

By "ecologism" we mean a coherent body of ideas, references and actions, especially activists, constituting a whole differentiating itself from other political ideologies (socialism, liberalism, conservatism, etc.)

Read also :
"Nature", an idea that evolves over civilizations

In the 1980s, Murray theorized a model of society based on direct democracy implemented at the level of municipalities, which would be organized in a federation. These theses were later taken up by the theorist of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), within a movement which abandoned the Marxist-Leninist orientation for a approach based on living together, giving a preponderant place to joint learning and to women.

When we look at the program of candidates, none can claim social ecology in the sense of Murray Bookchin. But Sandrine Rousseau is the candidate who comes closest to it, with many measures of local or direct democracy (drawing lots), while Yannick Jadot is the one who is furthest from it, with a program oriented towards the government action (investment, etc.) rather than participation.

"Environmental radicality"

Sandrine Rousseau is not left with action: "environmental radicalism" is one of the pillars of his program. But it is based on forces that are less consensual and less in the majority than those on which Yannick Jadot relies: ecocide, rights of nature, 4-day week, income from existence, etc.

The economic aspect itself (which industries, which jobs, which position of France in globalization, etc.) is not very present, or in any case not very detailed. The demands around equality are on the other hand very supported.

Yannick Jadot, for his part, positions himself in the measure, more than in the rupture: he proposes to support the actors who risk losing in the change with a program that is too radical, and in doing so, is opposed to a change that is too brutal, too radical. therefore, for example a progressive turning point in agriculture.

Sandrine Rousseau is in a more confrontational position, of confrontation bearing the idea of ​​force to bend. It will probably attract to it some of the social movements and their support, while those who think that such a balance of power is unlikely to win will follow Yannick Jadot, with the risk of a policy of small steps, because more "realistic", in the sense of a more pronounced acceptance of the established order.

A spiritual dimension

"Integral ecology" claimed by Delphine Batho refers to a spiritual dimension and in this case Christian, although it is not often presented in this way by the candidate. This is what explains his companionship with the philosopher Dominique Bourg, also a Christian. One of the sources of inspiration is therefore Laudato Si of Pope Francis. However, it claims to be "100% secular", and this is consistent with the ecological tradition.

Because if indeed religious convictions are present in the environmental movement, long time, activists have always been concerned with strictly separate the spiritual domain from the secular domain, contrary to their adversaries who readily accuse them of dogmatism, irrationalism or idolatry of the Earth.

One of the explanatory factors is that science is very present in the construction of ecological positions, in particular the natural sciences, even if the scientific institution is at the same time the object of a sometimes virulent criticism, in to the extent that it is linked to certain technopolitical choices (GMOs, nuclear, etc.). In general, ecological secularism is rather open, admitting a great diversity of cults, within the limits of secularism of government functions.


Delphine Batho is also the only candidate to clearly claim a degrowth policy. This concept of which Yannick Jadot is aware that it was thought of as a "Shell word", at the origin, also indicates a precise direction for the economy, in reverse of all that is done until now: a decrease of the GDP.

The idea runs in the environmental movement from the origins since zero growth was one of the topics discussed in the Stockholm Environment Summit in 1972 which was accompanied by the first associative counter-summit in history, long before anti-globalization. It was then a question of "zegism", a contraction of "Zero economic growth" (ZEG).

Indian Prime Minister at the time, Indira Gandhi, protested against this prospect, which she considered Malthusian, in the sense that it implied that the poor had to give up development.

Talking about degrowth in a context where the elites keep talking about stimulating growth is not very consensual. In this, however, Delphine Batho states the incompatibility between growth and the rights of nature. And the idea is gaining ground. The polytechnician Jean-Marc Jancovici carries this speech with a strong audience success, convinced that growth and the Paris Agreement (stabilization of the planetary temperature at 1,5 ° C) are incompatible.

Jean ‑ Marc Jancovici.

And Eric Piolle? His program does not include a clear reference to the cardinal points of political ecology, which perhaps indicates a desire to trivialize this label.

Basically, he is very similar to Jean ‑ Luc Mélenchon, as has often been pointed out : important role of the State, marked social dimension (increase in salaries, securing professional careers during transitions, etc.), support for associative and militant forces, high ecological objectives (carbon neutrality from 2045). Piolle also recalls that he supported the MP for Marseille in 2017.

The choice of terms is delicate for any opinion leader. Works by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau have renewed the analysis of this point, emphasizing the capacity of words to aggregate dissimilar aspirations or otherwise provoke repulsion. Integral ecology is thus a term taken up on the right, in part, or even in the extreme right, although an extreme right ecology remains a kind of incoherence, since this current is anchored in a politics of power, resulting from the fear of the Other.

Two strategies are opposed, on this point: either to seek to recover a popular signifier to invest it with its own meanings (thus, the “left populism” reinvesting the concepts of nation or security, like Eric Piolle to a certain extent), or on the contrary seeking to be absolutely different, using only words that the opponent does not use.

Fabrice Flipo, Professor in social and political philosophy, epistemology and history of science and technology, Institut Mines-Telecom Business School

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

The Conversation

Recent articles >

Summary of news from March 23, 2023

outlined-grey clock icon

Recent news >