Earth System Breakdown Does Not Care About Tenure Track
Harriët Maria Bergman
Krisis 2023, 43 (1): 164-166.
The prior issue of Krisis (42:1) published Critical Naturalism: A Manifesto, with the aim to
instigate a debate of the issues raised in this manifesto the necessary re-thinking of the role
(and the concept) of nature in critical theory in relation to questions of ecology, health, and
inequality. Since Krisis considers itself a place for philosophical debates that take contempo-
rary struggles as starting point, it issued an open call and solicited responses to the manifesto.
This is one of the sixteen selected responses, which augment, specify, or question the assump-
tions and arguments of the manifesto.
Climate breakdown, Critical naturalism, Critical environmental justice, Decoloniality,
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2023 The author(s).
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
Earth System Breakdown Does Not Care About Tenure Track
Harriët Maria Bergman
The university resembles an ivory tower: white and above sea level. This influences how aca-
demia responds to any crisis. “Critical Naturalism: A Manifesto” invites us to “take seriously
the enormous challenges our societies face with regard to inner and outer nature” (Gregoratto
et al 2023, 108). How should we tackle problematic issues without an account of power and
A slogan from the Hambach Forest occupation states: “Der Klimawandel wartet nicht, bis
Dein Bachelor fertig ist” (Hambi Forest Occupation 2018). Academics could take that more
seriously. I wish that academics as concerned, eloquent, and rigorous as the writers of the
“Critical Naturalism Manifesto” would spend more of their time thinking about the organisa-
tion of power. Following the Zapatistas, I would like to start with a “no” from which “many
yesses can follow” (Chabot and Vinthagen 2020). A bold “no” to interlocking systems that
deteriorate living conditions for the semi-privileged in the so-called Western world and destroy
lives in the so-called Global South. Philosophy, especially critical theory, should take the cri-
ses of our times seriously. Climate breakdown asks for an unprecedented mobilisation of po-
litical power to prevent further planetary destruction and mitigation of, as well as compensa-
tion for, existing suffering caused by the fossil fuel industry. What does it mean for climate
breakdown not to wait until we have the correct theories?
Maldonado-Torres argues that “decolonial movements tend to approach ideas and change in a
way that do not isolate knowledge from action” (2023, 7). When writing about decolonization,
he warns against “the organization of special conferences and, especially, in the creation of
powerless ad hoc committees and task-teams that are meant to take as much time as possible
in generating extremely minimal recommendations that hardly anyone will implement and less
follow” (2023, 3). For me, it echoed George Monbiot and Matthew Prescot’s observation about
climate policies that “government policy is the reports and reviews” (Lanchester 2007).
With Matthew Huber, I agree that what we are up against to prevent further suffering, and how
to ameliorate and adapt to the changing circumstances, is part of a class struggle: “this partic-
ular power struggle is a class struggle over relations that underpin our social and ecological
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
relationship with nature and the climate itself: ownership and control of production” (Huber
2022, 3). He argues that the professional class “centres its politics not on material struggle
over resources and power, but on ‘knowledge,’ or the belief or denial of climate change itself”
(Huber 2022, 5). Academics have been concerned with a specific conception of knowledge, a
“liberal conception of knowledge” (Maldonado-Torres 2023, 7), or a knowledge that prevents
one from focusing on power (Huber 2022, 3). It seems as if the “Critical Naturalism Mani-
festo” falls into the same trap while mentioning some forms of domination, it leaves power
and how to contest it mostly unexamined.
I too am convinced academia should lose its Eurocentric bias, as are the authors. However,
there is more to learn not just about nature and naturalness, theory and praxis, but about
confronting power. David Naguib Pellow introduced the concept of “critical environmental
justice” (2018), which connects environmental justice with insights from critical race theory,
amongst other disciplines. Racism is a word that is absent from the manifesto surely, this is
also one of the problems of our time, since it exacerbates the suffering caused by the disman-
tling of the welfare state, the environmental crisis, and the pandemic.
Of course, it is relevant to denaturalize the idea of race, disability, and gender, amongst other
axes of oppression, and see what is at stake in these forms of domination. However, to do so,
it would benefit one’s analysis to call for non-Eurocentric authors and read and cite them more
The most well-versed answers to crises have come from those people and places that have
been most affected. The Bali Principles of Climate Justice, created by “representatives of peo-
ple’s movements together with activist organizations working for social and environmental
justice,” form an excellent example of movements theorizing what is needed (Bali Principles,
2002). The principles, amongst other things, affirm the need to oppose transnational corpera-
tions and market schemes, and call for a moratorium on all fossil fuel exploration and expan-
sion. Their demands of two decades earlier align with current scientific evidence, which sug-
gests that “little or no new CO2-emitting infrastructure can be commissioned and that existing
infrastructure may need to be retired early” (Tong et al. 2019).
I fully agree that we fail to answer if we fail to grasp the interconnectedness of several crises.
A failure to understand how the violation of “the basic rights of people in less developed
Krisis 2023, 43 (1)
countries has been made possible by historic abuses of power” can generate “mistakes about
the nature, significance, and prevention of the injustice” (McKinnon 2022, 37). For example,
Kathryn Yussoff laments that in his Fossil Capital, Andreas Malm does not hear the chains of
the enslaved rattle when he writes about cotton and the industrial revolution (2016, 16). More
diverse voices are needed not for ticking a box, but for taking radically different perspectives.
Maybe that perspective should inform us not only about what we write but also about what we
do. Next time on the barricades?
Chabot, Sean, and Stella Vinthagen. 2020. Revolutionary Nonviolence: Concepts, Cases and Controversies.In
Revolutionary Nonviolence: Concepts, Cases and Controversies, edited by Richard Jackson, Joseph Llew-
ellyn, Griffin Manawaroa Leonard, Aidan Gnoth, and Tonga Karena. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
CorpWatch, Friends of the Earth International, Global Resistance, Greenpeace International, ground-work, In-
digenous Environmental Network, Indigenous Information Network, National Alliance of People’s Move-
ments, National Fishworkers Forum, OilWatch Africa, OilWatch International, Southwest Network for
Environmental and Economic Justice, Third World Network and World Rainforest Movement. 2020.
Bali Principles of Climate Justice.” August 28, 2002.
Gregoratto, Federica, Heikki Ikäheimo, Emmanuel Renault, Arvi Särkelä, and Italo Testa. 2022.Critical Natu-
ralism: A Manifesto.” Krisis | Journal for Contemporary Philosophy 42 (1): 10824.
Hambi Forest Occupation. 2018. Der Klimawandel wartet nicht, bis dein Bachelor fertig ist. https://hambacher-
Huber, Matthew T. 2022. Climate Change as Class War: Building Socialism on a Warming Planet. London/New
York: Verso.
Lanchester, John. 2007. Warmer, Warmer. London Review of Books 29(6).
Maldonado-Torres, Nelson. 2023Outline of Ten Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality.” Fondation-Frantz
Fanon (blog).
McKinnon, Catriona. 2022. Climate Change and Political Theory. Medford: Polity Press, 2022.
Pellow, David N. 2018. What Is Critical Environmental Justice? Cambridge/Medford: Polity Press.
Tong, Dan, Qiang Zhang, Yixuan Zheng, Ken Caldeira, Christine Shearer, Chaopeng Hong, Yue Qin, and Steven
J. Davis. 2019. Committed Emissions from Existing Energy Infrastructure Jeopardize 1.5 °C Climate
Target.” Nature 572, no. 7769 (August): 37377.
Yusoff, Kathryn. 2018. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Harriët Bergman pursues a PhD at the Centre for European Philosophy at the University of Antwerp, research-
ing whether feminist philosophy and critical race theory can help discussions on climate breakdown concerning
emotions, privilege, power, and social change.