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is no easy task. Those parties have no direct political representatives; no
one speaks for them other than those who volunteer to do so. But the
public treats those volunteers with suspicion: who are they to represent
the natural world or to speak for the human race? Is their knowledge of
climate change thorough and sound? Is their demand to put the viabil-
ity of the biosphere above immediate human satisfaction acceptable? Yet
without such representation, we would hardly be able to take the environ-
mental consequences of our actions into account. No one gives ecosys-
tems the vote, nor can the dying coral reefs or melting permafrost make
political demands. Of course, inhabitants of islands that are about to be
submerged can raise their voices. But they are so few, and their lands so
distant, that people in the developed world act as if they do not exist.
The result is an impasse that marks out as clearly as possible the limi-
tations of our political institutions. hey take for granted that all maters
that pertain to human affairs must arise from within the human commu-
nity and can be resolved within that domain. But it turns out that some
maters, at least, are relevant to all American citizens, even if none of us
is seeking relief from an oppression that immediately afflicts us. Taking
action to prevent severe climate change is indeed in the interest of us all.
But to make the natural world feature in our calculation of our own inter-
est is unusual, and on this scale unprecedented: our institutions simply
do not know how to respond.
This impasse may also stem from the fact that this potential revolu-
tion necessarily sustains an unusual relation to the future. Social move-
ments have typically fought to create a beter future; the revolution of our
time, however, fights to prevent the arrival of a devastating one. Previous
revolutions could atempt to shater tradition, cut of the relationship to
the past, and invent an entirely new world; the French Revolution even
created a new calendar, atempting to start time over again. Since the
Enlightenment, modern societies have taken this link between revolution
and radicalism for granted. But our time is different. The quintessential
aim of radicalism—the utopian hope for a transformed future—now
requires that we irst atempt to conserve as much of the Earth's environ-
ment as possible before trying to reconstruct our societies in any other
w ay. Today, radicalism must first be conservative: even if its ultimate aim is
to open up an entirely new era, it must first make possible a sustainable,
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