Neoliberal ethics messing with sustainability? An analysis of the fundamental conflict between neoliberal ethics and sustainability measures and its consequences

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: Despite all of the detrimental effects predicted in the event of non-action regarding climate change, a large number of people in the Global North are in a state of social inertia and openly criticise climate change mitigation (CCM) and climate change adaptation (CCA) measures. Most explanatory approaches of this phenomenon do not question the basic beliefs that our system is based on in their analysis. In an attempt to do so, I hypothesise that one reason for social inertia related to sustainability is that sustainability is in conflict with neoliberal ethics. To test this hypothesis, in a first step, I identify neoliberalism as hegemonic ideology, analyse its ethical foundation following Hayek, and derive its inherent understanding of sustainability from this analysis. My findings are that conflicts between neoliberalism and sustainability only arise when externally criticising neoliberalism as not being radical enough. From within the theoretical framework, sustainability can be incorporated in the neoliberal system of thought. Informed by this, I perform a critical discourse analysis on people’s comments in response to three U.S.-American newspaper articles on CCM and CCA measures. The aim is to understand in which way neoliberal arguments are used to oppose them. I find that the analysed comments broadly perceive such measures as coercive, interfering with individual liberty, and leading down a regressive path towards totalitarianism. Against this background, I argue that the strategies to overcome social inertia amongst people who base their worldview on neoliberal ethics, ideological change is needed. To promote such ideological change, the neoliberal system of thoughts can be challenged immanently, and can be tackled through counter-hegemonic movements, with a focus on interiority supporting this fight.

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