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Ideology Critique for the Environmental Social Sciences: What Reproduces the Treadmill of Production?

Ryan Gunderson

Abstract

Environmental social scientists should analyze ideologies that reproduce ecologically unsustainable societies through the method of ideology critique. Ideology refers to ideas and practices that conceal contradictions through the legitimation and/or reification of the social order. Ideology critique is a method that allows the researcher to unmask systemic contradictions concealed by ideology. While the primary purpose of this project is to revisit and revise conceptual and methodological tools for the environmental social sciences, I provide examples of ideologies that may aid in the reproduction of the “treadmill of production” or the expansionistic production cycle that accelerates resource use and pollution.

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Overconsumption as Ideology

Implications for Addressing Global Climate Change

Diana Stuart, Ryan Gunderson, and Brian Petersen

Abstract

In response to climate change projections, scientists and concerned citizens are increasingly calling for changes in personal consumption. However, these calls ignore the true relationship between production and consumption and the ongoing propagation of the ideology of overconsumption. In this article, we draw from Western Marxist theorists to explain the ideology of overconsumption and its implications for addressing global climate change. Drawing from Herbert Marcuse and Guy Debord, we illustrate how production drives consumption, how advertising promotes false needs and excess, how these power relations are concealed, and how they undermine social and ecological well-being. Specific to climate change, continued widespread support for increasing levels of production and economic growth will undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming. Given the relationships between production and carbon emissions, effective mitigation efforts will require significant systemic changes in work, production, consumption, advertising, and social norms.

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Addressing the Irrational Drivers of the Climate Crisis

Surplus Repression and Destructive Production

Diana Stuart, Brian Petersen, and Ryan Gunderson

Abstract

An increasing number of scientists have illustrated how economic growth is an underlying driver of the climate crisis. This article examines how associated levels of excess work, production, and consumption repress human flourishing and drive global warming. Drawing from the work of Herbert Marcuse and André Gorz, we discuss the irrationality of a system of excess work, production, and consumption in terms of unnecessary human repression and environmental destruction. In the context of the climate crisis, this system becomes even more irrational as it threatens the habitability of Earth for humans. We examine work-time reduction and related sufficiency measures as a rational response to the climate crisis.