Ideological obstacles to effective climate policy: The greening of markets, technology, and growth

Ryan Gunderson, Diana Stuart, Brian Petersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


In light of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this project synthesizes and advances critiques of the possibility of a sustainable capitalism by adopting an explicit ‘negative’ theory of ideology, understood as ideas that conceal contradictions through the reification and/or legitimation of the existing social order. Prominent climate change policy frameworks – the ‘greening’ of markets (market-corrective measures), technology (alternative energy, energy efficiency, and geoengineering), and growth (the green growth strategy) – are shown to conceal one or both of the two systemic socio-ecological contradictions inherent in the current social formation: (1) a contradiction between capital’s growth-dependence and the latter’s degrading impact on the climate (the ‘capital-climate contradiction’) and (2) a contradiction between the potential of using technological infrastructure that aids in emissions reductions and the institutionalized social relations that obstruct this technical potential (the ‘technical potential-productive relations contradiction’). Attempts to reform the very techniques and institutions that brought about the climate crisis will remain ineffective and reproduce the social order that results in climate change. After proposing a way in which societies might move out of the ideological trappings of green markets, technology, and growth, two alternatives are proposed: economic degrowth coupled with Marcuse’s conception of a ‘new technology’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-160
Number of pages28
JournalCapital and Class
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP21 2015 Paris Agreement
  • alternative energy
  • cap and trade
  • carbon market
  • degrowth
  • emissions trading
  • energy efficiency
  • geoengineering
  • green growth
  • ideology critique

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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